Monday, April 30, 2012

Stout, It's What's for Breakfast

You know the old joke, "You can't drink all day if you don't start in the morning"? Well, thanks to my prior commitment running the 40th Riverbank Run* we didn't quite beat the noon hour, but nevertheless proved beer and brunch are a great combination.

Ryan hosted this tasting of breakfast stouts and the food and beer were plentiful. The brunch started off with chicken and waffles, Idaho surprises, deviled eggs, sage sausage and much more along with one heck of a specialty syrup. Once well fed, we shared the beers around the table: Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout, Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Founders Breakfast Stout and Founders Imperial Stout.  Founders is a Michigan brewery whose Canadian Breakfast Stout - an imperial stout brewed with chocolate and coffee and aged in maple syrup bourbon barrels - has grown to mythical status.

Did the Canadian Breakfast Stout live up to the hype?  For the most part, yes.  I hedge only because the coffee seems to have faded a bit and I'm curious to try it at the brewery some day for comparison. Otherwise, it's a wonderfully complex imperial stout with lots of dark and milk chocolate flavors and unmistakeable notes of bourbon and vanilla.  The Kentucky Breakfast Stout (also brewed with chocolate and coffee, but aged in oak bourbon barrels) also impressed and came on hotter and with higher bitterness.

That specialty syrup I mentioned has a cool connection to all of this.  Made by BLiS, makers of natural hand crafted gourmet foods, the 100% Grade A dark amber pure maple syrup is aged in specially selected 12-18 year old single barrel bourbon casks. According to BLiS, "the barrels are carefully agitated until the honey, charred oak, vanilla and spice notes are imparted into the maple syrup syrup for a pure, one-of-a-kind natural flavor."  Once BLiS is done with the barrels, Founders uses them to age the Canadian Breakfast Stout. Cool, huh?  Absolutely delicious, too.
* Placed 67th out of 1097, thank you very much.  Not bad for the ole' beer runner.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Untappd Teams Up with Missoula Craft Beer Week

We're Untapped fans, a social app for craft beer fans to log and rate beers, connect with friends and get beer recommendations.  Users can earn badges for checking in certain combinations of beers, venues and dates. It's fun, useful and definitely social.

Untappd has teamed up with Missoula Craft Beer Week to create a special badge to celebrate the week.  To earn it, Untapped users need to check in one beer at any one of the following participating locations:
  • Big Sky Brewing Company
  • Draught Works
  • Kettlehouse
  • Kettlehouse Brewing Company North
  • Bayern Brewing Tasting Room
  • Caras Park
  • Tamarack Brewing Company Alehouse And Grill
  • Flathead Lake Brewing Company of Missoula
  • The Rhino
  • The Old Post
  • The Wilma Theater
  • Caffe Dolce
  • Iron Horse Brew Pub
Remember to check in the location when you check in the beer to earn the badge. Not an Untappd user? Signup is quick and it's easy to use.  Once there, become friends with Growler Fills here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New Events, Menu, Added to Missoula Craft Beer Week

We've been hard at work adding more events to the inaugural Missoula Craft Beer Week and all our participants are really stepping up to the plate. New events include the  Run Wild Missoula Craft Beer Week Special Edition Beer Run, Meet the Big Sky Brewing Co. Crew at the Iron Horse, and Three Ways to Enjoy a Kettlehouse Double Haul IPA at The Rhino.  See all the events here.

Big Sky Brewing and the Old Post Pub just released their menu for the Beer Brunch on Saturday, May 5, before the Garden City BrewFest.   How does Coffee-crusted ribeye steak with eggs and Moose Drool red eye gravy sound?  Or maybe Scape Goat Pale Ale braised breakfast sausage "Mantana" scramble? Perhaps Summer Honey Ale Brioche French toast with Flathead dried cherries, candied pecans and grand mariner whip cream?  Wow, that's a tough choice.  Summer Honey Mimosas and Trout Slayer Micheladas will also be available.

Remember, three of the events require advance sign up: The Garden City Brewery Tour, The Summer Sun Brewing Supply Live Homebrew Demonstration and the Caffe Dolce Beer and Cheese Pairing (30 minute slots from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m.).  Contact emails and telephone numbers for these signups are on the MCBW schedule page.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Way Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Cask Warms

A big thanks to Innis & Gunn for sharing their latest offering with us at Growler Fills. This Scottish stout, released in the U.S. in March, is the first beer to be aged in former triple-distilled Irish Whiskey barrels. The beer is aged for 60 days as part of three different maturations following fermentation: oak maturation, cold maturation and in bottle.

When poured, an immediate nose of good Irish Whiskey prevailed. The special stout poured a dark brown with a tight off-white to tan head, which produced a nice lacing. The brown sugar-esque sweetness from the chocolate and roast barley came through readily, but the Fuggles hops were hardly noticeable except for a slight hop bitterness at the finish.

The best part of this unique offering by Innis & Gunn was the warmth from the Whiskey barrel aging. It was not at all overpowering. The carbonation was perfectly balanced. Overall, a very fine beer. This beer is not immediately available in Montana, but if you see it while traveling, don’t hesitate to pick up a four-pack ($12.99).

This stout began back in October 2011 when brewmaster and owner, Dougal Sharp, found and filled 400 rare Irish Whiskey barrels with a stout, a style which Innis & Gunn had never brewed before. Traditionally, Scotland is known for its whiskey and Ireland for its stout; this beer, however, is a memorable cultural exchange that worked well. In fact, in Sweden it sold out in record time!

In short, I found this beer to be smooth enough to drink with dinner, yet special enough to toast on rare occasions.

You can follow Innis & Gunn on Twitter (@InnisandGunnUK).

About Innis & Gunn:
Innis & Gunn was first established in 2003 as a joint venture with a leading drinks firm, who had approached Dougal Sharp, then head brewer at Caledonian, to create a beer that would lend the perfect finish to a Cask Ale Reserve whisky. The beer was too good to throw away so Innis & Gunn (the middle names of Dougal Sharp and his brother Neil) was formed. Dougal led an MBO in January 2008 and the business is now under private ownership.

Innis & Gunn has two core products in its range: Original and Rum Cask, as well as many award winning Limited Edition beers. Innis & Gunn is available in ten countries (UK, US, Canada, Sweden, Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark Finland, Norway and Australia) and in 17 states in the US: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, Illinois and Nevada.

April Beer Run Heads to Tamarack Brewing Co.

Tomorrow is the last Wednesday of the month and that means it is time for Run Wild Missoula's Beer Run.  This month the Beer Run returns to Tamarack Brewing Co. of Missoula at 231 West Front St. where you can enjoy some great food and a variety of craft ales after your run.  The run gets started at 6:00 p.m. and the weather forecast looks promising with sunshine, a slight chance of showers and a high of 71 degrees.   No word yet on the route.

Remember, too, that Run Wild Missoula is putting on a special edition beer run for Missoula Craft Beer Week. That run takes place at Draught Works Brewery on Wednesday, May 2 at 6:00 p.m. at 915 Toole Ave. in Missoula. Two beer runs on back-to-back Wednesdays? That's awesome. Beer runners rejoice!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dirty Ginger and the Three Belgians at FLBC

Flathead Lake Brewing Company is set to release its latest seasonal tomorrow, Saturday, April 21, and it's a tasty little number you'll want to explore.  Even better, with this release you'll have an opportunity to try three distinctly different Belgian style ales at both FLBC locations.

Dirty Ginger is a Belgian Golden Strong Ale with a twist.  Brewer Tim Jacoby added a bit of de-bittered black malt, fresh ginger, and lemongrass to create a beer with subtle spicy aroma and complex, well blended flavors. The ginger is present, but doesn't overwhelm and the lemongrass comes through as a slight citrus flavor in the finish. Spicy Belgian yeast flavors along with some fruitiness are front and center and it has a surprisingly full mouthfeel.   Other ingredients are pilsner, wheat, Munich, and black malts, oats, and sugar. The hops are Goldings, providing only 13 IBUs, and it weighs in at 8.6% abv. FLBC of Missoula graciously provided Ryan and I a preview sample and it officially goes on tap tomorrow.

FLBC also has its Belgian Triple on tap, a more classic version of a Belgian strong ale (shown at the right). As we noted in this writeup, it is extremely smooth and delicious from the first sip, with traditional spicy Belgian yeast flavors, a touch of candy sweetness, no noticeable hop presence, and a slight underlying alcohol presence. The color and medium-light body disguise the powerful amount of alcohol (9.4%), so keep that in mind.

Available year-round, FLBC's Saison is a Belgian farmhouse style ale brewed with coriander and orange peel (shown below).  At 5.4% abv, it is the lightest and most crisp of the three Belgians. Flavors of grain, grass and light malt mix with fruity spice and lead to a dry finish.

Try all three and explore the differences in these great Belgian styles.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Love Of Beer Film to Make Montana Debut

A most excellent beer-related documentary is set to make its Montana debut on Thursday, May 3, during Missoula Craft Beer Week at the Historic Wilma Theater.

The Love Of Beer is a feature length documentary about women in the craft beer industry in the pacific northwest.  Why? After moving to Portland, producer Alison Grayson noticed a disconnect between the "vast amount of women beer consumers and the sparse amount of women who worked in the beer industry."  She was inspired by the women who serve as craft beer's female forerunners and decided to tell their story.  "It's not for feminism or equality," they say, "It's for the love of beer."  
Tickets are $8 and the film gets started at 7:00 p.m. Oh, and did we mention The Wilma has craft beer for sale?  That's right, you can watch an excellent film about the craft beer industry while enjoying a craft beer in a fantastic theater.  It's an event you don't want to miss. Are you going? Share the event on facebook by clicking here

After the Film, take your ticket stub over to Flathead Lake Brewing Co.  for a discount on the beer and dessert pairing taking place that night.  For all the details on Missoula Craft Beer Week, head to the website.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sign Up Now for These MCB Week Events!

The inaugural Missoula Craft Beer Week gets started less than two weeks from now. Most of the 20+ events are open to just dropping by, but there are two you'll need to sign up for:
  • The first is the Garden City Brewery Bus Tour on Friday, May 4, 2012.  This is a bus ride adventure for craft beer lovers and the perfect way to check out Missoula's Bayern Brewing, Draught Works Brewery and Kettlehouse Brewing Co. with a few friends.   The cost is only $30 per person and includes bus transportation, one beer at each brewery, a light dinner plus snacks and a even a ride home in the Missoula area if you need it.  The bus leaves from Caras Park in Downtown Missoula promptly at 5:15 p.m and will return to the Park around 8:30 p.m.  To take part, you must RSVP by contacting Jeff and Katie at
  • The second is the Summer Sun Brew Supply's live homebrewing demonstration on Thursday, May 3, 2012.  Have you been thinking of joining the ranks of homebrewers? Then this event is definitely for you.  Participants will be treated to a 1.5 hour demonstration on the basics of homebrewing and will receive a free growler of the beer once it is ready.  This event gets started at 4:00 p.m. and takes place at Summary Sun at 128 W. Alder St. in Downtown Missoula.  Space is limited to 10 participants, so sign right up by sending an email to Jared at
The full list of events for Missoula Craft Beer Week is here

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

ExplorationWorks Fundraiser to Feature Craft Beer, Semimar

Helena's Green Meadow Country Club is the site of a fundraiser for ExplorationWorks this Thursday, April 19, 2012, featuring a beer seminar and samples of craft beer and hard cider from Montana, Oregon, Wisconsin and Belgium.

Brian Smith of Blackfoot River Brewing Co. and Cortland Dunn of George's Distributing will present a one-hour beer seminar beginning at 6:00 p.m.  Tickets are $75 and include the beer seminar, innovative foods from Green Meadow's chef, Eric Potuzak, paired with beer, and live music.  There are also tickets available for $50, but they don't include the beer seminar.  Why would you want to skip that?

ExplorationWorks is a museum of science and culture which invites all people to participate in experiences that inspire inquiry, increase understanding and stimulate the desire for lifelong learning.  Located in Helena's Great Northern Town Center, the museum includes interactive exhibits, programs, workshops, classes, and camps. To learn more, head to their website here.

Big Sky Moves Up List of Top 50 Craft Breweries

The Brewers Association released today it's annual list of the top 50 craft brewing companies based on 2011 beer sales volumes.  Montana's largest brewery, Big Sky Brewing Co., made the list at No. 37, two spots higher than in 2010.

Thirty six of the top 50 are small and independent craft brewing companies which the Brewers Association defines as:
An American craft brewer is small, independent, and traditional. Small: Annual production of beer less than 6 million barrels. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition. Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer. Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewer's brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.
The top five spots stayed the same and include the familiar names Boston Beer Co., Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Spoetzl (Gambrinus/Shiner) and Deschutes.  Some notable jumps include Ninkasi Brewing Co. rising from No. 50 to No. 32 and Bear Republic gaining 8 spots to No. 35.  Some of the shuffling appears attributed to changes in conglomerate ownership. 

According to Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, in the last 15 years craft beer has increased its share of the overall beer market from one percent to nearly six percent in 2011.  That's growth we can celebrate and taste.  For the Top 50 List, head to the Brewers Association's press release.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sen. Baucus Talks Beer, Jobs at Draught Works Brewery

A beer blogger, an industry rep and a U.S. Senator walk into a brewery.  Stop me if you've heard this one . . . .

Such was the scene last Wednesday evening at Draught Works Brewery, Missoula's newest brewery and one of it's hottest social spots.  Rather than being a joke, however, it was the perfect reminder that craft beer is important.

Montana Senator Max Baucus is a big fan of the craft brewing industry.  Along with Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, he chairs the U.S. Senate's Bipartisan Small Brewers Caucus.  Senator Baucus created the caucus as a "forum to stand up for issues important to small brewers and examine the role of these small businesses in main street economies across Montana and around the country."

When he created the Caucus in June 2011, Montana breweries employed an estimated 250 Montanans.  Draught Works had not yet opened, nor had Bowser Brewing, Outlaw Brewing, Higherground Brewing, or Wildwood Brewing.  See a trend here?  Several more breweries are in the works, including Front Brewing, Great Falls' second brewery to open in less than a year.  It's clear Montana breweries are a growth industry and fit nicely into the Senator's Montana Jobs Economic Engine Initiative.

Senator Baucus stopped by Draught Works on Wednesday to visit with owners Paul Marshall and Jeff Grant, talk with industry reps, and get a feel for how vibrant and popular Montana's small breweries have become.  Tony Herbert, Executive Director of the Montana Brewers Association, Robert Pease, COO of the national Brewers Association, and Josh Townsley, co-owner of Tamarack Brewing Co. and Vice-President of the Montana Brewers Association, also joined the discussions.

Ryan and I also got to take part and had a good visit with the Senator, talking craft beer, issues with Montana's regulatory scheme, and the social nature of Montana's tap rooms. Afterward, we sat down with Tony Herbert and Robert Pease and discussed a wide range of topics including the importance of social media to spreading the word about craft beer.

Everyone agreed Montana has one odd set of regulations on the books.  We're not alone in that quandary, but Montana's quota system and limitations on small breweries seem so counter to our general desire for less governmental intrusion and our small-business based economic foundation.  The Senator is well versed in federal excise taxes and their effects on small breweries in Montana and beyond, but there's not a lot Congress can do to address our state regulations. 

That will be up to all of us. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Visit to Quarry Brewing Company in Butte

In the heart of a typical Montana spring snowstorm last week, I stopped in to see the Quarry Brewing Company’s new “digs” in The Grand Hotel on Broadway Street, nestled in Butte’s historic uptown. With the snow it was a quieter, though still lively, Friday night than normal, which allowed me to share great beers and conversation with the owner/brewer, Chuck Schnabel.

“Sales are up 39% in the first three months of 2012,” says Schnabel, “and this is supposed to be our slow season.” Quarry Brewing has been in business since September 2007, but having outgrown its previous space on Galena Street it moved to The Grand Hotel in August 2011, a good move by all accounts. Now Quarry Brewing is expecting to top 1,000-1,200 barrels in production this year. Last year they did about 500 barrels.

Chuck has been busy adding to his “vintage” brewing equipment to keep up with the growth, which he told he bought at “salvage prices” up in Canada, and the equipment dates back several decades. He also recently hired his first assistant brewer so he can spend more time experimenting and dialing in recipes.

At Quarry Brewing, a healthy dose of appreciation is given to the German purity law (Reinheitsgebot), but since Montana produces a variety of other quality ingredients, Chuck has been able to successfully introduce many fruity and flavored beers to the taproom. He also tends to lean closer to English styles than the super-hopped American or Northwestern beer styles.

“I like there to be more of a malt backbone to the beers,” says Schnabel.

On the evening I was there, there were nearly a half-dozen seasonal beers in addition to the standard lineup of Galena Gold, Open Cab Copper, Shale Pale Ale, Open Pit Porter, and Gneiss IPA. Of these, my two favorites were the Open Pit Porter, as it had all the malty, rich depth I like about porters that move it away from simply being a dark brown ale and with the addition of Glacier hops (a newer variety descended from American Fuggle hops) I experienced a touch of hop bitterness at the end; and I really enjoyed the complexity of the Galena Gold.

“The Galena Gold is our gateway beer,” says Schnabel. “It appeals to both the domestic beer and craft beer drinker.” He’s right.

And after the seasonals I sampled, the Smokey Quartz Rauch and (forthcoming) Mica Mai Bock, I was hooked. Chuck describes his rauch beer “more like smoked salmon instead of a campfire,” and it couldn’t be any better said. Instead of an in-your-face breath of smoke, the smokiness wafts gently on the tongue where it lingers just so. After a few sips I had a strong craving for capers.

One of the most interesting facts I learned from Chuck is that Quarry Brewing Company is technically the 34th and 35th brewery in Butte (they had to get another license for the move), and the last brewery to be open in Butte was closed down around 1964.

Quarry Brewing will be presenting its Mica Mai Bock at this year’s 20th Annual Garden City Brewfest, which is the crowning event of the first Missoula Craft Beer Week. I suggest you give a try, and the next time you are in Butte, don’t pass up the opportunity to have a beer or two and chat with Chuck.

Photos courtesy Quarry Brewing Company. 

Montana Beer Festival Tomorrow in Bozeman

The 6th Annual Montana Beer Festival is taking place tomorrow, April 13, 2012, at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds in Bozeman, MT.  Some 33+ breweries taking part in the event which runs from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Tickets are $30 and get you unlimited tastes during the festival. V.I.P. tickets are available for $50 which get you into the Festival 2 hours early (4:30 p.m.) and also include appetizers and an official Montana Beer Festival t-shirt.  That sounds like a heck of a deal to us.

For more information, check out their facebook page or website.

Tamarack Brewing Celebrates Anniversary in Missoula

One year ago today, Lakeside-based Tamarack Brewing Co. opened the doors to it's Missoula outpost and the place has stayed busy ever since.  To celebrate, they have a variety of specials going on all day along with live music and good time.

For starters, Tamarack has progressive pint pricing with $1 pints from 11:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m. with price rising to $2 until 3:00 p.m., then $3 pints until 6:00 p.m.  Live music starts at 7:00 p.m. with The Fauxhemians and the Kevin Van Dort Band at 10:00 p.m.  The kitchen is serving up BBQ specials all day long.

While there, try Tamarack's latest seasonal, Port Barrel Stout. It was aged for six months in port barrels from Walla Walla, WA's Zerba Cellars.  I can attest to it's deliciousness. They've also just released their Anniversary Red which sounds like a great reason to go back.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Session Beer Day: April 7, 2012

No, you're not reading a typo (see the post below).  We do indeed have two reasons to celebrate beer on April 7.  Along with National Beer Day, celebrating the repeal of prohibition in American, comes Session Beer Day.  That it also falls on April 7 is no coincidence.  As intensely happy as we are to celebrate the repeal of prohibition, the Cullen-Harrison Act only allowed American to buy beer containing up to 4% abv.  Thus, April 7 serves as an equally good day to celebrate beer on the lower end of the alcohol scale.

The Session Beer Project is a non-profit, unorganized and unofficial effort to popularize session beers.  The Project defines a session beer as a beer that is: 
  • 4.5% alcohol by volume or less
  • flavorful enough to be interesting
  • balanced enough for multiple pints
  • conducive to conversation; and 
  • reasonably priced
Frankly, in today's arms race to see who can brew the beer with the most alcohol, the Project is a welcome reminder that great tasting beer does not need to set you back on your keister. Finding a 4.5% abv beer doesn't mean you're stuck with a taste-robbed American macro adjunct lager, either.  Stone Brewing Co.'s Levitation Ale is one relatively available sub-4.5% brew with plenty of hop flavor that comes to mind. 

For Untappd fans, you'll have an opportunity to earn a new badge for Session Beer Day by checking in one beer than is under 4.5% abv.

Ready for National Beer Day? April 7, 2012

Sure, Sunday is Easter, but for craft beer fans the time to celebrate comes a day early.  April 7, 2012 is National Beer Day, 79 years to the day since the Cullen-Harrison Act took effect and repealed prohibition in America.  Reportedly, people lined up at breweries in Milwaukee the night before in anticipation of being able to legally purchase beer for the first time in 13 years.  I think just about all of us can appreciate that sentiment.

Celebrating National Beer Day as an event got its start in 2009 when Justin Smith of Richmond, Virginia and Mike Connolly of Liverpool, England got together to publicize the idea on facebook.  Once beer fans got wind of it, the number of facebook likes grew exponentially and breweries and bars around the country hopped on board for the fun.

I'm not aware of any Montana breweries or bars holding special events,* but that doesn't mean we can't raise a pint in honor of the Cullen-Harrison Act. In fact, it would be a shame not to! What's your beer of choice for an important celebration?

For Untappd fans, you'll have an opportunity to earn a new badge for National Beer Day by checking in any beer on April 7.
* Let us know if you're aware of one.

Update on Missoula Craft Beer Week

We've been hard at work over the past several weeks helping organize a great lineup of events for the inaugural Missoula Craft Beer Week, May 1-5, 2012. Yes, we know there has only been a trickle of teasing information thus far, but we're close to releasing the schedule and launching the website.  Thanks to our great participants, in the last couple of days we've added:
  • A Garden City Brewery Cruise
  • 3 course beer and food pairing menu available all week
  • A  beer and dessert pairing event
  • A special tribute beer: "Garden City Golden Ale"
All the details are coming soon.  What other events would you like to see?