Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Study: The Impact of Craft Brewing on Montana's Economy

The University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research (there's a mouthful) issued a press release yesterday about it's study of the the impact craft brewing has on Montana's economy.  The independent study, initially released at the Montana Brewers Association fall conference in Missoula, shows some impressive results. 

As a whole, "the impact of the industry represents more than 430 jobs, nearly $50 million in private-sector sales, $9.8 million in private nonfarm compensation, $1.8 million in government compensation and $1.5 million in state government revenues."

The study was prepared following a nine-question survey administered during summer 2012 to all Montana brewers. Data was collected for 2010 and 2011 production, sales, employment, compensation, expenditures, and benefits.  Ninety-seven percent of brewers (30 of 31) responded to the survey which includes numbers only for those breweries that were in operation by the end of 2011. (That number does not include the two breweries who opened in December 2011, but did not yet have numbers.) Since then, several more breweries have opened in 2012 with one more set to open soon.

The study also found that from 2010 to 2011: production increased 18%: 87,000 bbls to 103,000 bbls; sales increased 20%: $21.8 to 26.1 million; and employment increased 39%: 231 to 320 jobs.

The entire report can be found at the Bureau's website here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Learn to Homebrew Day is November 3, 2012

The American Homebrewers Association is holding their 13th Annual Learn to Homebrew Day this Saturday, November 3, and homebrewing stores and clubs all across the country are getting into the action. 

Here in Missoula, Summer Sun Garden and Brew Supply on 128 West Alder St. is hosting events all day including all-grain and partial mash brewing demonstrations.  Check out their facebook page to stay up on all the events.  

If you're interested in taking up homebrewing, or taking it to the next level, stop by Summer Sun on Saturday or check out for information on events in other areas.  The American Hombrewers Association website is full of homebrewing information you can use to make your first batch or improve on your 50th.

I got my initial homebrewing equipment from the Howling Wolf Homebrew Shop in Helena, MT, somewhere around 1997.  You won't find the shop there today, but head up Last Chance Gulch and you'll run into the place it became, Blackfoot River Brewery.  With their help along with the classic Joy of Homebrewing book by Charlie Papazian, I set off on a beer adventure that continues today.  I still use that equipment.  After a bit of a brewing hiatus I recently made the leap into all-grain brewing, thanks to help from Summer Sun and tips from blogging compatriot Ryan.  A fresh hop black ale (using hops from our backyard) is pouring nicely, while an IPA brewed with cascade and simcoe hops is clearing up in the secondary fermenter.

Join the fun!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Beer Traveler: Creating a New Brand of Beer Television

While putting together a few thoughts for Growler Fills' third anniversary post I reflected back on what's made this endeavor worth it.  The answer was clear: the people. Good beer turns strangers into friends faster than anything else I know.  From brewers to distributors, to bloggers and fans, I've met a lot of great people over the past year who are connected to craft beer. Two of them are Charlie Herrin and Duke Geren.

I met Charlie and Duke at the 2012 Beer Bloggers Conference and enjoyed visiting with them over food, beer, travel and fun in Chicago and Indianapolis. Charlie has spent the last year (and more) putting together an ambitious project to create a new documentary series combining craft beer, food and travel called The Beer Traveler. Duke serves as the consulting producer on the project, among many other jobs.

The Beer Traveler will take viewers on an excursion to a different city each show, featuring the local craft beer, local chefs who incorporate beer into their food, and a bit about the city and scenery itself.  Currently in pre-production, you can catch some teasers at their YouTube site

I caught up with Charlie while he was preparing to shoot an episode in Hood River, OR, for an interview.

                                                            * * *

Growler Fills: Tell us about The Beer Traveler.

Charlie Herrin: The Beer Traveler is a show about craft beer, and a whole lot more. Being a fan myself, I’ve watched shows that attempt to showcase craft beer as the main component not last more than a year.

I felt I knew the reason why, and that is that the shows were too craft beer focused to capture the interest of the people that weren’t craft beer drinkers. Only 6% of the drinking age population are even interested in craft beer, it just wasn’t enough to support an episodic show. I wanted to create something that went after the forgotten 94%, but would somehow still be of interest to the 6% that loved their craft beers. I accomplished that goal by adding a couple of topics that go right along with craft beer. I wish that I could say it was all pure genius on my part, but it wasn’t. It was a lot of late nights doing research. What the research told me was that travel and food were my answers.

What started me thinking along these lines was watching television with my wife. I love shows about craft beer, my wife not so much. What my wife and I could agree on were travel shows and food shows. Along with the rest of America, we are absolutely food and travel nuts.

GF:  How is The Beer Traveler different from other beer related television projects?

CH: We are not a show that is built solely around beer. We will have amazing food, beautiful scenery, and hopefully a few laughs. I wanted the design to appeal to a larger audience, yet still be exciting for the beer geeks out there. I am also a major beer geek, so getting to create a show about my favorite subject has definitely been incredible, and a lot of fun.

GF: How did you get started with The Beer Traveler?

CH: I really feel that to be successful in the television industry you have to build a product that caters to more than one small group, such as the craft beer drinkers. I wanted to build something different. I am a craft beer drinker myself and while I love this group of people, they are not a large enough audience to support an episodic television series. That meant I had to put together a show that would be interesting to those that are of drinking age, yet who are not enjoying craft beer, while still being of interest to the current craft beer drinkers. To accomplish this I turned to a couple of my other loves, travel and food.

GF: What have you enjoyed the most/least so far in putting together The Beer Traveler project?

CH: Man that’s a loaded question if I’ve ever heard one, so I will tread lightly. Just kidding! It has been great, but as we all know, anything worthwhile that you do that always comes with challenges.

What I’ve enjoyed the most is the crew I get to work with on the show, they are the most talented group I have had the pleasure to work with. I wanted to include them here because The Beer Traveler is this group:

Will Nelson - Editor, Director, Camera
Duke Geren - Consulting Producer, (BTS) Behind the Scenes photos, Asst. Director, Tech Guy
Marcus Warner - Sound Engineer, Camera,
Andrew Owen - Head Camera/DP, Lighting, Tech Guy, BTS Photos
Taylor Jones - Sound Guy, PA
Gigi Goodrich - Makeup Artist

We have run into a few bumps along the way and it’s definitely taken us longer than we’d hoped to get involved with a major network. Thankfully, that has not deterred us one bit, because we know we have the right combination for our show.

GF: What can we expect to see from The Beer Traveler in the coming months?

CH: We have begun to put up teasers from already filmed episodes on our YouTube channel, and on our Facebook page. We are hoping very shortly to have our website up and running so we can also link everything from there. Currently, we are shooting an episode in Hood River, and after that will be Seattle, the Oregon Coast, Northern California, and soon the rest of the country.

GF: On a more personal level, how would you describe your relationship with
craft beer?

CH: I would hope people would see it as happy and fulfilled. I love craft beer and all it has to offer. To me, it is one of the most historically relevant products that we consume on a regular basis. Beer helped establish farming, the pyramids, the Catholic church, and on and on. Without beer, who knows where we would be today. With all of that, who wouldn’t want to pursue a relationship with this wonderful elixir we call craft beer?

Honestly though, the best part of this incredible adventure has been all of the people I have met and friends I have made. When you sit down at a brewery, taproom, pub or any local establishment providing craft beer, you meet some of the most unique people from all over the world, and almost instantly you’re friends because you have that common interest, and a sure fire conversation starter.

GF: So far, The Beer Traveler has focused on the Portland, OR, area. Do you have plans to venture out? Will we see you in Montana?

CH: That is actually the plan for this show, to eventually travel to every state. We are excited about what we see happening in Montana, so we will definitely be out to partake. Plus, who would pass up an opportunity to spend time in Big Sky country. You have some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, and craft beer and beauty go hand in hand.

GF: Closing thoughts?

CH: Whether you’re a craft beer drinker or not, there is something for everyone on our show. At the end of the day the goal is very simple, to introduce viewers to craft beer they might not have known about or have been hesitant to try. We want them to hear the stories of the brewers and how they continue to build this incredible industry, learn what they are doing for the economy, see how much they love what they do and the pride they have in their job. We sincerely hope our show will showcase the breweries and that a one time viewer becomes a devoted supporter, eager to see where we will take them next.

                                                            * * * 

Charlier hopes to have The Beer Traveler website up and running shortly.  You can also find The Beer Traveler on facebook, twitter and YouTube.  Here's a clip of Charlie's interview with Rob and Kurt Widmer:

Pictures courtesy of Charlie Herrin/The Beer Traveler

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

October Run Wild Missoula Beer Run Tours Cemeteries

Since the last Wednesday of the Month is Halloween, Run Wild Missoula is holding their monthly Beer Run one week early on Wednesday, October 25.  The Beer Run starts and ends at Draught Works Brewery at 915 Toole Street in Missoula. 

Meet at 6:00 p.m. for a five mile run through Missoula's Northside neighborhood and its historic cemeteries for this Halloween themed event.  If you're brave enough, wear your Halloween Costume for extra effect. Given the declining sunlight this time of year, you may also want to bring your headlamp.  

Draught Works Brewery has quickly become a favorite destination for the beer run and recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.

Here's the map:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Blacksmith Brewing's 4th Anniverary Potluck is Oct. 24

It seems it's the season for anniversary celebrations and what better time than harvest time? First we get an infusion of fresh hops followed soon thereafter with a harvest of pumpkins.*

Blacksmith Brewing Co. is fast approaching their 4th Anniversary and is throwing a potluck dinner and party on Wednesday, October 24, 2012.  Really, a pot-luck is the perfect idea for Blacksmith since it already serves as the town's community center.

Blacksmith is providing pulled pork, baked beans, cole-slaw, hot dogs, chips, desert and beer.  You'll have to shell out $3/pint for the beer, but that's a heck of a bargain for great craft beer.  The potluck gets started at 5:00 and tap room manager Trisha says to bring what ever you want to contribute.  Plus, they won't kick you out if you show up empty handed.

There's no better way to celebrate a brewery than with new beer and Blacksmith will release two, along with a twist to their Panty Dropper Pale Ale.   Here's the scoop on the beer:
  • Custer's Pumpkin Ale (7%) brewed with 160lbs of locally grown sugar pie pumpkins, a special blend of spices, and dry hopped with fresh local hops.
  • 4th Anniversary White Ale (8%),  a wheat ale brewed with Blacksmith's blonde yeast, coriander, orange, and  generously hopped.
  • Panty Dropper Pale pushed through a hop infuser using whole leaf Chinook hops.
Live music from Love Is A Dog begins at 6:00 p.m.

* Well, you'll only find fresh pumpkin beers at your local brewery, the beer on the shelves was made with last year's pumpkins.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Growler Fills Passes 3rd Anniversary

If you'd asked me 3 years ago where Growler Fills would be today, I have no idea what I'd would have told you.  I doubt there are many people out there who start a blog with a specific plan in mind. I sure didn't.

Growler Fills' three year anniversary came and went on Sunday, October 14, 2012, and I was too busy to notice.  Too busy taking care of the day job, too busy working on new posts for the blog, and too busy looking in the beer fridge for something new to try.  All of that is good.

The past year has been a busy one.  I've sampled more than 600 unique beers, written more than 150 posts (at times butchering the English language and basic rules of punctuation), co-created the Missoula Craft Beer Week, and even obtained federal trademark protection for the Growler Fills "brand." It's been a fun ride.

I attended the Montana Brewers Conference recently and it was refreshing to discover how many brewers and others in the industry tune in.  As I mentioned during the panel presentation on blogging, they aren't necessarily my target audience.  Rather, they're an essential part of the "conversation" that is Growler Fills.  After all, while the subject matter is craft beer, the stories we're telling are fundamentally about the people.

It may have taken three years, but I finally figured out what Growler Fills is. It's part events calendar, part news source, part education and part commentary - but above anything else, it's a conversation.

For that conversation to succeed, I need you. I hope you've enjoyed the evolution of Growler Fills and hope you'll continue to take part in the conversation.  Now, will someone hand me a beer?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Flathead Lake Brewing Co. to Expand Missoula Pub

Fans of Flathead Lake Brewing Co.'s Missoula pub have been shut out of the facility for nearly two weeks as the pub deals with damage done from a broken water line on the building's second floor.  The leak caused hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage, but also gave FLBC of Missoula the opportunity to move forward on its efforts to take over the first floor space previously occupied by Sapore restaurant.

Sapore closed down when the leak occurred and will not reopen.  The restaurant definitely had its fans, but suffered from inconsistency in both food preparation and service.  Now, FLBC of Missoula will occupy the entire building.

FLBC plans to maintain the pub menu in the current pub space on the second floor, but will offer an expanded menu in the first floor space.  The area on the second floor that serves as office space at the front of the building (next to the bathrooms) will be converted to additional pub space.  The third floor banquet room will be upgraded to a swanky lounge-like area called the "Imperial Room."

The remodel and expansion of the Missoula pub space marks another impressive move by the two year old brewery (since reopening in 2010).  In July, Flathead Lake Brewing Co. announced it had purchased a building in Big Fork that will house the brewery's new brewing facility and restaurant and allow for a significant expansion in brewing capacity. 

Draught Works to Hold Community Appreciation Day

I was surprised to receive an email recently from Draught Works Brewery's co-owner and brewmaster Jeff Grant announcing their customer appreciation day to celebrate Draught Works' first year in business.  What? Haven't they been open for far more than a year?

Indeed it really has been just a year since Draught Works opened its doors.  Now, many Cask Wednesdays, Zimorinos Mondays, Chug for Community Tuesdays  and numerous other events later, Draught Works is hosting a Community Appreciation Day to celebrate its first year in business and honor and thank their "tremendous local support."

The event takes place on Saturday, October 20, 2012, from 12:00 to 9:00 p.m. Draught Works will be serving up a free brewers' grain-fed pig roast (3 pigs, while they last) along with door prizes, live music from The Best Westerns (from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.) and a special cask tapping of Vanilla Bean Gwin Du Oatmeal Stout.  All told, Draught Works will have a whopping 11 beers on tap/cask.

Draught Works Brewery is at 915 Toole Ave. in Missoula in an old warehouse they've magically transformed into one of the best brewery tap-room vibes in the state. With a comfortable atmosphere, the best outdoor patio in the city, and frequent live music, it's a great place to enjoy craft beer.

P.S.  Bayern Brewing, if you're reading, take a cue from Draught Works. It's rather odd to charge $5 for fans to attend your anniversary party. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

MT Dept. of Revenue Seeks Brew-On-Premise License

One of the interesting nuggets of info at the Montana Brewers Association's 2012 Fall Conference came from Shauna Helfert, Administrator of the Liquor Control Division of the Montana Department of Revenue.

The Department of Revenue is working on a bill to create a new license for brew-on-premises operations, a business category that is not currently regulated. Apparently there are a couple of businesses operating in the state which allow people to rent equipment at the business to brew beer for the customer's personal consumption.  If you're getting old, like me, you might remember when Missoula's Kettlehouse operated such a business at the Myrtle Street location.  A line of kettles sat where the mismatched bus-seat couches now hold beer drinking patrons.

While the federal government has a set of stringent guidelines for these operations, the feds don't regulate brew-your-own facilities.  Thus, the feds leave it up to the states to decide whether - and how - to license them.

Getting a bill before the legislature begins with a bill drafting request.  The Department submitted such a request earlier this year and stated the purpose as:
To protect the public health and safety by providing statutory guidelines for Brew on Premise businesses within the state. Alcoholic beverages are regulated in the state to protect the public health and safety, however this type of business which allows consumers to manufacturer their own beer is not regulated to ensure they meet building health and fire code regulations, ensure alcoholic beverages are not provided to underage or intoxicated persons, or to ensure the owners are qualified to be good purveyors of alcoholic beverages. There is a clear need to clarify the law in this area in order to avoid problems as this business model grows.
I appreciate the desire to regulate the alcohol aspects of such businesses, but call b.s. on the building, health and fire code issues.  Those are not the purview of the Department of Revenue, and existing regulations for commercial businesses are already in place. (Yes, I know the Dept. already reviews and approves floor plans, etc. for establishments serving alcohol.)

However, the background in the Department's request makes better sense:
Due to the fact that these types of businesses are not actually selling alcoholic beverages, they are not regulated by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). They are merely providing a facility and service for customers to make their own products, therefore TTB does not regulate the business. Persons interested in this type of business call our office to get the necessary paperwork to apply for a license and are shocked when we tell them there is no license required by law or application necessary.
A draft bill has already been prepared, but the link to the draft on the Department's website leads to an error message. [Update: the link now works as of 10-29-12.] Just hearing the basic premise, the brewers and other attendees at the conference had good questions and suggestions for the Department to help avoid unintended consequences (and loopholes).

For example, the license would not permit any on-premise consumption of alcohol, but it is common for homebrewers to taste the beer when racking from primary to secondary fermentation. Would that violate the license? Fortunately, the Department is not attempting to make any changes in Montana's homebrewing law which merely defaults to current Federal requirements.  

It was clear from the presentation and discussion that the Department has a very good relationship with the Montana Brewers Association.  Such positive relationship are essential in such a heavily regulated industry.  

For legislative savy readers who want to follow it's progress, the Bill request is LC0400. The 2013 Montana Legislature gets going on January 7, 2013. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Philipsburg Brewing To Hold Grand Opening Weekend

Montana's newest brewery, Philipsburg Brewing Co. is holding a grand opening weekend beginning tomorrow, Friday, October 12.  I had a chance to talk with Founder Rob Jarvis and Brewer Mike Elliott at the Montana Brewers Festival and they're excited to show off the new place.  Open since late August, PBC is quickly adding new beers and drawing crowds to the brewery in one of Montana's quintessential small towns.

Here's the line up for the grand opening:
  • Friday, October 12: Live Music with Kelly Hughes from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. 
  • Saturday, October 13: Pig Roast and Live Music with Shane Clouse & Brad Radtke from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
  • Sunday October 14:   BBQ and Live Music from Ryan James from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Philipsburg Brewing Co. is located at 101 West Broadway, Philipsburg, MT.  The cost for the pig roast on Saturday is a donation to the Granite County Food Bank.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Deschutes' Missoula Base Camp Continues Through Saturday

Deschutes Brewery has long been one of my favorites.  It wasn't the first craft beer I tried, but I can trace my craft beer epiphany back to a few pints of Black Butte Porter on nitro in Helena, MT somewhere around '97.  Several years of The Abyss feature prominently in my beer cellar.  I'm still cursing my inept failure to put away more bottles of Black Butte XXI.

Deschutes brought its Base Camp to Missoula beginning yesterday and there are plenty more events scheduled through Saturday:
  • Wed, 10/10, 11am-2pm:  Lunch with a Deschutes Brewer (Iron Horse Brew Pub)
  • Wed, 10/10, 3-5pm:  Fresh Hop Beer Release & Meet the Brewer (Worden’s Market & Deli)
  • Wed, 10/10, 6:30-9pm: Hats Off to Homebrewers (Union Club Bar)
  • Thurs, 10/11, 2-5pm: Fresh Hop Release & Meet the Brewer (Orange St. Food Farm)
  • Thurs, 10/11: Deschutes Brewery Base Camp Beer Dinner (Caffe Dolce)
  • Thurs, 10/11, 7pm-12am:  Deschutes Brewery Base Camp Pint Night (The Rhino)
  • Thurs, 10/11, 9pm-12am:  Beer-lesque: Tastings and Tassels (Top Hat)
  • Fri, 10/12, 2-5pm:  Deschutes Brewery Fresh Hop Release (Pattee Creek Market)
  • Fri, 10/12, 7-10pm: Montana Wine & Beer Festival (UM Adam’s Center)
  • Sat, 10/13, 11am-1:30pm: Woody Tailgate (Washington-Grizzly Stadium)

Ryan has all the details over at  You may have spotted Ryan at the industry bowling event last night.  Stop and say hello if you happen to see us at one of the events.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Montana Breweries at the GABF

The Great American Beer Festival takes place this Thursday through Saturday (Oct. 11-13, 2012) in Denver, CO, and eight Montana Breweries will be on hand.   This Annual showcase by the Brewers Association is the largest collection of American beer and serves as one of the most prestigious competitions of its kind.

Tickets to the festival sold out in 45 minutes when they went on sale earlier this year.  The 49,000 attendees will have the opportunity to sample from 2,700 beers by 578 U.S. breweries.  The Montana breweries pouring during the festival are:

Carter's Brewing     Billings
Great Northern Brewing Company       Whitefish
Kettlehouse Brewing Company       Missoula
Lewis & Clark Brewing Company    Helena
Montana Brewing Company     Billings
Quarry Brewing LLC Butte
Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company          Red Lodge
Ɯberbrew      Billings

The festival sold out in 45 minutes during the public ticket sale. New this year is a "fresh hop ale" category in the competition. This category showcases ales which are hopped exclusively with fresh, undried, “wet” hops.

Last year there were 3,930 beers in 83 categories entered in the competition.  For this year, 84 categories of beer will be judged, covering 134 beer styles. Awards will be announced during a ceremony held Saturday morning. Thus far, I have been unable to locate a list of Montana entries for the competition.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Montana Brewers Conference Provides a Moment of Clarity

The Montana Brewers Association is holding it's first annual fall conference on October 7 - 8 in Missoula following yesterday's Montana Brewers Festival.  We're participating in a panel discussion tomorrow on the interaction between bloggers/media and brewers.  The MBA is graciously allowing us to take part in the full conference line up.  After day one, here's my main takeaway.

This is going to sound odd, but bear with me. One of the best parts about attending the Montana Brewers Conference is realizing how little I know about the craft beer industry.  And hey, as a guy who has written a beer blog for nearly three years, I've got access to the beer industry that goes beyond the average craft beer fan.  Even with that access, and having attended two beer bloggers conferences, it's interesting to realize how little I know.

This confessional moment is valuable for three reasons: 1. Perspective; 2. Appreciation; and 3. Material. Having the perspective to know what you don't know is important in any endeavor, but particularly when trying to establish credibility and respect in a creative, social medium like a blog.  Having appreciation for the challenges and opportunities of the area you write about provides valuable perspective.  And, hey, when you're the author of a blog about a particular subject, it's great to realize you're not going to run out of material.

With small exception, Montana's breweries are small businesses.  They have all the challenges of other small businesses while also having to navigate a heavily regulated segment of industry.

As craft beer drinkers, we know the beer we're enjoying is the product of one or more people milling grain, pitching yeast, filling kegs and drinking on the job.  We tend to romanticize the entire production process because, lets face it, beer is the nectar of the gods. We tend to have a general idea about the three tier system, regulatory constraints, and arcane beer laws we love to bitch about, even if we've never read them.

While getting lost in the aroma and flavor of our favorite IPA, we forget - if we even stop to think about it - the practical and not so practical nuts and bolts our breweries deal with to deliver the beer we romanticize.  At the Montana Brewers Conference today, I've sat through sessions on beer gas distribution systems and peered into the complexity of "merely" getting the beer from the keg to your glass.  Think it's fun having someone say your beer sucks when the fault lies in a tap line that hasn't been cleaned?  

Next up, a malt industry discussion raised interesting issues on the future of barley. Try convincing farmers to grow barely when they're able to take lower risks by producing other crops. The Director of the Department of Revenue Liquor Control Division provided helpful interpretations of Montana's complex alcohol licensing system while listening carefully to comments on draft legislation for a new brew-on-premises license (more on that later).

As if that wasn't enough food for thought, listening to a session on distribution contracts revealed a body of law that at times appears exactly the opposite of long standing principles (and constitutional protections) of "freedom of contract." And that's from someone who knows a bit about "the law."   A session on personnel laws rounded out the afternoon.

Distribution contracts, personnel issues, commodities, complex regulations and pending legislation.  The craft beer industry is by no means alone in any of these issues.  But when we go to the doctor's office, we seem to automatically respect, understand and appreciate the complexity of the health care industry, even if we don't understand it. When we head to the bar, the tap room, or crack one at home, we're usually doing it specifically not to think about complexity.  Unless it's the multiple layers of the latest imperial stout flowing from our glass.

Perspective is a good thing to seek.  These aren't just stories about beer.  These are stories about people.

Montana Brewers Festival Shines on Perfect Fall Day

A chilly start to the morning yesterday gave way to the kind of crisp, sunny, blue sky day that reminds those of us living in Montana why we choose to do so.  There was another pretty big reminder, too, as the Montana Brewers Festival filled Missoula's Caras Park with 75 Montana brewed beers in a celebration of  the skill, craft and imagination of Montana's craft brewers. 

From lambics to Belgian tripels to black IPAs and chocolate porters, the large, steady beer-loving crowd enjoyed a wide array of Montana craft beer.  Hailing from Wibaux to Hamilton and all points in between the Festival gives us a chance to sample beers from breweries many of us can't practically visit, even as they're all hanging out in the same state.  New breweries like The Front Brewing (Great Falls) and Philipsburg Brewing provided new experiences while long established breweries like Blackfoot River, Bitter Root, and Madison River kept us entertained with new brews.

Don't ask me to pick a favorite, but I'll tell you this. Bozeman Brewing, Bitter Root Brewing and Madison River had me going back for seconds with their Terroir Fresh Hop IPA, Honey Citra Imperial IPA and Green Emerger Fresh Hop IPA, respectively.  Even for a stout-head, it was impossible to resist the fall fresh hop season.

Here's are some of the sights from yesterday's festival.  We'll post a full gallery soon.


Friday, October 5, 2012

The Session No. 68: Novelty Beers

This month's Session* topic is hosted by Tiffany Adamowski at 99 Pours who, along with her husband, owns a bottle shop in Federal Way, WA.  She's a fellow beer bloggers conference attendee and her topic is Novelty Beers.  Tiffany asks:
What novelty beer comes to mind when you think: Is this beer just too strange to stay around? Why in the world would they choose ingredients most beer drinkers have never heard of …what the heck is a qatar fruit? If it’s okay for beer to taste like tea or coffee, why not pizza? If wild yeasts are allowed to ferment beer, then why not beard yeast? If oysters, why not bacon? If pumpkin’s good enough for pie, why not beer? Since hops are flowers, why not brew with actual flowers?
My first thought in pondering this topic is to punt.  I can't immediately think of a single novelty beer I've tried. Sure, there's been a few Dogfish Head brews that might qualify, or some odd fruit infused beer at one of the local breweries.  But none of these strike me as being a novelty beer.

And then it hit me why.

Earlier this week I wrote about beer trends for 2012. My number one beer trend? Putting anything and everything in beer. There are no boundaries in the U.S. craft beer industry. If we've learned anything over the past year, there is no ingredient you can't put in beer.  Bull testicles? Done.  Maple syrup, bacon, chocolate, peanut butter? All done. Yeast from a brewer's beard?  Yesterday's news.  Thus, is it possible there aren't any novelty beers left?

This freedom to experiment is what sets the U.S. brewing industry apart from other countries, particularly European counterparts whose century old traditions continue to have a strangle hold on limited styles. I appreciate the experimentation.  It really isn't all that new in the U.S., but choosing odder and odder ingredients in an arms race of novelty is a more recent trend. 

Why would brewers choose ingredients most beer drinkers have never heard of?  Setting aside the cynical answer - that it's a marketing thing - it's because craft beer drinkers are inherently curious and adventurous with their beers.  When I visited Evan Bowser for a post on Bowser Brewing Company, he'd just picked up some horseradish from the grocery store for a 10 gallon test batch.  Ten years ago while living in San Francisco for a year, I remember trying beers at Magnolia brewed with heathers and herbs instead of hops.

Novelty beers are created for the established craft beer fan.  The kind of beer drinker who understands the basic styles and isn't afraid to try something new.  It's fun, and I'm as likely (or maybe more likely) as the next beer geek to taste a peanut butter beer,** for example, just to see if it works.

Sometimes the experimentation does work. Often it doesn't. But why not give it a try?  Beer is social. We like to have fun with it.  As long as it isn't purely for gimmickry, I even embrace it. Still, at the end of the average day, please hand me an uncomplicated stout, porter, IPA, or brown ale, and I'll probably be happier.

*Today is the first Friday in October which means it's time to take part in The Session, a collective effort of beer bloggers around the world to write on a common topic once each month.

** Throwback Brewery's Fat Alberta Chocolate Peanut Butter Imperial Stout.  It was fun to try and tasted . . . . interesting.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What To Do When Your Beer Sucks

You're a large brewer with a long history of brewing an . . uh . . American adjunct lager, but sales have been declining and you just can't make any gains on those Budweiser boys. You've got a big pot of money sitting around which you can use to fix the problem.  How do you spend the money?

Well, here's a good read from  It explains how MillerCoors significantly increased sales of Coors Light - not by convincing anyone it tastes good, but by convincing everyone it was cold.  And they're up front about that.  A bit wryly sly about it, even.  Hey, who wouldn't smirk after pulling a fast one to boost the company bottom line. Then again, is it fair to be smug when you consider the target audience?

As the author notes, "MillerCoors knew that nothing distinguished its marquee beer from the competition. So it made something up." That something was "cold."

Cold, my friends, is not a flavor. In fact it's the anti-flavor, rendering most of our taste buds unable to distinguish anything but bitterness.  Apparently, MillerCoors says the top complaint about their Coors Light is that the "beer is watery."  Umm . . . well, that's a good place to start, though I'd rather drink watery water.

This is an interesting story from an advertising perspective.  It's also interesting from the insight it gives into the beer world. When it comes to Big Beer, craft beer drinkers have long known it's not about the beer.  It's what scares us when Big Beer buys up great beer (i.e. Goose Island).  It's also why we're skeptical when Big Beer tells us they don't plan to interfere with great beer once purchased. If they'll spend millions to make something up, what boundary is left to cross?

Still, it's nice to see a slice of Big Beer come clean - sort of.  Being about the beer is why we gravitate to our local breweries. Being about the beer is why we start blogs, and create festivals and host craft beer weeks.  Being about the beer is about people, and art, and science, and craft.

Let's raise a toast to being about the beer.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Havre, Helena and Missoula Host Beer Events This Saturday

We recognize not everyone can get to Missoula this weekend for the Montana Brewers Festival (and it's 77 Montana brewed beers).  The good news for those who can't make it is there's plenty more to do in the beer world around Montana this weekend.

Murphy's Pub in Havre, Montana, is hosting it's 3rd Annual Liquid Microbrew Festivus on Saturday, October 6, from 4:00 p.m. to midnight.  There's a $5 cover to get in.  Once in, you'll be treated to two live bands and the opportunity to try out 29 Montana beers from 12 Montana breweries.  Ten beer samples cost $10, or you can throw down a $20 bill for 24 beer samples.  Murphy's will also have 9 wines and a variety of new liquors available.

Helena, MT is the site for the 3rd Annual Ryan United Brewmaster's Dinner, featuring beer from Lewis and Clark Brewing Co. and Blackfoot River Brewing Co. and food from the Great Northern Best Western Hotel. The dinner will be held on Saturday, October 6, 2012 beginning at 5:30 p.m. and includes a silent auction and live entertainment.  The event serves as a fundraiser for Ryan United, a organization dedicated to improving child safety and eliminating child predation.  Tickets are $50 person, or $270 for a table of six. For more information, head here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What's Trending in Beer 2012

I was looking back through some old posts recently when I ran across one from a touch more than a year ago called "What's Trending in Beer?"  I did not remember writing it until browsing the text, which tells me it's one I dreamed up because I needed to get something out on the blog.  I like to keep my two readers entertained, so I try to keep a regular supply of words popping up.*

Whether I intended it or not, it's an interesting exercise to look out across the vast plain of craft beerdom and consider the trends over the past year. Who knew I was starting something that could become a yearly feature?

To recap, since I'm guessing few of you clicked on the link above, in reviewing the end of 2010 and most of 2011, it seemed Belgian yeast had taken off in a big way, showing up in practically any kind of beer.  The year prior had seen an explosion of Black IPAs.  Before that, high gravity beers were all the rage and looking back even farther showed barrel aging had become common place.

What's happening with Belgian yeast? I think the trend of using Belgian yeast in just about anything is quieting down.  Instead, there seems to be an increasing focus on using Belgian yeast to produce more Belgian style beers, an effort I greatly encourage.

What's trending now?  In the Paul McCartney/Stevie Wonder,** yin/yang, balancing of the universe vein, white IPAs are becoming more common place.  Yet, I wouldn't go so far as to call then a trend worthy of highlighting.

So, in my last year of visiting countless beer aisles, beer bars, breweries and brewfests, not to mention reading far too many articles, blogs and other musing on beer and attending a most excellent conference, here's what I see trending in beer:

1. Putting anything and everything into beer. There are clearly no boundaries in the U.S. craft beer industry. You can put anything into a beer in the United States and get away with it.  Jalapenos? Not even unusual anymore.  Maple syrup, pomegranates, bacon, chocolate, peanut butter? I've had beers with every one of them. It's what sets the U.S. apart from other countries, particularly European counterparts whose century old traditions continue to have a strangle hold on limited styles.  I enjoy it, support it and embrace it. It certainly isn't new to the past year, but it seems we've reached a certain crescendo. Why not experiment? Beer is social, and as long as we understand and enjoy the fact that some experiments are going to work and some aren't, it's all good.

2. False Complexity.  Experimentation is one thing. Throwing in 10 malts and 8 hops in an effort to suggest the beer is better is quite another.  I'm not arguing such beers aren't necessarily good, or the number of malts and hops isn't important to the flavor of the beer. As I wrote this post I drank a beer with six hop varieties.  It's a very good beer.  Yet, there is a growing trend that focuses too much on a numbers game.  It's advertising. It's the suggestion that more hops and more malts are essential to a better beer.  Hogwash.  One of the best IPAs anywhere is Blackfoot River Brewing Co.'s Single Malt IPA.  It's a crazy good beer with plenty of depth and, as is evident from the name, has only one malt.   Brew great beer with however many malts and hops you want to throw in. If they are important to the depth and complexity of the beer, great.  But stop trying to convince us that more = better.

3. The Randall/Hop Rocket phenomenon. Here's hoping this one is a fad. Dogfish Head Brewery created the Randall, which it dubs the an "organoleptic hop transducer module." That's a fancy description for a hop swirler. It's a device you connect to your tap line.  As the beer is dispensed out of the keg, it gets swirled through the Randall which can hold hops or anything else you can pack into it before sending the beer on to the tap and into your glass. Pack it with hops and the beer takes on fairly pungent hop aromas and flavors.

The Hop Rocket is a version of the same idea. I've tried beers poured through these devices packed with hops, raspberries, blackberries, hazelnut coffee beans, vanilla coffee beans and various other fruits.  Not once have I experienced any "wow" factor, though the best experience has been with pungent hops. While the experimentation is cool, let's move on.

There you have it, my "what's trending in beer for 2012."  What's trending in your beer world?

* Perhaps you didn't want that level of insight into how the blog operates from time to time.
** 10 points if you got the reference.