Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Project Beers: Like Spring Cleaning for Your Fridge

Reading Growler Fills you might get the impression we've never met a beer we don't like.  Not true. We just don't feel the need to write about beers that suck. Most of the innovative, interesting, or higher gravity beers we try come in 22 oz. bombers or in a pint glass at a cool brewery, tap room, bar or restaurant. If we like it, we can grab another.  If not, no harm, no foul.

But we're not just seeking the biggest and the best beers out there. We also frequently look for new (or at least new to us) session beers, like a great mid-level IPA that's affordable, widely available, and not too high of alcohol that we can regularly keep in the fridge.  As you might imagine, there's quite a few misses among the hits.

What happens to the rest of the six-pack?  They become project beers.   On any given day, I've got lots of projects on my list. Maybe its mowing the lawn, tearing out a shrub, getting the garden in order, replacing a light fixture, painting a room, building something up or tearing something down. You know the drill.  Those aren't times for the latest and greatest imperial stout.  Those are times for a project beer.  Sometimes I wonder why I didn't like it the first time around.  Sometimes they don't taste any better, but provide the perfect pause when you've got a shovel in your hand and dirt on your face.

With the list of projects I've had lately, the fridge is starting to look a little empty.

Monday, May 30, 2011

(Beer) Running Update No. 3: The Psychology of Running Hits Home

I'm breaking zero new ground when I say the psychology of running is as important as the physical elements. Still, I've learned a complete appreciation for this concept comes only through personal experience. Even then, the lessons keep changing, tossing sadistic pop-quizzes into the road right when you decide you've figured it out.

Last year, my first year of running, my mind was filled with the typical questions and psychological quandaries you'd expect for a newbie runner.  What am I capable of? What's a technical fabric?  What should I be eating?  When do I eat? How do I fuel? What's a tempo run? How do I train? Recover? What's that pain? How do I push through the days when I really don't want to be running? Joining the Run Wild Missoula marathon training group helped answer some of those questions, but determination answered many more.

This year, I feel like a runner, albeit a middle-of-the-pack recreational one. I spent the first two months of the year building up my base.  Since March 6, I've again been training with the Run Wild Missoula marathon training class, setting my sights on my first marathon.  Now that I know the drill, so to speak, my mind has been able to focus on experimentation rather than trying to stay upright.  Nutrition, pacing, negative splits, and hill work have replaced right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. 

Remember those pop quizzes I mentioned? The first one struck in February.  The shoes that propelled me through my first year of running  - Mizuno Wave Rider 13 - were replaced by a new model. I was actually happy about this, figuring I had a perfect excuse to step up to new technology. I'd be faster, lighter, and better all around, right?  About 25 miles into the new shoes I had a tendon pain on my left foot that was weird and getting worse.  I shrugged it off, thinking it was the normal aches and pains of building up the miles. Fifty miles in? I was about to quit running due to the pain. In 1000+ miles, the Wave Rider 13s always fit perfectly, never coming untied or even serving up the slightest blister.  Yes, it was the shoes.  Now what?

At this point I was on vacation in San Diego and miles away from my favorite running store.* I found a local specialty shop and got fitted into a new pair of Brooks. I like them, though they don't have the same lateral support. The shop owner also gave me a great deal on some discontinued New Balance shoes that I liked about equally well.  The pain in my left foot immediately dropped a couple notches.  After a couple of weeks the pain was gone. Still, you never forget your first love.

Three weeks ago, about 200 miles into the new Brooks, I started feeling a pain in my right foot below my ankle during a 17 mile training run. (It was supposed to be a 16 miler, but I kind of screwed that up.) The pain didn't get better after my Monday rest day.  My Tuesday run was painful throughout and the Wednesday group run of 12 miles just plain sucked.  It wasn't a sharp pain, just a dull discomfort with each and every step. Now what?

Is it the shoes? Sudden injury? Repetitive motion injury? Old and worn out? I don't remember any kind of acute injury, like stepping in a pot hole. That had me more worried. A repetitive motion injury wasn't likely to get better without a lot of down time. Uggh.  Not now.  Psychological overdrive.

I took three days off, missing two shorter training runs.  Sunday rolled around with an 18 miler.  It went fine, but that pain was there for each step. Each step. Each step. Each step.  It drives you batty. I spent Monday wondering what to do. It wasn't getting worse. It wasn't getting better. After a run on Tuesday, I drove over to one of Missoula's sports injury clinics to figure out what was going on.

Truth be told, I felt a little sheepish walking into the clinic. I didn't have any nasty bruising, bright red swelling, or an Igor like limp.**  I had an annoying pain, though it wasn't going away.  One of my running partners sought treatment for a toe injury that will require some light surgery after the marathon. He mentioned how much better he felt just getting a diagnosis and a plan for dealing with it.  That sentiment is what got me into the clinic. I had to convince myself I was worthy of seeking treatment for a running injury. Weird, eh?  There's that mental thing again.

X-rays ruled out a stress fracture and arthritis. Whew. Diagnosis? Peroneal tendonitis. Treatment? Rest, mostly, followed by stretching and strengthening. Uggh. Not now. Not with hundreds of training miles under my feet.  Not with the marathon training in full swing.  Not with my first 20 miler coming up the following Sunday. So I asked the doc: let's just assume for the sake of argument I was foolish enough not to follow the treatment plan. What's the worst that could happen? Apparently, I could significantly lengthen the time it would take to get better once I decided to start following the treatment plan. But hey, at least I knew what it was, what it wasn't, and where it could go. My running partner was right. Just knowing made it feel better.

Then a funny thing happened.  While over in Helena for a presentation, I stopped at a sporting goods store to look for something when I spotted my favorite shoes on the shelf. Could it be? What were the odds they'd have my size left?  I hadn't found a single pair in my size despite far too much internet surfing. Turns out, they had two pair in my size 11s. I bought them both. Fast. 

Now seventy miles into the new pair of my old favorite shoes, the pain in my foot is getting better. I've done all of the training runs.  The pain isn't gone, but my foot feels stronger and I feel like I'm out of the woods.  Is it the shoes? Did I have an acute injury rather than tendonitis?  I'm not sure I'll ever know. I'm also not sure what I'll do when my last pair of Wave Rider 13s wears out later this year. It's not fun repeatedly plunking down $100 for the pleasure of another physical/psychological experiment. For now, my mind trusts the shoes I'm in. 

I also learned last week the reason my backside hurts where my hamstring meets my glutes is because my ass isn't strong enough. Great. Like I needed that to worry about, too. Apparently, if you've got a weak ass, it doesn't fire properly and your hamstrings over-compensate in picking up the slack.  Or something like that.  Try not to think about it on your next run.

Without a doubt, the single biggest psychological boost for me comes from running with other people.  I learned that lesson last year, but there's been a shift with this year's training group.  Last year's group provided great motivation to get out and do the tough runs, but my runs remained mostly solo affairs even surrounded by other runners.  This years group has a greater air of camaraderie and support. Its odd, given that many of the 300 group members are repeats like me. Still, there's less of a competitive edge and more of an outgoing friendliness.  Who knows. Maybe all it takes is a few new faces eager for running endorphins.  Hell, maybe I'm friendlier this year.  Whatever the reason, my group runs aren't solo anymore.  They're with a collection of 6, 7, 8, or even more regular running partners amongst the many others who turn up for our twice weekly group training runs.

Whether we're running 6 or 20 miles, the conversation never stops. We bounce training ideas off each other. We talk nutrition and fuel. Check in on injuries. Discuss strategy. Discuss life. Commiserate over steep inclines. Rejoice in speedy downhills. Of course we talk about beer, too.  One of my running partners says I always speed up when we get on the subject. It all helps the miles pass by.

We don't race each other. There's no need.  We know who qualified for Boston and who's happy just to finish. We celebrate when someone's having a strong day.  We drop back and pull each other along when a tough day rears its head.  It's this collective spirit that lets each of us work on individual goals while surrounded by community support. Now that's psychology I can embrace.

_____________

* When you're in Missoula, stop by Runners Edge at 325 N. Higgins Avenue. Anders, Tim, Meg, Vicky, John and the rest of the gang know what they're doing. Even better, they don't pay lip service to those of us runners who are far from elite.  They provide real support to runners and walkers of all abilities.

** Bonus points if you got the Young Frankenstein reference.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bozeman Brewing Co. Cans Appearing This Fall

If things go according to plan, you'll be able to pick up some Bozeman Brewing Company beer in 12oz cans beginning this September, if not a bit earlier.  Bozone joins Lewis and Clark Brewing Co. in recently announcing they're going to the cans.  L&C is switching over from bottles, but this is the first time you'll be able to get Bozone beer in a ready-to-go package from your favorite store.

Bozone chose cans for familiar and very good reasons: they're cheaper to ship, better for the beer because they're impervious to light and hold carbonation better, much more recyclable (since there's few opportunities to recycle glass in Montana) and quite packable in places glass isn't allowed (on the rivers, for example).  Really, these days about the only reason not to go to cans is the public perception that good craft beer doesn't come in a can.  That myth has long been debunked, but old habits and perceptions are hard to break.  My first craft brew in a can years ago was Oskar Blues' Ten Fidy, a super excellent imperial stout with motor oil like viscosity.  Sure, I love a big bomber of high gravity brew in the fridge, but cans have a lot to offer. For an excellent site with way more info on cans in the craft brewing industry, check out Craftcans.com.

Bozone is installing a new Cask 5 head filler at the brewery to can their beer.  I have no idea what that is, but it sounds really cool.  They'll be starting with their flagship Bozone Select Amber Ale (12 oz. cans/six packs). Tucker at Bozone says more styles will follow, but they don't have any time frame for which ones will roll off the line next. I know it's just a seasonal, but my vote would be for Bozone's Black IPA. They plan to distribute to the greater Bozeman area with additional locations as supply and demand gets figured out.

Bozone is also offering up a way to be part of the action.  They're seeking a cool slogan to put on their cans and are asking for ideas.  Check out their facebook page for more info.  Who knows? Maybe you'll be able to tell everyone you came up with the slogan! 

New Hop Varieties: 10 Years from Test Plot To Tasty Brew

We don't recycle too much news here at Growler Fills, but I thought this article from OregonLive.com was more than interesting enough to pass along.   That's particularly true when it mentions one of my all time favorite beers, Deschutes' Hop in the Dark.  We loved this seasonal beer so much last year - its debut year - that we ended up consuming several cases.  Blame us if you didn't find it around Missoula.  It was released again earlier this month, though I haven't seen it out in area stores yet. If you see it, be kind enough to send us a tip.

The Citra hop, featured in the article, has definitely caught on like a Montana wildfire, and not just with commercial brews from the big boys.  Blackfoot River Brewing in Helena recently brewed a version of their excellent Single Malt IPA using Citra hops and, if memory serves, some other local breweries have been experimenting with it as well.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Lewis & Clark Brewing Closing in on Major Expansion, New Tap Room

Today, Lewis & Clark Brewing Co.'s tap room is tucked into the corner of the brewery on Helena's Getchel Street where OSB sheeting serves as wall coverings and a heavy pine bar guards the tap handles.  Visitors enter through a nondescript door and make their way past fermenters, mash tun, kegs and other brewery staples to enjoy one of the many flagship beers and frequently rotating seasonals.

On a recent Thursday evening, an eight piece brass band was setting up for some live entertainment.  A brass band? The bartender said it was a first and we were both curious to see what would happen.  When the band launched into a version of "Tequila" 30 minutes into their set, we had to admit it worked, particularly in the lively and eclectically simple space that is the Lewis & Clark tap room.

But big changes are on the way. Less than a mile away, on Dodge Ave., sits another eclectic building that dwarfs the current space in both size and character.  Co-owner Max Pigman was kind enough to take time out of the busy construction work to give me a quick tour a couple of weeks ago. Talking with Max, it quickly becomes clear he has a passion for making beer, nearly equaled by his passion for and fascination with the history of the building set to become the new Lewis & Clark Brewery.  The building is a curious hodgepodge of two original structures now surrounded by various additions built throughout its 120+ year history.

The oldest part of the building has seriously thick rock walls and dates to 1888.  Its top floor, accessible by an ancient elevator of sorts, served as ice storage to cool the meat packing business for which the building was constructed.  The ice room has wood walls and floors (and no windows) and the ceiling must be twenty feet up. Ice blocks would be cut from the area's lakes and hoisted up to the storage area where the cool air would radiate down to the lower levels.  A drainage system built into the wood floor carried the melting ice water out of the building.  The building later became the Columbia Paint factory from its founding in the late 1940s until it's closure in 2007.

Down on the lower levels, construction is ongoing at a frenetic pace turning the old structure into a modern brewery and tap room while retaining and revealing much of the wonderful old character. Visitors will enter the main entrance and walk past walls decorated with historic photographs.  Metal bars on some interior windows - suggesting its one time use as a temporary jail - remind visitors of the building's varied past. Opposite the barred windows, patrons can peer through windows into the far larger brewery facility to watch the operations.  The main tap room has two levels, great natural light, and a long, concrete main bar.  The upstairs part of the tap room will have the same chunk of pine that greets beer drinkers in the current location.

Other rooms will serve as a game room and stage for live music, group meetings, storage and possible expansion.  Not that more space will be needed soon. The new brewery will allow Lewis & Clark to eventually increase production by a factor of five. An outdoor area provides a second stage for live music and plenty of room for outdoor seating.  The surrounding fence is already planted with hops - as is a bed on the side of the building - providing a source of hops for their annual fresh hop ale.

The new location is also allowing Lewis & Clark to switch from bottles over to cans.  Cans, Max says, are far cheaper to transport due to their lighter weight and have the added advantage of being impervious to light and more easily recycled.  Another bonus?  One canning machine replaces the four machines currently needed to bottle Lewis & Clark's beers.

Lewis & Clark is shooting to open the new location around the week of June 20.  All signs suggest everything that makes the current tap room work well are about to be taken to a whole new level. Another visit soon is definitely in order.

Friday, May 13, 2011

American Craft Beer Week Begins Monday, May 16

Next week, May 16-22, marks the sixth American Craft Beer Week and will be the largest-ever celebration of U.S. craft brewers with events in all 50 states according to the Brewers Association.  The week is an annual celebration of the more than 1,700 small and independent U.S. craft breweries that bring us this fabulous thing called beer.

Here in Montana, many breweries, tap rooms and bars are gearing up for a big celebration with some great events.  Bitter Root Brewery in Hamilton is offering $2.50 pints, $1.00 off growler fills and 20% off all merchandise the entire week.  On Saturday, May 21, they'll be giving brewery tours led by one of their head brewers from 3-6 p.m. (tours start at the top of each hour).

Flathead Lake Brewing Company is offering $1 off growler fills not just for the week, but for the entire month.  The tap room in Missoula is also having a launch party for their new growler Tackle Box on Monday evening. 

Lewis and Clark Brewing in Helena is serving up a special beer - I hear it is a barrel aged version of the Back Country Scottish Ale using barrels from Bozeman's Roughstock Distillery - along with a special gift for the first 500 visitors.

Also in Helena, Blackfoot River Brewing has a full slate of events with brewery tours (including one for women only), special beers out on their deck, a lunch and beer pairing, live music and more.  Check out their full schedule here.

Most of us in Montana already celebrate our great craft breweries on a regular basis, but American Craft Beer Week gives us a chance to celebrate as a collective effort.  We'll keep you updated on the events happening around the state as we learn more.

Lone Peak Set to Roll Out 22 oz Bottles

Lone Peak Brewery in Big Sky, MT, is joining the ranks of Montana breweries providing great craft beer in the convenience of ready-to-go bottles. Lone Peak's Nordic Blonde, Hellroaring ESP, Lone Peak IPA and Hippy Highway Oatmeal Stout will be bottle conditioned and available in 22 oz bombers. The bottles will be distributed throughout southwest Montana first, with plans to add the Billings and Missoula markets as quickly as possible. 

Owners/brewers Vicky and Steve Nordahl say Lone Peak's fans in Bozeman should look for the Blonde and IPA on the shelves within the next week.  Individual bottles and cases are available at the tap house in Big Sky. Vicky and Steve continue to explore using cans and are looking at ways to overcome the technological challenges in canning machines currently available to small breweries like Lone Peak.

More beer in more places.  What's not to like about that?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Flathead Lake Brewing Co. Launches Innovative Growler

There are many styles of growlers out in the beer world these days, from the traditional glass, half gallon growler, to plastic and stainless steel containers, ceramic jugs and party pigs.  The Montana Legislature even made it clear this session we can have growler's filled anywhere beer is served from a tap.  Now, Flathead Lake Brewing Co. is launching an innovative new growler they're calling the "Tackle Box."

The Tackle Box is a one gallon, unbreakable, plastic, recyclable growler in a box.  There's a tap on the front and the growler shrinks as beer is dispensed, similar to the boxes of wine that have been on the shelves for many years.  But don't throw these boxes away. Once you've enjoyed the beer, you can return them to Flathead for a refill.  If kept cold, the beer is expected to stay fresh for up to 2 weeks.  That's assuming you're capable of letting it sit there that long.  I'm not.

Flathead Lake Brewing Co. is having a Tackle Box launch party on Sunday, May 15, at the brewery in Woods Bay along with some "hints" of their new food menu coming later this summer.  (Incidentally, summer hours at the brewery begin May 30th - 12 p.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.)  Flathead Lake's pub house in Missoula is having a launch party on Monday, May 16th, coinciding with the start of American Craft Beer Week.

The Tackle Boxes look perfect for a picnic, party, trip to the lake, or for hanging out in the fridge.  Well, the beer can hang out in the fridge, not me. (Pictures courtesy of Flathead Lake Brewing Co.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Session No. 51: The Great Online Beer & Cheese-Off

For much longer than I've been writing Growler Fills, I've tuned into The Session, a collective effort of beer bloggers around the world to write on a common topic once each month.  The idea originated with Stan Hieronymus and his long running, excellent blog Appellation Beer and is co-pioneered by Jay Brooks, beer author and blogger at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.  The Session is hosted each month by a different beer blogger who picks the topic and does a round up of the other posts.  Since The Session began in 2007, topics have ranged from particular beer styles to cooking with beer to that "special place" where beer provides some sort of connection.

To participate, beer bloggers merely choose to take part, write on the topic and post it on the first Friday of the month.  Its that simple.  In fact, its so simple I emailed Jay to make sure it really was that simple. Jay politely and quickly responded, confirming its simplicity.  I really don't go out of my way to make people question my intelligence. Sometimes it just happens. 

I decided it was time to take part in The Session, not realizing Jay would pick the toughest challenge to date: The Great Online Beer & Cheese-Off.  First, Jay picked three cheeses: Maytag Blue Cheese, Widmer Cheese Cellar's One Year Aged Cheddar, and Cypress Grove Chevre's Humboldt Fog.  The idea was to find each of the cheeses then do one of a few options: guess what beer to pair with the cheese and see if you're right, try a few beers with the cheese and report the results, or whatever else catches your fancy pertaining to beer and cheese pairings.

I set out one Saturday to Missoula's Good Food Store to find the cheese, knowing I'd seen Humboldt Fog there many times.  I also knew I'd need to deviate from Jay's list since I've never developed anything close to a taste for blue cheese.  Instead, I picked up some Manchego, a Spanish sheep's milk cheese. I'd had this cheese with a variety of red wines during a trip to Spain at numerous tapas bars and thought it would be interesting to see how it paired with beer.  I couldn't find the Widmer's aged cheddar and picked a fifteen-month aged English Cheddar as a substitute.

Now, I've got no business guessing which beer might pair well with any particular cheese.  I love cheese, but haven't ventured too far from the normal suspects. Instead, over the course of three tasting sessions, I picked a variety of beer styles that happened to be in the beer fridge and put them up against the three cheeses, deciding what worked and what didn't work.  Frankly, one I didn't expect to work at all - and was right.  Others, as you might expect, paired well with one cheese, but not another.

First, a bit about the cheese.  According to the google searching I did, Cypress Grove Chevre Humboldt Fog is one of the best goat's milk cheeses around, anywhere. It is super creamy smooth with a pronounced tang that alternates between salty and a touch of creamy sweetness.  There's a black/blue line running through it that is a layer of vegetable ash which also covers the outside of the cheese helping to form the rind. It simultaneously melts in your mouth and hits you with a tang of flavor.

Manchego might well be the official cheese of Spain and certainly its most famous. To be Manchego, it must be made with 100% Manchega sheep milk, a breed of hardy sheep that hang out in the arid, rocky region of La Mancha, Spain.  It has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor.  The younger, smoother versions were what we were served often in Spain while the more aged versions (1+ year) develop a texture that is easily grated like you might a Parmesan or Romano. It seems to be paired most often with Spanish Rioja or Tempranillo red wines. For the Cheese-Off, I picked up a 6 month aged El Trigal Manchego (Toledo, Spain).

Westminster's Vintage English Cheddar Cheese (aged over 15 months) has a strong, sharp, savory cheddar flavor that remains smooth, but a bit crumbly from the salt crystals that form in the cheese during the aging.  As a sharp cheddar fan, I found this cheese growing on me quickly, particularly once I hit on some good pairing.

Now for the beer.  Remember, I picked only from what was already in the beer fridge. I tried to mix up the styles, but realized (to my feigned horror) I had no stouts (of the non-imperial variety), pale ales or pilsners.  So here's what I picked:  Deschutes Inversion IPA, Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock, Dick's Working Man Brown Ale, Bridgeport Cafe Negro, and Sierra Nevada Ovila Dubbel.

I had no hope the Bridgeport Cafe Negro (5.5% abv, 30 ibus) would work and considered it a kind of control sample.  It's a lighter bodied, quite good, coffee infused porter with coffee, roasted malt and charcoal flavors.  I enjoyed it throughout the winter, but wasn't expecting much with these cheeses.  I was right, so let's get it out of the way.  The coffee and sharp hop flavors clashed particularly heavy with the Humboldt Fog and didn't do much for the other two either.  Leave the coffee porters to ice cream and desert.  (Hmm . . . maybe a smoked gouda?) 

Dick's Working Man's Brown Ale (5.5% abv) and the Gordon Biersch Blonde Bock (7% abv, 23 ibus) ended up having similar flavor profiles with strong, smooth caramel malts.  The Bock has a touch of grain flavor and the Brown Ale has a bit of the classic biscuit and nut flavors common to the style.  Yet, despite some similarities they interacted differently with the cheeses. The sweetness of the Blonde Bock tended to balance out the pungency of the Humboldt Fog, pairing and complementing well without wiping out the flavor.  The slight salt flavors in Humboldt Fog also interacted well with the sweetness.  Given the high level of caramel malts in the Brown, I figured the tang and sweetness would play off each other like the Bock, but there’s something in the Dicks that just doesn’t work with it.  Conversely, the Bock paired fine with the nuttiness of the Manchego, but merely managed to stay out of the way of the flavor without playing off it.  The Brown Ale fared quite better, perhaps merging the biscuit/nut flavor of the ale with the nuttiness of the cheese.  Both paired very nicely with the cheddar, with the sweetness of the beer playing nicely with the tangy sharpness of the cheese. Maybe those yin/yang theorists are on to something.

Deschutes' Inversion IPA (6.8% abv, 80 ibus) has become a frequent staple in the beer fridge thanks to its full, citrus/pine hop flavors and moderate hop bitterness that doesn't push the envelope in any direction, but always satisfies in a comfortable, easy going manner. It was by far the hoppiest beer of the bunch and I probably should have picked out a more mid-level pale ale to broaden the hop comparisons. Inversion's strong citrus/pine wiped out most of the flavors in the cheeses, even the pronounced tang of the Humboldt Fog.  There was no symbiosis or complimentary interactions. While it contrasted poorly with the Humboldt Fog, it did tend to pick out some of the sharp, savory flavors of the cheddar. After a few more bites of the cheddar, I started to think the flavors might be blending, but the bitterness stood out as being too much to let it all work.

In the 30 seconds it took to make my head swim while googling "beer and cheese pairing" for inspiration, I did notice Belgian style ales were frequently mentioned.  Given the infancy of my Belgian ale exploration, I had exactly one in the beer fridge:  Sierra Nevada Oliva Dubbel.  Cool. Its good to have an excuse to pull out a quality brew.

Sierra Nevada Ovila Dubbel (7.5% abv)  is a warm, rich abbey style ale with strong caramel malt flavors complimented by an earthy spice of the Belgian ale yeast. The caramel malt and light spice blended extremely well with the tang of the Humboldt Fog.  It slightly muted the tang in the cheese, but complimented it in a way making me quickly reach for seconds. It's a pairing I'd readily do again and by far the best pairing with the Fog. As for the Manchego, it paired fine, but there was no wow factor like with the Fog. It certainly doesn’t get in the way and the sweetness interacts fine with the nutty flavor without clashing. The sharp, savory flavors of the Cheddar provided a very similar taste experience to the Fog.  It had a way of bringing out the earthiness in the beer in a wonderful blend of flavors.  I enjoyed it so much, I cut off another chunk of cheddar to keep going.  The tang of the cheddar was never diminished by the Dubbel, and the two worked together very nicely.

This Session topic was certainly a challenge, but enjoyable, and a great introduction to the collective blogging project.  I wasn't surprised to learn that a sweeter, caramel malt flavor tends to blend better with savory and tangy cheeses.  My prior experiment in pairing beer and spicy baby-back ribs served me well in that regard.  I was surprised at just how well the Belgian yeast flavor complimented, enhanced and fortified the flavors in the cheese, creating a real wow factor.  I also noticed that the tasting order often mattered significantly. For instance, the richness of Dick's Working Man's Brown Ale tended to overpower the Manchego when sipped after the cheese.  Reverse the order, however and the pairing was a rich combination of all flavors.  

Cheers to a fun experiment and The Session, a/k/a Beer Blogging Friday.

Reminders: Garden City Brewfest and BeerCity USA Voting

Here's a couple of reminders as you head into your Friday fun: 

Tomorrow, Saturday, May 7, is the 19th Annual Garden City Brewfest at Missoula's Caras Park.  Sixty beers, live music, and lots of food will be on hand at this popular Missoula event.

Also, Missoula is in the running for the unofficial and unscientific title of BeerCity USA for 2011.  If you haven't voted yet, head over to the poll site and vote for your favorite.  Voting closes this Sunday, May 8 at 11:59 p.m!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sierra Nevada Ovila Dubbel, First of a New Project

Last year, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. released four fantastic beers in celebration of its 30th Anniversary.  Each beer was a collaboration with one or more of the pioneers of craft brewing. These corked and caged 750ml beers looked great, tasted great and were fun to explore.

For 2011, Sierra Nevada has a new project, releasing a series of three abbey ales in collaboration with the monks at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, CA.  The beers, Dubbel, Saison and Quad, are brewed closely following "the traditions established by centuries of monastic brewing" according to Sierra Nevada. A portion of the proceeds goes toward restoring the historic Chapter House building on the monastery's grounds.  Originally built in Spain between 1190 and 1220, the structure was dismantled and brought to California in 1931.

That's all well and good, but how does it taste?  I'm at the very beginning of my exploration of anything in the realm of Belgian style ales and have no idea where this one would fall in a lineup of abbey ales.  But I can tell you this: I like it. A lot.  I've had it on tap as well as from the bottle.

The tap version was a crystal clear deep ruby color with a bit of a sparkle.  The bottle version was slightly cloudy, likely from some residual yeast I managed to stir up while handling it.  It's not quite as dark as shown in this picture. There is a good aroma of caramel malt.  Flavors of smooth caramel malt dominate the flavors with some spicy/earthy flavors from the hops and yeast. It is warm and rich and has the caramel flavors of an Irish red ale that someone decided to a Belgian yeast to see what would happen. The classic Belgian ale flavor stays present throughout and develops a bit stronger as it warms, but remains an underlying flavor to the malt. I've got a second bottle stashed away, but I'm starting to think it won't last long. (7.5% abv, no clue on the IBUs.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hop Juice: Madison River Brewing Co.'s Fun Name and Hop Flavor

While in Helena recently, we had a chance to try a pint of Madison River Brewing Co.'s double IPA, Hop Juice, on tap. The name conjures up great images of hop cones and the flavors and bitterness that lie within. While Madison's four flagship brews are widely available regionally in six-packs, if you're not reasonably close to the Belgrade, MT brewery, you'd not know they put together some pretty nice seasonals.

Hop Juice is brewed with Amarillo and Simcoe hops along with a pretty hefty amount of malt to create an 8.8% abv beer with an impressive 110 IBUs.  It pours a bright, rich looking golden amber color with a white head that doesn't last. Aromas are of caramel malts and some citrus hops and something I can't quite put my finger on that resembles floral hops.  There's a moderately full-bodied wave of caramel malt in the initial flavor that transitions quickly into a punch of citrus hops. Fairly high levels of hop bitterness complete the flavor profile and stick well into the finish.

Note to Madison River:  Send something besides Salmon River Honey Rye and Copper John Scotch Ale to the area's brewfests.  We've all tried them.  Don't be afraid to put your creative side on display.  

Monday, May 2, 2011

BeerCity USA 2011 Voting Begins Today

Voting in Charlie Papazian's BeerCity USA 2011 Poll opened today and Missoula, MT is one of the choices where you can cast your vote. Missoulians should be honored to be one of the possible winners, but don't take the unscientific poll too seriously.  It's meant as a fun exercise to celebrate craft brewing, generate discussion and create some friendly competition.  After all, how many Montanans even know last year's winner, Asheville, NC, has a thriving beer scene?  Well, careful readers of Growler Fills do, but both of them probably already knew it.

Stop by Charlie's Poll and cast your vote. There are a lot of great choices like Portland, San Diego and, yes, Missoula, which came in 5th in last year's poll. Voting runs only one week and will close at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, May 8, so go vote!