Saturday, December 31, 2011

Notable 2011 Montana Craft Beer Stories

Throughout 2011, Montana's craft breweries continued to capture new fans while giving long-time followers so much more to enjoy. On this final day of 2011, here's a look back at some of the notable stories.  

1. Turf Wars Alive and Well in Montana Alcohol Laws

Beer is social. And I'm not talking about the effect it creates after one too many. I've been to several hours-long beer tasting groups with people I've never met.  I've sat around the bar stools with fellow beer bloggers I'd just been introduced to. I've struck up conversations with strangers over pints of interesting new beers.  The common theme? Craft beer is a fascinating, infinitely varied creation people love to talk about.  Total strangers can become good friends in minutes when sharing a couple pints.

So, when it comes to Montana's three tiered alcohol licensing system, why can't we figure out how to get along? 

The 2011 Montana Legislature took up several alcohol related proposals.  While a proposal to allow any location with an on-premise license to fill growlers met little opposition, the proposal to shift, not increase, tap room hours was dead on arrival.


2. Craft Beer Production Continues to Expand

Can you believe it? With Higherground Brewing Co. and Bowser Brewing Co. opening in mid-December, Montana now has 30 breweries.  That number doesn't include Kettlehouse's second location, or brewery specific tap rooms (Tamarack, Lakeside and Neptune have opened outposts featuring their beers). Draught Works Brewery opened in Missoula. 406 Brewing Co. opened in Bozeman.

Montana's existing breweries aren't sitting still either.  Angy Hanks and Himmelberger Brewing Co. in Billings are taking on major expansion projects. Lewis and Clark Brewing Co. moved into a great new space earlier this year.  Bozone, Bayern, Blacksmith, Big Sky, Blackfoot River, Tamarack, Flathead and others added new equipment.  Lone Peak started bottling, Bozone started canning and Lewis and Clark switched from bottles to cans.

It's an exciting time for craft beer in Montana and something tells me we're just getting started. (Just think where it could be if we could all get along.)


3. Record Participation at the Montana Brewers Festival

The Montana Brewers Festival saw a record number of breweries, beers and attendance in its third annual celebration of Montana's craft beer industry.  Twenty five breweries brought more than 70 Montana brewed beers to the festival, held in Bozeman on a beautiful sunny, fall evening.  Our story and lots of great pictures from the event is here.

For 2012 the Festival moves to Missoula's Caras Park on October 6 where it is almost certain to break every record in the book.

4. Growler Fills Turns Two

What? Not a notable story?  Okay, call it a shameless plug, then.  Have you "liked" our facebook page?  Followed us on Twitter? Become friends on Untappd? Help us grow and keep sending us your news, events, comments, suggestions, beer and schwag.

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Growler Fills Beer Awards

The Growler Fills Beer Awards return for 2011 to mark another great year for craft beer in Montana and beyond.  This year, we invited three fellow Montana beer bloggers to take part in the fun and help broaden the perspective.  Two had been living in Billings and Bozeman, respectively, until recently relocating to the Missoula area. The four of us gathered around pints at the The Rhino in Missoula to talk shop and sing the praises of everything that is good about craft beer. We did not discuss our selections. In the end, no one knew what the others were picking.

There are some familiar brews from last year's awards as well as some new favorites. The fact that some of the breweries make multiple appearances in this list is no fluke. So, with thirsts lusting for great craft beer, we bring you the second annual Growler Fills Beer Awards.

The Panelists:  Alan and Cheryl of Growler Fills; Ryan of Drink It Missoula; Curtis of Montanabeers.com; and Radd of RockiesBrew.com.

Categories: Montana Year-Round Beer of the Year, Montana Seasonal Beer of the Year and Non-Montana Beer of the Year.  A year-round beer is one you expect to find bottled, canned, or on tap at the brewery a majority of the year.  A seasonal beer might be a one-and-done, a regularly recurring limited release, or one that appears multiple times at odd intervals. Non-Montana beers can be anything brewed outside the state.

Criteria: There isn't any. If there's one thing we've learned in two years of the Growler Fills blog, everyone's tastes are different.  Thus, the awards are based largely on gut reactions after looking back across the beers that crossed our path in 2011. We took into consideration which beers we rushed to stock up on and which ones we routinely looked for, craved, or ordered up when out and about. Since taste is fickle and ever changing, we tried not to let the beer of the moment carry undue weight. There's no science or statistics involved. Your results may vary.

Montana Year-Round Beer of the Year

Alan:  Double Black Diamond Extreme Stout, Blackfoot River Brewing Co.  Alan's take: You rarely find this delicious, full-bodied, highly roasted stout outside of Helena and that's a crying shame.  It's a robust stout lover's dream with tons of dark roasted coffee and dark chocolate flavors. It's the beer I crave more than any other whenever I get near Helena - or is that Blackfoot's North Fork Organic Porter. Hmm . . . . .

Radd:  HopZone IPA, Bozeman Brewing Company.  Radd's take: In the summer, it has a refreshing hop crispness that tastes great on the hottest of afternoons. When old man winter descends on us, this brew offers a nice warmth in the belly. The availability of HopZone is increasing with the Bozeman Brewing Company's canning line coming into service. I also considered Copper John Scotch Ale from Madison River and Hat Trick Hop IPA from Tamarack. 

Curtis: Single Malt IPA, Blackfoot River Brewing Co. Curtis' take:  With the deadline fast approaching for the Beer of the Year Awards hosted by Growler Fills, I did the only thing a reasonable person would do. Call in sick and start drinking... or is that the other way around.  As an IPA fan this is the best in the state and can be found at most local bars that boast a generous tap-line. Hoppy? you could say that.  Crisp? of course. All of the characteristics of an IPA that IPA lovers want and the smoothness that non-IPA drinkers will find themselves ordering another pint.

Ryan: Imperial IPA, Flathead Lake Brewing Co. Ryan's take:  My "go-to" beer to share with friends and family, this DIPA is balanced nicely with heavy doses of Cascade hops and a strong malt backbone. Hoppy enough to be enjoyed on a hot day, yet it has the ABV to keep me warmed in the winter.

Cheryl: Imperial IPA, Flathead Lake Brewing. Co.  No, you're not seeing double. They both picked it.  The folks at Flathead Lake Brewing Co. must be doing something right with this one. Cheryl picked it last year, too, and has no shame in continuing to pick it's rich malt, big hop punch and overall super delicious goodness. 


Montana Seasonal Beer of the Year

Cheryl:  Last Cast Black IPA, Bitter Root Brewery.  Cheryl's take:  This black IPA went to the top of Chery's list from the very first bottle.  A large stash now takes up significant real estate in her beer fridge.  The big hit of tropical citrus aromas are followed by a strong dose of roasted malt sitting on top of a pleasantly hoppy IPA base to creating a beer with great interest and great drinkability. 

Curtis:  Discombobulater Dopplebock, Kettlehouse Brewing Co. Curtis' take:  Now, I know most people in Montana have not seen this beer and the reason is that Discombobulater lasts for only a few week on tap at the Kettlehouse only. If you are familiar with the beer then you understand why it only lasts a few weeks. If you are not familiar with the beer then I suggest going to the Kettlehouse on Myrtle in Missoula right NOW before they run out again. To be fair, I would give Bayern Oktoberfest a very close runner up spot for seasonal. Anyone in the state is likely to see this beer at some point and if you are lucky you may even get the chance to have it out of the cask. We all know those crazy Germans can brew some beer and Oktoberfest is their specialty. 

Alan:   Belgian Honey Trippel, Bitter Root Brewery. This category was by far my most difficult one. There were many worthy choices from Hamilton to Wibaux. Bozone's Hopsemillia and its 100+ ibus and 10.8% abv was crazy good.  Carter's Hop Delivery Vehicle was a great straight up IPA. Tamarack's Headwall IPA made a return this year and was as good as the original 2009 version. However, I'm not sure I was more impressed with a Montana beer this year than with Bitter Root Brewery's Belgian Honey Trippel (picture at the top of the post).  My full review of it can be found here.  Frankly, if I thought my fellow bloggers would let me get away with it, I'd have probably made this a tie among several including Carter's, Tamarack and Bozone, but even then, the Trippel takes the cake.

Radd: Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout, Big Sky Brewing Co.  Radd's take:  This decision was incredibly easy to make. A world class Imperial stout from a Montana brewery with pitch black color and a palette full of roasted, chocolate, and coffee flavors with overtones of bourbon. The most drinkable Russian Imperial stout that I have ever encountered. This one you need three bottles of: one for immediate tasting, one for the second tasting, and a final bottle for cellaring.  (Alan's note: Find our recent write up on Ivan the Terrible here.)

Ryan: Brick and Mortar Imperial Coffee Porter, Kettlehouse Brewing Co.  Ryan's take: A seasonal take on the K-Hole's regular Brick and Mortar Imperial Porter, this coffee-infused version features select-roasted coffee beans from nearby Black Coffee Roasting Co. This Belgian-styled Imperial Porter feature rich chocolate undertones, which peek through the satisfying aroma and taste of strong black coffee. Usually available on tap in winter and at the Redbird in Missoula.


Non-Montana Beer of the Year

Ryan: Obsidian Stout, Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR). Ryan's take: I'd like to pick the Deschutes Brewing Co. as a whole, but I'll happily settle for their Obsidian Stout. Perhaps my overall favorite year-round, non-Imperial stout I have found anywhere, the Obsidian Stout is a perfect blend of roasted malt, black barley, chocolate and espresso, with a touch of hops to cut its sweetness. It's just a yummy beer that I buy probably more often than I should.

Curtis: Downtown Brown, Lost Coast Brewing Co. (Eureka, CA). Curtis' take:  Because of the endless selections of great beer that comes from all over the world, Non-Montanan Beer of the Year is a tough decision. I would agree with many suggestions from anyone and would not stick too tightly to Lost Coast Brewing Downtown Brown, if presented with a better argument. However, Downtown Brown in the last few years has become the beer in which I covet the most. It's difficult to find outside of Eureka, CA and definitely not in Montana. If you are a brown fan this is one of the best I have had and will always hold some special memory's for my palate. (Alan's note:  The Lost Coast made a brief appearance in Montana in 2010 on draft and in bottles, but hasn't been seen since.)

Radd: Abyss (2011), Deschutes Brewery (Bend, OR). Radd's take:  This is another choice that was way too easy to make. I had this one a week ago at the Rhino in Missoula, and I was more than impressed. I think it might be my favorite beer of all-time, although this position on the list is subject to erratic change due to proximity of the pint. The Abyss is wonderfully complex without being confusing. It has those dark flavors that I truly enjoy and a great warmth. I do not think that anyone can disagree with this nomination.

Alan:  Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout (Wake-n-Bake), Terrapin Beer Co. (Athens, GA). I discovered this beer while on a trip to Virginia to visit my family.  My sister had left a mixed six-pack at the folks' house and I found this among the choices. I took the opportunity to introduce everyone to a beer and dessert pairing experiment with some berry cobbler my mother had made along with vanilla ice cream. There were a few skeptical looks around the kitchen, but everyone was game. Those skeptical looks quickly turned to smiles of delight as the rich, creamy, roasted coffee notes of the Imperial Stout paired wonderfully with the ice cream and cobbler.  It's like enjoying an adult version of your favorite dark roast coffee with a touch of cream. Pure, delicious goodness that might go just as well with breakfast as your favorite dessert.  An extremely close second was Double Simcoe IPA from Weyerbacher (Easton, PA).  I'd love to get my hands on more bottles of it.

Cheryl: Detour Double IPA, Uinta Brewing Co. (Salt Lake City, UT). This 9.5% abv, 75 ibu, double IPA packs a ton of flavor and a nice hop bite into it's big citrusy body. Somehow it works equally well in sunny Arizona where I first discovered it and in cold Montana where a couple bottles found their way following a trip to Vegas.

Bios

Ryan Newhouse writes and heavily "researches" for the Drink It Missoula blog on MakeItMissoula.com. He's an award-winning hard cider craftsman, amateur mixologist and all-around pretty nice guy. You should invite him over for a beer sometime! 

Curtis Gibson keeps up with the beer scene at MontanaBeers.com:  MontanaBeers.com is a site dedicated to the news, events and just good old fashioned appreciation for beer brewed in Montana. With 30 breweries and counting Montana is quickly becoming a destination for some the best beers in the country. Montanabeers.com dedicates itself to trying them all and opening a conversation with other craft beer enthusiasts about the great State of Montana and her beers. You can find us at montanabeers.com as well as on Facebook at facebook.com/montanabeer.  We know that there will be many discussions about theses selections and you can always make your comments on the beers we have selected by joining us on Facebook or our web page.

Radd Icenoggle writes about beer at RockiesBrew.com:   RockiesBrew.com focuses on the beer and breweries of the Intermountain West, although we occasionally expands that scope. There are a ton of truly great brews that are produce right here at home. I tend to like beers that are "bigger", whether that bigger is in the form of unique or bold flavor-profile, higher ABV, or even creative brewing qualifies.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Higherground Brewing Co.: Great Beer Right from the Start

When it opened last week, Higherground Brewing Co. in Hamilton, MT, became Montana's 29th brewery, beating Bowser Brewing of Great Falls by a few days.  Straight out of the box it looks like they've got a good thing going.  You'll find it at 518 N. First Street, also known as the main drag through town (Hwy. 93), just a few blocks north of Main Street. They've done a good job of sprucing up the outside of the cinderblock, non descript building which most recently housed the Bitterroot Grocery Emporium.  Inside, you'll find lots of space, wood fired pizza, and beer that is already turning heads.

During my visit, Higherground had five beers on tap and had run out of a sixth, their IPA. On tap were Hurruh Scotch Ale, Base Camp Irish Red Ale, Waist Deep Wheat, Clear Water Crystal Ale and Flash Flood Milk Stout.  A large concrete wrap-around bar takes center stage.  To the right is a wood fired pizza oven and kitchen serving up pizza, salads and soups.  To the left are numerous tables, two dart lanes, couches, large picture windows and a door leading to a small outdoor patio space.   There's one television over the bar to keep tabs on your favorite sports scores. But like most of Montana's taprooms, this one is designed for visiting with friends, not staring blankly into the tube at a ubiquitous sports bar.

So let's talk beer.  I've been to quite a few brewery openings - within two months or so of it's opening - and they mostly suffer from the same symptoms.  The beer show some promise, but lacks depth and character.  Higherground doesn't suffer from either.  Right from the start they're creating beers that buck the trend of 2 or 3 "safe" beers.  Sure, they've got a light, crisp "gateway" beer in their Crystal Ale, but they're also brewing up a Scotch Ale with a nice touch of smoke from the addition of (I presume) peated malts.  The Hurruh Scotch Ale does a nice job of scattering good amounts of smoke - without being overwhelming - over traditional scotch ale caramel malt flavors.

Higherground's Base Camp Irish Red also impressed, providing smooth caramel malt flavors with good toasted malt character, exactly as advertised. It's nicely balanced with enough bitterness to keep it from becoming sweet.  The bitterness also tends to come through more in the aftertaste after a few swallows.

With their Flash Flood Milk Stout, Highground offers up an uncommon version of stout, a milk- or sweet - stout.  The addition of lactose, which is not fermentable, adds sweetness and body.  What's nice about their version is it has a good mixture of roasted malt flavor in the initial taste, for those like me who prefer a robust stout, with a finish that adds creamy milk chocolate flavor.  It avoid being too sweet and stays well balanced.

I did not have time to try the Waist Deep Wheat, but am curious to see what flavors the coriander seed and orange peel do to their belgian style version. What's more impressive is all six beers currently offered (including the IPA which was temporarily out) are 6% abv or less.  It's refreshing to see a brewery create beers with good flavor without having to resort to higher and higher gravity beers.

I asked bartender Sara where the name Higherground came from.  My initial thought was some religious theme, but aside from monks brewing Abbey style ales, it didn't seem likely.  My second thought had to do with flooding, which the nearby Bitterroot River is prone to do.  A third option came to mind, but I'll leave that to your imagination.  Sara suggested the name is intentionally vague.

Cheers to another great addition to Montana's craft beer scene.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Run Wild Missoula Chooses New Slogan for Monthly Beer Run

Run Wild Missoula has a new slogan for its popular monthly beer runs.  "5 Miles to Beer 30" was the winning entry as voted by Run Wild's members and fans.  Friend, craft beer lover, and marathoner Thurston Elfstrom submitted the winning slogan which was revealed during tonight's Christmas Lights Beer Run.  Thurston wins a free beer at each of Run Wild's beer runs during 2012.

Run Wild Missoula's beer runs are held on the last Wednesday of each month beginning at 6 p.m. The location varies, as does the route for the run.  Runs are generally about five miles and runners of all speeds and abilities and usually present.  For those not up to completing five miles, the routes are typically customizable to fit your preference. Come run for the fitness and enjoy a beer with friends to celebrate good times. The next beer run takes place at Draught Works Brewery at 915 Toole Ave. on January 25, 2012. For more information, head over to Run Wild Missoula's website


Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Growler Fills Merry Christmas

With beers from near and far, Growler Fills wishes you a very merry Christmas.  Last year saw a foot and a half of snow on the ground and temperatures in the single digits. This year, only a couple of inches and rather pleasant outside.  I'll take either one.  The variety is good, though I don't miss all the snow shoveling I'd already done by this time last year.

I hope your beer fridge is well stocked and you're able to crack open a great one with friends and family.  Cheers. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Eclectic Lineup Kicks Off Holiday Beer Tasting

If there's one thing I love about the holiday season, it's the anticipation of opening up those bottles of high gravity and other specialty beers you've been saving for a special occasion. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's provide plenty of opportunities to kick back with friends and geek out over some beer.

With those ideas in mind, we kicked off a pre-holiday beer tasting Wednesday night with an eclectic variety of beers, good friends and tall tales.  Here was the lineup, in no particular order:
  • Kriek Ale (2010), Big Sky Brewing Co.
  • Barley Wine Ale, Alaskan Brewing Co.
  • Odyssey, Allagash Brewing Co.
  • Killer 'Kapowski' Kowalski Baltic Porter, Flossmoor Station Brewery
  • Smoked Baltic Porter, Great Divide Brewing Co.
  • IPA, SweetWater Brewing Co.* 
  • Dank Tank Fresh Sticky Nugs, SweetWater Brewing Co.
  • Festive Ale (2011), SweetWater Brewing Co.
  • Happy Ending Imperial Stout, SweetWater Brewing Co.
  • Abyss (2011), Deschutes Brewery
  • He'Brew Jewbelation 14, Shmaltz Brewing Co.
  • He'Brew Genesis 15:15, Shmaltz Brewing Co.
  • Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout, Terrapin Brewing Co. 

We had a rather varied collection of tastes around the table, but a couple of the selections stood out for everyone.  Deschutes' Abyss continues to be a world class beer.  The Genesis 15:15 has similar depth of flavors, but in a very different direction and was a definite crowd pleaser. While barley wines typically need some decent aging after bottling, Alaskan's Barley Wine Ale was great from the start and promises to get even better with time.  

Theses tastings have come together simply by making connection among beer lovers around the area.  It's an informal and growing group who value the social aspects beer, recognizing a beer shared with friends is far better than hoarded alone.  If you're interested in taking part in future gatherings, contact us.

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* Special thanks go to our host, former Missoula resident and now beer rep for SweetWater Brewing (Atlanta, GA) for giving us the chance to try some of SweetWater's super cool brews.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Supreme Winter Goodness: Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout

For 2011, the highlight of my craft beer year was the Beer Bloggers Conference in Portland, OR.  It was a chance to meet many other craft beer explorers, learn some tricks of the trade and sample a ridiculous amount of great beer.  Conference friends 2 Beer Guys and Seacoast Beverage Labs teamed up this December to create a beer advent calendar featuring a different beer blogger and a favorite winter beer for each day of the month.  For my day, I picked Missoula's Big Sky Brewing Co.'s Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout. 

I first enjoyed Ivan the Terrible on Thanksgiving evening in 2008. Although it was only 5 degrees outside, I wanted to sit outside by the fire pit, enjoy a good beer and check out the stars. I brushed off the snow, started a strong fire and poured some Ivan into a glass. Ever since, Ivan has been a heavily anticipated winter tradition. It is as black as that first moon-less night with a tan head. Aromas of boozy bourbon greet your nose along with a sweet richness. Flavors of bourbon and vanilla mix perfectly with rich, viscous stout. There’s some dark roasted chocolate cake in there, too. The bourbon never leaves, but it never completely dominates either. Ivan is big, bold and full of flavor. It’s a perfect sipping beer while contemplating everything from the trivial to the serious on these long winter nights.

Ivan the Terrible is a barrel-aged, bottle conditioned imperial stout boasting 10% abv and 65 ibus. For this review, I cracked open a 2010 version that was Bottle No. 2635 of 3800.  It was aged for a minimum of 3 months in American Oak Bourbon Barrels, then cellared by me for quite a few more. As you can tell from the bottle numbering, it's a limited release and distributed in 750 ml bottles and some kegs here and there.  Unfortunately, production for 2011 has been pushed back into 2012 so it is going to be a while before the next round is out.  I hear through the grapevine that Big Sky didn't have enough bourbon barrels to age the current batch. Trust me, it is worth the wait.

It's when Big Sky Brewing Co. takes a break from brewing up Moose Drool, Powder Hound, IPA and their other popular staples that their talents really shine. Nowhere is that more evident than with Ivan the Terrible Imperial Stout. Unfortunately, that was the only 2010 Ivan I had in my cellar.  Anyone want to hook me up with another?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where to Find Beer: JB's Food and Bottleworks

From the outside, JB's Food and Bottleworks at 5503 N. Alberta Street in Spokane, Washington looks like any other convenience store.  There's a single entrance at the front of a rather nondescript, moderately well kept, but unforgettable building.*

But take a look at this picture and you'll see what greets you on the inside.  That's right. Among the cheetos, chex mix, twinkies, fountain pop and other various and sundry convenience store staples is an impressive wall of craft beer bombers.  It's a far bigger selection than any store in western Montana** and a must stop if you're in the area.  There's another half wall of bombers, too along with pockets here and there in other areas of the store.  You'll find a few 12 oz bottles, here and there, too, but the focus here is on the big, bold and the beautiful.

Both coasts are represented (mostly by recognized "bigger" breweries) as well as many in between.  There's beer here from Allagash in Portland, Maine, Lost Abbey in San Marcos, CA, Great Divide in Denver, and Boulevard in Kansas, MO. 

We've written before about two nearby beer stores, Bottles in Millwood, WA and Enoteca in Post Falls, ID. All three tend to have different selections and each is worth checking out if you're a beer adventurer. And who isn't?

UPDATE:  When you're at JB's pay attention to the bottle dates.  Unfortunately, we've discovered a number of bottles there that were were well past their prime. 

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**  Toppers Cellar in Helena has a fine selection of 12 oz brews and mixed bombers over in Southwest Montana.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Gift Guides for Your Favorite Beer Lover

If you're searching for that perfect gift for the beer lover in your family or circle of friends there's no shortage of gift guides.  From the ridiculously lame to the pleasantly varied, there are plenty of suggestions out there.  Personally, I could really use a larger beer fridge. (Hint, hint).

Fellow local beer writer Ryan Newhouse offers up a great guide for Beer, Wine and Cocktail lovers on his Drink It blog at the Make it Missoula site. From free beer to . . . um . . . kilt modeling, he's got you covered.

Now you have no reason to come up short this holiday season.

1200: A (Beer) Running Goal In the Books

Early in 2011 I set three running goals for my second year of plodding along:  1. Run my first marathon in a sub-4 hour time; 2. Set a new personal record in a half marathon; and 3. Join my local running club's 1200 Mile club by running at least 1200 miles in 2011.

Goal number one was a success.

Goal number two?  Ain't happening. I somehow managed to screw up the whole marathon recovery thing. The summer heat hit right after the marathon and that combined with diving back into things too quickly led to some leg issues which persist to date. A visit to the physical therapist is in order, but I can't quite push myself to make it happen.  Maybe I'm afraid of what I'll hear.  Maybe I'm just hoping things magically get better.   Either way, a speedy half-marathon is not in my near future.

Despite my leg issues I've managed to feel well enough to keep running for basic fitness. I like beer way too much to stop exercising. The mental health benefits of getting out and about can't be overrated, either. Though it took more than a month longer than I thought, I crossed over the 1200 mile threshold on November 10.  I reached the mark on an 8.5 mile run with the last 2 miles along the course where I ran the marathon back in July.  Corny?  Heck, yeah. But it's just those kind of things that keep you motivated to push through and put a smile on your face.  I celebrated with a big glass of water and a fish burrito.  Hey, it's not always about the beer.  

The predicted onslaught of a second straight La Nina winter in Missoula has been a bust so far.  A couple inches of snow have created some slick spots on the streets. Yet, plenty of bare and dry terrain remains, leaving only the cold to deal with.  And let me tell you, a drop from 28 degrees to 18 degrees is a much bigger deal than going from 38 to 28. Watch your parts.

Run long, be merry and drink happy.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Where to Find Beer: Manito Tap House

When you're located in what amounts to a concrete bunker underneath a Ross Dress for Less store, you'd better have something good going on.  On that front, the Manito Tap House has it covered.  Spokane, WA's newest spot for great craft beer boasts 50 taps and a varied menu of locally sourced food.  You can find it in Spokane's South Hills at 3011 South Grand Blvd and on facebook here.

Sure, the exterior of the restaurant doesn't exactly beckon, but step in side and the concrete walls, beer label artwork, wood bench seating, and beer bottle light fixtures combine to form a warm, inviting atmosphere. We settled in to a small table and stared wide-eyed and all smiles at the beer list.  It not only tells you what's on tap, but let's you know what's coming soon, too.  The variety is excellent, with not a single American macro to be found.  Instead, there's a nice mix of craft IPAs to Belgians with a particular focus on the west coast. Our visit was on a cold, Thursday night while taking a short trip to Spokane for some Christmas shopping.  As we'd seen reported, the place was quite busy with a short wait for tables and no room at the bar. People are digging this place and it's easy to see why. 

For a first round, we selected Back in Black, a 21st Amendment Brewing Co. black IPA and a Don't Fret Porter from the local 12 String Brewery.  The black IPA was excellent. As for the Don't Fret Porter, they should. For food we went for the 29th Ave. Wrap and a Tap House Steak.  The Wrap was good, but the yam chips it came with were a fantastic crispy mixture of salty sweet goodness.  The steak was simply excellent.  Here's the description: 8-oz Misty Isle Farms Hanger Steak marinated in Laurelwood Organic Free Range Red, served with mashed yam potatoes, topped with an agrodolce sauce & fried capers.

Round two brought us a Supergoose Double IPA from Hale's Ales in Seattle and a Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout from Great Divide Brewing in Denver, two very fine beers among many in the impressive line up. It's a popular place and our only thought was why the bar isn't twice as big?  Really, there isn't room, but with the lineup of taps they've got, it's the type of place that attracts craft beer lovers who like to hang out at the bar and try the wares.

After a long round of Christmas shopping we decided to hit Manito again for a snack and a couple beers early Saturday evening. Pints of Old Jubilation Ale from Avery Brewing Co. in Boulder, CO, and Humboldt Brown Hemp Ale from Nectar Ales in Pasa Robles, CA impressed. Again, the place was busy, lively and welcoming.  During both visits we found the service to be quite good and attentive with knowledgeable bartenders.

The Manito Tap House. It's where to find beer.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Tis' the Season for Beer Advent Calendars

Welcome to December, folks.  If you're like me, you're still wondering what happened to October. Nevertheless, the City has strung up the Christmas . . uh . . .Holiday decorations on the light poles downtown, so it must be time. 

With December comes Beer Advent Calendars.  Blogger friends 2BeerGuys and Seacoast Beverage Lab have teamed up with bloggers from the east to west coasts to provide daily reviews of a favorite winter brew.  Jon Abernathy kicks off his yearly advent calendar of beer reviews over at The Brew Site and never fails to introduce me to something new.

Closer to Christmas, we'll kick off our second 12 Days of Christmas Cheer.  Perhaps we'll also put together another round of Growler Fills Beer Awards.  Remember, it's definitely not too late to  . . . . shall we say . . . lobby us . . . for inclusion.