Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Random Beer Shots (and notes) for Your Viewing Pleasure

Some days blog posts darn near write themselves.  Other days, not so much. So, until the next idea strikes, here for your viewing pleasure are some random, recent beer shots.

First up is a Headwall Double IPA from Tamarack Brewing Co. at their Missoula location.  It's an excellent full bodied bunch of hop goodness over a strong malt backbone.  We dubbed this a "freakishly good beer" when we first had it in 2009 and it's maintained that quality. Unfortunately, it's gone for now.

Next is a very interesting brew from Rogue Ales, a John John Hazelnut aged in rum barrels. Yes, you can definitely taste the rum and its associated spiciness. Quite a twist on the much more common aging in whiskey barrels.

If pumpkin ales are more your beer spice of choice, Blacksmith Brewing Co. in Stevensville has a very good one.  It not only boasts a perfect pumpkin color, but a great balance of a smooth, easy drinking brown ale like quality with nutmeg and other spices. 

Last year, Kettlehouse Brewing Co. kicked out a fresh hop ale dubbed Garden City Pale Ale that flew out the kegs.  It was that good and we took home our fair share of it.  This year proved how finicky hops can be when you're relying on collecting random plantings from around town.  Missoula's weather is usually very conducive to hop growing, but not this year.  Many hop plants didn't produce and it left Kettlehouse unable to add much aroma hops, one of the qualities that created such a great version last year.  The result was a good pale ale, but lacked the wow factor from last year.

Anyone a fan of German-style rauchbiers (smoke beer)? This one will play tricks on your mind.  Every rauchbier I've ever tried has been dark brown or black.  Think Alaskan Smoked Porter.  But as you can plainly see from this picture, Rogue Ales' Smoke Ale is anything but dark brown or black.  The aroma is of strong charred wood from the campfire that got wet.  Strong flavors of peated malt paired with liquid smoke follow.

And finally, a shot of one of the wall sconces inside Bayern Brewing Co.'s warm and comfortable tap room in Missoula.





Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Are Your Favorite Hops in Danger of Disappearing?

Here's an interesting nugget that came across the beer wire today.  In Charlie Papazian's latest column on examiner.com he discusses the value of hops to the innovation and creative flavors in American craft beer.  He notes this year's excellent harvest of bittering hops will shove prices down due to the abundance of such hops.  On the other hand, demand for new and interesting flavor and aroma hops - more difficult to grow - is slowly increasing as craft brewers continue to push creative boundaries. 

We've certainly experienced that in Montana.  Several breweries including Bitter Root, Blacksmith and Flathead Lake have experimented with newer hop varieties, creating single hops ales out of hops like Citra, Simcoe and Galaxy.  Helena's Blackfoot River Brewing has brewed a series of single hop ales using their single malt IPA recipe to give patrons the ability to experience the nuances of several hops.

But it was this passage that particularly caught my attention:
Meanwhile I recently learned both at the Brau show and through those in the know here in the USA that there are as many as 15,000 to 20,000 cross-bred hops planted each year.  Only about 1-2% of these make the “cut” for a second year of observation. Over an 8 year breeding and observation period most will succumb to disease, wilting, agronomic and yield factors and more take their toll.  It takes 8 year to come up with only 2 or 3 new varieties (from the original 20,000) that are suitable for sustainable harvests and brewers needs.  New varieties are projected to be able to resist disease for about 50 years before disease organisms eventually mutate and are able to attack the hop variety.
So there's apparently a life span to new hops, which raises the question whether there's a similar life span for existing hop varieties.  And if so, what year are we up to on, say, a Cascade? Obviously such predictions are mere guesses within the backbone of science, but I'm also not sure it matters much. Diversity in hop development seems almost assured as brewers chase a wide range of flavors and aromas.  At some point we might not even care if our current favorite disappears.

Go here for the full article.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Chicken, Beer and Fartleks

No, it's not the latest Judd Apatow movie, it's time for Run Wild Missoula's monthly beer run.  What? You didn't think these monthly feasts of fitness and fun took the winter off, did you?  Even in the dark and slippery night, the beer runs continue for the hardy.

This month the run takes place at Double Front Chicken at 122 W. Alder St. in downtown Missoula, continuing a tradition started last year by Chancellor of Libations Pat Cross.  As usual, the five mile run starts at 6:00 p.m. followed by beer and the best fried chicken in town.  Bring your headlamp, torch or candelabra to light the way.  Not up for running in the dark and cold?  Stop by anyway and make fun of the ice crystals hanging off the runners. Current forecast for Wednesday:  High of 35 and 80% chance of snow. Sounds about right.
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Fartlek. n. Running training technique that blends moderate effort with short bursts of intensity; not unlike the potential results of eating too much fried chicken.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Western Montana New Brew Roundup

Western Montana breweries have been busy lately creating a variety of new beers for the fall and winter season.  From big IPAs and porters to pumpkin ales and even a wintermarzen, there's a lot to try and something for everyone.  With Thanksgiving week upon us, now is a great time to take a break, head over to your local brewery and check out some of these new offerings.

Bayern Brewing Co., Missoula
  • Montana Club Organic Amber: an unfiltered, organic amber similar in character to the amber they've been brewing for 25 years.
  • Groomer Organic Dark Wintermarzen:  Brewed to celebrate Snowbowl Ski Area's 50th anniversary, we stopped in a tried this one last Sunday.  It's very dark brown with a reddish tint and an almost creamy, lightly tanned head.  Fans familiar with Bayern's oktoberfest and dopplebock will notice a similar base profile, but with less sweetness and a bit of a spicy undertone.  At 5.3% and 25 ibus, it makes for a smooth, lighter bodied beer that nevertheless has plenty of flavor.
Big Sky Brewing Co., Missoula
  • Supergoat.  This is the latest in the 406 series of limited releases.  It is an unfiltered, dry-hopped version of Big Sky's Scape Goat Pale Ale and is made with hops grown in the nearby Nine Mile area.
Blacksmith Brewing Co., Stevensville
  • Pumpkin Ale.  Brewed with plenty of actual pumpkin along with traditional pumpkin pie spices, this is a very smooth brew with perhaps some of the best balance of pumpkin spices you'll find in any of these brews.
  • Galaxy Hop Ale.  Blacksmith brewed this single hop ale with Galaxy hops, an Australian hop variety said to provide pronounced aromas and flavors of citrus and passionfruit.  However, after enjoying a pint of this brew, we commented how refreshing it was to enjoy hops without all the citrus/grapefruit notes that are common now. We got more floral/herbal and pine resin flavors. Maybe we're weird that way. 
  • Russian Imperial Stout.  As of last Saturday, this one wasn't out yet.
Tamarack Brewing Co., Lakeside/Missoula
  • Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.  Wonderfully easy drinking brown ale with fairly pronounced caramel and biscuit malt flavors with a good dose of nutmeg and other spices.
  • Headwall Double IPA.  Very possibly one of the best double IPAs we've had (8.2% and 99 ibus).
  • Mo'vember Porter.  Tamarack's description: A big winter porter weighing in at around 8 %.
Flathead Brewing Co., Woods Bay/Missoula
  • Holiday Ale.  This dark brown/black ale with nutmeg and other holiday spices is a hot seller for a good reason.  The balance is very nice and the spices come in hints and pieces, complimenting the beer rather than dominating it. From my memory, there's less spice than last year, but the beer is just as easy drinking and medium bodied. (6.6% abv)
  • Galaxy Hop Ale.  Not sure if there's any left as the keg blew in Missoula just before we got there last Saturday.
Great Northern Brewing Co., Whitefish
Glacier Brewing Co., Polson
  • Winter's Nite Smoked Porter.  Glacier's description: An Imperial Smoked Porter that weighs in around 8.9% by volume and has a deep, rich smokiness wrapped around a very well-balanced porter. 
Bitter Root Brewery, Hamilton
  • Coffee Milk Stout:  Bitter Root's description: Big Coffee aromas and flavors with a mildly sweet finish, made with locally roasted coffee by Big Creek!  Now that sounds like something I'm going to need to run down and try. (5.55% abv)
  • Belgian Barleywine: Bitter Root's description:  Rich, malty and powerful brew with spicy Belgian notes. (10.3% abv) 
Kettlehouse, Missoula
  • Garden City Pale Ale. This is Kettlehouse's annual fresh hop ale.  It isn't as aromatic and full flavored as last year's version thanks to an area hop shortage, but it's still a winner. 
  • Barrel Aged Pumpkin Ale.  Haven't had a chance to try this one yet, but no one in Montana does more with barrel aging than these guys.
Draught Works, Missoula
  • As the area's newest brewery, all of Draught Works' beers can certainly be considered new to many.  Stop in and try: Clothing Optional Pale Ale; Gwin Du Welsh Style Tribute Stout; Quill Pig Czech Style Pilsner; Scepter Head IPA; and Shadow Caster Alt.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Untappd: Like Facebook for Beer

Here's a fun app/site for the beer friendly crowd.  Since August I've been checking out Untappd*, a way to keep track of the beers you're drinking and connect with other beer lovers.  Once you've created a free account, you can "check in" the beer you're currently drinking along with where you're drinking it.  You can also add a rating, comments and even upload a photo. It's a great way to keep a running log, especially if you're like me and tend to try something new everywhere you go.   There's an impressive number of breweries/beers already in the database and it is easy to add ones that aren't.  You can see how others have rated the beer and get suggestions on similar beers.

Untappd allows you to connect with friends by creating a friends list where you can see what they're drinking, where they're drinking it and let's you toast their check in and comment on it.  A search feature lets you search for fellow Untappd members in your area.  It works on any internet capable phone, though there is a native app for droids. Like most apps there's an occasional bug, but it generally runs well and continues to improve.

Yeah, I know this is sounding like an advertisement for Untappd, but it's not. I've enjoyed using it and thought you might, too.  If you'd like to connect, search friends for "Growler Fills."

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* That's spelled correctly: "Untappd"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hop Swap Brings Local Flavor to Frog Hop Fresh Hopped Pale Ale

The 2011 version of Great Northern Brewing Co.'s Frog Hop Fresh Hopped Pale Ale is out and I enjoyed a bottle of it the other night.   Great Northern's brewery in Whitefish, MT is just down the road from Purple Frog Gardens, a family market farm practicing sustainable farming techniques without the use of synthetic herbicides and pesticides.  In addition to the abundant vegetables, berries, apples, pears and other great crops, they grow hops.* Each fall, some of those hops are harvested and taken directly to Great Northern for use in their Frog Hop Fresh Hopped Pale Ale.

This year, some of the other hops in Frog Hop came from a fun barter system set up by Great Northern to encourage participation by area hop lovers.  They invited people in the Flathead Valley to bring in their home grown hops to their first annual Hop Swap.  Great Northern's brewers negotiated with the locals who brought their hops in to trade for beer.

The hop harvest and swap yielded 126 pounds of hops for the fresh hop brew.  Great Northern describes Frog Hop as follows:
Pronounced tropical fruit characteristics and grassy hop qualities dominate the aroma while well-rounded maltiness balances the moderate bitterness.  As a result, Frog Hop is a very crisp, drinkable, and unique beer - perfect for enjoying on a beautiful fall day. 
Does the beer match up?  Yes, in many regards.  It pours a pleasantly rich golden color with a strong white head.  The color strikes me as being darker and richer than last year's version. I get light aromas of floral hops, grass and some slight caramel malt. I also detected a bit more hop bitterness that last year, though bitterness is still on the light side and grain and caramel malt flavors dominate, particular in the finish.  It is indeed crisp and very easy drinking. 

For the third year in a row, I'll make the same observation.  I like this beer quite a lot.  At 5.1% abv it makes for a nice, crisp, easy drinking, sessionable beer.  But with the very cool Hop Swap and Purple Frog Gardens hop harvest, I really want to enjoy those hops more.  I want them to hit me with that pronounced aroma and fill me up with great fresh hop flavor.  So keep brewing Frog Hop, but let's see what Great Northern can do when it decides to fully feature those fresh hops!

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 * Yes, hops actually grow very well in Montana as I can personally attest.  Most years, anyway.  The weather in Missoula this year did a whammy on them. Past years have created an abundant crop.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Black IPAs: Drink 'Em Up, Call 'Em What You Want

Black IPAs are hot. IPAs as a whole continue to be a fast growing segment of craft beer sales and these roasted malt versions are popping up all over the place. The most recent local addition is Bitter Root Brewery's Last Cast Black IPA. On the way to working up a review, I stumbled upon the latest salvo in the Black IPA name "controversy," an article on CraftBeer.com by Stone Brewing Co. founder/CEO Greg Koch.*

My introduction to the style was in January, 2010 with Blacksmith Brewing Co.'s Black Iron Black IPA, followed soon there after by Widmer's W'10 Pitch Black IPA.  Since then, I've tried every one I've spotted from coast to coast. 

Back then, no one was sure what to call them and that remains true today. The chief candidates are Black IPA and Cascadian Dark Ale.  The Brewers Association adopted the name American Style Black Ale, a name I've not seen used even once on a beer label.  Some argue against "black IPA" because the name is contradictory (i.e. a black India pale ale). Stone's Koch points out the absurd nature of these arguments given that current IPAs have nothing to do with India and don't bear much resemblance to the 150 year old original. Some aren't even all that pale.

Many beer lovers decry the overt regionalism of the name used in the northwest, Cascadian Dark Ale, adopted particularly by Deschutes Brewery and many of the Portland area breweries. Stone's Koch dislikes the term "American Black Ale" because, he says, the word "American" is incorrectly used as a euphemism for "hoppy."  On this point I disagree.  Where "IPA" has taken on a meaning we all understand - a moderately to highly hopped beer with fruity/citrus hop flavors - so has the phrase "American Style."  It has long been used to describe what American brewers have done to classic English and European styles: pumped them up, usually with much higher quantities of hops, but also with higher malt levels.  Still, the name "American Black Ale" simply isn't going to catch on.**  Ask 10 IPA lovers to describe a black ale and you'd be hard pressed to find one who could do it.

For my tastes, Deschutes' Hop in the Dark is the gold standard of Cascadian Dark Ales/Black IPAs. It's aroma has elements of coffee, chocolate and a touch of piney hops.  Flavors include roasted malts, coffee, dark chocolate and a little smoke - all over a piney/citrus bitterness that is present throughout the profile.  It has a medium body and an excellent balance between the roasted malts and the IPA elements. Other  excellent ones I've tried are Stone's Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, Bozeman Brewing Co.'s Black IPA, and Laughing Dog Brewing's DogZilla Black IPA.

Having already had a number of excellent Black IPAs and a whole host of good ones, I was curious how Bitter Root Brewery's Last Cast Black IPA would stack up. Could it match the full hop flavor and rich roasted malts of the Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale or Hop in the Dark?  

Bitter Root hoped to debut Last Cast at the Montana Brewers Festival in September, but it wasn't quite ready.  It was released about a week later at the brewery and in 22 oz bombers.  I've seen a few kegs around Missoula as well.  This beer pours a solid black with a light tan head. The aroma is a wonderfully big hit of fruity citrus and just a touch of roasted malt. One sip and you're immediately met with a lot of flavor. There's strong hop flavor from both the citrus and pine realm along with pronounced roasted malt flavors such as bitter chocolate or dark roast coffee. Like Hop in the Dark, the hops don't hide the roasted malt and the roasted malt doesn't hide the hops.  It's an excellent balance that lets both flavor profiles shine through. It has a medium/full body and 6.7% abv.  Frankly, it's on par with the best we've had.

We asked Bitter Root's general manager, Jason Goeltz, what they thought of the naming issue and why they chose to go with "Black IPA."  Not surprisingly, Bitter Root cares more about the quality of the beer - and it shows - than what it's called.  Ultimately, they chose to go with Black IPA because the IPA name is already well known and accepted. Adding "Black" to its name is more easily understood than picking a whole new one.  Curious what's in it?  Here's the list:  Montana Metcalf 2-row Pale, Munich, Vienna, Honey, Crystal, Brown, Chocolate, Rye, ESB, and Black malts and Magnum and Citra hops.

Last Cast is a seasonal. We've stocked up for the long winter, so if you're not finding it in Western Montana stores, blame us.

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* Bend, OR, beer blogger Jon Abernathy, of The Brew Site, adroitly calls such articles "linkbait."  He's right. We both linked to it.

** Well, who knows.  Beer Advocate has adopted the name to use as the category for this style. Still . . .

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

International Stout Day is Thursday, November 3

Just when you were coming to grips with the first ever International #IPA day back in August, along comes the inaugural International Stout Day.  Were stouts feeling left out? Not getting the love they deserve? 

Whatever the reason, with the days getting shorter - and much colder - our attention is turning once again to the season of stouts, porters, barleywines and higher gravities everywhere.  Sure, we never really stop drinking these during the year, but now we downright crave them. On Thursday, November 3, 2011, we can all sit down to a pint of stout and raise a glass to this great beer.

So what is International Stout Day?  According to the website:
International Stout Day is a worldwide celebration of the iconic beer style, Stout. Taking place in homes, pubs, breweries and restaurants, it’s all about celebrating the craft beer revolution, relishing in this beloved beer style, sharing your photos, tasting notes and events with the world.
The Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines  - which are updated/changed yearly - recognize eight categories of stout styles:
  • British-Style Imperial Stout
  • Sweet Stout (British Origin)
  • Oatmeal Stout (British Origin)
  • Classic Irish-Style Dry Stout
  • Foreign (Export)-Style Stout (Irish Origin) 
  • American-Style Stout
  • American-Style Imperial Stout 
Other guidelines, such as the Beer Judge Certification Program, shorten the list to six: Dry, Sweet, Oatmeal, Foreign Extra, American and Russian Imperial.  No matter how you define them, it is clear brewers' imaginations aren't limited by such style guidelines.  The addition of other ingredients such as coffee or alternative yeasts, such as Belgian, create versions that defy all guidelines and keep the style fun.  Personally, I favor the American Style stout with plenty of robust, roasted malt flavor providing a nice coffee-like bite.

Sadly, there are no Montana specific events listed on the website for International Stout Day, but that doesn't mean you're out of luck. There are many fine Stouts brewed across Montana from Custer's Last Stout at Montana Brewing Co. in Billings to Double Black Diamond Extreme Stout at Blackfoot River Brewing Co. in Helena (simply outstanding) to Woods Bay's Flathead Lake Brewing Co. Stout.

What's your favorite stout?