Saturday, April 30, 2011

Beer Running Through Helena, MT

We found ourselves in Helena, MT, for a few days recently while taking care of a variety of work matters. Thankfully, we don't work 24 hours a day which leaves a little time here and there to check out what's new in the the craft brewing world. We had a chance to check out both Blackfoot River Brewing Co. and Lewis and Clark Brewing Co. as well as the local support for craft beer in a few of Helena's other establishments.   Helena is a town with a thirst for great craft beer. That's evident from the two very busy brewery tap rooms and the high number of local and regional taps at places like Bert & Ernies, The Brewhouse, Overland Express and others.

The trip also gave me an opportunity to get a couple of training runs in with a twist from my normal routines.  Wednesday morning I awoke to good sunshine and warm temperatures and set out from the Great Northern Hotel for a hike up to the top of Mount Helena and a trail run to follow. Mount Helena was a frequent hiking destination when I lived in Helena for a number of years back in the 90s.  I'd not been up to the summit since moving to Missoula more than a decade ago. Back then, I was in great hiking shape. Now, I'm in good running shape.  It didn't take long to recognize the difference.

As I made my way up the westside of Helena I was reminded of the great architecture and history that characterize the city.  It's path from rough and tumble mining camp to State capital to bustling, wealthy trade enclave to modern-day governmental center is on display everywhere.  Mining ruins sit alongside new construction. Old brick sidewalks lead you through the westside's mansion district.  Historic Register signs populate yards and building faces all around town.  All are watched over by the magnificent Helena Cathedral which dominates the skyline.

I reached the network of Mount Helena hiking trails at the Holter Street trail head, climbing mostly straight up the mountain through grass lands and pine trees - and the occasional blue bird - until intersecting with the 1906 trail.  From there, the trail climbs around the north side of the mountain, passing through the forest under steep, rocky cliffs and the devil's kitchen before popping out near a saddle on the backside.  From the saddle it's a short hike to the rocky, windy summit which I reached in about 45 minutes from the hotel. Mount Helena rises about 1,300 feet above downtown Helena's main drag, Last Chance Gulch.  My quads and calves took notice.

After snapping a few pictures from the summit, it was time to get off the windy ridge and start the trail running portion of this outing.  I started up the garmin and headed down the spiny ridge of the Hogback trail, quickly recognizing the steep, rocky path might not be the best spot to begin the run.  Yet, I'm nothing if not stubborn persistent, so I pushed ahead and found better going on the Backside Trail, making my way around the back of the mountain to the West End Trail and my main destination, the Mount Helena Ridge Trail. 

The Ridge Trail is a Forest Service trail that heads southwest from Mount Helena for about 6 miles to Park City.  My training schedule had me going 6 miles this day, so my plan was to take the trail until it intersected the Show Me The Horse Trail, dropping down to Grizzly Gulch Road and back into town. The Ridge Trail is a well maintained single track trail running roughly along a ridge line through open meadows and some forested patches. Heading southwest, it had a bit more elevation gain than I wanted at this point, but the views are great and there wasn't a single person around. 

I cruised along checking out the sights and watching for trail signs, reaching an unmarked junction roughly 3 miles from the summit. According to the map I'd seen earlier, Show Me The Horse Trail was the second trail down to Grizzly Gulch Road and I'd already passed the first one. So, using uncanny powers of deduction, I figured this was the trail I needed and headed downhill.  The trail runs largely through forested hillside, dropping steeply for more than a mile of good single track trail. It dumped me out onto Grizzly Gulch Road right after a road grader spreading new gravel passed by the trail head.  It's good to know I can run faster than a road grader. 

Sidestepping the heavy machinery, it was mostly a straight shot down the dirt/gravel Grizzly Gulch Road, Park Avenue and Last Chance Gulch to the hotel, a distance of 7.1 miles from the summit.  On the way past Blackfoot River Brewing Co. I smelled the sweet wort coming from a fresh boil and thought about knocking on the door.  I'm not conditioned to trail running and the steep descent and wildly varying footing of this trip took a toll on every muscle from my quads to my toes. Garmin said the total elevation gain/loss was 1729 feet with most of the pounding coming on the steep descent down Show Me The Horse trail.

It was a "step down" week in the Marathon training schedule, where you drop the mileage down and take it easy to recuperate before ramping up the mileage again in the next phase.  Ooops. Training run done and legs well worked, it was time to get back to work.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bozone Brews Up a Fine Black IPA

While over in Helena this week we had a chance to try a pint of Bozeman Brewing Company's Black IPA which had just been put on tap at Bert & Ernie's.  The bartender said we were the first to order it, continuing our string of lucky beer timing. It's been years since we'd had some Bozone brews, finding the early offerings to be good, if unremarkable. Bozone's Black IPA represents a serious step forward in character and depth.

This beer is black to very dark brown with an off-white head that disappears quickly.  Aromas are of some citrus hops and a roasted character. A moderately high hop bitterness with traditional American IPA flavors (primarily citrus) dominate the initial flavors, followed quickly by smokey, roasted, chocolate malts. The hop bitterness stays prevalent throughout the flavor profile. The roasted malts are sharp, too, but the medium-bodied beer stays very drinkable with its excellent blend of IPA character and roasted malts. Underlying it all is a slight caramel malt base providing a bit of balance.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

On Tap: 19th Annual Garden City Brewfest , Sat. May 7

Next to Grizzly football games, few events in Missoula attract as big a crowd as the annual Garden City Brewfest.  This year the Missoula Downtown Association's event takes place Saturday May 7, 2011 from 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Caras Park.  Sixty or so beers will be available for your tasting pleasure. Tickets are $10 which include a tasting glass and two drink tokens. (Note:  The Missoula Downtown Association's website says tickets are $7, but everything else I've seen says $10.)  Additional tokens are $1 each.

Live music will be provided by The Big Sky Mudflaps, Kung Fu Kongress and Secret Powers. Food will be available from the Sentinel Kiwanis, El Cazador, Sichuan BBQ, Isla’s Lemonade, The Grille and IZA Asian Restaurant. With the rainy, cold spring Missoula has struggled through, we're due for some bright, warm sunshine, right? For more information, see the Missoula Downtown Association's website or their event on facebook.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Highlander Beer Arriving Soon in 22oz Bombers

The Missoula Brewing Company announced today they've reached an agreement with Great Northern Brewing Co. to begin bottling Highlander Beer in 22oz bombers this summer.  Great Northern Brewing Co. brews Highlander in partnership with Missoula Brewing Company.

Highlander Scottish Ale is brewed in the Scottish export style with a smooth caramel malt flavor and just enough hops to provide a good balance.  At 4.6% abv and 19 ibus, it is a very sessionable beer.  No word yet on distribution plans.

Bitter Root Brewing's Belgian Honey is Tripple Good

I stopped in at Hamilton's Bitter Root Brewing Co. this week and asked for a pint of whatever the newest beer on tap happened to be. That's not my usual M.O., but it was a fortuitous change of pace. The newest turned out to be Bitter Root's Belgian Honey Trippel.  Belgian Ales are one category of beer I have explored very little, largely because I'm still warming up to the Belgian Ale yeast which imparts what I characterize as a slight sour flavor.  This classic flavor/yeast is an essential element in all Belgian style ales, but does take a bit of an open mind when starting your exploration.

Bitter Root Brewing's Belgian Honey Trippel is a beautiful, sparkling clear, medium gold color with a biscuit colored head and a great compliment of bubbles rising up from the bottom of the glass.  It's aroma includes light malt, yeast and some floral elements, too.  Flavor is richly malty, yet somehow manages to stay rather light and smooth - all with a background of that classic Belgian yeast flavor.  The alcohol builds slightly after a couple of swallows, but stay as just a slight warmth.  Mid-way through the glass a touch of candy malt sweetness comes through.  The finish is dry, pleasant and clean. The color belies the potency of this beer.  Even the rich, medium bodied flavors never suggest the beer packs in 9.69% abv.  It would be very easy to enjoy a bit too much of this one. 

Bitter Root added 60 lbs of honey to this 13 bbl batch, no doubt contributing to the clean, dry finish. The honey was sourced locally.  The yeast is the actual Westmalle strain, the Belgian monastery often credited with creating the Belgian Triple style. The malted barley is Montana grown.  This is an excellent beer and it won't last long.  Word has it there's a keg at The Rhino in Missoula.  Otherwise, make a point of heading over to Bitter Root Brewing Co. in Hamilton before it's gone.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tamarack Brewing. Co. Opens In Missoula

The theme for Tamarack Brewing Co.'s new Missoula location must be something like "don't mess with success."  While the exterior of the new location is relatively drab and a far cry from the Lakeside original, the interiors bear a very strong resemblance.  Each features a large, squared-up-horseshoe shaped bar surrounding a line up of taps fed by tap lines dropping from the ceiling.  Each has colorful chalkboards listing the day's beer lineup.  Stained concrete form the floors and each mixes in brick pillars, wood trim, and corrugated steel panels for a modern, industrial feel. Where brewing equipment is visible just beyond the bar up in Lakeside, in Missoula, clear glass provides a look into the keg room.  Even the menus are the same.

Tamarack's Lakeside location is typically lively and busy for both lunch and dinner.  While it certainly benefits from being a unique brewery/restaurant in a small town that swells with tourism traffic, it also does what it does quite well. The Missoula location enters a much more crowded market.  The menu - a nice blend of unique and traditional brew pub food - isn't that much different from a number of other restaurants.  Where it stands out is Tamarack's ability to bring 10 or so taps of Tamarack beer that has not previously been available in Missoula. They've also added a few extra taps to offer other Montana craft beers.

We've checked out the new location twice, once for lunch and once for an evening pint and a snack. Because we're familiar with the Lakeside location, having been there many times while traveling for work and fun, we naturally lean toward making comparisons.  Thus far, the food has not been prepared nearly as well.  We'll assume that's a function of working out the jitters of a new place.  The downstairs part of Tamarack is loud.  Really loud. Don't get me wrong, with 19 televisions and a fun atmosphere, it's supposed to be loud.  Lively - and even loud- can be a good thing, but there's an echo being created by the concrete floors and low ceilings that turns normally loud and fun conversations into uncomfortable noise.  Hopefully there's a fix for that.

The Lakeside location is lively, fun, and - yes - loud, but the high ceilings seem to dissipate the noise somewhat. Both locations also offer outdoor seating in warmer weather.  The Lakeside location has a large, fantastic, shaded patio spot along a creek.  Missoula's location overlooks the always busy and fun Caras park area.  Upstairs in Missoula there's a few tables and a smaller bar where you can get growler fills and to-go orders while enjoying a pint.

The beer lineup includes Tamarack's year-round offerings plus a few seasonals. One of the best things about the Lakeside location is the frequently changing small batch beers which have covered a wide variety of territory over the past few years. Hopefully that will be the case in Missoula, too.  Tamarack's one-and-done Headwall  Double IPA remains one of my all time favorite imperial ipas.  Tamarack's year-round Hat Trick Hop IPA is a beer we reach for frequently.  We ordered up a pint and followed it with a Sun Devil Red on nitro. If I didn't know better, I'd swear the Sun Devil Red is actually the Tamarack Hat Trick Hop IPA on nitro rather than standard carbonation. Actually, I don't know any better.  The Sun Devil Red is slightly darker, with a thick creamy head, but has the same hop and flavor profiles. The hop bitterness in the Sun Devil is somewhat muted compared to Hat Trick Hop IPA, but that's what nitro does - it mellows out the flavors and softens the edges.  Compare for yourself and let me know what you think.  They're both well worth exploring.

San Diego Beer Fun Round Up

For not being a trip focused on beer, we certainly did end up doing a fair job of checking out the San Diego beer scene during our warm weather visit in early March.  So far, we've written about our "chain conundrum," The Ritual Tavern, The Local Eatery & Drinking Hole, and The Neighborhood.  In this final write up, we'll take a whirlwind tour of a few of the other beers and places we visited. While those living outside Montana are often surprised at the extent of Montana's beer culture and fine craft breweries, we were similarly surprised at the scope of San Diego thriving beer culture.  They're both well worth exploring.

Our introduction - purely by chance - was a relatively new brewery and restaurant called The Beer Company at 602 Broadway.  We stopped in for an afternoon brew, finding the brick, wood, and nearby brewery equipment to create a nice atmosphere.  It was quiet on an early Thursday, but we're guessing the place gets loud and busy in the evenings with the ample sports tuned televisions, traditional bar food, brick oven pizza and 10 taps of house brewed beer. We tried samples of their Elimination IPA - very floral aroma to go along with citrus flavors  - and the double IPA before settling on a Pot Kettle Black Porter (7% abv).  It was medium bodied with predominately chocolate flavors, a touch of creamy sweetness, a bit of coffee in the aftertaste and a fairly dry finish.  We thought the beers had potential, but lacked a bit of depth.

The Firehouse Brewing Company is one you might miss, despite the huge sign sitting on top of it (10306 San Diego Mission Road).  Given the terrain, it's much easier to see from quite a distance out.   Perched on a hill with a view of Qualcomm Stadium (San Diego Chargers) the brewery had six beers on tap with lots of it available in six-packs all around the area. The tap room has plenty of outdoor space and some indoor dart lanes to pass some time while enjoying pints.  The Brown Ale was reddish brown, medium-light bodied with a hind of smoke, a nice caramel malt base and some nut flavors.  A bit thin, but appropriate for the style and quite sessionable.  The IPA was very thin and entirely unremarkable.

With a name like San Diego Brewing Company you might picture some large, brick, historic building or perhaps a mission style beauty. Instead, you'll find a sports bar in a nondescript mini-mall off a busy street (10450 Friars Road).   Think sports bar and you already know the menu and the atmosphere.

What will surprise you, though, are the almost 50 taps featuring 7 house beers and 40 plus guest beers with a nice variety of styles.  We immediately picked their Black Prinz IPA since that has quickly become one of our favorite styles of beer.  It did not disappoint. It poured a solid black with an off white head.   The sharp initial bitterness of the hops transitioned into a nice charcoal roasted malt flavor that balanced out in the finish. It was a very good beer and we wished we'd been in a position to have a second pint.

Coronado Brewing Co. sits near the harbor side of Coronado and has the look and feel of a typical brewpub (170 Orange Ave., Coronado).  There's not much outdoor seating, but we were lucky to grab the only open one on a warm day with beautiful blue skies. I don't have complete notes of our experience, but remember a few things.

First, the well meaning, but . . hmm . . . what's the word . . .presumptive(?) . . . waiter tried to warn us off from starting with their Idiot IPA, an imperial IPA with a pretty good hop punch (8.5%).  It was entertaining to see the look Cheryl shot him when he suggested she start with a less intense brew.  I was more in the mood for their Nutter Brown Ale.  Both beers were good, if not outstanding, and paired very well with an excellent shrimp quesadilla.

Our favorite beers of the trip belonged to AleSmith Brewing Co. We weren't able to get to their tasting room which (open Thursday through Saturdays at 9368 Cabot Drive), but their beer is available on many taps throughout the area.  It is also distributed in many places across the U.S., though (sigh) not Montana.  Of their many beers, we tried the Speedway Stout, My Bloody Valentine, and IPA.  All had a depth, complexity, and creativity that provided beers with a "wow" factor.  Perfect to ponder and enjoy. 

AleSmith's Speedway Stout has won a bunch of awards and it's not hard to taste why. This huge, imperial stout (12% abv) is solid black with a tan head.  The rich chocolate aroma conjures up images of a triple layer dark chocolate cake. Rich dark and mil chocolate flavors follow on a thick, full, creamy body. A nice amount of hop bitterness keep it from getting too sweet.  There's a touch of coffee in the finish along with a bit of alcohol.  It is rich, deep and excellent. Now, if I can just get some more of it up here in Montana  . . . .

As for our next trip, we kept hearing about a place called Downtown Johnny Brown's which is supposed to have a great tap selection, but caters to the local business crowd during lunch and happy hour.  Let's just say its location isn't quite as pleasant once the sun goes down, but we're anxious to try it out next time. Toronado is on the list, too. We've already enjoyed the San Francisco location. We're also curious to try some more Green Flash Brewing Co. offerings (really enjoyed their West Coast IPA), Karl Strauss Brewing Co. (enjoyed the Red Trolley Ale and its caramel malts), and The Lost Abbey (excellent Lost and Found Abbey Ale). And that's still just scratching the surface.

A great place to start your exploration is the San Diego Brewers Guild website.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

(Beer) Running Update No. 2: A Cold Middle Finger

To my knowledge, I've never been flipped off while out on a run.  I've wanted to flip off a few drivers, but kept it to a "what the hell" kind of a shrug. I've even been hit by a car while out on a run. But that's not "the finger" I'm talking about. Most of my runs lately have been out in the cold spring air. Cloudy. 20s, 30s and a few 40s for temperatures.  And for some reason, during these runs, my middle finger on my left hand gets really cold. Just my middle finger.

No, I can't explain it. I do tend to tense up my shoulders and arms too much during a run.  Maybe I'm pinching off a nerve or constricting some blood flow, or something. I don't know. It gets so cold sometimes I try and wrap it up in my shirt to warm it up a bit. Weird.

We're now in our 6th out of 18 weeks of the Run Wild Missoula training schedule for the Missoula Marathon.  Aside from a few new aches and pains, training is going well and I feel quite a bit stronger than in last year's group, my first year of running. I've logged 156 miles in training thus far. My "speed" has returned after a low-effort winter and is even improving a bit. This Sunday, we'll run a 13 miler, my longest since last October.  I'm looking forward to it. Last year, I wondered if I could even get that far.  This year, it's only half way to my goal and it already feels like a comfortable distance.  Wow, what a difference a year makes.

Tuesday was a bright sunny day in Missoula with temperatures finally reaching the upper 50s.  I ran the fastest 5 miles I've ever run.  (Which ain't saying much).  Wednesday?  Started out sunny. But by the time our group training run started, a cold rain was falling and temperatures were barely above 40.  After 9 miles, we were soaked. All the way to the bone. I'm not a fan of running in the rain, so I've never invested in rain gear for running. I wasn't really prepared to run in the cold rain, but that's the effect of having a training schedule. The Marathon isn't going to run itself and you sure can't fake it. Note to self:  rain soaked running shorts cause significant chafing in unwanted places.

If the Missoula spring continues on this course, I may need to invest in rain, snow and ice gear.  I shivered my way home, hopped in a hot shower, layered on some warm clothes and - what else - cracked open a craft beer (this time, a Big Sky Irish Stout). Sometimes you deserve a reward for a bit of personal perseverance. The good news?  I didn't notice my cold middle finger.  I was too busy trying to feel my arms.

Big Sky Makes Top 50 List of Craft Brewing Companies

The Brewers Association released today its list of 2010 Top 50 Craft Brewing Companies and Missoula's Big Sky Brewing Company came in at No. 39.  The list is based on 2010 beer sales volume for craft breweries in the United States.  Considering there are now more than 1,700 breweries in the United States (not all qualifying as a craft brewery) that's quite an accomplishment and quite a lot of beer.

The Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as: "An American craft brewer is small, independent, and traditional."  That rather nebulous definition is fleshed out as having an annual production of less than 6 million barrels; be owned or controlled by less than 25% by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer; and has either an all malt flagship beer or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.  Whew.

For more information and to see the entire list, check out the Brewers Association press release.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hops = Spring

In addition to being an essential ingredient of beer, you probably associate hops with the fall harvest and the excellent fresh hop ales which quickly follow. I do too. But I also appreciate hops at a different time of year.  Hops are one of the first things out of the ground in the spring. In Missoula, MT - particularly this year - it is a very welcome sign that warm weather is on the way.  Here's a picture I took this afternoon of my hops pushing out of the ground and bringing hope to the frost bitten.

These are Northern Brewer hops I picked up at the Missoula Farmers' market last year.  Hop rhizomes are available by mail order from a number of places in quite a few varieties.  They're easy to grow if you've got a sunny spot, something for them to climb, on and can keep them watered without letting the soil stay soaked. Mine are in a spot that's a bit too windy and I'd prefer a taller structure for them to climb, but they're just too much fun to pass up.  During the hot summer months it seems like you can practically watch them grow before your eyes. (A lot like kudzu, if you're a southerner.)

Another great sign of spring around these parts is Bayern Brewing Co.'s Maibock which we wrote about last year. It's out in stores and on draft now for a short time. Yeah, I know the picture is dark. I couldn't stop staring at the blue sky.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Where to Find Beer: The Local, San Diego, CA

The Local Eatery & Drinking Hole (1065 Fourth Ave. at the northern end of San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter) sits a few steps up the street from the Yard House and its 130 taps, yet provides a beer drinking experience miles away in a different direction.  Where the Yard House caters to the professional, after work crowd, with a huge menu of both food and beer, the Local keeps it simple, appealing to a much younger, prone-to-living-it-up-crowd, with better than you might expect bar food (burritos, tacos, burgers, sandwiches) and a great selection of local craft beers.

We hit The Local twice during our visit, first stumbling upon it on a Friday night. If we weren't the oldest people in the joint, we were certainly helping to bring up the average age.  Regardless, we managed to find a couple of seats at the bar and were treated like locals from the start.  Or at least treated like people with an appreciate for craft beer - and The Local's support for the area's craft beer scene is up front and apparent.  Their 20 taps were filled with local selections from Green Flash, Coronado, Stone, Karl Strauss, AleSmith, Port and others. When we returned the following Sunday evening we among only a handful of folks, which gave us plenty of time to talk beer with the knowledgeable bartender while snacking on some dang good cheesy bean dip.

For beer I ordered up a pint of AleSmith's My Bloody Valentine (6.66%, abv, ha ha), a seasonal released each year just before Valentine's day.  It's a dark red beer with an off-white head and a fairly big citrus hop aroma.  Given the aroma, the amount of caramel malt in the flavor came as quite a surprise, making the beer a fun and interesting pint to enjoy.  The hop bitterness is there, too, but provides just enough balance while letting the malt shine through. It is smooth, medium bodied, easy-drinking and delicious.

(Not sure what's going on with my pictures theses days, but I promise to step it up.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Where to Find Beer: The Neighborhood, San Diego, CA

It took us a few days traveling around San Diego to get the scoop on where to find a few of the gems for great craft beer, but the rewards of persistence started to pay off. Thanks to a tip from the friendly, knowledgeable bartender at The Ritual, we made our way to The Neighborhood (corner of G and 8th Streets).  It's only a block or so off the main drags of the Gaslamp Quarter, but that's just far enough to keep you from running into it and discovering it on your own.  That, and the fact its exterior is pleasant, though relatively nondescript.  Once inside you're treated to a modern, upscale, eclectic interior that was lively even on a Sunday evening. (My pictures didn't turn out too good for this place, unfortunately)

In The Neighborhood's words, the place "appeals to the casual connoisseur."  There are 27 taps and they're filled with a collection of local and regional beers, a few other scattered U.S. brews, and a few from Belgium. And Pabst Blue Ribbon. I'm guessing that's there to appease that one person in the group who still thinks this whole craft beer thing is a fad.  Like many of the better joints in San Diego, The Neighborhood also boasts an impressive list of bottled brews, mainly 22 oz bombers. The menu of hip bar food (and the food itself) look great, too, though we didn't have time to eat. Patrons ranged from groups of youngish, social professionals to older couples and a few singles folks getting a beer fix.  While the decor is modern and very nicely finished, there's nothing stuffy about the place and it is comfortable and casual. If you time it right, you can grab a table along a window that swings open to let the fresh air in and gives a sense of sitting outside.

I ordered up a pint of Russian River Brewing Co's Pliny the Elder, a Double IPA (8% abv, 100 ibus,) widely considered a world class beer.  In Montana, I don't get too many opportunities to have world class beers on tap and it was a chance to give it a try and compare it to some of my favorites favorites. Russian River's Pliny the Younger (a triple IPA) has achieved mythical status, selling out in hours each year on its annual release.  Long lines of beer lovers stretch out from the few locations which receive the beer, paying big bucks for a small taste of the brew - and some going home empty handed.

Quite a few writers in the beer blog world are starting to question whether Pliny the Younger and similar, limited release, mythical beers are, first, worth the effort and, second, really that much better that some local favorites.   While the drinking frenzy created by these beers is good for the breweries and certainly creates interest in the craft beer world, it also gives the impression that other beers which lack international buzz can't measure up.

I've never tried Pliny the Younger and likely never will, but I did enjoy my pint of Pliny the Elder. World class?  Far be it for me to disagree with the thousands of top rated reviews.  It is an attractive, bright gold color with a strong, floral hop aroma that also brings out a few citrus notes.  It packs quite a lot of hop bitterness up front with both pine and citrus hop flavors competing for attention.  Yes, it deserves the buzz it gets, though not at the expense of letting others find some love, too.  Which is to say, there's a lot of good beer out there, so don't be afraid to find it and declare it your own choice for world class.  The Neighborhood is a great place to continue your quest.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April 7th is National Beer Day

No, we're not making this up. Would we ever pull a prank on the good readers of Growler Fills? According to co-founders Justin Smith and Mike Connolly, National Beer Day is a celebration of the end of Prohibition:
"In 1933 during the prohibition era, the Cullen-Harrison Act was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on March 23rd. That law was enacted on April 7th allowing the brewing and sale of beer in the United States again as long as it was < 3.2% (4% ABV). It's said that people waited in line overnight on April 6th outside Milwaukee breweries in order to legally buy beer for the first time in over 13 years. As a result, April 7th is known as National Beer Day and April 6th is called New Beers Eve. So this April, tell all your friends about this glorious new holiday, and raise a glass, bottle, can, or mug to the deliciousness that is beer."
You can join the fun on facebook here and read more about it at The Examiner. Breweries all across the U.S. will be celebrating, so drop by your favorite and give thanks.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Flathead Lake Brewing Co. Releases New Bombers

Flathead Lake Brewing Company has joined the growing number of Montana breweries packaging great locally brewed beer for retail sales.  If you're in the Flathead Valley and Missoula, you can now find FLBC's Imperial India Pale Ale, Brown Ale and Pale Ale in 22oz bombers at select stores.  According to FLBC, more varieties will be available this summer and fall.

In Missoula, I've seen the Imperial IPA and Pale Ale at Worden's Market, Pattee Creek Market and, if memory serves, The Good Food Store.  I've yet to see the Brown Ale, but will be on the look out for it.  I'm voting for the espresso porter to be next.  We've already had some Imperial IPA make an appearance - and a quick exit - from the Growler Fills Beer Fridge.

Growler Fills Launches New Logo

In our continuing effort to make us look smarter than we are, Growler Fills launched a new logo this week and we've got some other cool ideas in the works, too. Like a comprehensive database of Montana brewfests and other beer-centric events. We figured you'd like to know some more useful information than what's in the Growler Fills Beer Fridge.

Leave a comment or send us an email and let us know what you think about the new logo. Who knows, maybe it will turn up on a t-shirt one day or a snazzy bottle opener.  While you're at it, let us know what else you'd like to see at Growler Fills.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Where to Find Beer: The Ritual Tavern, San Diego, CA

Our recent trip to sunny and warm San Diego was not a "beer trip," but an escape from the long Montana winter we still haven't been able to shake. (2" of new snow on the ground Sunday morning and a 10 mile training run with snow falling - I still did the run in shorts as a personal "stick it" to old man winter). That is to say we chose our various beer related destinations based more on proximity to other activities rather than the reverse.

Having never been to San Diego, Google provided our initial direction which led to the San Diego Brewers Guild and their very handy website and brewery map.  The website has a listing of breweries, non-brewery affiliate members (such as taverns and restaurants), a visitors guide and more. (The Montana Brewers Association has a similarly great website, map, etc. here.)  The guide got us started on making a list, but there's no substitute for heading out and getting the scoop on the street.

One area we heard about was San Diego's 30th Street in the North Park neighborhood, a mile or so long stretch of various taverns and bars with great support for craft brewing. When you get there, the area isn't as trendy or obvious a craft beer destination at first sight, but there are some great finds.  With limited time one afternoon late in our trip, we stopped in at The Ritual Tavern at 4095 30th Street.

The Ritual Tavern has an intimate English pub feel to it with tightly packed tables and a small bar area with a beautiful, heavy wood bar. On this lazy Sunday afternoon, there were only a couple of other patron in the bar which gave us plenty of time to visit with the bartender.  Over an AleSmith Speedway Stout and an AleSmith IPA we discussed great beer and great places to get it.  By the end of the pint, we had a growing list of places to go around San Diego and a real appreciation for The Ritual Tavern.

In the introduction to our Where to Find Beer series, we explained how the criteria has much more to do with support for craft beer than the number of taps or bottles.  The Ritual Tavern is an excellent example.  With 11 taps, it's selection is one fifth of the nearby Toronado (and less than a tenth of the Yard House).  Yet, the lineup is devoted to excellent, interesting craft beers of a wide variety of styles.  The bottle selection is just as impressive with selections ranging from local favorites to Belgian imports. With knowledgeable and friendly bartenders, it is a great place to explore craft beer. 

We were sorry we'd already had lunch as the food menu was very tempting.  We had our eye on the crab cake sandwich and it's already on the list for our next trip.

Montana Beer Festival, Friday in Bozeman

The 5th Annual Montana Beer Festival takes place Friday, April 8, 2011 at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds in Bozeman, MT.  The VIP happy hour starts at 4:00 p.m. with general admission beginning at 6:30 p.m.  Tickets are $25 for general admission and $35 for the VIP entry which also includes dinner provided by the Montana Fish Company. The price of admission includes unlimited tastes, so be careful while you're enjoying this one.  For more information, check out the website.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Montana Growler Fill Bill Becomes Law

As reported by the Montana Brewers Association, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer signed into law Senate Bill 203, marking a bit of good news for craft beer coming out of the 2011 Montana Legislature.  Senate Bill 203 made it clear that non-brewery locations licensed to serve beer for on-premise consumption can fill growlers for patrons to take for off-premise consumption.  The practice was called into question in 2010 when the Montana Department of Revenue determined it did not comply with Montana law.

Thanks go out to Senator Ryan Zinke who carried the bill as its sponsor, the Montana Brewers Association for its support, and many others who spoke in favor and contacted their home legislators. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Growler Fills' Beer Fridge Looted, Replaced With Bud Light

MISSOULA, MT - Growler Fills founder Alan awoke to a disturbing sight early Friday morning.  On his way through the garage he noticed something amiss.  The door to the Growler Fills Beer Fridge was slightly ajar and bright light spilled across the dusty floor.

"I thought I must have not have closed it all the way last night after pulling out a cold one," he said.

He was wrong.

As he reached to close the door he noticed something highly unusual. The fridge seems uncharacteristically empty.  "Sure, the selection gets a little low sometimes," Alan recalled later, "but you know you'll always find something to put a smile on your face." Not this time.

To his horror, Alan pulled back the door and nearly dropped to his knees.  Where a mouthwatering selection of stouts, imperial ipas and pale ales had been, only cold air remained.  That, and five Bud Lights. "Bud Light" he noted with clear exasperation in his voice. "And I don't even rate a six pack."

Investigators discovered an empty, crumpled Bud Light can in the front yard, but so far have no other clues. "It's for darn sure they weren't drinking that after they got to the Fridge," Alan said.

A drop off point for replacement brew donations is being set up. E-mail growlerfills @ gmail . com for more information.