Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chile Beers: From the Very Mild to the "Oh Crap"

A few weeks back the tasting crew got together to check out the world of chile beers - those brewed with the peppers, not the country of origin.  Chile beers have become much more prevalent over the past couple of years and are even turning up in Montana's tap houses.  Bowser Brewing in Great Falls and Missoula's Draught Works both brewed jalapeno hefeweizens recently. Tamarack Brewing Co. in Lakeside brewed a chocolate chile stout for Cinco de Mayo. 

Chile beers are not yet a style unto themselves according to the 2012 Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines.  That's a little surprising considering pumpkin, fruit, chocolate, and coffee beers have all been deemed worthy of "'style" coronation. Given chilies are showing up in everything from hefeweizens to imperial stouts, one might think defining a style category would prove difficult.  I tend to think that's true, but look at chocolate.  It definitely isn't reserved for the stouts and porters of old.

For our purposes, a chile beer was anything brewed with chile peppers.  Hmm . . . . . . deep.  Here's what made our list in the order we opened them:
  • Theobroma, Dogfish Head Brewery (Delaware)
  • Cocoa-Mole, New Belgium Brewing Co.  (Colorado)
  • Chocolate Sombrero, Clown Shoes Beer  (Massachusetts)
  • Mexican Cake, Westbrook Brewing Co. (South Carolina)
  • Hunahpu's Imperial Stout, Cigar City Brewing Co. (Florida)
  • Ghost Face Killah, Twisted Pine Brewing Co.  (Colorado)
Unlike past tastings, there was no clear leader in this crowd with quite varying tastes among the group.  Theobroma was my favorite with only a very mild chile flavor to go along with chocolate, floral spice, honey, grain . . . . there is a lot going on with this beer and it isn't easy to pin down. Its complexity and 9% abv never get heavy and the gold-amber color is an interesting surprise as well.

Certainly the craziest taste experience of the tasting was Ghost Face Killah.  We'd been warned to save this one for last and that turned out to be essential advice. It's brewed with anaheim, fresno, jalapeno, serrano, habanero and Bhut Jolokia (the ghost pepper). Ghost peppers are the hottest in the world, having 200 times the heat of a jalapeno.  Twisted Pine Brewery doesn't stop with adding them to the boil. They "dry hop" with them, too.  One whiff and you know you're in trouble. The low abv (5%) won't save you on this one.  After the first sip, you're tasting nothing else but high heat coming from the innocent looking golden brew.

It occurred to me later we could have added Black Butte XXIII to the list as last year's Deschutes specialty has pasilla negro chilies.  Still, the taste buds get pretty tired after just five chile beers and are totally obliterated after Ghost Face Killah.  There's always next time.

May Beer Run Goes Grape

Wednesday, May 30, 2012, is the last Wednesday of the month and that means it's time for Run Wild Missoula's monthly beer run.  This one takes place at the Red Bird Wine Bar.  Uh . . . . . yes, wine bar.  For those not fond of beer, here's your chance to enjoy a beer run with one of the best wine selections in town.  But beer fans take heed.  Red Bird also has several taps often loaded with beer you won't find elsewhere in Missoula. I'm quite certain they've never been inundated with a horde of sweaty people in running clothes, but this is Missoula and people usually just roll with the spandex technical fabrics.

The Red Bird Wine Bar is inside the Florence Hotel at 111 N. Higgins Ave. Show up at 6:00 p.m., head out for a group run of 5 miles, and enjoy your rewards.   Here's the route map:

For more info on Run Wild Missoula's activities, head to their website.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Comical or Condescending? What's Your Take?

Have you seen the latest advertising push from Guinness? As shown in the photo below, Guinness is seeking to "become more relevant and get talked about in bars" by issuing a new glass which displays a QR code when the glass is filled with Guinness.  Scanning the QR code with your smart phone apparently allows Guinness to hack into all your social media apps and tell everyone you just drank a beer.  Kidding, of course.  Kind of.

Just don't try this with Harp Lager, Guinness' sister beer.  According to the ad the QR code doesn't show up if you fill the glass with mere "ordinary" beer.

Forget for a moment whether QR codes have any hope of becoming even fringe to the mainstream and notice the glass apparently gets much larger when you fill it with Guinness.  Now that's a trick I'd like to see with my favorite brews.

At least this Guinness ad campaign doesn't try to convince us the QR code somehow makes the beer taste better.  Those gimmicks seem reserved for the ongoing AB-InBev v. MillerCoors battle for the king of blahs.

Most recently MillerCoors introduced us to the "Punch Top Can" which has a second tab you can open using any manner of sharp-ish implements. I darn near spit out my  . . . uh . . Dr. Pepper* . . laughing while reading Adweek's David Griner's comments on the can:
Supposedly the new punch hole lets you drink or pour the beer without any annoying glugging. "In our testing, consumers told us they prefer the Punch Top Can three-to-one over the standard beer can because it's more like drinking from a pilsner glass," Amy Breeze, director of innovation and activation for Miller Lite, says with a straight face. "We're proud of our product and think everyone will have a blast exploring different ways to open it."
You know what is more like drinking from a pilsner glass?  Actually drinking from a pilsner glass. Which you can apparently do more easily now thanks to the technical geniuses at MillerCoors, assuming they're not busy using the second tab to simplify shotgunning.  I can't wait to gather the tasting group together to "explore different ways to open it."  Won't that be a hoot.

I get it.  None of this is really about improving the quality of beer.  It's about presence of mind.  In our over-saturated world of marketing gimmicks, having a quality product isn't enough.  Or even necessary, apparently.  Catchy artwork, cool gimmicks, funny names and generating discussion is the game.  Introducing a new gimmick is nothing more than a manufactured reason to generate discussion. See? It's working.

I understand I'm not the target market for these gimmicks which trend from the mildly comical to the downright condescending.  In fact, I'm rather pleased not to be the target market.

What's your take?
* Diet, caffeine free Dr. Pepper, to be exact.  It really does taste more like Dr. Pepper. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Barley's Angels Introducing Women to Quality Beer

You may have noticed a couple of posts on Growler Fills about Barley's Angels. Today, we welcome a guest post from Becky Molm, brewer for Blackfoot River Brewing Co. and organizer of the Howling Wolf chapter, to provide some background on this great organization.

BY: BECKY MOLM - We are hosting our second ever Barley’s Angels event at the Blackfoot on Sunday, May 13. What better way to celebrate your mom than by bringing her out to an educational event that involves pairing beer with cheese and learning about how beer is made?

What is Barley’s Angels? It was started by members of the Pink Boots Society (women who work in beer) as their consumer leg. Women that started the Barley’s Angels chapters had to be members of PBS, and the goal was to educate the female consumer about beer. I say “was” because Barley’s Angels has recently (within the last month or so) split from the Pink Boots Society. Many other reasons aside, it was mainly because of the tax status for PBS. Essentially, now anyone can start a Barley’s Angels chapter without having to apply or pay an annual fee.

We started the Howling Wolf Chapter of Barley’s Angels here at Blackfoot because we want to educate our female consumers and create a fun environment for our female friends, staff members and all female beer consumers.

Women make up the major percentage of purchasing power in this country and while some breweries have been trying to market towards female consumers by marketing products like “chick beers” and low calorie beers, we believe that women believe in high quality, great flavor, and good value.

Most women actually prefer quality over quantity and are willing to pay more for a better product. So, we are trying to educate women about better quality beers and the amazing array of styles that are available, and trying to show consumers how beer has just as many good qualities as wine (not just flavors, but also health qualities!!), and have just as many, if not more pairing options with food.

The Howling Wolf Chapter of Barley’s Angels invites women to get involved in their local craft beer community- come out and have a pint with us!

Friday, May 11, 2012

American Craft Beer Week Arrives Monday, May 14

For those who got to take part in Missoula Craft Beer Week, you've had a week to recover.  For those who missed out, a week of fun awaits you.  Hot on the heels of our inaugural Missoula Craft Beer Week and it's grand finale, the 20th Annual Garden City BrewFest, is American Craft Beer Week, May 14 to 20, 2012.

Started in 2006 and organized by the Brewers Association, American Craft Beer Week is a national celebration of small and independent craft brewers, the great beer they make and the fans who enjoy it. Breweries, bars, restaurants and tap rooms across the U.S. have scheduled special events as part of the celebration.

In Montana, Bitter Root Brewery in Hamilton and Blackfoot River Brewing Co. in Helena have events going on each day.  Check out these posters for the full details.

Old Chicago Restaurants in Bozeman and Billings also have a variety of events going on for the week and I'm guessing there are many more Montana breweries getting in on the action.  If you hear of one, let us know. 

Untappd users have an opportunity to earn an American Craft Beer Week badge.  Just check in to any craft beer during the week and you'll earn the badge.

Two Beer Events on Tap for Mother's Day

Psssstt . . . . . . Sunday is Mother's Day.

If you haven't figured out what you're getting Mom, you might consider one of these Mother's Day beer events.

First, as we wrote about here, Blackfoot River Brewing Co. is hosting the Howling Wolf Chapter of Barley's Angels for a ladies only beer and cheese event.

Second, Flathead Lake Brewing Co. of Missoula is offering a special deal. Bring your Mother in for a pint of beer, buy one for yourself, and get a free one for Mom. Just be ready to prove it's your mom with a cute picture that's sure to be embarrassing to you, but funny to the rest of us.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Desert Mountain Brewing Co. Coming to Columbia Falls

Montana continues to demonstrate it has plenty of room for new craft breweries.  With breweries stretching from Hamilton to Wibaux, it's also clear the size of the town matters little and the thirst for great beer spans them all. 

Among several new breweries expected to open in 2012 is Desert Mountain Brewing Co. in Columbia Falls, MT.  Owners and brewers Kelley and Shawn Christensen are installing a 4-barrel system where experimentation and frequently rotating brews will be the norm.  After checking out the local tastes and getting feedback from the community, they hope to have 3-4 flagship beers to go along with 2-3 rotating beers so you'll always have something new to try.  Their taproom space is expected to accommodate 20 to 30 people in a family friendly atmosphere where Mom and Dad can have a beer while the kids enjoy a root beer.

Kelley and Shawn want to serve their local patrons first and foremost, but recognize the inherent value in all the traffic heading to Glacier National Park.   With a little luck, Columbia Falls' newest community gathering place will be open in late fall or early winter.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bowser Brewing Co. Quenching Thirsts in Great Falls

Evan Bowser had a plan.  We he retired, Evan thought he'd open a brewery.  Somewhere along the line things didn't quite work out that way.

Now at the ripe old age of 27, Evan finds himself presiding over Bowser Brewing Co., Great Falls, MT's first brewery in the modern age of craft brewing. Staffed by veteran head brewer Dennis Holland, Evan and his crew are taking Great Falls' beer-craving residents on a fun ride of experimental brewing.

I stopped at Bowser Brewing in February to visit with Evan, check out the facility and sample the beer.  Passing through the front door there's a comfortable and warm feeling to the space.  The seating area is large, with various tables, couches, a fireplace and memorabilia displays.  The brewing facility sits behind large glass windows providing a great view of the action.  The bar area has plenty of seats and is backed by twelve taps, flanked on each side by seven additional taps dedicated to filling growlers.

Experimentation has definitely been Bowser Brewing's hallmark.  Between their opening in December and my trip in mid-February, Evan tells me they'd brewed 30 different beers.  You'll certainly find some "regulars" in their tap line up such as Electric City IPA.  But even some of the regulars come with a twist like the Strawberry Blonde, a taproom favorite.  It's a good bet you'll find something new on tap every time you go. 

I'm a sucker for coffee stouts and was happy to spot Midnight on the Missouri Coffee Stout among the choices that night.  Bower's version had a wonderfully roasted bite to it with a few dark chocolate notes, but mostly dark roast.  Rich, medium bodied with a full mouthfeel and a touch of creaminess in the middle.

The scotch ale also impressed.  A bit of peated malt comes through very nicely in the aroma and you can just about trick yourself into believing you had a rocks glass of scotch in front of you. Flavors are predominantly classic caramel malt along with a touch of smoke in the background.  To add to the flavor, Bowser soaked oak chips in 18-year Macallan Scotch, then tossed them into the bright tank, ensuring an ever changing level of scotch flavors and aroma as the tank empties.

More recently I had a chance to try two more of Bowser's beers at the 20th Annual Garden City Brewfest in Missoula, Electric City IPA and Nosferatu Resurrected Imperial Ale.  Both impressed the crowd, and it was great to have the IPA poured through the cask engine.

It's clear from the frequent and varied crowd at Bowser Brewing that Great Falls was ready for a place like this.  Bowser is also one of the more social media savvy breweries with frequent, enthusiastic updates on facebook and even the occasional video.  They're also one of the first I've seen to carry "growlettes," a 32 ounce growler.  Hate the name (not of their doing), but love the ability to grab a variety of brews in a smaller package.

It looks like Great Falls is in for a good ride. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

2nd Helena Ales for Trails Brewfest is Friday, May 11

Helena's 2nd Annual Ales for Trails fundraising event takes place this Friday, May 20, from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Lewis & Clark County Fairgrounds.

Helena Ales for Trails exists to invest in the community by investing in the Helena trail system. Tickets are $10 in advance ($15 at the door) and are available through Thursday at Fuel Fitness, Tread Lightly, Bank of the Rockies, Mountain West Banks, Mast Family Dentistry, Blackfoot River Brewing and Lewis and Clark Brewing, all in Helena.

A ticket lands you a 6 oz. Helena Ales for Trails pilsner-style glass and 4 coupons for five 6 oz. beers.  Expected breweries include Blackfoot River, Lewis & Clark, Harvest Moon, Higherground, Draught Works, Quarry, Blacksmith and Flathead Lake. Additional beer coupons are $1 each.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Centennial Trail, a paved non-vehicle path that will connect Spring Meadow Lake at Helena's western end to East Helena. 

For more information, head to Helena Ales For Trails facebook page

Win a Colordo Active Beer Tour From Zephyr Adventures

Montana based Zephyr Adventures organizes some pretty cool conferences and tours.  They're the organizers of the annual Beer Bloggers Conference along with similar ones for Wine Bloggers, Fitness Bloggers and others.  Their tours are active adventure tours in great spots around the world. You can hike and bike in Spain, take a multisport tour of the wine country in Chile and Argentina, or climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

They also love beer.  Two of their active tours combine the best of hiking, biking, scenery and beer in the Rocky Mountains.  The Yellowstone & Grand Tetons Multisport Beer Tour runs July 20-25, visiting six breweries in six days while hiking, biking and rafting around the Yellowstone ecosystem in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

The Colorado Hike, Bike, Beer, and Brewpubs Adventure runs October 8-12 and includes five days of fun:
On this Active Beer Adventure, you’ll get daily exercise by enjoying some of Colorado’s finest biking and hiking trails in the mornings and afternoons, then settle into a cozy brewpub for some conversation, excellent local micro brews and food each evening. We visit the Colorado towns of Boulder, Fort Collins, Estes Park and Denver – each of which has its own distinct flavor and flair. You’ll have the chance to hike through the iconic Rocky Mountain National Park, visit multiple local breweries, and experience Colorado’s Great American Beer Festival (the largest consumer beer festival in the United States)!
Sounds great to me.  Even better, Zephyr Adventures is joining with New Belgium Brewing, World Class Beer, Draft Magazine, and Untappd to give away one free spot on the Colorado Beer Adventure. The package  includes airfare and the total value is approximately $2,200. To enter fill out the registration form between now and May 31, 2012 to be eligible to win.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Montana Winners at World Beer Cup

The 2012 Brewers Association World Beer Cup took place this past week in connection with the Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego and some Montana breweries took home some nice medals.

In the American-Style Wheat Beer category,  Montana Brewing Co. (Billings) took the Gold Medal for Whitetail Wheat while Lewis & Clark Brewing Co. (Helena) got the Silver Medal for Miner's Gold.

Montana Brewing Co. impressed the judges in a second category, taking the Silver Medal in the Ordinary or Special Bitter category for its Happy Hour Hero Ale.

Kettlehouse Brewing Co. (Missoula) continues to collect the awards for its Cold Smoke Scotch Ale, receiving the Bronze Medal in the Scotch Ale category.

The World Beer Cup is held every two years and the 2012 installment in San Diego was the largest commercial international beer competition ever held.  Of the 3,921 entries, 1,270 came from outside the U.S. 799 breweries from 54 countries and 45 U.S. states participated. Montana breweries had 29 entries and won 4 awards, a pretty impressive record.

Congrats to our Montana winners!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Garden City BrewFest Celebrates 20 Years

The grand finale of the inaugural Missoula Craft Beer Week takes place tomorrow, Saturday, May 5, and the celebration is going to be a big one.  Now in its 20th year, the Missoula Downtown Association's Garden City BrewFest is an annual rite of spring in Missoula, marking both the end of winter (usually) and the end of exams at the U of M.  When the weather is good, more than 6,000 patrons are known to show up.  When the whether is not so good, the crowds stay strong and the best beers tend to last a little longer.

This year, 65 beers will be available, the most ever.  Many of Montana's newest breweries will be there.  Along with the area's well know offerings, you'll have the chance to try beer from Stevensville's Wildwood Brewing Co. which opened only a moth ago.  Bowser Brewing (Great Falls) and Higherground Brewing (Hamilton) will be there.  Both opened in December.  Draught Works Brewery (Missoula), which opened in October, 2011, will be pouring their new Paradise Found English Summer Ale.

Blacksmith Brewing (Stevensville) will serve their Coconut Oatmeal Stout which recently took 1st place at the Montana Beer Festival in Bozeman.  Tamarack Brewing is pouring Garden City Golden Ale which they brewed as a tribute to the Missoula Downtown Association and Missoula Craft Beer Week.

There's a wine bar for your non-beer drinking tag-alongs, live music by Sick Kids XOXO, Lil' Smokies and Russ Nasset and the Revelators, and plenty of good food.   Tickets are $10 which includes a tasting glass and two beer tokens.  Additional tokens are $1 each.  It starts at noon and keeps going until 8:00 p.m.

Ryan and I will be there, too, so stop by our table and say hello!

Senator Baucus Working at Tamarack Brewing Co. Today

Today is a busy day for Montana Senator Max Baucus as he heads into the second day of his Flathead Jobs Tour, touting highway jobs, industrial opportunities and an international trade mission in the northwest corner of Montana.   Yesterday, Senator Baucus held a highway jobs roundtable discussion at the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce and took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for the Flathead County Rail Park.

After announcing his Tourism-Trade Mission up in Whitefish today, he'll head down to Tamarack Brewery in Lakeside for a work day from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.  According to the Senator's press release he'll be weighing and milling Montana grown and malted barley used in Tamarack's beers and pouring beer in the restaurant.  Sounds like he'll get to avoid the less than desirable tasks of sanitizing kegs and cleaning tap lines.  

We had an opportunity to visit with Senator Baucus during his trip to Draught Works Brewery in April.  We - and you, too - will have another chance tomorrow, May 5, at the Garden City BrewFest where the Senator is expected to pour beer and visit with the crowd from Noon to 2:00 p.m.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Barley's Angels Hosting Mother's Day Beer Tasting

On Mother's Day, May 13, 2012, the Howling Wolf Chapter of Barley's Angels is hosting a tour and simple cheese and beer tasting at Helena's Blackfoot River Brewing Co.  Led by Blackfoot Brewer Becky Molm, the pairing features Blackfoot River's Woollybugger Wheat and Singlemalt IPA.  

The Howling Wolf Chapter's dessert and beer pairing was a big success, so reservations are recommended. Ladies only at this event which begins at 3:00 p.m.  Cost is a remarkably cool $6.  For reservations or more information, contact Becky@Blackfootriverbrewing.com or check in at the taproom. 

For more information on Barley's Angels, head to the organization's website here