Saturday, October 29, 2011

Las Vegas: Craft Beer Hide and Seek

Ahh, Las Vegas. For all it's sins, vices and pleasures, craft beer hasn't been one of them. That's changing and if you like treasure hunts, Vegas provides a mixture of frustration and payoffs.

I spent a few days in Las Vegas for the first time recently and hit up google for a little research before getting on the plane. Phrases like "craft beer wasteland" were surprisingly common in the articles and comments. Yet, another theme emerged, too.  While the craft beer "scene" isn't going to compete with Portland, San Diego, Bend, Asheville or any of the other large and small beer destinations, it's definitely on the rise.

Away from Downtown and the Strip the beer scene has some nice choices.  Aces and Ales carries 20+ taps heavily weighted to high gravity beers. Freakin Frog is well known for it's ever growing selection of bottles, now exceeding 1000.  The Yard House chain has a restaurant a mile or so down south from the Strip.  Breweries like Tenaya Creek, Sin City, and Big Dog's keep it local and you'll also find outposts of the chains BJ's and Gordon Biersch.

As my first trip to Sin City, I was out to see the sights - hitting at least a walk through of nearly every casino property along the Strip over a couple of outings.  While checking out the glitz and glamor of the Bellagio, the freakishly real clouds of the Venetian, the neighborhood feel of New York, New York, the downtrodden era of Harrah's and everything in between, we kept an eye out for craft beer.  And kept looking. And kept looking.  It was actually a relief when we spotted Sam Adams Oktoberfest amongst some American macros at the Mirage. Every casino and collection of shops has a large selection of bars from bare bones to sleek and swanky, but the number of taps usually doesn't exceed six and the selection is predictably boring. Yet, we did occasionally stumble upon an oasis of craft beer. Here's a few we spotted.

Holsteins

Holsteins is one we nearly missed. Well, that can actually be said for almost all of them.  It's not like it's hidden, but a place called Holsteins Shakes and Buns and featuring milkshakes and burgers isn't something that naturally screams "beer."  Nevertheless, from a distance my eye caught what looked like a long line of taps and, being the thirsty types, we took a detour.

Holsteins is inside the Cosmopolitan on the second floor and has 23 taps with a little something of everything. Nothing unusual, but on the strip, this counts as a darn fine selection.  They've also got 100 plus bottles and I noticed some interesting high gravity stuff and a good variety.  We chose to try the local tap and got a pint of Tenaya Creek Hop Ride IPA (picture below).  All around, this was a very nice beer.  Great aroma, nicely balanced hops and plenty of flavor.

Pour 24

Pour 24 is on the second floor of the New York, New York casino, right next to the escalators headed down to the casino and restaurants. Maybe that's why we missed it the first two times we walked by. That's what a strong hunger and a million things to gawk at will do.  As the name indicates, there's 24 taps. Again, there's nothing unusual, but a good variety of styles from Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA to Rogue Shakespeare Stout will having you flipping for joy on the Strip.

I stayed local again, choosing a Tenaya Creek Calico Brown Ale. I didn't keep any notes, but remember it being one of the better brown ales I've had in a while with some unusual quality about it.  Wish I could remember what that was.  When you're there, grab a seat overlooking the casino for a great view of the action and slip a 5 spot into the machines while you take in a pint.

Spago

Spago is a Wolfgang Puck restaurant inside the Forum Shops at Caesars.  We stopped there for a late dinner, but ended up impressed by the beer list. It isn't huge, with perhaps 8 taps and a number of bottles, but there were unique choices compared to everything else we'd seen.  We picked a draft pint of Goose Island Matilda which the menu described as a "pale ale," omitting the "Belgian style" from the official description.  One whiff of the aroma revealed the fortuitous omission, however, and the beer paired very well with some spicy "chicken lolipops." 

Todd English P.U.B.

Todd English P.U.B., or Public Urban Bar, is a classy "carvery," grill, oyster bar and tap house just outside the Aria Casino at the Crystals at City Center shopping area.  The Aria sits a bit farther off the Strip (so it seems) and you're not likely to stumble upon this place unless you're making a point of checking out as much of the glitz and glamor tour as we were.

At first glance when you step inside, the attractive joint gives the impression it has just a few taps.  That's only because they're placed in small groupings around the perimeter of the bar.  Take a look at the Draught List in the picture and you'll see quite the opposite.  Right, that's 39 on the list, by far the most we saw.  That said, you'd better like brews from the U.K. as they dominate the list.  We didn't have time to stop for a pint, or to check out the bottle list as we were making tracks for dinner at a different joint.

A couple of other restaurants we noticed with a few craft taps were BLT Burger in the Mirage (great burgers, by the way) with a couple decent craft beers amongst their 10 or so taps and Broadway Burger Bar and Grill in the New York, New York casino with 8 taps including Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Firestone Union Jack IPA, Stone Arrogant Bastard, Abita Turbodog Brown Ale and the like.

Take a look at reviews for any of these spots or one of the hundreds of others on the Las Vegas Strip and you'll see multiple comments about sticker shock on the price of beer.  It's true. Pints are pricey, though so is everything else.  Expect a minimum of $6 for 14 ounces.  $7 to $9 is common for pints running 14 to 16 ounces and sometimes up to 20 ounces.  For higher gravity beers and 22 oz. bombers, I saw prices running $12 to $15. We expected those prices, but they still hurt when $3.50 pints can still be found around Missoula and $4.00 is more the norm.

The four places mentioned above aren't casino bars (they don't ring the central casino areas) and don't comp beers if you're gambling. (Pour 24 has video poker machines, but didn't comp.)  Unfortunately, the bars that do ring the casino areas and will comp if you're playing a machine at the bar generally have the same boring selection.  We're not much for sitting at the banks of slots forming the bulk of most casino areas, but will pop a few bucks at a machine built into the bar if there's a decent beer to be found. The Sports Bar at the Mirage at least had Sam Adams Oktoberfest (which I rather enjoy) and the Bar Moderno at the Aria had Anchor Steam, Abita Purple Haze, Sam Adams Oktoberfest and a couple of others.

Downtown, Old Vegas, Old School

When you're ready for a little different experience, head north of the Strip to Downtown Las Vegas and the compact, old school, Fremont Street collection of original casinos.  Here, the craft beer treasure hunt paid some nice dividends.  (And a few of the slots did, too).  The light show above Freemont Street will dazzle, everything is a short walk away, and two breweries await the adventurous. It's also much cheaper all around.

Chicago Brewing Co.

Tucked into a dark corner of the 4 Queens Casio is the Chicago Brewing Company. Grab a seat at the bar, slip some bills into the machines and they'll comp you one of their award winning beers. The beers are brewed at the original location on Fort Apache Road, but you'll find six on tap here including a very good IPA.  The Hardaway IPA is full flavored with a nice pine hop punch and a good splash of citrus. It pairs well with the pizza they're known for.  I recommend the garlic knots followed by a Magnificent Mile Meat Lover pizza. 

Triple 7 Restaurant and Microbrewery

A long block north of Fremont Street takes you to The Main Street Station Casino and Triple 7 Restaurant and Microbrewery. The restaurant features two long bars, views of the fermenters and other brewing equipment and a large menu of brewpub staples.  It's a popular joint brewing up a great variety of nice beers like a hefty Belgian quad and a rotating series of IPAs called V.I.P.A.  During our visit there were 8 beers on tap.  We chose their seasonal Zehus IPA, a 9% abv imperial IPA with strong citrus hop flavor over a big malt backbone.

When you're ready for a little gaming action, head into the casino and out to the long bar near the cage where four of Triple 7's beers are the only ones on tap.  The Black Chip porter is a nice, smooth porter with light chocolate flavor and a touch of smokey coffee.  At 4.3 % abv it makes for a nice session beer while waiting for Lady Luck to make an appearance. When playing the machines at the bar, they'll quickly comp you a pint (none of the seasonal are on these taps).  Even when not playing, at $1.75 and $2.50 (two separate visits) the beers were a bargain even for Montana prices.  

There's no doubt we missed some other gems on the Strip and Downtown.  So pitch in and let us know where else you can find craft beer treasure in Las Vegas.

UPDATE:
Here's one I missed:  The Pub.  Located inside the Monte Carlo casino, The Pub has 300+ beers on draft and a bar with a backdrop of lighted kegs.  300? Really?  And me, Mr. Growler Fills, missed it?  The Monte Carlo is one of only a couple of casino properties I did not visit in my multiple trips up and down the strip during my stay.  Figures. 

The Most Dangerous Beer In America Gets Even Better

Okay, so "dangerous" really isn't the right word, but now that I have your attention hear me out. If I ask you to name that one beer that has, shall we say, an unusually pronounced effect on you does one immediately come to mind? 

For me, that beer is Cold Smoke Scotch Ale from Kettlehouse Brewing Co. in Missoula, MT.  I have no idea why that might be, though I've heard the same from quite a few others (like 10). Friends in New England (that's you, 2Beer Guys and Seacoast Beverage Lab), tell me their equivalent is Golden Monkey Belgian-Style Ale from Victory Brewing Co. I've had a couple of pints of Golden Monkey and can see their point. At least with Golden Monkey, its rich smoothness packs 9.5% abv, giving a good indication of where the effect originates.

Cold Smoke, on the other hand sits at 6.5% abv, a fairly normal mid-range spot for craft beer. Still, it has some sneaky quality about it that stays hidden until you least expect it.  Cold Smoke is crazy easy drinking, crazy smooth and crazy good.  It is dark brown and malty with just a hint of smoky roast in the finish.  With 11 ibus, there's just enough hop presence to keep it from getting sweet. Aromas are of light caramel and toffee. It's even available in 16 oz cans and won a bronze medal at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival. Let it warm up a bit to get the real flavors out of it.

So what makes it even better?  Try aging it for a year in oak bourbon barrels. Kettlehouse did just that, setting aside some of their Cold Smoke to see what would happen. I'm a little late in getting this post up as the beer is gone now, but I had a chance to try it a day or so after it was released in early October. As you would expect for that length of aging, the beer took on strong bourbon and vanilla aromas with similarly strong bourbon and vanilla flavors which dominate.  Kettlehouse says the beer takes on 2 to 2.5 % alcohol from the bourbon barrels and the increase is noticeable. Among the vanilla and bourbon flavors is some alcohol punch - more than you might expect for a 9% abv beer. It takes a while for the traditional Cold Smoke flavors to show up, but they do get there.  They're mostly present in the finish along with lingering vanilla.

What's your most dangerous beer? 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

From Fledgling Homebrewer to Experimental Veteran, This Book's For You

I got word yesterday that the Brooklyn Brew Shop's Beer Making Book is ready to launch on November 1, 2011.  Unlike most homebrew recipe books, this collection by Erica Shea and Stephen Valand will take your homebrewing adventures far beyond the norm, one gallon at a time.

One gallon you say?  The traditional homebrew batch is five gallons, or enough for two cases of bottles or one nice soda keg.  Yet, that's a lot of beer and makes wild experimentation a dicey proposition. One gallon batches aren't a new thing, but Erica and Stephen looked for a way "to brew on a smaller scale to make it more like cooking."  It reduced the time for brewing, created less mess, made it easier to handle and, with three stove burners, allowed them to make three different batches at the same time.

These guys have spent the past three years at the Brooklyn Flea Market teaching people how to brew beer while selling small batch equipment kits and ingredient mixes.  Their approach and success drew local, then national media attention.  They gave a presentation at the 2011 Beer Bloggers Conference that was as witty, smart and informative as it was humorous and entertaining.

The book has equipment lists and instructions for the beginner with plenty of tips and unique recipes for the veteran brewer.  Like their Apple Crisp Ale complete with apples and cinnamon.  The recipies are also scaled for 5 gallon batches if you want to go old-school.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Growler Fills Hits 2nd Anniversary

Two years ago today, I started Growler Fills as a log to record the beers I enjoyed merely for personal use.  That quickly transitioned into something much more fun. Today we still enjoy the occasional beer review, but now provide beer news, event coverage, commentary and much more.

In the past year, we've created a new logo, a redesigned page (always a work in progress), and some awesome t-shirts. In August, I attended the beer bloggers conference held in Portland, OR, beer mecca, easily the best conference I've attended.  I continued my quest to embrace the beer runner philosophy - combining a love of craft beer with an active, healthy lifestyle  - by finishing my first marathon.  A trip to the Montana Brewers Festival in Bozeman rounded out the summer fun with a chance to meet brewers and fans while sampling beers from across our very wide state. It has been another good year exploring craft beer.

So what's next?  Craft beer continues to grow with impressive numbers in volume, variety and the number of craft breweries. There is much to explore. We've got some projects in the works and are always looking for new ideas.  It would be great to add some video from time to time, but need a little help with that aspect (hint, hint.)

How can you help us grow?  Help us reach farther out into the beer world by liking Growler Fills on facebook and recommending us to others.  Send us your beer news, information, notes and fun. Make connections. Leave comments and participate in the discussion. Take a moment to tell us what you like (or don't like) and what else you'd like to see on Growler Fills.

Most of all, continue to explore craft beer and help others do the same.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

50 Beers in 50 Days Video Beer Tour at The Rhino

The Rhino in downtown Missoula is well known to local craft beer lovers and many from points far away.  Its 50 taps are most in Montana.  Though they don't all rotate, most do and keep beer lovers happy with an ever changing selection.  The Rhino's reputation and connections often tend to bring in beers you might not expect to find an out-of-the-way-place like Montana. Without a doubt, The Rhino is a huge supporter of craft beer and a great stop for anyone looking for something interesting to try.

The Rhino recently launched a new blog called 50 Beers in 50 Days with a video series covering all 50 taps.  It's scheduled to run from October 10 through November 28th.   They plan to have information about the beers, breweries, and brewing processes including interviews with some of the distributors and brewers. 

Head to the blog to keep track of the daily action, or "like" their facebook page to get regular updates.

Friday, October 7, 2011

2nd Annual Ryan United Brewmasters' Dinner, Sat. Oct. 8

Sorry we didn't see this one earlier, but if you're in or near Helena Saturday and seeking a fun event for a good cause, you might be interested in checking out the Ryan United 2nd Annual Brewmasters' Dinner.  The dinner features food prepared by Helena's Silver Star Steak Company (excellent, by the way) and fantastic beer from Helena's two breweries, Lewis and Clark Brewing and Blackfoot River Brewing.

The dinner takes place Saturday, October 8, 2011, at 5:30 p.m. at the Best Western Great Northern Hotel and the Silver Star Steak Company in Helena, MT.  Tickets are $50 per person, or $260 per corporate table.  Proceeds benefit Ryan United, a Helena based nonprofit providing community safety programs to Montana communities and forwarding its mission of ending child predation in America.  A silent auction and live entertainment round out the evening.

A "welcome beer" features Blackfoot Koelsch followed by Lewis and Clark's Miner's Gold served with  smoked chicken bruschetta with goat cheese, roasted tomato and basil. Blackfoot's Oktoberfest follows with wild boar sausage, German mustard and red cabbage.  Next up will be Lewis and Clark's Prickly Pear Pale Ale paired with beer-brined grilled pork with roasted yukon potatoes and a pale ale demiglace. As if that's not enough, Blackfoot's Double Citra IPA gets paired with a cranberry brisket and butternut squash puree and fried onions.  Finally, Lewis and Clark's Weizenbock arrives with stout cake.

Yeah, now I'm hungry.  And thirsty.

For ticket information, head here.

Save the Date: Bitter Root Brewery Anniversary Party

Ahh . . lucky 13.  Bitter Root Brewery turns 13 this month and they're throwing an Anniversary Party to thank all their fans and supporters.  With the recent development of their most excellent Red Dread, Trippel, and Last Cast seasonal beers, there's every reason to believe the brewery's best years are still to come.

As for the party, it takes place at the brewery in Hamilton, MT, on Sunday, October 16, 2011 from 11:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.  Live music with Andre Floyd starts up at 5:00 p.m.  All beers are $2 and there will be food specials, giveaways, discounts on Bitter Root merchandise and an all around good time. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sign Up Now for FLBC's Fall 2011 Brewer's Dinner

Flathead Lake Brewing Co. of Missoula is holding its second Brewer's Dinner Friday, October 14, 2011, from 6:30 to 9:00 pm at the pub in Missoula.  If you want to go, you'll need to sign up right away (by Sunday) by calling Nicole at (406) 542-3847, or sending her an email at Nicole  at flbcofmissoula.com.

Tickets are $68/person which includes gratuity.  For that, you'll get five FLBC beers (including the first to try this year's Holiday Ale), a four course dinner, music, and presentations from FLBC's brewer, Tim Jacoby, and the chefs at Sapore Restaurant. 

For more info head to FLBC of Missoula's facebook page here.

(Beer) Running Lessons: Acceptance

Acceptance. That's a concept I've been struggling with lately. Three months ago on July 10, 2011 I crossed the finish line of my first marathon, the Missoula Marathon, capping a quest many miles in the making. Since then, running has been a bit of a struggle.

I'd read enough and talked enough to know it takes a while to recover from a marathon, no matter whether it's your first or tenth. I knew it would be best to ease back into things and not to expect too much. I knew everyone was different and there's certainly a difference between someone like me, still a new runner, and someone who has years of running success behind them. Still, I figured I was in the best shape of my life and should spring right back to running with zero lag time.

Damn reality.

I felt good enough to run two days after the marathon, but work and life forced me to wait five days. By then, the annual summer heat was on in Missoula. Runs that were pleasant in the 50s and 60s suddenly sucked in the 70s and 80s.  The effect of the heat made me forget I'd just run a 26.2 mile race. Or more specifically, it was impossible to tell how much of my struggle was due to the race and how much was due to the heat.

The heat continued all through July, August and most of September. I've had two recurring problems.  First, energy has been a hit and miss proposition. Second, I'm pretty sure I seriously strained my lower abdominal muscles during the marathon and they're nowhere close to being healed.  I've mostly hit my post marathon goal of at least 25 miles a week, but it hasn't been easy.

Okay, I'll admit it.  I need a break.

That's harder to admit than it might seem.  I still have goals.  Our local running club, Run Wild Missoula, has a 1200 Mile Club, providing encouragement for people to run a total of 1,200 miles during the calendar year.  I'm 65 miles away and it's only October.  I also want to maintain a good base.  I lost far too much fitness last year by inadvertently and unwillingly taking most of November and December off from running. Plus, running in Montana in October is a fantastic treat of great scenery and beautiful weather.

But I do need a break.

I need to heal.  I've got friends who do 100 mile races and are back at it with a few days rest.  Yeah, they're freaks of nature and I readily recognize I'm not.  But I also realize I've been pretty lucky with this running adventure.  I've managed to train for my first half and my first full marathon without major injuries and set backs. I have friends half my age who can't say that.

So it's time to be smart and make sure my adventure can stay that way. I WILL hit 1200 miles and probably a few more.  But I'm not going to let my obsessive quest for mile after mile create setbacks that leave me struggling come January and my next marathon. I need to get right. It's time to cut way back - not stop completely - for a while.  Cross training would be smart, though access to that isn't as easy as a pair of running shoes. 

There's the lesson for this beer runner.  Listen to your body. Accept what it's telling you. Do something about it. Continue the quest.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Seeley Lake Brewfest this Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011

The Seeley Lake Brewfest takes place this Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011 from 11:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. during the two-day Tamarack Festival in scenic Seeley Lake, MT.  Tickets are $15 which includes a commemorative pint glass and two drink tickets.  Additional drink tickets are $2 each.

It also looks like early arrivals may get a chance to try beer from Draught Works, Missoula's newest brewery that hasn't quite opened its doors.  At 7:00 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7, Draught Works will will be "presenting their beer and explaining their brewing process at Double Arrow Resort" according to the Festival information.  A pub crawl in downtown Seeley Lake follows

There's a lot more going on during the festival as well.  Here's a look at the full schedule:

Friday Oct. 7th
  • 7:00 PM Draught Works Brewery will be presenting their beer and explaining their brewing process at Double Arrow Resort.  Afterwords its to downtown Seeley Lake where we will begin the pub crawl
Saturday Oct. 8th
  • 8AM Seeley Lake Challenge Summer Biathlon 
  • 10AM-4PM Alpine Artisans Tour of the Arts
  • 11AM-5PM Classic Car Show and Shine Throughout Town Sign Up At Parts Plus
  • 11AM-6:30PM Brew Fest and Tamarack Festival at One-Stop Lawn. Live Music! Wine Bar! Food! Arts and Crafts!
  • 6PM Growler Fill Bring Your Own Growlers or Buy One of Our Big Sky Brewery/Seeley Lake Brew Fest Growlers to Fill!
  • 6:30PM Dinner and Beverages Throughout Seeley Lake
Sunday Oct. 9th
  • 10AM-3PM Tamarack Festival 
  • 10AM-2PM Littlebird's Marketplace Harvest Market
  • 11AM-4PM Alpine Artisans Tour of the Arts
  • 1PM Sparrow's Vine Walkathon Fundraiser 
  • 6:30PM 2 Valley's Stage Concert Foothills Brass Quintet at Seeley-Swan High School
More information is available at the Seeley Lake Brewfest facebook page.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Montana Winners at the GABF

The winners of the beer competition at the 30th Annual Great American Beer Festival were announced this afternoon and Montana's breweries took three medals out of approximately 3,930 entries.
  • Missoula's Kettlehouse Brewing Co. took Bronze in the Gluten-Free category with Seeley Axe White. 
  • Billings' Montana Brewing Co. took Silver in the Baltic-Style Porter category with White Eagle Baltic Porter.
  • Billings' Carter's Brewing took Silver in the American-Style Black Ale category with Blackened CDA. 
Congratulations to Montana's winners!  For the full list of winning beers, head here.