Monday, August 29, 2011

August Beer Run Set for Tamarack Brewing

Run Wild Missoula's August Beer Run will take place Wednesday, August 31 at Tamarack Brewing, 231 West Front St. in Missoula beginning at 6:00 p.m.  Things get started with a group run of about 5 miles, though there's plenty of options to cut it short or go long. 

Afterward, get social with fellow beer runners while enjoying one of Tamarack's many brews or a selection from the guest taps.  Tamarack has plenty of food, too, with a menu ranging from pizza to sandwiches to pasta to steak.  Here's a map of the run route.  For more information, head here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Presentation Matters: What To Do When It All Goes Wrong

You don't need me to tell you that craft beer has arrived.  In many fine restaurants, it now sits alongside excellent bottles of wine where servers are educated equally between the two beverages.  As "sommelier" is a well known title designating an expert in wine, beer experts now have a choice of designations such as a certified Cicerone or Beer Steward.  In one day recently, I had both an extra pale bock and a sour, barrel aged ale brewed with apricots. The variety of choices available even in Montana for a hosted tasting event or just some great backyard drinking are astounding.

As with any perishable product, proper handling is critical.  So is presentation. Even the casual craft beer fan knows heat and light are enemies to beer.  Brown glass is better than clear. Cans are even better.  Some beers age nicely. Some are meant to be consumed quickly. Brewers cringe when they see a six pack of 2 year old pale ale suddenly appear on a store shelf.  It simply isn't going to taste as they intended.

The Brewers Association has a great draught quality manual covering topics like line cleaning, draught system design, gas dispense and balance, and proper pouring and sanitation. Let's face it, dirty beer lines, crummy glass cleaning and poor sanitation wreak havoc.  Unfortunately, most of us simply think it's the beer. And don't forget those ice cold, frosted beer glasses. They're terrible for craft beer, instantly creating an icy sludge and ruining any chance your taste buds have to pick out wonderful hop and malt aromas and flavors. 

Where I live there's an excellent wine bar with an adjacent full service restaurant. Think dimly lit, award winning, popular fine dining.  The food in the wine bar section  is a great mixture of artisan sandwiches, cheese plates, small entrees and more. The wine list is wide ranging and the bartenders and servers are knowledgeable in the wines and service. The place also caters to craft beer enthusiasts with six frequently rotating taps featuring less common local brews and fine regional selections.  For instance, they've had The Abyss and Ivan the Terrible along with Blackfoot River's Kolsch and Full Sail's Elevation IPA. We've been there many times.  The crab cakes are a favorite and we've always been impressed.

Which is why our recent experience was rather bizarre.  We settled into a couple of seats at the bar and ordered Blacksmith Brewing Co.'s Black Iron Black IPA. It's an excellent beer from the brewery in Stevensville, MT.  I've enjoyed it from the very first batch.  We noticed the bartender's first attempt to pour the beer in the tulip-like glass resulted in a half inch of beer and three inches of thick foam.  I figured it was no big deal and assumed the keg had just been tapped.  We then proceeded to watch as the bartender poured six identical glasses of foam rich beer and began ladling out the foam using a soup spoon.  She then worked to combine the liquid and repeat the process to create full glasses of beer.

We pondered for a moment whether we should say anything as we're not the types to complain much.  Yet, this was odd, so we spoke up before she was done and asked what was wrong with the beer or their system.  A second bartender spoke up and said he'd adjusted the system as much as he could and that was the best they could do.  Huh?  We told him we weren't happy with the pour or the presentation and suggested they adjust the system.  His response?  "We take pride in the presentation of our beer."  Hmm . . . so ladling out the foam of six tulip glasses to make something resembling a good pour is a technique to be proud of?  Odd.

The conversation degenerated from there.  The first bartender finished her foam excavation and slid the beer  in front of us.  We were not offered some other selection. There was no "I'm sorry this isn't to your liking, what else can we get you?"  Instead, we were told it's impossible for them to get the CO2 right because they serve a variety of beers with widely varying carbonation levels.  Huh?  That's easily solved with the right equipment. It's also clearly contrary to our prior experience there. Ultimately, we were told they knew what they were doing and we should stop talking and drink our beer.  We left when the second bartender told us he "was not enjoying talking to us about this."

I don't know what the beer tasted like; we left without taking a sip. We weren't afraid of it, but the atmosphere wasn't going to improve.  We assume the second bartender was having a really bad day.  It's also possible we came on a little strong.  Whatever the case, I'm certain of two things.  First, Mike, the brewer at Blacksmith, probably wouldn't be happy to see his beer being served by ladling out the foam from multiple partial pours.  It probably isn't going to taste as expected and the presentation was . . . well . . . lacking.  Second, that beer should not have been served until the delivery equipment could be properly adjusted. Aside from the ridiculous amount of staff time it would take to "pour" a beer like this, there's no reason anyone should have to watch while the foam is ladled off and the beer is assembled from multiple glasses. Bad form. We'd have fully understood if we'd been told the beer wasn't available because they were having trouble with the CO2.

I've experimented enough with glassware to know that different glasses do have an effect on the tasting experience.  That said, I'm not picky. At home, my favorite glass is the Imperial Pint glass.  I like how it looks and how it feels in my hand.  I like that I can pour in a 12 oz bottle or split a 22 oz bomber and have plenty of room for a nice head.  It's good for allowing the aromas to develop.  For higher gravity beers and tasting events, I've got some snifter glasses.  When I'm out and about it's nice to see a joint fit the style of beer with the recommended glass, but I'm just as happy with a standard American shaker pint glass.

What also has an effect on the tasting experience?  Proper handling and presentation. They're far more important than glassware.  Honestly, I don't much care what my beer is served in, so long as it's glass, clean, and somewhere in the family of beer related items. I care plenty about proper handling and good presentation. I care even more about respect.  For the brewers, for their great craft beer, and for those like me, who just might know something about it. What do you think?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Win a Trip to the GABF

Whitefish, MT's Great Northern Brewing Co. and Black Star Beer are hitching up the Black Star Airstream and headed to Denver, CO, for the Great American Beer Festival, September 29 to October 1, 2011.  The GABF is sold out, but you can enter Black Star's Ambassador Contest for a chance to win a trip to the event.  The winner and a friend will fly to Denver and spend three days as a Black Star ambassador, working with the Black Star and Great Northern crew to find the GABF's most worthy beer lover.

To enter the contest, click the Ambassador Contest tab on Black Star's Facebook page and complete the entry form.  The winner will be chosen on Thursday, September 15th at 11:59 p.m. PST.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Montana Brewers Festival Hits Bozeman Friday, Sept. 9

There is no other place in Montana nor any other time of the year when you can taste more than 70 Montana brewed beers from 25 Montana breweries all at the same place.  That's right, it's time for the 3rd Annual Montana Brewers Festival. This year, the Festival takes place Friday, September 9, 2011 from 5:30 to 11:00 at the open air Haynes Pavilion at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds in Bozeman.

You already know Montana is second in the number of breweries per capita, but getting from Great Northern Brewing Co. in Whitefish to Beaver Creek Brewery in Wibaux is a 600 mile trip (one way) that'll take you 10 hours (give or take). Who's got time for that?  Yes, there's an easier way.  Head to Bozeman on Friday, Sept. 9, 2011 and you'll only need to walk the length of the Haynes Pavilion.  Here's the scoop:

Tickets:  $20 in advance, $25 at the door.

Special deal:  $35 will get you in the door at 4:00 with access to the brewers and shorter lines. 

What you get:  A 6-ounce tasting glass and unlimited pours (pacing, my friend). 

Music: The Dirty Shame (classic outlaw country) and, who else for a beer festival, The Growlers.

Food:  pulled pork sandwiches, brats, burgers, noodles and pizza.

For more information and to purchase tickets online, head to the Montana Brewers Association website

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"It Drink Good." Mississippi's Grassroots Effort to Raise Your Pints

Craig Hendry and Raise Your Pints have a problem.  They're Mississippi craft beer enthusiasts in a state that doesn't embrace their enthusiasm.  Homebrewing remains illegal. Craft beer may contain only up to 5% alcohol by weight. There's still a division of wet counties and dry counties. Simply transporting your unopened six pack through a dry county could get you arrested, though no one's aware of that happening. It's no surprise the state only has one brewery.

By Raise Your Pint's calculation, Mississippi's 5% abw alcohol limitation excludes the sale of approximately one-third of all beer styles.  Think about it. No Belgian Tripels or, heaven forbid, a quad.  No barleywines. No Russian Imperial Stouts. Dopplebocks? Ha!  Raise Your Pints is out to change that.

They've had some success in their efforts.  They found a friend in Governor Hailey Barbour who recently signed a proclamation designating July 23-30, 2011 as Mississippi Craft Beer Week.  With no shortage of irony, the document proclaims it a time to enjoy great craft beer while recognizing the considerable contribution from the brewers, distributors, and retailers of craft beer. It also supports Raise Your Pint's efforts to "advocate the responsible practice of craft beer enjoyment and continually work toward advancing the craft beer culture in Mississippi."

Having a friendly Governor helps, but it's the state legislature where the real action takes place.  An earlier version of Raise Your Pints began efforts to increase the 5% abw limit in 2007, readily admitting their naivety with the political process.  A similar organization in Alabama, Free the Hops, is taking up the cause for craft beer in that state.  Here's a short clip demonstrating what Free the Hops faced at the Alabama legislature in 2008. 

Yes, the clip is funny in a "holy crap" kind of way. We listened to it with dumbfounded amazement during Craig Hendry's presentation on Raise Your Pint's efforts to change beer laws at the 2011 Beer Bloggers Conference in Portland.  I don't repost it here for cheap effect. I repost it to remind everyone how important education is.

I don't know the full story behind the clip, nor do I know anything about the legislator who is speaking. I presume he's well known for "passionate" speeches delivered with great incredulity.  I don't know whether this rant was a case of pure ignorance or political showmanship. I do know a little about politics, having lobbied some during three Montana legislative sessions in the 1990s and having followed the legislative sausage making ever since.  True ignorance we can never overcome.  Garden-variety ignorance can be cured with good education. Political showmanship can be solved with collaboration and cooperation.

In 2009, the Montana Legislature took up a bill to increase the state's alcohol limitation on beer from 7% by weight to 14% by volume.  Thanks to the emergence of a great craft beer culture along with the hard work and education by the brewers and their supporters, the bill introduced into the house of representatives had 30 sponsors. It made it's way through the legislative system with relative ease.

Fast forward to 2011 when the Montana Legislature took up a bill to shift, not increase, the hours of operation for brewery taprooms from 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. to 12 p.m. - 10 p.m.  Before the bill's sponsor had opened his mouth for his introduction, the chairman of the committee hearing the bill joked, "What were you drinking when you agreed to sponsor this bill?" It failed to make it out of committee.  We all have our challenges, but at least we've got access to great craft beer styles in Montana.  (Now, if we were only a bigger market. . . . .)

In the video clip, the Alabana legislator asks "what's wrong with the beer we got?"  Isn't the better question to ask, "what's wrong with providing reasonable, responsible access to great craft beer?"  Whether it's alcohol limits, tap room hours, distribution constraints or turf wars, successful change comes only through education, collaboration and cooperation.  Raise Your Pints is working hard to provide all three in its efforts to change Mississippi's beer laws.  To support their efforts, join them by clicking here

Montana Ranked a Top Ten Beer State

Recognizing the increasing local pride in the craft beer world, The Street magazine set out to determine what states can "legitimately call themselves 'beer states.'" Using statistics provided by the Brewers Association and Beer Institute, they created a top 10 beer state list for 2011 based on four criteria: production, consumption, breweries and breweries per capita.  Montana checked in at number 10.  Here's The Street's write up on our state:
Number of breweries: 27
Capita per brewery: 36,645
Production in 2010: 971,947 barrels
Consumed per capita in 2010: 30.5 gallons

The output of Montana breweries including Big Sky, Great Northern and Bitter Root isn't all that impressive, especially considering that Mike's Hard Lemonade alone rolled out roughly 200,000 more barrels last year and D.G. Yuengling & Son more than doubled the entire state's production on its own. Yet Montana's beer production has increased 1.8% in the past decade, which ties Montana for the most brewing growth of any state in the U.S.

How Montana pours out that production and that of other states is much more awe inspiring. At 30.5 gallons of beer per year, the average Montana resident's beer consumption is second-highest in the nation, almost a full gallon ahead of third-place North Dakota and a whopping three gallons ahead of South Dakota. 

Those little more than two dozen breweries may not seem like much in more established craft brew states, but it's the third-best ratio of brewers to citizens in the U.S. There are some hard winters in Big Sky Country, but there's plenty of beer to warm those cold nights.
To read the whole story and see which states captured spots 1 - 9, head over to The Street's website here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Speed Dating for Beer: Beer Bloggers Conference Rolls On

Day 2 of the 2011 Beer Bloggers Conference in Portland, OR, had a lot of highlights.  The panels from industry bloggers and brewers on how bloggers can better interact with breweries gave plenty of useful ideas. Craig Hendry of Mississippi's Raise Your Pints discussed Mississippi's beer laws and their efforts to change them, making us all stop complaining about our own state's challenges.  Well, for a couple hours anyway.

A late afternoon session created a beer blogging frenzy as eight local breweries had five minutes at each table to introduce themselves, pour a sample of their beer and describe it to us.  We had the same five minutes to taste, take notes, pictures and blog about them.  I used Untappd to keep track of the beers and twitter to send it out to the blog world.  The beers ranged from gluten free to sour and the fast paced presentations were entertaining, if a touch hectic.  Definitely a fun event, but there were several beers that deserved far more time to ponder and enjoy them.  Here's the list in the order our table tried them:
  • Blue Moon Vintage Blonde (Chardonnay grapes)
  • New Planet Off Grid Pale Ale (gluten free)
  • Ninkasi Total Domination IPA (pitched by Darth Vader - founder/brewer Jamie Floyd)
  • Deschutes 2011 Jubelale (pre-release)
  • Oakshire Brewing Overcast Espresso Stout (pitched by head brewer Matt VanWyk)
  • Breakside Brewing Gin Barrel Sour Double Wit (pitched by head brewer Ben Edmunds)
  • Widmer Brothers' Reserve Prickly Pear Braggot (pitched by Rob Widmer)
  • Karl Strauss Boardwalk Black Rye 
Following the beer speed dating, we grabbed the buses again and head over to BridgePort Brewing Company's brewing facility for a tour and dinner.  Dinner was excellent, BridgePort was a very gracious host and the nitro porter was the perfect evening brew. Here's some photos of the evening.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Harvesting Hops and a Night of Many Bottles

The first official day of the 2011 Beer Bloggers Conference kicked off with some entertaining panel discussions. Julia Herz from the Brewers Association and started us off with a craft beer industry update. Beer writing legends Fred Eckhardt and John Foyston kept us laughing with great war stories, and Erica and Stephen of Brooklyn Beer Shop proved just about any ingredient can be used to brew fun beer.

The fun kicked up a notch when 90 beer bloggers and industry folks loaded up on two buses for a trip out to the Goschie hop farm.  Thanks to a major traffic jam, the 45 minute ride turned into a 2.5 hour crawl. Frankly, we didn't care. This is a beer bloggers conference after all.  There's beer, and we were treated to samples from four area breweries.  First, Ben, the head brewer from Breakside Brewing Co. poured a black saison, introducing me to yet another interesting new combination.  Next, Eric from Deschutes poured their newly released belgian quad, The Stoic.  Lucky Labrador's brewer Ben shared some Black Sheep CDA.  As if we weren't spoiled enough, head brewer Ben (that's three Bens, if you're counting) from Hopworks Urban Brewery poured Galactic Imperial Red.

Sometimes you just have great timing.  We stepped off the buses at the hop farm into a veritable bath of hop aroma.  The hop harvest had begun just a day earlier and tractor loads of hops were arriving at the processing barn.  For a bunch of beer geeks, it doesn't get any better until the stuff is turned into liquid gold.  The Oregon Brewers Guild sponsored a picnic dinner spread out under the shade trees in the middle of the hop festivities.  Standing Stone Brewing's Nobel Stout and Double Mountain's Vaporizer were on tap and plenty of HUB, Ninkasi, and many other brews filled the coolers. For dessert? What else, hop brownies. Geek out.

Back at the hotel, we stepped into the Night of Many Bottles, a smorgasbord of beers from near and far brought by all of us to share with our new friends. My offering, Flathead Brewing Co.'s Imperial Pale Ale, represented Montana well.  Here's a few more pics from the day.

Craig Hendry of Mississippi's Raise Your Pints takes in the hops.

Thanks to Victory Brewing for sharing the love with some Hop Devil

Friday, August 19, 2011

Portland Pub Crawl Kicks Off 2011 Beer Bloggers Conference

The term "pub crawl" has a tendency to conjure images of packs of young inebriates traveling from spot to spot drinking cheap "domestics" and shots of jagermeister.  Fortunately, the crowd of 40 or so beer bloggers who gathered Thursday evening to unofficially kick off the 2011 Beer Bloggers Conference in Portland has far more respect for craft beer. And good beer was had by all, along with some pretty cool perks.

Perk number one started with the first stop, at Widmer's tiny Pilot Brewery located just steps away from Portland's basketball arena, the Rose Garden.  It's not open to the public, but Widmer was kind enough to open it up to us and provide a selection of growlers to sample some of their wares. Widmer uses the location to brew its one-off specialty beers served at it's Gasthaus Pub a couple miles away as well as a variety of experimental beers. Like an electric pink colored brew that clearly takes the award for most unusually colored beer. I wasn't close enough to the brewer to hear the explanation of what we were drinking, but I enjoyed the three samples I tried, while making introductions with other bloggers and trying to remember names.

Out next stop was Deschutes Brewery's block party, which Deschutes calls Street Fare, where live music combines with some of Portland's best street food vendors paired with variouse Deschutes brews.  Perk number 2 was a VIP media pass for all of us to wander around and enjoy the event.  Yeah, media.  That's me. Awesome.  The warm, sunny Portland evening provided the perfect backdrop to the well attended event.  My favorite paring was a spicy, meaty, Chicago style pizza paired with Conflux No. 2, a collaboration beer by Deschutes Brewery and Boulevard Brewing Co.

Stop number three was the Lucky Lab Beer Hall housed in an old Freightline warehouse.  The super long, wooden tables create a communal feel to the beer drinking and with 16 house beers on tap, there was something for every taste.  Brewer Ben treated us to Perk number 3, a tour of the grain room and brewery facility.

From Lucky Lab, we walked up to 23rd Street and New Old Lompoc Brewery.  It was the only joint who seemed surprised to see us, but they nevertheless rose to the occasion and quickly had beers in our hands.   By this time I was finally starting to remember some names and faces and struck up some great conversations with Ryan, Sean and Amber of 2BeerGuys (yeah, that sounds like three people to me, too) and Bryan of Seacoast Beverage Lab, all doing very well representing the northeast U.S.

While the official Pub Crawl ended there, it wasn't time to turn in yet, so we added two additional stops.  First, no trip to Portland is complete without a visit to Voodoo Doughnuts late at night.  I can't say enough about the Maple Bar with two strips of bacon on top, thought the captain crunch encrusted glazed doughnut looked well worth a try.

Our final stop was Burnside Brewing Co. which looks like it inhabits a former retail paint store.  Nevertheless, the beer is excellent and the food is darn good, too.  I highly recommend the Oatmeal Pale Ale, the first pale ale I've tried that was brewed with oatmeal.  The Sweet Heat was a big hit around the table as well.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

2011 Beer Bloggers Conference In Beervana

Today I'm headed to the 2nd Annual Beer Bloggers Conference, held this year in Beervana - Portland, OR.  Yeah, this is such a cool hobby to have.  While Growler Fills is purely a labor of love, I'll admit it's got some good perks.  Things get started this evening with a pre-conference pub crawl organized by Bill Night of It's Pub Night and other Portland area beer bloggers.  Here's the crawl destinations:
  • Widmer Pilot Brewery
  • Deschutes Brewery & Public House (Block Party)
  • Lucky Labrador Beer Hall
  • New Old Lompoc
  • Rogue Distillery & Public House
  • Baileys Taproom
That's a good perk, alright. There's good conference sessions too. Like session on beer styles, changing restrictive beer laws, working with your local brewery and a key note address from Jay Wilson of Brewvana who recently conducted an experiment by living on beer and water alone for 46 days, replicating the fasts of ancient monks (and blogging about it).  There's a trip out to the hop fields, too, and dinners hosted by the Oregon Brewers' Guild and BridgePort Brewing Co.

You'll recall from a couple posts ago that there's an event called Night of Many Bottles in which each of the 80+ participants are invited to bring a few bottles of beer to share from their home territory or one of their all time favorites.  I asked for suggestions and got some good ones.  Madison River's Hop Juice came to mind, but it isn't distributed over to Missoula yet.  I'd take some Bitter Root Brewing Red Dread, but I've long ago run out of my stash.  Cold Smoke comes to mind as a great Scotch Ale and a favorite of many (and a dangerously good beer).

Frankly, there's a lot of excellent Montana beer that would stack up well with those from around the Country, but most of it isn't bottled or canned.  Still, I'm quite excited to be taking along a few bottles of Flathead Lake Brewing Co.'s Imperial IPA2. I think it's top notch and I've yet to run into any beer friend who doesn't agree. It will be interesting to take it into the heart of American IPA country.

I'll be live blogging from the conference as I get the chance and am sure to have plenty of pics and tidits on twitter.  To follow along, join me here: 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Time to Pop That Cap

What do a freelance writer, an attorney, a medical practice manager, a youth director and two grad students have in common? No, that's not the introduction to a bad lawyer joke. It's the makeup of our first Pop That Cap night and the common thread was a love of craft beer, a desire to experience new things and a willingness to share.

The wine community has an event called Open That Bottle Night. It was created by two Wall Street Journal wine columnists to serve as a "world-wide celebration of friends, family and memories during which all of us finally drink that wine that is otherwise simply too special to open."  As they put it, "just about all wine lovers have that very special wine that they always mean to open, but never do."  Thus, OTBN was invented to create a special occasion to finally open that special bottle.  Held the last Saturday of February (for 12 years running), it's popular and I've participated in a couple of them.

For the past year or so, I've been tossing out the idea of creating a similar event for the beer community to a few beer friends here and there. I may be a bit late to the party, what with #IPADay (Aug. 3rd), #Stout Day (Nov. 3) and National Beer Day (April 7) already taking social media by storm.  Then again, my fellow beer drinking crowd never needs more than a slight nudge as a reason to drink beer.  Plus, what I envision is a multitude of small groups getting together, each person with a bottle or two of a special beer to share, whether it be a long held bottle waiting for a special occasion or a new release everyone is clamoring to try.

Beer is social and such an event should be accessible to everyone - old pros and new explorers alike.  Really, tasting groups are relatively common in the beer world, but there has yet to be a particular day set aside to collectively celebrate that special brew.  Pop That Cap night (I'm not enamored with the name) just might be on the horizon.

With this idea in mind, six of us gathered last weekend for an inaugural tasting group.  Most of us had not met each other, proving once again how easily craft beer brings people together for a socially good time. Here's the list of what we opened (in order) over the course of several hours:
  • Mischief, The Bruery, Orange County, CA
  • Conflux No. 2, Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR) and Boulevard Brewing Co. (Kansas City, KS)
  • Two Hearted Ale, Bell's Brewery, Kalamazoo, MI
  • Coffee Bender, Surly Brewing, Brooklyn Center, MN
  • Porter, Founders Brewing, Grand Rapids, MI
  • Chocolate Ale, Boulevard Brewing Co., Kansas City, KS
  • Belgian Strong Ale, Blackfoot River Brewing, Helena, MT
  • Cantillon Gueuze, Brussels, Belgium
  • Jubel 2010, Deschutes Brewery, Bend, OR
As you can tell, we did not have a theme for the event and picked from a variety of bottles everyone brought as the whim hit us.  I think the collective favorite of the group was the Boulevard Chocolate Ale, whose light amber color creates quite a juxtaposition with the prevalent chocolate flavors.  The Coffee Bender also stood out for its incredible fresh-pot-of-coffee aromas.  As a brown ale, it's the first coffee beer I've tried that wasn't a stout or porter and the lighter brown ale qualities let the coffee shine through. The Founders Porter was among the very best I've tried.  Blackfoot's Belgian Strong Ale focused more on the strong ale side of the equation and is going to be very good, but is still green and getting down to business.

Without a doubt the most interesting experience of the night was the Cantillon Gueuze.  Gueuze is created by blending Lambics of different ages with different tastes and aged for at least one year.  This one was no ordinary (if there even is such a thing) Gueuze. It was bottled in 1982, by far the oldest beer I've tasted.  Age had turned it the color of scotch with aromas strong enough to cause inebriation. The taste was extra tart with lots of green apple and similar flavors.  A curious experience indeed.

Interested in the next tasting?  Send me an e-mail (growlerfills @ gmail dot com) and we'd love to get you into the loop. We put our heads together and realized we can put together a variety of themed tastings with verticals of Big Sky Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout, Alaskan Smoked Porter, Shmaltz Jewbelation and even a chocolate beer theme for Valentines Day.  It's time to open up those special bottles.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Traveling Growler Is Far Afield

John Fremont and his family of five (husband, wife, kid, kid, rescued dog) are on an adventure. Last month they set out from Bend, OR, to spend a year traveling around the United States in an RV.  They've rented their house, said their temporary goodbyes, and set out for destinations mostly unknown. They're excited, just a little cramped, and a touch worried about grizzlies in Yellowstone. And they have a traveling growler.

You see, John and his wife Amelia love craft beer, which automatically makes them friends of mine. And it's not just any growler. It's a double walled, vacuum sealed, food grade, stainless steel, 64 oz. hydroflask. With a lifetime warranty.  Cool.

The growler is on an adventure, too. It's even got its own page, The Traveling Growler, dedicated to the craft beer part of their travels. In John and Amelia's words: 
This is a vast and beautiful country we live in.  It has a rich history and many regional and local cultures and customs.  In our travels, we are exploring the country by traveling its highways, meeting its people and drinking its beer.  The Traveling Growler covers our efforts to visit communities throughout the United States, and sample locally made beer.  We are visiting local microbreweries and filling our HydroFlask Growler* with whatever is recommended or sounds good, and writing about our experiences.
Based on their travel direction, I recommended John stop in at Blackfoot River Brewing Co. in Helena.  While there, John discovered what many of us in Montana sometimes take for granted. Most of Montana's brewery tap rooms are lively, social places with good to great beer and a friendly atmosphere. Some, like Blacksmith Brewing Co. in Stevensville become a bit of a community center. John found the same at Bozeman Brewing Co. No doubt it's partly a function of Montana restrictive tap room laws which limit the serving amount and the hours of operation which end at 8:00 p.m.  These limitations have an unintended way of creating laid back, unpretentious spots to drink great beer.  It's easy to stop by, have a quick pint or two, visit with friends and go on about your day. 

No doubt it's also due to the social aspects inherent in enjoying good craft beer.  Want to get a good read on a community?  In Montana, head to a tap room.  You're likely to encounter everyone from ranchers and construction workers to college students, politicians, doctors, writers, and tourists.  It will be interesting to see if the same is true of the breweries and tap rooms John and Amelia encounter in their year-long trip around the U.S. My guess is it's true far beyond Montana.  Want to find out? Follow The Traveling Growler with A Family Far Afield.

* Void where prohibited.  Ahem . . . South Dakota.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What Montana Brew for Night of Many Bottles?

The 2011 Beer Bloggers Conference is a week away and I'm super stoked to be headed there for some great networking, education and lots of great new beer experiences. On Friday night of the conference, after a trip to the hop fields and a dinner courtesy of the Oregon Brewers Guild, is an event called Night of Many Bottles.  All 80+ attendees are asked to bring a six pack or a few bombers of some great beer to share with the others. With beer bloggers coming from North Carolina, New England, Mississippi, the Mid-West and all up and down the West Coast, there's sure to be some great beer and quite a few I've never heard of, much less sampled.

As far as I know, I'm the only beer blogger attending from Montana. So, my beer friends, what beer should I take to best represent Montana?  I've got a couple in mind, but I'd like to hear your thoughts.  Since we can't legally mail/ship beer from Montana, it's got to be bottled and capable of fitting in my checked luggage.  Other than that, there's no criteria other than to show off Montana's talents. It's a perfect opportunity to show what we get to enjoy on a regular basis in Montana. Think we might surprise a few folks? What say you?

Tamarack Brewing Co. Anniversary Amber Ale

Tamarack Brewing Company in Lakeside, MT, turned four years old recently, marking several years of great food, great atmosphere and a frequent rotation of one-offs and seasonal brews.  To help celebrate, Tamarack once again brewed up an anniversary amber, based off their popular Yard Sale Amber Ale. We stopped by last weekend during a couple of days visiting Flathead Lake.  As usual, the place was packed on a Friday night with a great vibe and some excellent live music from Missoula's John Floridis.

Because the place was so busy, I wasn't able to ask about this year's Anniversary Amber, but we compared it side by side with the Yard Sale.  Yard Sale is an easy drinking, medium bodied, smooth drinking amber flavored mainly with caramel malt and some classic brown ale characteristics.  The Anniversary Amber poured a cloudy, deep amber color with an off white head.  The aroma consists mostly of caramel malt with some floral hops mixed in.  The flavor is dominated by caramel malt, like Yard Sale, but there's a noticeable initial dose of hop bitterness and floral hop flavor.  I'd guess it had been dry hopped.  After about half way through the pint I started picking up on some flavors I hadn't yet noticed.  There was some light vanilla and maybe even a hint of bourbon making me think it had been aged a bit in bourbon barrels. It's a good brew and I had more than one. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Flathead Lake Brewing Co. Saison

Where most of Flathead Lake Brewing Co.'s brews pack some serious flavor punches, Saison lands on the softer side, providing a lighter bodied brew that just might light up your summer day.  We stopped in at the brewery at Woods Bay this past weekend  while spending a couple of days hanging out at Flathead Lake.  The joint was busy as we visited with bartender extraordinaire Glen and took in a couple of pints.

The Saison is a pale, cloudy yellow with a white head and aromas of grain and classic Belgian yeast. The body is light and crisp with flavors of grain, grass and light malt with Belgian yeast flavors lasting throughout the flavor profile.  There is a slight hint of hop bitterness in the dry finish.  Light, crisp flavors of grain malt with belgian ale yeast flavors throughout the profile. Slight hint of hop bitterness in the finish. It has 24 ibus and 5.6 % abv and goes great with sunshine.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pints for Paths Brewfest Debuts In West Glacier

For 11 years running, Billings has enjoyed Ales for Trails.  Now, West Glacier, MT is getting Pints for Paths, an inaugural brewfest to support the construction of the Glacier to Gateway Trail.

The Pints for Paths Brewfest takes place at Heaven's Peak Resort in West Glacier on Saturday, August 6, 2011 from 5 to 9 p.m. Sorry for the short notice, but the event just caught our eye. Eight Montana breweries will be on hand with more than 20 beers. Tickets are $20 prior to the event and $25 at the gate. For more information, check out or

Growler Fills Joins Twitter, Gets Lost

This is one of those moves I was trying to avoid.  You might have noticed my posts don't tend to be short. So the thought of trying to convey something interesting in 140 characters or less hasn't intrigued me. And that's assuming either of my readers even care. Then there's the whole information overload part of it all. That, and there really are only so many hours in a day.  Growler Fills is a "free time" pursuit and some weeks there precious little of it.

I was looking at the list of attendees for the upcoming Beer Bloggers Conference and noticed out of 80 or so, I was in the small collection of people without a twitter account. Hmm. The Conference lends itself to some live blogging, too, given the whole focus is on how to get better at this blogging gig. It even includes a fun round of speed dating for beer where breweries are given five minutes to get you hyped about their offerings.

I created an account to see what the buzz was about (hello, 2011!) and quickly realized something. Whether or not I end up posting one tweet a month or one a day, I was missing out on an important information source.  Sure, most tweets are at best mildly amusing or rather innocuous, but some have a tidbit of good information that may lead to an interesting post.  While we have a few breweries and folks who keep us in the know, most news comes from sniffing things out that pop up on facebook, or an email, or some other source.  Twitter offers a way to make additional connections.

So now Growler Fills is on Twitter: @GrowlerFills.  I consider myself to be fairly tech savy, but this Twitter thing is taking a little longer to grasp than most things.  If you're an aficionado, I'll buy a couple of rounds if you'll sit down and show me the ropes. Meanwhile, follow along @GrowlerFills.  I won't promise anything more than the occasional mildly entertaining or informative tweet (if you're lucky).  But hopefully we'll all make some new connections and have even more fun with this whole craft beer thing. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Thursday is International #IPADay

With the explosion of social media tools comes a ready made opportunity to create a wealth of grass roots events, such as themed celebrations.  It's perfect for the craft beer world.  Witness National Beer Day, created by a couple of guys on facebook who wanted to celebrate the anniversary of the end of prohibition.  Now that's a very worthy cause to raise a glass in toast.  In short order National Beer Day had more than 6,000 members on facebook and breweries across the country got into the act with celebrations of their own.

This Thursday, August 4th, 2011 is another fun beer celebration born out of social media, billed as the largest international craft beer celebration and virtual conversation the world has ever seen.  Tall words, but why not?  International #IPADay is the creation of Ashley Routson, The Beer Wench, and Ryan Ross, marketing and community manager at San Diego's Karl Strauss Brewing Co.  According to their official event information, it's a "grassroots movement to unite the voices of craft beer enthusiasts, bloggers, and brewers worldwide through social medial" in a collective toast celebrating the India Pale Ale style of beer. The IPA style "represents the pinnacle of brewing innovation with its broad spectrum of diverse brands, subcategories, and regional flavor variations – making it the perfect style to galvanize craft beer’s social voice."

It's easy to take part.  On August 4, 2011 (that's tomorrow) grab your favorite IPA, or pick a new one to try, and celebrate in a collective toast.  "Anyone can participate by enjoying IPA with friends, making some noise online with the #IPADay hashtag, and showing the world that craft beer is more than a trend!"  True words, indeed.

Community Brew to be Featured at Ales for Trails

Collaboration beers are a hot trend in the craft beer world with dozens of breweries joining together to brew up something unique.  It's a trend that embodies the spirit of cooperation that is prevalent in the industry.  It's not too shabby a marketing technique, either, adding plenty of one-off beers to entice the curious.

Montana brewers are getting in to the act with an effort that sounds like a ton of fun.  This year's Ales for Trails Brewfest in Billings will feature Trailhead Ales, a collaborative brew crafted by the brew masters of Red Lodge Ales, Montana Brewing Company, Angry Hanks, Carters, Yellowstone Valley Brewing, and Fat Jacks.  In addition, each brewery will feature its own version of the ale to be sampled at the brewfest.

Now that's an awesome idea.  A community brew, plus six variations showcasing the talents of Billings area brewers.  That alone should be well worth the price of admission.  For more information on the Ales for Trails Brewfest, taking place September 23, 2011, see our post here