Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Montana Breweries at the Great American Beer Festival

The Great American Beer Festival in Denver, CO is the granddaddy of all brewfests. This year's event kicks off tomorrow with 460+ breweries serving up 2,375 beers to 49,000+ attendees over three days.  Needless to say, if you're attending you'll want to be choosy. The pours may only be one ounce at a time, but 2,375 ounces is still a lot of beer. (That's almost 198 12 oz beer equivalents, if you're curious.)   I do want to go - once - mostly just to see the pure, overwhelming pageantry of it all. 

Even more beers have been entered into the competition.  This year the Festival anticipates 4,000 beers to be judged by more than 170 judges. Four new competition categories have been added:  Fruit Wheat Beer, Chocolate Beer, American Style Brett Ale and International Style Pale Ale.  Since 2001, the top category for entries has been the American-Style India Pale Ale.  Given our experience out and about and at the 2011 Montana Brewers Festival, it's not a stretch to see why.  Winners will be announced on Saturday, Oct. 1 beginning at 1:00 p.m.

Here are the Montana Breweries attending the Festival: 

Big Sky Brewing Co.
Carter's Brewing
Flathead Lake Brewing Co.
Great Northern Brewing Co.
Madison River Brewing Co.
Montana Brewing Co.
Red Lodge Ales
Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co.

Update:  The full list of beers came out from the Brewers Association this morning and I don't see any from Yellowstone Valley on there, even though they're still in the brewery list.  Not sure if that's an error or if they did not end up making the trip.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It's That Time of the Month

Really? Is September almost over?  Seems like I posted a reminder for Run Wild Missoula's August Beer Run just yesterday, but that's obviously not the case.  Here we are on the tail end of September and it's time for another one.  The air is crisp, temperatures are runner friendly and there's a great destination on tap:  Missoula's own Bayern Brewing Co.

You know the drill.  Show up at 6:00 p.m. for a group run of about 5 miles (feel free to go long, or cut it short), then stick around for some great beer and fun with fellow beer runners.  Bayern Brewing Co. is a block west of Russell St. at 1507 Montana St. For more information head to Run Wild Missoula's website where you can find an e-mail address for the Chancellor of Libations.

Here's a map of the route:

Monday, September 26, 2011

What's Trending in Beer?

Like all creative endeavors, craft beer tends to pick up certain trends as brewers experiment with various techniques, ingredients and processes. Craft beer provides a wide ranging canvas upon which to try out an idea. Some work, some don't.  An occasional one might even be the next best thing.  Many aren't even all that new, but somehow suddenly become mainstream.

Three years ago, it seems barrel aging suddenly became common place.  Two years ago marked an explosion of high gravity beers. Last year, Black IPAs were all the rage, though the style is decades old (depending on who's asking and who's telling the story). These are my observations from regular visits to tap rooms, bars and various retail outlets.  Truth be told, these trends are all continuing.

So what's hot now?  Belgian yeast.  It's showing up everywhere. By that I mean it's showing up everywhere you might not expect to find it. Sure, there are more dubbels, tripels, saisons and other traditional Belgian style beers than ever before.  But there's also stouts, IPAs, and marzens popping up with the unmistakable spiciness of Belgian yeast.

Take Stone Brewing Co., for example.  I've got a bottle of Stone's recent Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout hanging out in the fridge waiting for a free day and some ambitious tasters. It's a version of their Russian Imperial Stout brewed with Belgian yeast and anise. Stone also took their long running Old Guardian Barelywine and brewed up a batch with Belgian yeast.  At the Montana Brewers Festival this month Carter's Brewing was pouring a Faux Pas Belgian Style Stout.  The name has be wondering whether the Belgian/Stout combination was originally an accident or merely a recognition of an unusual pairing.

It's also true that the Belgian ale style descriptions are quite varied, providing plenty of room to allow nearly any unusual combination to fit into one category or another.  A stout with Belgian yeast may be described as a "Belgian style dark ale." Some of that is due to our obsession with making all round pegs fit into existing square holes.  Some of it is certainly marketing, choosing style familiarity to better the chances of commercial acceptability.

I think Full Sail Brewing Co.'s latest Brewmaster Reserve beer, Sanctuary, leans this direction.  I'm really digging it, having just spotted it in our stores.  It's billed as a Belgian dubbel, but it defies that style in a variety of ways including color, richness and more noticeable hop bitterness.  Frankly, I didn't read the label before giving it a try and immediately thought of it as an oktoberfest/marzen with Belgian yeast.  There's nothing about that I don't like.  This time of year I can't get enough of the oktoberfests, from the lighter bodied, traditional Hacker-Pschorr to the richer American version of Sam Adams and even more full bodied, local Bayern Brewing Co. Oktoberfest. Sanctuary reminds me of a richer, American style oktoberfest with a touch of Belgian yeast spiciness throughout the flavor profile.

What's trending in your beer world?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reminder: Ales for Trails Brewfest, Friday, Sept. 23

Another week, another great brewfest in Montana.  Now up is the 11th Annual Ales for Trails Brewfest on Friday, September 23, 2011 from 5 pm to 10 pm at Dehler Park in Downtown Billings.  Tickets are $35 the day of the event or $30 in advance. A ticket gets you into the event and an unlimited number of samples from the 40 or so craft beers (pace yourself responsibly, people).

Even better, the brewfest features 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 along with individual brewery versions.  Here's the full details on this great project from the organizers:
Trailhead Ale is a light, refreshing ale to quench the fading summer thirst yet has some subtle malt complexity to usher in the fall. It is brewed with a majority of locally grown Montana 2-row malt. It also contains biscuit malt for a nice toasted bread character as well as some oats to round out a smooth creamy finish. We lightly hopped this ale with domestic grown hops to produce some subtle floral and citrus notes. Overall, this is a well-balanced smooth quenching ale with subtle flavor complexities. Enjoy!!

Angry Hank’s Trailhead Ale - Brewmaster - Tim Mohr. Angry Hanks brewed their version of Trailhead Ale with apricot, to leave a crisp yet flavorful finish. This very smooth ale is refreshing and well-balanced.

Carter’s Trailhead Ale – Brewmaster Michael Ulrich.  Just perfect for the Season . . . Carters created a mild version of Trailhead Ale with distinctive blends and spices and aged to perfection. Well balanced and crisp.

Fat Jack’s Trailhead Ale – Brewmaster Levi Bequette. This twisted version of Trailhead, offered by Fat Jacks, builds on the flavors of summer and contributes to very light ale, a smooth, refreshing ale that will cure your thirst.

Montana Brewing Company’s Trailhead Ale – Brewmaster Evan Taylor. Montana Brewing Company’s version of the Trailhead Ale is spiced with whole Tahitian vanilla beans and cinnamon for an added twist. The vanilla contributes a sweet and floral aroma and flavor and the cinnamon adds a nice element of spicy sweetness.

Red Lodge Ales’ Trailhead Ale – Brewmaster Justin Moore. Red Lodge Ales took this masterpiece one step further and aged the brew on Spanish cedar to offer a unique taste to a traditional favorite.

Yellowstone Valley Trailhead Ale – Brewmaster Ryan Koga. Yellowstone Valley Brewing’s twist on Trailhead Ale is an excellent mix of Wisconsin Door County cherries and American oak. This unique blend contributes to sweet, tart, biscuit, and vanilla flavors and aromas . . . a perfect end to summer!
For more information, see our original post here, or contact Robbie Carpenter, coordinator for Ales for Trails at, or check out the BikeNet website.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

2011 Montana Brewers Festival: A Showcase of Quality, Variety

Quality and variety were on display Friday evening as craft beer lovers by the hundreds took turns talking to brewers and  fellow fans while taking in some of the 70+ Montana brewed beers at the 2011 Montana Brewer's Festival.  It was a beautiful sunny evening in Bozeman and the only troubling aspect was figuring out where to start. (More pictures here.)

IPAs initially appeared to dominate the offerings, but a closer look revealed widely ranging styles from light lagers to Belgians and saisons, to Russian imperial stouts.  There was certainly something for everyone and judging by the excitement and buzz of the crowd, there was a lot of love for our Montana brewers.

We made a point of trying brews we've never had before along with breweries that are a bit out of the way from Missoula.  That means beer from Wibaux and Wolfpoint, for example, and I know what you're thinking.  They brew beer in Wibaux and Wolfpoint?  Yes, they do, and the stuff from Beaver Creek and Missouri Breaks is darn good, too.  We particularly enjoyed Beaver Creek's Paddlefish Stout and Missouri Break's Rattlesnake IPA. 

Others that stood out were Carter's Hop Delivery Vehicle IPA and Faux Pas Belgian Style Stout.  We heard some buzz about Bozone's Barrel Aged Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout, but couldn't find the stout behind all the raspberry aroma and flavor.  On the other hand, Bozone's Hopsimellia Imperial IPA and its 100+ ibus/10.8% abv was crazy good, combining a complex citrus/pine bitter bite with a rich, yeasty malt serving tray.  Blackfoot River' 2010 Brewer's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine is one I wish I'd had the chance to sit back and sip for an extended period.  The vanilla and bourbon flavors provided an excellent compliment to the barleywine, avoiding the overwhelming dominance too common of barrel aged beers.

There were several we didn't have a chance to try, some because they ran out and some simply due to lack of personal capacity.  Neptune's Imperial Brown Ale is one I missed, but I did rather enjoy their chocolate cream porter.  We took our time and practiced pacing, stopping for water and slices of pizza and the chance to talk with a few of the brewers. We enjoyed visiting with some Growler Fills fans and made a few new ones, too.  The music played on as we called it a night and vowed to return to the next Festival.  To see a collection of pictures from the event, check out our 2011 Montana Brewers Festival set here.

When the morning hunger and thirst hits you in Bozeman, head over to the Cateye Cafe for some awesome breakfast and Wild Joe's for some of the best coffee anywhere.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Montana Brewers Festival Preview: Blackfoot River Brewing Co.

One of the great things about visiting Blackfoot River Brewing Co.'s taproom in Helena, MT, is you'll usually find a new and interesting beer to try.  In fact, it may be the only time you'll ever find it.  Frequently rotating, small batch beers are the norm at Blackfoot. Even better, they don't just taste great, they're often educational, too.

Take the Saphir Singlemalt IPA, one of four brews Blackfoot River is bringing to the Montana Brewers Festival tomorrow.  Fans of Blackfoot River are well acquainted with their flagship Singlemalt IPA. Saphir Singlemalt IPA is a bit of a twist on the Singlemalt IPA in that it is both a single malt and single hop beer.  Blackfoot replaces all 4 hop additions with with the Saphir hop variety while keeping the bitterness level and the amount of aroma/dry hop additions the same.  Blackfoot has done this before with their single hop series to create beers using 100% Simcoe and Citra hops.  More are on the way, too.  Creating this series of single hop beers helps patrons understand the flavors created by different hops and the importance of how hop varieties affect flavors and aromas.

Blackfoot River's Brian Smith says the Saphir hop is a special newer hop variety from Germany's Hull Hop Research Institute. It is said to have a distinct aroma that is sweet and clean with flowery/fruity notes trending toward tangerine.

The fun doesn't stop there.  Festival attendees will also have an opportunity to try Double Black Diamond Mocha Stout.  To brew it, Blackfoot River transferred some of their traditional Double Black Diamond Stout over to a special 1bbl tank with organic cacao nibs and organic coffee.  The beer was allowed to finish fermentation and go through several weeks of conditioning while resting on the cacao nibs and coffee.  Whoa. 

And they're not even done yet. Blackfoot River will also have a keg of their 2010 Brewer's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Aged Barleywine that they've saved for a special occasion such as the Montana Brewers Festival.  They aged the Barleywine in 12 yr old Elijah Craig barrels for more than 4 months.  The 10.5% abv heavyweight will surely provide plenty of bourbon/vanilla aromas and flavors.

If that's not enough, they've got one more: Kolsch, a German style subtle, refreshing, lighter bodied beer that is fermented with ale yeast, but at lager temperatures. 

Need any other reason to attend the Montana Brewers Festival tomorrow in Bozeman?  I didn't think so. But once there, you'll have your pick of more than 70+ Montana beers from 20+ Montana breweries.  There's no better chance to taste the fantastic beer our Montana brewers have to offer.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Montana Brewers Festival Preview: Bitter Root Brewing

The 3rd Annual Montana Brewers Festival takes place this Friday, September 9 at the Haynes Pavilion in Bozman with more than 70+ Montana beers from 20+ Montana breweries.  We reached out to some of the brewers to find out more about the beer they plan to present.  (We're still waiting to hear back from some of them, hint hint. And if we didn't contact you, send us the scoop on your great beers.  Thirsty minds want to know.)

First up in our preview is Bitter Root Brewing Co. from Hamilton.  Bitter Root originally planned on bringing their new seasonal, Last Cast Black IPA.  Sadly, it won't quite be ready in time for the Festival, but its replacement sounds mighty fine, too:  Imperial IPA, originally known as the Power of 10 IPA.

Bitter Root's Imperial IPA was first called the Power of 10 IPA because it was their 1,000th brew, had 100 IBUs and 10% abv.  Apparently it gained quite a following with regular visitors to the tap room and now you'll have a chance to try it in Bozeman, too. They've made a few modifications to the original batch, but here are the current ingredients:

Malts: Montana Metcalf 2-Row; ESB; Crystal 15; Crystal 30; Vienna; Honey; Chocolate and Brown.

Hops: Magnum, Chinook, and CTZ with a blend of Simcoe and Chinook for dry hopping. 

According to Bitter Root, their Imperial IPA is a hybrid between a Northwest imperial IPA and an English IPA. Aromas are fruity, with grapefruit and a mild pine resin that present first along with a rich malt character coming through in the nose. As for flavors, the flavoring hops start up front on the palate, followed by a creamy, rich, toffee and caramel malt body and finishing with a nice, warming alcohol heat to make the beer very well balanced. Count me in on that one. As for the Last Cast Black IPA, it should be available in the Bitter Root tap room next week. It's also being bottled and should be out in stores soon, too. We'll bring you more information on it once we've had a chance to try it.

Tomorrow's preview: Blackfoot River Brewing Co.'s Double Black Diamond Mocha Stout and more!

Beer, Youth Sports Collide at Maverick Brewfest

Okay, not literally, but the 13th Annual Maverick Brewfest is a fundraiser for Missoula youth sports and that's always made me chuckle a little. Some sell candy, some sell popcorn and we're all tired of being bombarded with those magazine subscription fundraisers.  Missoula youth sports knows how to cut to the chase in this town:  craft beer. 

Once again you'll be able to check out a selection of more than 40 beers from Montana and the northwest at the Maverick Brewfest this Friday, September 9, 2011 from 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm at Caras Park. Tickets are $10 which includes a tasting glass and three beer tokens.  Additional tokens are $1 each.  Food and live music are also part of the gig.

Don't forget, if you're not in the Missoula Area or want to hit up the biggest selection of Montana beers ever assembled in one spot, the Montana Brewers Festival takes place the same night in Bozeman at the Haynes Pavilion at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds.