Monday, February 28, 2011

Quarry Brewing Announces Relocation Plans

Butte's Quarry Brewing has purchased the "Grand Hotel" in uptown Butte on 124 W. Broadway, just two blocks from their current location. They hope to be in their new location sometime around the first of September. No word yet on whether the move means an increase in production capacity.  Quarry's current location is a lively, social spot typical of Montana's tap rooms and there's every reason to think the new location will continue the tradition.

Quarry Brewing is on facebook here and on the web at

Thursday, February 24, 2011

(Beer) Running Update No. 1: The Quest Begins

Today is Thursday, February 24, 2011.  It is still winter.  We're being reminded of that with temperatures around 5 degrees and winds of 25 mph creating wind chills of 20 below.  The predicted snow is largely a bust, but it is not a day to be outside. Where we live in the Missoula Valley, we haven't seen the ground since mid-November. I bring this up because Run Wild Missoula's marathon training group begins March 6, a week from Sunday.  At 8:00 a.m.

After taking most of November and December off from running, I spent January reminding my body what it is like to run 5 days a week.  For February, I've concentrated on getting the mileage up to get a good base before starting the training group.  I've averaged 25+ miles a week with lots of 5 milers, a few 3 and 4s and some 8, 9 and 10 milers.  The holiday pounds are dropping, though that's required a bit more restraint on the beer front.  Food too.

Last year, the first day of the training group was a crisp 27 degree, sunny morning with no wind and no snow anywhere in the valley. In fact, I don't recall dealing with snow at any point of the 18 week training program. (Yes, we do get snow even in June around here once in a while.) This year could be a whole different story.  I don't mind the cold, but I'm not up for running on ice.

Any local beer runners signed up for the training group?  Hit me up at growlerfills @ gmail . com.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chocolate and Beer: Poshed Porter at Kettlehouse

Fans of Kettlehouse Brewing Co. in Missoula know they like to have fun with their beer and tend to create some exceptional seasonal brews. The streak continues with their new Poshed Porter, a moderately robust oatmeal porter brewed with cacao nibs from Missoula's Posh Chocolat. It is a fantastic blend of two of Missoula's best.

This porter is very dark brown to black, with a light tan head.  There are aromas of milk chocolate and roasted malt. The flavors follow the aroma with nice roasted malts and lots of chocolate, trending about half-way between milk and dark chocolate. The oatmeal lends a nice smoothness to the medium body (6.5% abv).  It is very nicely balanced and avoids being sweet.  It has a dry finish with some flavors of roasted coffee. What's better than wrapping up chocolate, porter, and coffee into one package?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Few Changes At Growler Fills

This thing we call Growler Fills is always evolving and we've made a few changes recently.  About a month ago we added a new background coupled with other design changes.  That's a work in progress.  Some professional design is on the list, but Growler Fills is a labor of love, not cash. We've also changed the tag line to "Craft beer enthusiasm in Montana and beyond."  It's a bit shorter and snappier than the previous one.

Next, we've added a new page called "Fridge Roll." It's a regularly updated list of what's in the Growler Fills beer fridge.  Who knows? Maybe we can work a trade or at least make some new beer friends.

Finally, it's time for an official logo. Any beer lovers out there with design expertise? Let us know what you think of the changes. Suggestions always welcome, too.

Catching Up on a Couple Russian Imperial Stouts

It seems we've been busy getting out the beer news lately, but that doesn't mean we haven't tried a few new brews here and there.  Here's a couple of Russian Imperial Stouts for you from Widmer and Rogue.

In 2005, Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. began a new "W" Brewmasters' Release, brewing up a special one-time-only release.  So far, they've run the gamut from an IPA to a Crimson Wheat to a Belgian Style Ale.  Last year, Widmer hopped on the Black IPA band wagon. This year, they brewed up W'11 KGB Russian Imperial Stout.  This beer is solid black with a medium tan head that doesn't stick around too long.  The aroma is faintly chocolate and a bit of roasted malts.  It is full-bodied with a creamy mouthfeel which is typical for a Russian Imperial Stout. There's a good amount of roasted malt and dark chocolate in the flavor along with a moderately high amount of alcohol warmth (9.3% abv).  There are subtle hop bitterness undertones which become fairly noticeable in the finish. It is a pleasant example of the style, but won't knock your socks off.

One evening at The Rhino in Missoula, I noticed Rogue Ale's XS Imperial Stout on tap and figured I'd better give that a try.  This one is also solid black with a thick, medium tan head.  There are aromas of sweet malt with some roasted malt notes and a bit of alcohol. This beer comes across as very big - not surprising given the 11% abv. There's a full mouthfeel.  Flavors are dominated by bitter hops following some initial sweetness and alcohol.  The roasted malts of a robust stout are in the background behind the bitterness.  It is definitely a Rogue Ales stout, which is to say they love their hops at Rogue. The roasted malts come through a bit more as it warms, but the bitterness persists. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Madison River Brewing Co. Wins Barleywine Competition

As reported in Brewing News, Madison River Brewing Co. in Belgrade, MT, won first place last week at the 6th Annual Coles Barleywine Competition with their Frostbite Barley Wine.  In winning the event, they knocked off some serious competition from the likes of Deschutes Brewery (Mirror Mirror), Moylan's (Old Blarney), Full Sail (Old Boardhead), Rogue (Old Crustacean), Sam Adams and others. 

Congratulations to Madison River Brewing Co.  We know how great Montana beer is, but it's always good to get outside recognition.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bill to Shift Tap Room Hours Tabled on 10-1 Vote

And the turf war rages on. The Montana Senate's Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee held a hearing today on Senate Bill 202 which seeks to shift tap room hours from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.  The hearing lasted 1.5 hours with ten proponents and fifteen opponents squaring off.  The arguments for and against were predictable, revealing nothing more than the fact we've got a mess of a licensing structure in Montana.  Following the hearing, the Committee voted 10-1 to table the Bill.

Make no mistake, "tabled" means dead, here.

Tony Herbert, representing the Montana Brewers Association, kicked off the public portion of the hearing, tying the bill to its benefits for tourism, agriculture, demands of consumers, job creation and support for small businesses. Brian Smith, one of the founders of Blackfoot River Brewing Co., touted the quality of the jobs Blackfoot provides, including health insurance, paid vacation, and matched retirement accounts for all employees working more than 20 hours a week.  They are "exactly the kind of business the legislature should be encouraging," he told the Committee.  He's right.

Chuck Schnabel, Quarry Brewing, Max Pigman, Lewis and Clark Brewing, Nicol Bozik, Bitter Root Brewing, Michael Uhrich, Carter's Brewing, and Paul Marshall, who is developing a new brewery in Missoula, all spoke in support.  So did Mellisa Lewis, lobbying for the City of Shelby.  It seems the City identified a brewery as a potential source of economic development for downtown Shelby, but recognized the main limitation is the restricted business hours. The Montana Farmers Union also showed its support.

Mark Staples, lobbying for the Montana Tavern Association, accused the brewers of breaking the deal they struck back in 1998 when the legislature approved the current scheme allowing breweries to sell limited quantities in tap rooms. He suggested breweries should go buy beer and wine licenses if they want to be in the retail business, reluctantly admitting breweries are prohibited from doing so now. It's apparently an idea the MTA put on the table in earlier negotiations with the Brewers Association.  Mr. Staples argued breweries are intended to be a manufacturing sector, not a retail sector, and are cannibalizing the very businesses who sell their beer - and the "billions" they have spent on licensing in Montana. Billions? Really? 

Following Mr. Staples, a variety of representatives of individual bars and local tavern associations expressed the common theme that breweries should not be allowed to enter the retail business because they haven't forked over bundles of cash for the expensive privilege to sell alcohol.  Many simultaneously argued the breweries haven't had to incur the overwhelming expense of the licenses while pointing out that beer and wine licenses can be had in many places for $7,500 or less.  Two threatened to remove all Montana craft beer taps from their bars if the bill passed.  Now there's a smart business plan.

Not all breweries are on board with the proposal, including Missoula's Kettlehouse and Billings' Himmelberger Brewing.  Similarly, not all tavern owners oppose the shift.  Brad Martens, co-owner of The  Rhino in Missoula and its 50 taps says in this story on NBC (link no longer works) that the bill may help develop more craft beer drinkers who will patronize his business.

During discussion prior to the vote several of the Committee members acknowledged the current licensing system escalates the turf war and needs to be fixed.  Only one Senator was willing to approve the bill as an interim measure.  Unfortunately, no one appears to be willing to convene an interim legislative committee to work on solutions, either.

We're fortunate in Montana to have such good, local craft beer.  We'd all be so much more fortunate if we could eliminate the turf wars.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Next Up: Bigfork Brewfest, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011

Now that the Missoula Downtown Association's Winter BrewFest is in the books, the next opportunity to sample some great Montana beer is only a week and a half away.  On Saturday, February 26, the second annual Bigfork Brewfest will take place on Electric Avenue in downtown Bigfork. Eddy Grant CDs sold separately.

An outdoor brewfest in Montana? In February? Yes, it's true and we all know the weather could be anything under the sun.  Last year's Bigfork Brewfest had great weather with temperatures in the 40s and a light cloud cover.  The fire pits lining the street were perfect for a quick warm up when needed. The beer didn't last long, but it was anybody's guess how many people might show up for the inaugural event.  Here's hoping for more good weather and more good beer.

The event takes place from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and costs $15 for advance tickets and $20 at the event. Tickets are available at Shepard's Glass in Kalispell, The Raven in Woods Bay, The Tamarack Alehouse and Grill in Lakeside, the Great Northern Brewery in Whitefish and the Jug Tree and Garden Bar in Bigfork.

Winter BrewFest Fun, Perhaps Too Successful

Hold a brewfest in Missoula and you're sure of one thing: big crowds of beer lovers.  Such was the case last Saturday at the Missoula Downtown Association's Winter BrewFest, a fundraiser for Caras Park.  Thousands turned out at the old Macy's building to taste some of the 30 beers and listen to great music on a day unusually warm enough to hold the event outside.

We got there early, which is the key for any brewfest if you're interested in getting some of the more coveted brews and want to avoid much of the jostling elbows.  Even then, beer was running out around 3:00 and I suspect those who arrived after that were a bit disappointed in the selection.  Not so for us.  We know the drill.  We happily sampled several Montana brews we've not seen before and tapped along to the sounds of the Lil' Smokies and Cash for Junkers. After visiting with a few friends, it was time to escape back out into the sunny, beautiful winter afternoon.

And the beer?  We liked Tamarack's Double Black Diamond IPA the best, though it was a very close call with Bitter Root Brewing's Imperial Red.  Both were excellent.  Blacksmith Brewing brought along their winter ale.  Blackfoot River Brewing had a keg of their doppelbock.  It has all the elements of a classic European doppelbock and is currently available on tap at Missoula's Red Bird Wine Bar.  Butte's Quarry Brewing was there with Gneiss IPA and Sandstone Stout.  We also had to have our first taste of the year of Bayern's Killarney, a beer we eagerly await each spring.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sierra Nevada Hoptimum Whole-Cone Imperial IPA

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.'s new Hoptimum Whole-Cone Imperial IPA has hit the shelves and we popped open a bottle to check it out in celebration of the impending weekend.  Hey, it doesn't take much. Sierra Nevada has pours a lot of hops into this brew using German Magnum, Simcoe, Citra, Chinook and some "exclusive new hop varieties." From a horticultural perspective, I'm curious whether/how Sierra Nevada developed these new hop variety.  It's certainly cool to have an exclusive hop, but even cooler to see what various brewers can create out of it.  You probably never expected me to use the word "horticultural" in a sentence, eh?

Sierra says Hoptimum is the biggest whole-cone IPA they've ever produced and they'll certainly get no argument from me.  This is a big beer in every sense of the word.  It pours a very bright, medium-copper color with a nice off-white head.  The aroma doesn't just greet you, it stands up with a big neon sign and screams "HOPS." Both pine/resin and citrus hops compete for your attention. Initial flavors of strong, sweet, caramel malt float in on a rather creamy, velvet mouthfeel and get replaced quickly by the pine/resin and citrus hop flavors represented in the aroma.  Despite the whopping 100 ibus, the bitterness level never rises above a pleasantly moderate level, allowing the hop flavors to rule.  That's a function of the huge quantity of malt which drives the alcohol level up to 10.4% abv, balancing out the high hop level.  The malt also persists in an underlying sweetness that borders on being candy sweet.

The beer is a bit bigger - and sweeter - than Deschutes Brewery's Hop Henge Experimental IPA which checks in at 9.0% and 95 ibus.  Overall, I prefer the slightly more bitter punch from the Hop Henge, but they're both great beers and a fun beer experience.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tap Room Hours Bill Set for Thursday Hearing

The Montana Senate's Business, Labor and Economic Affairs committee will take up SB 202 at a hearing on Thursday, February 17, 2011, beginning at 9:00 a.m.  SB 202 (Senate Bill 202) would shift (not increase) the hours of operation for a tap room at a small brewery from 10:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m. -10:00 p.m.  It would also clarify that all brewery samples must be consumed by 11:00 p.m. Unlike SB 203, which clarifies that non-brewery, on-premises retailers can fill growlers, this bill is expected to generate a fair amount of scrutiny, shall we say.

If you'd like to see Montana's tap room hours shift, now is the time to contact your legislators and let them know what you think.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It Doesn't Mean A Brewery Sucks!

I saw a blog post yesterday that perfectly captures the overall principle governing Growler Fills.  It's All Relative.  I've been around plenty of beer drinker's to know how relative taste is. It is as varied as it is personal. My favorite beer - and there's a few jostling for the top spot at any given moment - may or may not be anything close to your favorite beer.  While there is a general consensus that The Abyss, one of my all time favorites, is a world class beer, I know it is definitely not a beer for everyone and would never insist you must like it.

Sean Wilson, CEO of Durham, NC's Fullsteam Brewery, posted a blog entry this week on the brewery's website entitled "That Brewery Sucks."   In it, Sean articulately and positively invites beer drinkers to resist the temptation to declare a craft brewery sucks simply because you didn't like one of their beers.  He suggests you try one of the brewery's other offerings or find a different brewery that might better fit your taste. Having a favorite, he says, doesn't "obligate you to insult other breweries you don’t like."  Well said.

There ARE differences in quality among Montana's breweries, just as there are everywhere. A few seem to struggle with depth and complexity. A couple seem stretched thin across too many styles. Yet, nearly all I have visited or tried have at least one brew that is delicious and satisfying. It is rare to find a brewery anywhere that hits top quality across all styles throughout its lineup, but we've got a couple in Montana that do. And don't forget, given the wide variety of personal taste, it is nearly impossible to be a good judge of every style.  For me, I won't pretend to be a good judge of Belgians and their rapidly increasing number of sour offspring. I've also entirely lost the ability to distinguish between the pale ale and IPA categories, though that's a discussion for another day.

At Growler Fills, you haven't and won't read about beers that suck. There are beers I don't like, but that doesn't mean they suck. There are whole breweries I struggle with whose beers nevertheless win many awards. I've offered some constructive criticism from time to time, but see no reason to take up space in this blog telling you about beers I won't drink again.   It is far more fun to generate good conversation in support of Montana's breweries and the broader craft brewing industry.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Winter Brewfest to Benefit Missoula's Caras Park

Missoulians love their beer and turn out by the thousands for annual brewfests in May and September. Now there's a rare opportunity to take part in an indoor brewfest in the middle of winter.  Thanks to a partnership between the new owners of the former Macy's building, Octagon Capital Partners, and the Missoula Downtown Association,  the now empty Macy's building will be transformed into a festival of 30 beers and live entertainment on February 12, 2011.

The fun takes place from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m at the corner of Front Street and Higgins Ave. Admission is $10 per person which includes a 7 oz commemorative glass and 2 beer tokens.  Additional tokens are $1 each.  Other sponsors include Kettlehouse Brewing, Regent Realty and Territorial Landworks.  Who's providing the entertainment? The Lil' Smokies, Cash for Junkers, The Wild Coyote Band and Tom Catmull & the Clerics.

Proceeds from the event benefit the renovations planned for Caras Park.  For more information, check out the Missoula Downtown Association's website here.  This is a one-and-done event, at least at this location. Before long renovations will begin on the former Macy's building and it will be transformed into yet another iteration of its life.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Brown, Green, Clear? Does Glass Color Really Matter?

You've probably noticed the Sam Adams advertising campaign touting the fact their brown glass bottles protect the flavor of their beer better than green or clear bottles.  I haven't paid too much attention because this "fact" has been assumed for quite some time.  (And apparently demonstrated through prior scientific studies, though I haven't seen them.)  Even better, cans win out for eliminating all light intrusion.

How sunlight affects beer and whether brown glass does indeed help is the subject of this article from The Straight Dope. Turns out, sunlight reacts with hop-derived compounds, creating "a variety of unpleasant-smelling and -tasting chemicals, the biggie being 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, or MBT."  Whoa! Superbad flashbacks to college chemistry class there.

Does brown glass help better than green or clear?  Read the article and find out.