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The Almost Official Montana Scotch Ale Scotch-Off

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Montanan’s love scotch ale. At least that’s what we’re told.

You’re also told to be sure to have a scotch ale or two when you travel to Montana because Montana makes the best scotch ales.

But could it simply be a case that there’s more scotch ale available in Montana compared to other states? And if that’s true, then does that necessarily ensure the scotch ales are good? And if that’s the case, does it really make scotch ale a “must try” for visitors?

Expert panel - Scotch Ales
The prodigious panel of appraisers ponders the serious selection of Scotchiness placed in their path.

These burning questions have been around since the early Bronze Age. So to answer these age-old conundrums, a panel of highly dedicated judges was assembled to hold the first ever Montana Scotch Ale Scotch-Off.

Judges came from as far away as 30 miles to participate in the Bozeman-based event. And the level of expertise ranged from craft beer savants, to aficionados of quality beer, to PBR lovers, to beer neophytes. This variety was intentional in order to ensure a level playing field, and increase generalizability.

Ultimately, the panel of judges spent hours and hours tasting, re-tasting, deliberating, evaluating, expectorating, cajoling, convincing, scoring, bribing, sharing, whining, complaining, and naming the best Scotch Ales in Montana. A variety of Scotch Ales were put to the test, including some from breweries outside of Montana simply for comparison sake.

Now the results are in. And the Scotchie goes to …

GoldNeptune’s Brewery Scottish Ale — The Livington-based brewery averaged 3.9 out of 5 starts to take first place. Disclaimer: This technically is a wee heavy because it has higher alcohol content than a traditional Scotch Ale. And the reason it checks in at 8.6% ABV is because it s barrel aged. So that could be two strikes against. But the argument in favor is, well, just listen to what the judges had to say …

“Subtle, quite nose, soft beginning, bold body, strong finish.”

“Tastes just like what a Scotch Ale should. Pow!”

“Good stuff. Complex.”


The brewery’s website says that it is “Smooth and sweet, yet bold and strong. Our Scottish is just the kick in the kilt you deserve.”

The judges agree.

SilverMeadowlark Ole Gus — Made in Sidney, Mont., by Meadowlark Brewing Co., this Scotch Ale offering checked in with a 2.95 out of 5 starts in the Scotch-Off. Again, technically this is a “Scotch rye wee heavy.” But “wee heavy” is such a Scottish-sounding phrase, anything called such makes it into a Scotch-Off. Our judges were impressed with this 7.0% ABV effort:

“Strong malt body with tones of nut. Powerful strong finish.”

“Big date/fig flavor with slight toastiness. Medium body.”

“Malty, with sweet/salty finish.”

“Grapey. That’s all I have to say about that.”

Fun fact #1: Ole Gus is the name of one of the brewer’s dogs, a big, black, slobbery Neapolitan Mastiff.

Fun fact #2: Sidney is near the Montana-North Dakota border. Who knew?

Fun fact #3: According to Google Maps, it would take almost 9 hours to fly to Sidney from my house, but only 6 to drive.

Scotch-Off scoresheets
The panelists took their responsibilities vigorously, as evident by the amount of spills, smudges, and stains on the scorecards.

Bronze — 17CO12 — A late entry into the Scotch-Off, this came to the judges from a homebrew competition that took place in Bozeman, Mont., a few weekends prior to the Scotch Ale challenge. Aaron Franzmann’s beer performed exceptionally well against the larger brewery options, earning an average of 2.85 stars. While the name 17CO12 was simply what it was labeled in the blind competition from two weeks before, the judges didn’t care. It worked. Here’s what they had to say:

“Opaque caramel color, bright fruity nose yet malty. Caramel strong finish.”

“Slightly cloudy, roasted chestnuts. Creamy.”

“Incredibly balanced.”

“Real Scotch.”

It will likely be difficult for you to find the 17CO12 in grocery stores or on tap, whether you’re a Montanianian or just visiting. But if you ask nicely, I bet Aaron will share.

There were two other beers with which the judges were impressed, and so earned Honorable Mention status in the first ever Montana Scotch Ale Scotch-Off. They are The Front Brewing Co.’s Mountain Man Scotch Ale, which earned a 2.63 rating from the judges, and Outlaw Brewing‘s The Dirk Scotch Ale which finished at 2.55. The latter is named after the large dagger Scottish Highlanders used in close combat, and checks in at 6.4% ABV. The former is available everywhere in Montana, but the brewery may or may not be closed. It’s hard to tell.

Now it’s official. Scotch Ales can be found in Montana. We’ve definitely confirmed that. As for answering the burning questions that initiated the Scotch-Off, no one’s really sure. That’s because after the tasting was completed, the judges emptied the fridge of the IPAs and porters.

— Eric Van Steenburg

NOTE: No one from Scotland was harmed during the duration of the Scotch-Off.

A few Scotch Ales were consumed in the name of science.

Now for the Airing of Grievances

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Festivus may have come and gone, but I’ve got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re gonna hear about it!

Well,  not all of you. Just those who have bastardized my once craft beer sanctuary that I lovingly refer to as Winter Beer Season. So as we sit here exactly halfway through winter, it’s time to reflect on what is taking place.

See, when the weather gets colder, my craft beer heart starts to go pitter-patter. That’s because not only are we leaving the scorching heat of summer behind, but I know the sweet taste of malty adult beverages is in the near future.

Beers served during the cooler months – think Marzens, Oktoberfests, Pumpkin Ales, Dunkels, Winter and Christmas Ales – all have a slightly sweeter character than the warm weather beers because of extra malt. And what’s even better is that these beers are often lower in alcohol, allowing you to enjoy an extra one here and there.

We can count on Anchor to provide a new Winter Ale every year.

What makes these particular styles feel more malty, as opposed to their hoppy cousins like the Pale Ale and the ubiquitous IPA?

Mostly because the grains are roasted longer, leading to their darker coloring. But this also makes it harder for the yeast to turn the malt (e.g. roasted barley) into alcohol. So the unfermented material stays in the beer, giving it a thick, rich feel in your mouth as you imbibe. And because the yeast can’t process as much, you end up with lower alcohol content.

About 15-20 years ago, things changed. I believe it started with Sierra Nevada and its 65-IBU offering Celebration Ale. According to the brewery, it is an American-style IPA and “one of the few hop-forward holiday beers.” Well, it used to be.

New Belgium followed suit with its 2 Below Ale that has, they say, a deliberate “hoppy palate.” Soon other breweries were soon copying these big brothers of microbreweries.

For some reason – actually, I think I know the reason – brewers of craft beer have started infusing their Winter and Christmas beers with more and more hops. Rather than the thicker mouthfeel of malty sweetness, the Winter Beer Season is inundated with an unwelcomed hoppy takeover.

Now it seems there are more uber-hopped beers at Wintertime than malty concoctions. They’re everywhere. Here are just a few examples:


Then, I saw the one that made my once pitter-pattering heart lock up faster than my wife’s transmission when she fails to change the oil after nine years. This “style” of the beer is enough to ring the bell of death for the hope that Winter will ever be malty again. I give you … the Winter IPA.

Excuse me while I hurl.


Is that even possible?

Yes, because that’s what Highlander did when it produced the Frozen Hill Winter IPA with, according to its website, has “loads of piney North West hops.” The brewers go on to proclaim that the “hoppy nature of this beer will make it a holiday favorite.” Well, at least they didn’t call it a “traditional” favorite, because there’s nothing traditional about an IPA in the Winter.

Where are the Winter Warmers, the Christmas Ales, the Jubelales, and the Hanukkah Porters? Oh sure, you can still find a few here and there. But the majority of beers this Winter season are hopped up more than a pro wrestler on steroids.

Given that the IPA craze has taken over, it’s doubtful that Winter will ever be the malty world of joy that I once loved. If it does, it might take a Festivus miracle.

Winter Beer Season.


— Eric Van Steenburg

The Best IPA in Town

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So you’re wondering who has the best IPA in your metropolis. But how in the world can you figure this out?

You can’t drink all of them at once. You’ll pass out before you finish and never know who won.

You can’t drink one a day until you’ve gone through them all. That would take too much time. And over time, people change. Hair styles change. Interest rates fluctuate.

There is an answer: The Annual (insert name of your town here) IPA Challenge.

The expert panel of judges prepare to taste the IPA at Bunkhouse Brewery.
The expert panel of judges prepares to sample the IPA at Bunkhouse Brewery.

It’s simple as 1, 2 3 … 4. OK, 5. Maybe 6.

  1. Assemble a group of friends, family, distant relatives, dentists, co-workers, sanitation engineers, Methodists, or just people you’ve passed once or twice on the street. The one thing they must have in common? They’re love of India Pale Ales.
  2. Find someone who doesn’t like that hoppy swill guaranteed to make you pucker more than a teenage girl taking a selfie. This individual will be in charge of procuring the samples, keeping things on time, knowing the order of the tasting, and generally chauffeuring everyone else around. The bossier the better.
  3. Pick an afternoon when almost everyone can attend. A Saturday not during the college football season is usually a safe bet.
  4. Make a list of all the breweries in an area of your choosing. If you live in a big city, maybe there are enough breweries in the chosen area that you can walk to and/or take public transportation. If you live in a smaller area, maybe it’s all breweries within a certain distance from the city center. Your choice. Then pick a route (clockwise and counter-clockwise work just fine) that lets you hit all the breweries in your chosen area.
  5. Visit each brewery, procuring samples of all of their IPAs for everyone (except the boss) and let the judges rate them from 1-5. Try to keep the identity of each IPA secret, if you can. NOTE: It’s OK if judges know the names of their fellow judges.

When you’ve hit every brewery, tally the points awarded for each different IPA, divide by the number of judges, and voila, the best IPAs will be the ones with the highest score.

Sample scorecard #1 -- this judge clearly is in control.
Sample scorecard #1 — the evidence indicates this judge clearly is in control.

That’s exactly what we did for the second consecutive year in Bozeman, Montana. And for the second year in a row, the winner is …

Well, not yet. First the details.

A distinguished group of IPA judges was assembled a few Saturdays ago to hit all the breweries in a 10-mile radius of downtown Bozeman. The breweries in the challenge, in order of visitation, included Bridger Brewing, Bunkhouse Brewery, White Dog Brewing Co., Bozeman Brewing Co., 406 Brewing, Map Brewing Co., Madison River Brewing, Bar 3 Bar-B-Q & Brewing, and Outlaw Brewing.

That’s nine breweries. In one afternoon. Can I get a “Hallelujah!”

The hope was to taste two IPAs at each brewery. But not every brewery had two IPAs. Two had three. And two had one. So the total number of IPAs tasted per person still ended up being 18.

Top three IPAs in town, as voted by the panel of experts, are the following:

Bronze Medal (tie) — Hop Juice Double IPA from Madison River and Horse Thief IPA by Outlaw Brewing. Each earned a 3.5 on the 5-point scale from the judges, who noted the following for the Horse Thief:

“Good IPA. Not a robust taste, but still tasty.”

“Nice IPA balance of hops and everything else. Bitter … in a good way.”

“Definitely an IPA. Hoppy. Tastes good.”

And had this to say about the Hop Juice DIPA:

“Well-balanced malt and hop flavors. Good IPA.”

“Very good. Flavorful. Balanced. Delicious.”

“Tastebuds are numb because this is &*%$ing awesome.”

Madison River’s double IPA hits you with 9% ABV and an IBU rating of 101, while the Outlaw’s IPA is a more standard offering at 5.6% ABV and 63 IBUs.

Scorecard sample #2 -- this judge clearly had issues.
Sample scorecard #2 — the evidence indicates this judge clearly had issues.

Silver Medal — Midas Crush West Coast IPA from Map Brewing is 6.9% ABV but 100% IPA goodness. The beer edged out the two third-place finishers by earning a 3.55 from the expert panel, who noted:

“Flinty. Quite nice. Interesting – hoppy and citrus.”

“Nice. Light. Good citrus.”

“Light, well balanced. I may be drunk but it tastes great.”

And finally, the winner … for the second year in row.

Gold Medal — Hopzone IPA from Bozeman Brewing checks in a 7% ABV and 80+ IBUs (starting, according to the website). It earned a 3.7 and the following comments:

“Excellent IPA. Great balance of malt and hops.”

“Best real IPA. Floral tones. Lightly dry hopped.”

“Lovely. A classic IPA. Bitter, yet sweet. Nice mix of flavor intensities.”


There were a number of other IPAs that fared well during the challenge. And to those, we give an Honorable Mention nod. Checking in with a 3.1 average score were the Vigilante IPA from Bridger Brewing, the Double IPA from White Dog, and the Hop Punch IPA by 406 Brewing.

So there you have it. Another successful Annual Bozeman IPA Challenge.

Now I challenge you to create your own IPA challenge in your town.

— Eric Van Steenburg




In the Case of Texas v. Montana

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following a six-month, court mandated gag order on the results of the most important case ever tried before the Supreme Court, the graphine-sealed court documents have been pried open and its contents spilled out onto a gap-mouthed waiting public.

Were it not for this reporter’s efforts, the results of the landmark case may have, much like the official documents from The Warren Commission Report by the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy, never been exposed on our lifetimes. But fear not, gentile reader, for the investigative efforts of an expertly trained journalist will always expose the dark underbelly of even the shortest Pygmy Marmoset.

pygmy marmoset
Behold, the Pygmy Marmoset.

Therefore, after a six-month gap in crucial beer and/or burger related coverage in order to dig to the bottom of yet another keg … er … attempted government coverup, your intrepid reporter has discovered the truth in the latest case of state-by-state beer competitions.

To wit, this case revolved around the on-going debate between the quality of Montana beers, i.e. beers brewed in Montana, vis-a-vis same said quality of corresponding beers, but not necessarily from contiguous states. The debate, and future court case, began when one unknowning couple moved first from Texas to Virginia, and then Virginia to Montana.

At the time of the initial relocation, not much was known about Virginia beers, while the nascent Texas beer scene was, well, nascent. However, much to the delight of the new Old Dominionites, VA beer was outstanding. From Three Brothers to Three Notch’d, from Hardywood Park to Heritage, and from Apocalypse Ale Works to Young Veterans Brewing (sorry, couldn’t find a Virginia brewery starting with Z), the craft beer scene sparkled more than moissanite, which I don’t have to tell you is a 9.25 on the Moh’s scale, so is suitable for everyday wear.

Warren Commission
Ever see this before? I didn’t think so.

At the same time, said couple was occasionally returning to the Lone Star State, where craft beer was expanding faster than plastic on a Texas summer day. As a point of reference, dear reader, you should know that plastics typically have a larger coefficient of thermal expansion compared to metals, and therefore expand faster. But back to the beer.

Texas was growing, and not just because it leads the nation in number of people who elect to super-size their meals at McDonald’s. The craft beer scene produced 27 new breweries every 6.13 hours … or at least it seemed like that. How, then, could a dedicated craft beer drinker keep up with the newest options available to his or her discriminating palate? What’s worse, how could our heroic young couple even be aware of the multitudinous options available in their formerly adopted home state when they weren’t living there anymore?

The answer … move to Montana.

“Montana will be great,” their craft beer savvy friends proclaimed. “It has some of the best beer in the country.”

“I know,” said the omniscient husband.

“Yum,” said his thirsty wife.

And so our daring heroes left the comfort of the highest quality craft beer they’d ever experienced and the safety of central Virginia to test their mettle in the Montana wilderness, surviving only on their guile, guts, and outstanding Montana beer … or so they thought.

Upon arriving in the Treasure State — yes, that’s really Montana’s nickname, but c’mon, why not the grizzly state, or the mountain state, or the fishing state, or the Lone Peak State, or the Kaczynski State, or the Get the Hell Outta My State state, which would all be more appropriate — the newbies were treated to the finest concoctions from one local brewery after another by their generous new neighbors. Alas, the tastings left them with more questions than answers.

“Where’s the good Montana beer?” the husband asked.

“Do you think it’s like this everywhere in the state?” the wife pondered.

After months and months of doing nothing but focusing on finding the best Montana beers, and consistently feeling they fell short of what was left behind in the valleys of Virginia, the daring couple challenged their most knowledgable beer-drinking compatriots to a duel that would pit Texas beers against Montana beers. Their former home state against their new home state. A state beer taste-off, if you will.

After placing an order with contacts in Texas, and asking half a half a dozen (yes, three) Montana residents to bring their best Montana beers, the taste-off began as soon as the Texas beers arrived.

Texas beers
The beers from Texas get loose during warm-ups prior to the competition with Montana.

And now, faithful reader, the results of the case of Texas v. Montana are being exposed like a Kardashian on Twitter. The truth is out, and it shall set ye free.

  • Winner, in the Porter category — Real Ale Coffee Porter from Real Ale Brewing out of Blanco, Texas.
  • Winner, in the Scotch Ale category — Iron Thistle by Rahr & Son’s of Fort Worth.

That’s right, the Texas beers swept all four categories from all five judges in front of six people who sat on seven stools on the eighth day of the week. The only momentary exception was in the Porter competition, when a coconut porter emerged on top, but was later disqualified when it was discovered to have been from Hawaii … or Georgia … I can’t remember. Those states are so close together, it’s a common mistake.

So there you have it. In head-to-head competition between select brews from two of the largest states in the nation, Texas pitched a shutout against Montana.

Oklahoma Sucks beer
No cutline required.

Still, the work of your favorite reporter is not over. Now that the gag order has been removed in the case of Texas v. Montana, it may be time to investigate the case of Texas v. Virginia. And when those results are in, dear reader, this journalist will faithfully bring the information to you so that you, you, my friend, can make the most informed beer drinking decision possible when traveling from state to state. Yes, I’m willing to make that sacrifice.

Despite the results of this case, and the possible divide it may create between Montanans and Texans, there is one thing that residents of both states can agree upon … Oklahoma still sucks.

— Eric Van Steenburg

The Bozeman Winter Beer Challenge

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It’s the most wonderful time … of the beer.
When stouts are a-flowing,
And porters keep going,
‘Cause malty is here.
It’s the most wonderful time … of the beer.

There’s much to celebrate during the winter months. First, there are the holidays. Second, the holiday parties. Third, there are outdoor activities like skiing, snowmobile riding, and freezing your ass off, that can only take place during the winter.

But the most wonderful part of the winter months is the increased availability of dark, malty, winter-style beers.

Give me the goods -- dark and malty, roasty or sweet -- and I'm in.
Give me the goods — dark and malty, roasty or sweet, coffee or spiced — that are available during winter .

Every year, Santa spreads his beer magic, leading not just to an uptick in the number of stouts and porters, but the proliferation of Christmas Ales, Winter Warmers, and a never-ending variety of holiday-spiced brews. Happy days!

To celebrate this wonderful time of the beer, a half-dozen or so of us took on the quest of visiting every brewery in the Bozeman area to evaluate who makes the best beers at this magical moment in time. Patterned after the Bozeman IPA Challenge fashioned last summer, presents the results of the first Bozeman Winter Beer Challenge.

The procedure is simple. We hit each brewery — there are seven within a 10-minute drive from, well, anywhere in town — and enjoyed a four-ounce sample of every dark, malty, or seasonal beer on tap. Each participant was furnished a scorecard that allowed him or her to rate the beers on a 1-5 scale, as well as write a few comments. Oh, and everyone was also given a pen that worked. Hey, at, we spare no expense.

The seven breweries visited, in the following order, were: 1) Outlaw Brewing, 2) Madison River Brewing Co., 3) Map Brewing Co., 4) 406 Brewing Co., 5) Bozeman Brewing Co., 6) White Dog Brewing, and 7) Bridger Brewing. The official winter beer tasters knew the name of the brewery, but not what specific beers they were being served, preserving the blind-tasting illusion.

The Cacao Vanilla Imperial Stout, as seen here from approximately 10,000 feet, at 406 Brewing was the hands-down winter winner.
The Cacao Vanilla Imperial Stout, as seen here from roughly 10,000 feet, at 406 Brewing was the hands-down winter winner.

A total of 12 different beers were sampled. And the winners are …

Gold MedalCacao Vanilla Imperial Stout (406 Brewing). The complexity of the combination of malty thickness, cacao bitterness, and vanilla sweetness made this practically a run-away winner with an average score from the judges of 4.3 on the 5-point scale.This limited release beer packs a wallop at 11.1% ABV, and both the alcohol and aromatic strength of the beer were noticeable as more than one judge wondered if it were aged in bourbon barrels. (The answer is “no.”)

Here are some comments from the expert panel of judges on the Cacao Vanilla Imperial Stout:

          “Nice sweet/bitter combination.”

          “Coffee or dark chocolate at the start, sweet finish.”

          “Really strong, complex, well-balanced.”

          “Warms the cockles and brought on the saliva.”


Silver MedalCan’t Get Enough of Your Love Babe (Bridger Brewing) — This dark brew with hints of amber at the edges had a bite that hit the judges late, both in terms of the individual taste and in terms of the entire day. Sometimes that makes scores slightly inflated, but our judges were professionals … not professional beer drinkers, mind you, but professionals none-the-less. Another beer on tap for a limited time, this concoction from Bridger Brewing does include a chili pepper spice at the finish. That, plus the smooth drinkability of the beer, impressed the judges enough to give it an average score of 3.94. Comments from the panel of experts on the CGEoYLB (it’s too long to type again) brew:

The scorecards got a workout, as evidence by the number of pen marks and beer stains.
The judges’ scorecards got a workout, as evidence by the number of pen marks and beer stains.

          “Mellow, yet complex.”

          “Slightly sweet with a bit of spice bite.”

          “Sweet malts, real pepper.”

          “I don’t know … tastes great.”


Bronze Medal tie between Dry Irish Stout (White Dog Brewing) and Ghost Town Coffee Stout (Bridger Brewing) — Both beers were in the traditional stout mold, but stood out slightly from the others available that day. The only difference between the two was the stout from White Dog was drier while Bridger’s stout had slightly more sweetness with the added coffee flavor. But the judges rated the two equally, with an average score of 3.88 out of 5. And the good news is that both of these beers are staples at each of the breweries, which means you should be able to enjoy them year-round.

Comments from the experts on the Dry Irish Stout:

          “Slightly dry, somewhat smooth. Quality stout.”

          “Roasty, good taste.”

          “Balanced, dry, not sweet but still pleasant.”

          “First time here … and I am drunk.”

Comments from the experts on the Coffee Stout:

          “Floral but not sweet. Wow.”

          “Espresso baby. Very strong.”

          “More than just coffee notes.”

          “I like it! Coffee! Definitely!”


Honorable Mentions — While these beers didn’t finish in the top three, their average scores ranged from 3.3 to 3.7 and were a notch above the rest. The honorable mention beers this year included: Black Ghost Oatmeal Stout (nitro) from Madison River; Big Relief Stout from Map Brewing; and the Russian Bill Imperial Nitro Stout from Outlaw Brewing.

Add these six beers to the reasons I prefer cooler weather to the warm stuff. I’ll place them between reason #17 (that I don’t sweat like a pig every time I walk outside) and what is now reason #23 (that I don’t get sunburned ever time I walk outside).

Now if we could just convince the beer-making world to feature these hyper-malt beverages other times of the year. I know, let’s serenade them in song. Ready?


It’s the most wonderful time … of the beeeeeer.
There are porters for toasting,
And stouts for their roasting,
The dark ales are here.
It’s the most wonderful time … of the beeeeeer.

It’s the most wonderful time … of the beeeeeer.

it’s the most wonderful time … of the beer.

— Eric Van Steenburg

Winter Hook and Klondike Bars

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Originally titled “Eric’s Excellent Rose Bowl Adventure,” the following is a true story and about an event that took place 10 years ago today.

My special pre-game meal of Winter Hook beer and Klondike Bars makes it worthy of being included in the annals. So enjoy my take on the events surrounding a trip to the national championship football game between the University of Texas and Southern Cal.

klondike bar

DISCLAIMER: What you are about to read is true, and probably full of typos. It is the story of my recent trip to Pasadena. Enjoy.

Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2006 — Without a ticket to the game (but a wad of cash in my pocket of an amount that I’ll never tell my wife) I boarded my 9 a.m. flight out of DFW to Orange County. The plane was filled with people wearing orange and white, except for two obviously lost people wearing crimson (or scarlet?) and gold. We were an hour late taking off. The passengers were strangely quiet.

Arrived in California at 11 a.m. local. We sat on the taxi way for another 30 minutes before we went to our gate. The flight attendant welcomed everyone to Orange County, then signed off by saying “Goooooo Trojans!” A few groans from the passengers, but again, strangely quiet as we sat waiting to get to the gate. Finally, I’d had enough. I told the two guys sitting in front of me that if I started the “Texas Fight!” cheer, that they needed to help me out. They said they had my back. So, from the second-to-last row of the plane, I screamed out “Texas Fight! Left side of the plane, say Texas! Right side, say Fight!” And then the passengers cheered “Texas … Fight!” for a good five minutes until the pilot started talking and everyone got quite again.

In the airport, more orange and white everywhere — in the shops and restaurants, at baggage claim and car rental, even in the restrooms. The place was buzzing.

Got my car and found my hotel, across the highway from Disneyland. Got a phone call from my 2003 Katy Trail intern turned 2005 Playboy centerfold asking if I had a ticket yet. (Quick aside: She had planned to go to the game because she was in L.A. for Hef’s new year’s eve party … no lie … but was feeling sick and went back to Dallas early and was trying to get her friend to give the extra ticket to me.) She said she’d spoken to her friend, who was going to lunch and asked her to call him after. She said she’d call me as soon as she got back in touch with him.

After I ate lunch and picked up some beer and ice cream for my personal tailgate party, I drove from Anaheim to Pasadena. Traffic was no problem, probably because I rolled into the Rose Bowl grounds about 2:30 p.m. Every homemade sign I saw was about people looking for tickets. No one was selling. It didn’t look good.

Drove past the UT band just as they started playing on their march toward the stadium. Parked about a mile from the stadium along with the thousands of others who dared to show up only two hours before kickoff. There were Texas tailgaters everywhere. Not many USC folks. Those that I did see were wearing jerseys with the number 5 on them. I kept asking them who that was and if he was any good. (In retrospect, I think the question remains unanswered.)

winter hookEnjoyed my personal tailgate (Red Hook Winter Ale and Klondike bars) while wandering around introducing myself to other UT fans. I specifically targeted groups with odd numbers, hoping one of their gang was unable to make it and they had an extra ticket. I’d start my story by saying that I thought I was going to get a ticket through my intern turned centerfold, but I was covering my bases and was looking for an extra ticket. One group of three fans didn’t have tickets either, and was hoping to get some near gametime at the stadium. Another group of seven didn’t have a spare, but wanted to know if I was in the porn industry. Another group of five offered me food, then said they’d just sold their spare ticket that their grumpy son didn’t deserve to have. Ugh! The truck of a dozen UT fans that rolled in weren’t even going to the game. They’d brought a big screen TV and a grill, and were just going to stay in the parking area to party and watch the game. Hmmm.

At 4 p.m. I called my intern/centerfold, who said she hadn’t heard from her friend, but would call him right then and call me back when she heard from him. At about 4:30 I started getting nervous and headed toward the stadium. Ran into another UT fan trying to get a ticket who thought there would be some closer in. We were both wrong. Walked around the stadium along with the hundreds of other people looking for a ticket.

At 5 p.m., as the jets flew overhead, I called the intern/centerfold, who said she still hadn’t heard back from her friend. Damn! I walked around the stadium. There were no tickets anywhere. I tried will call, just in case, because that’s where she said he would have left the ticket for me. No luck.

By now the game has started. I found the media entrance gate and saw a hat on the ground that said ESPN Radio. I put it on and tried to bluff my way into the game. The security guard didn’t buy it because I wasn’t wearing the green wristband. He asked me who my boss was. I said Lee Corso. I didn’t get in.

Walked around the first quarter wondering what to do. I was about to cry. Julie called and asked if I was in the stadium, and when I told her no, she said not to give up … and not to call her back unless I was inside the Rose Bowl. Tough lady.

3rd quarterHeard a few yells and cheers. Ended up back at the media entrance where I found a railing I could sit on and see the jumbo tron inside the stadium. Watched the second quarter there while I plotted my strategy for getting in. It was a two-pronged approach: 1) make friends with the security guard (not wearing my ESPN Radio hat this time in hope that he wouldn’t recognize me as the schmuck who tried to get in using Lee Corso’s name); and 2) make friends with any of the media people who were walking in and out to see if they could give me a spare green wristband.

The security guard liked me. But he liked his job better. He wished he was watching the game and not the media gate. It didn’t look good. After being snubbed by one reporter, I made friends with a TV production guy. He loved my story … but couldn’t help me out with the ever-coveted wristband. Security guy suggested going back to will call, because he thought they sold unclaimed tickets at the end of half time. I went over there. It was closed.

Continued walking around the stadium as the third quarter started. Saw a USC fan walking out of a gate counting a ton of money. I told him it was too early to collect his winnings. He laughed and said he was a Stanford grad and was only there with a USC friend of his. I told him my story. He reminded me that they didn’t even let people with tickets back in once they’d left. He was cold and wanted more beer, so was heading toward the bus that his buddy had rented. He invited me to join him for beer and watch the game on the bus’ satellite TV. I accepted.

We found the bus (it took a while because he was drunk and I was lost) and went inside only to find the bus driver sitting there watching the 1950s TV show “The Cisco Kid” on both of the bus’ televisions. We asked him to tune in the game. He said he couldn’t pick it up. My new Stanford-not-USC friend said we could talk our way into watching the game in any of the hundreds of busses/limos that were in the area, and we headed out, beers in hand. We tried two busses and half a dozen limos. Made lots of friends. Didn’t get in anywhere. I found a TV in one of the empty limos that was facing the window. Saw USC score. Saw Texas punt. Went back to the bus to ask the bus driver again to tune in the game. He confessed that he hadn’t tried because he was a Cisco Kid collector, and this was a rare chance to watch one of his new DVDs. Oh, Poncho!

Walked past some other tailgaters in UT and USC sweatshirts on my way to the woods to … um … get rid of some beer. Saw that the fourth quarter was starting. Found my new friend and told him I had to try to get into the game. He handed me his ticket and wished me luck. I gave him my ESPN Radio hat and headed off toward the stadium.

Tried five entrances. Every security guard reminded me there were no in-and-outs at the Rose Bowl. (FYI, a recorded message saying “Welcome to the Rose Bowl … For your comfort … blah blah blah … There are no in-and-outs at the Rose Bowl” had been running in the background since I got on site. I knew there were no in-and-outs at the Rose Bowl.) However, the sixth security guard took pity. He let me in.

4th quarterI walked up the tunnel and into the stadium right as USC kicked off to Texas after having just scored to go up 38-26. But I was on the USC side of the field. I quickly found the Texas side and headed that way. Continued walking down the concourse that splits the upper seating area (to my left) from the lower seating area and the field. Saw some chairs right behind the railing at the back of the lower seating area reserved for people accompanying wheelchair users. You know how they have two seats, then a big blank area for wheelchairs, then two more seats. Well, one seat was open. I asked the guy sitting in the other if I could sit. He said he didn’t care, he was supposed to be selling Cokes but had stopped to watch the game. He’d taken off his work apron and was now just a fan. Me too!

The seat was at about the 15 yard line. Sat down and noticed the clock – 6:52 – and the difference in points – 12. Then, for the first time all night, I got nervous about the game.

Saw Texas drive and score to pull within five. The UT crowd was going crazy. It was growing into a crescendo. Later saw USC line up to punt, then choke on 4th and 2, even with the ref’s overly-kind spot of the ball. I told the USC fans in front of me “See what happens when you play somebody!”

Texas QB Vince Young scores the winning TD on fourth down to beat USC.
Texas QB Vince Young scores the winning TD on fourth down to beat USC.

Some UT fan came up next to me and knelt on the wheelchair space to my left. He said he’d sneaked into the game at halftime. As Texas was driving, he pointed out that he was kneeling on number 10. Saw UT drive and score again. Pandemonium. Hugged the guy next to me. People from the upper level were jumping down onto the concourse area were I was standing. It was anarchy. UT fans were jumping up and down all over the place. The concourse was packed (the fire marshal would have been very upset). Then they scored the two pointer. The place was going nuts. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life!

Texas kicks off … USC does nothing … I called a former UT schoolmate. Couldn’t hear a thing, so I screamed into the phone “NATIONAL F*&#ING CHAMPIONS!” and hung up. Tried to call other people. Network was busy. People were wandering around in a daze. No one knew what to do. The USC band was playing. They wouldn’t stop. The USC fans in front of me shook my hand and said that Texas deserved it and was a great team. They were very classy. The USC band continued to play. I started singing “You’re number 2  … not number one … you lost the game … you’re number 2.” They finally stopped. The Texas band played the Eyes of Texas. I’ve never heard UT fans sing it so loud.

No one left. I finally wandered around to where I came in, looking for an extra ticket as a souvenir. Some USC fan found one, I told her I was looking for one also. As I continued to wander, she came running up behind me and gave me one. I’ll repeat, the USC fans at the game were classy.

I found my way back to the car … seemed like it took an hour. Drove back to my hotel … which I think took two hours.

Listened to all the USC fans whine on the sports talk shows the next day. It was sad. Someone even said “USC didn’t lose that game.” Others said “We’ll, we’re still the better team.” Uh … yes you did, and no you’re not!

no 1I guess that’s it. I stayed in L.A. until Friday. Spent Thursday at Venice Beach with hundreds of other burnt-orange-wearing UT fans. They were everywhere. It was amazing. Went to dinner that night with a friend from Dallas who lives in Santa Monica now.

Got back to Dallas Friday afternoon. Didn’t fully recover until Sunday. Watched the replay of the game on Monday with my wife. We were able to find me in the crowd at the end of the game. So I’ve got a ticket stub and a digital video as souvenirs.

Oh, and a national championship!

Hook ’em Horns!

— Eric Van Steenburg


Playing with Portissimo

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Portissimo (adv.) = to approach the event with a heightened sense of porterness.

Porterness (n.) = the condition or state of portering.

Portering (v.) = the active imbibing of porters.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of the long, cold winter months is the increased availability of one of the two best styles of beers … the porter. Therefore, it is incumbent upon those who have a discerning porter palate to provide porter pointers to the porterless populace in the hope that they will populate their porter profile per these peerless proposals.

Before I jump straight into the porter recommendations, though, I must admit that I am a big fan of professional hockey. Well, “big” may be a bit of an understatement. When I lived in Dallas I has season tickets to the Stars for 15 years. And now that I’ve lived away from Big D for the last three years, I don’t hesitate dropping the 100 bucks on the NHL Center Ice package so I can watch my Stars.

Tonight's game features three Imperial porters on ice. Well, the hockey game is on ice, the beers are not.
Tonight’s game features three Imperial porters on ice. Well, the hockey game is on ice, the beers are not.

So as I review the top three Imperial Porters available in the Northern Rockies, I’m also watching my Stars beat the crap out of the St. Louis Blues (Sorry Kate). So here’s a beer-by-beer, period-by-period review to help you make the best choices you can when considering an Imperial Porter.

First period — The puck drops with a Peak XV Imperial porter from Black Diamond Brewing Co. out of Concord, Calif. Brewed with vanilla beans and cocoa nibs, Peak XV is named after the earth’s highest mountain, so named in 1856 when it was first measured before being renamed Mount Everest in 1865. Note that the beer named in its honor is a “dark towering brew.” The brewery claims the beer features “massive amounts of chocolate” with “undertones of vanilla” and an epic finish.

I found it to be rather mild in both vanilla and chocolate. Then again, this is a beer, not a mouse. The ABV of 8% is proof of that. The balance between chocolate and hops is excellent as the beer is silky going down. In other words, not too sweet in either the vanilla or chocolate, but enough to provide a flavorful mouthfeel every taste.

Game update — Playing their second game against each other in less than 24 hours, the Stars appear to be a fresher team than the Blues and score near the end of the period to take a 1-0 lead into the dressing room. Oh, and the Peak XV imperial porter is long gone.

Second period = I drop the gloves with the Anubis imperial coffee porter from Laughing Dog Brewing Co. located in Ponderay, ID. While it claims to be a porter with Evans artisan coffee added, the coffee flavor is rather weak. Instead there’s a slight bite of hoppy bitterness and possibly some barrel aging — maybe a hint of rum. And while the label on the Anubis makes no such claim, the hint of something barrelesque is unmistakable. Most likely the black malt gives it that portrayal.

Now, I’m no coffee drinker. The only thing I know about coffee is it makes me have to pee. I don’t even know how to measure the grounds or the water for an in-home coffee maker. And the thought of ordering at a Starbucks sends me into rigor mortis.

But the lack of coffee flavor in the Anubis makes for a rather pedestrian imperial porter. But at 8% ABV, it is imperial, nonetheless. If you like a slight hint of bitterness in your malty beverages, and possibly a hint of mystery barrel aging, then this is for you.

Game update — The second period starts with two fights as both teams try to demonstrate they have more testosterone than their opponents. As the period moves on, the Stars dominate in shots and chances, with only the St. Louis netminder keeping the Blues from being behind 4-0. And the Laughing Dog is only half consumed, with the dregs of the bottle likely to go down the drain. I’m not a fan … of this Imperial porter.

Third period = I face  off with the Boulder Shake porter from Boulder Beer Co. in Boulder, Colo. (can I say “Boulder” more times in one sentence?). I’ve had this one previously and know I like it. It’s high in choco-goodness, probably much more than most “pure” beer drinkers would like. “It’s too tricked up” they would complain. And you know, they’re right. (Kick save, and a beauty!)

But the last time I had a Boulder Shake it was on nitro at a generic pizza joint in Denver, and … yum. Talk about going down smooth. Of course, any nitro beer is going to be smooth. But one imbued with copious chocolate is going to be even moreso. And I don’t even like chocolate. In fact, last night, I gave away my chocolate cake because, well, it was chocolate cake with chocolate icing and chocolate filling. In other words, choco-disgusting.

But … the Boulder Shake is chocolate at a different level. However, tonight’s taste has a bit of a fishy nose. Perhaps that’s the uber-choco flavor. But regardless, the nose does not make one want to consume. In fact, it almost reminds me of the pinot noir I was drinking the other night. The first glass smelled and tasted like skunk, so I sent it back. The second one smelled and tasted  like fish. But since I was having halibut for dinner, I went with it. But I’m not eating fish during the hockey game, so what gives?

Fortunately for the Boulder Beer Co., the chocolatey goodness of the brew makes up for the initial whiff. And at just 5.9% alcohol, this is a Imperial beer that the porter consumer can enjoy more than once in a single sitting.

Game update — Stars start the third period on the power play and smash home a second goal within the first minute to take a 2-0 lead. Go Stars! The Blues get two power plays late in the period (thanks to a game with only one referee, instead of the normal two, who completely missed a spearing into the sternum of the Stars captain … cheating Blues). The Stars get another late-period empty-net goal to ice the game and win 3-0.

Meanwhile, the Boulder Shake is going down rather easily, despite the fishy nose. Once you get past the smell, it’s pure chocolately goodness, and remember, I don’t really care for chocolate.

But the Boulder Shake also has hints of wheat and cacao nibs to add a bit of bittersweet flavor. This Imperial porter with “natural flavors added” is indeed a sipable brew.

The Peak XV Imperial porter from XXXX Brewing Co. is the night's big winner.
The Peak XV Imperial porter from Black Diamond Brewing Co. is the night’s big winner.

However, the winner on this night, and in future games I hope, is the Dallas Stars. Oh, and on the porter front, the best of the Imperial porters is easily the Peak XV from Black Diamond.

So if you’re in the mood for a great porter to put above all the rest, my recommendation is Peak XV. However, the others are also worth trying. But if you’re going to put in the effort, why not reach for the mountain top. And Peak XV is just that.

So enjoy the trip to the summit via the Peak XV Imperial porter. And as you drink it, put yourself in the shoes of Sir Edmond Hillary as you pretend to be the first to climb to the top of Mount Everest.

And along the way, cheer along the Dallas Stars, who continue to stake their claim as best team in  the entire NHL. Go Stars!

— Eric Van Steenburg



The Mega Jumbo Shrimp of Beer

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I recently went to a lecture called “Hops & History” at the Museum of the Rockies. Hey, the museum has a mission to educate the masses, and I’m all about education. So I had to go. Didn’t hurt that everyone got free beer.

Topic of the night: Session Beer.

As the presentation started to wrap up, the guest speaker, a brewmaster from Map Brewing Co., opened the floor to questions. It was then that some smart ass stood up and posed the following:

“Would calling a beer an Imperial Session IPA be just about the worst name ever?”

The brewmaster tilted his head and looked quizzically at the smart ass. One could see the wheels turning in his head. After a moment, he went off.

“Well,” he began, “since session beers are, by definition, low in alcohol by volume, and Imperial beers are, by definition, high in alcohol by volume, it would seem those terms are incompatible.”

“And,” the brewmaster continued, his face starting to turn red as sweat beads formed on his shiny forehead, “because session ales are supposed to have a balance between the amount of malty flavor and hop bite, while IPAs are historically highly hoppped beers with low malt levels — except for the Imperial IPAs that need extra malt to balance the high level of hops — I’d say that even calling a beer a session IPA is inaccurate.”

“Therefore,” he said, veins now bulging from his cranium, “I guess I’d have to agree that calling a beer an Imperial Session IPA is about the worst name a brewer could ever use. … In fact, an Imperial Session IPA would probably be the mega-jumbo shrimp of beer.”

And there you have it. The mega-jumbo shrimp of beer.

Amazingly, there are some beers out there that try to slam style names together. Why? One can only guess it may be an attempt to break into the burgeoning craft beer market through naming but not know-how. Why else would a brewmaster, who seemingly should know better, conflate incompatible nomenclature?

So let’s get back to the concept of the session ale. The Beer Advocate defines it this way:

“Any beer that contains no higher than 5 percent ABV, featuring a balance between malt and hop characters (ingredients) and, typically, a clean finish — a combination of which creates a beer with high drinkability. The purpose of a session beer is to allow a beer drinker to have multiple beers, within a reasonable time period or session, without overwhelming the senses or reaching inappropriate levels of intoxication.”

Having multiple IPAs, which usually check in at around 6-8% ABV, would make most beer drinkers incapacitated. Just ask my IPA swilling friend. Likewise, enjoying 3-4 Imperial ales at 8-12% ABV each will knock you out. How, then, could either be a session beer?

The Museum of the Rockies, aka MOR, was kind enough to invite me to learn about session beer while allowing me to toss back a few at the same time and ask
The Museum of the Rockies, aka MOR, was kind enough to invite me to learn about session beer while allowing us to ask the burning questions of the day.

But do a Google search for “session IPA” and you’ll likely see an ad for New Belgium’s Slow Ride. There will possibly be a link to a “session IPA” from Full Sail Brewing Co. And you might even see a discussion thread from RateBeer under the title “Best Session IPA in the World.”


The bigger problem is that all of the above are reputable and significant members of the craft beer industry. If they’re getting it wrong, all they’re doing is misinforming the public.

Now try searching for “Imperial session beer,” and again the results will flow like tears from John Boehner’s face. Only the aptly named Miss Gnomer Imperial Session IPA from Boise Brewing seems to have a clue. In the description, it says the beer checks in at 6% ABV and is well-blanced. Talk about a Miss Gnomer indeed.

However, according to RateBeer, it works because “a session IPA is really just a Pale Ale.”


So why not call it was it is? Perhaps because the craft beer world seems to be obsessed with the IPA these days. Every crafty-come-lately is jumping on the IPA bandwagon. The result? Mis-named and mis-labeled beers. And, more importantly, the high probability that the IPA you’re drinking really isn’t an IPA, and probably isn’t very good.

The same thing happened in the wine industry. Twenty years ago, Merlot was hot. And then the market got flooded with crappy Merlot. In 2004, the movie Sideways was released, and suddenly everyone wanted to drink Pinot Noir. Now, four out of five Pinot Noirs tastes like watered down cran-grape juice.

It sucked for me because I was drinking Merlot before it became popular, and Pinot Noir was my favorite wine until Sideways ruined it. Clearly I was country before country was cool.

But I’m also a stickler for names. With a last name like mine, you either live in the world of constant corrections, or you give up after it has been misspelled for the 479th time. Thanks to having an English teacher mom (who doesn’t hesitate to point out typos or grammar errors in my posts), I live in the crazy world of corrections.

I also spent more than a decade working in marketing, and now teach branding. With apologies to that Shakespeare fellow, a rose is not a rose is not a rose when it comes to naming beer.

An IPA is not a session ale. A session ale is not Imperial. But an Imperial Session IPA is a mega-jumbo shrimp.

And yes, the smart ass who asked the question … was me.

— Eric Van Steenburg

Brewing Big Sky that isn’t Big Sky Brewing

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Big Sky Resort in Montana is a well-known vacation destination — both summer and winter.

Big Sky Brewing Co. is a well-known brewer of craft beer — both malty and hoppy.

But Big Sky Brewing is not in Big Sky. Who knew? Not me … until last weekend.

However, should you ever find yourself in Big Sky, the resort, and are in despirate need of craft beer (i.e. me last Sunday), you have a couple of options that should satisfy just about any quality beer-loving palate.

Lone Peak Brewery was the first craft brewery in Big Sky when it opened in 2007, and remained the lone brewery until just this year. Over that time the brewery has grown from just a few barrels to a full-fledged brew pub, featuring 14 different beers on tap and a menu so tempting you’ll order something even if you’re not hungry.

You gotta love it when your sampler is delivered in a ski. And you gotta love it even more when each beer is deliciously tasty.
You gotta love it when your sampler is delivered in a ski. And you gotta love it even more when each beer is deliciously tasty.

But first … how’s the beer, you ask.

I enjoyed a sampler, delivered in a snow ski, of five malty beverages that included the Class V Amber, the Steep N’ Deep Winter Ale, a brown ale called the Dark Shine of the Moon, the ubiquitious Hipy Highway Oatmeal Stout, and Willie’s Bourbon Barrel Stout.

My favorite? the Steep N’ Deep Winter Ale, even if they left off the first apostrophie in front of the N. This brew is listed as a “winter warmer scotch ale” and tastes just like that, with a ton of crystal malts to give it a slightly sweet taste, and enough hops to make sure it doesn’t become a desert. This extremely dark beer checks in at 8.1% ABV, so proceed with caution.

Likewise, the Bourbon Barrel Stout should be treated with kid gloves. On second thought, keep the kids far away from this one. Thought it’s listed at just 6.5% ABV, the bourbon aroma hits your nose like a Mike Tyson overhand punch. If you’re the type who likes barrel aged beers, this one’s a winner because of its strong bourbon flavor and relatively low ABV.

The Oatmeal Stout is also a favorite, and is available year-round at my local Ale House, which makes it a go-to beer for me in the depths of summer when most craft breweries kill their darker varities to cater the growing demand for IPAs. This is Lone Peak Brewery’s darkest beer, so don’t use it to try to read a book. It won’t work. But if you like your stouts with lots of oats and English malts, this winner will meet all your needs. And at 5.5% to 6.5% ABV, depending on whether you read the menu or the website, you could easily enjoy a couple three of these before you hit the slopes or the bike trails, depending on the season.

Of course, my IPA slurping friend had plenty to choose from at Lone Peak Brewery as well. The five in her sampler snow ski included a classic Pilsner, the XPA Xtra Pale Ale, the Lone Peak IPA, an Imperial IPA on nitro, and the Winter Ale. Of the five, her favorite was, surprisingly, the XPA, which, according to the brewery, is a highly hopped pale ale. That would explain her fondness for the beer, despite its listing of just 45 IBUs. And at only 5.5% ABV, I see plenty of XPA in her future. Who knows, she might even become my XPA slurping friend.

As a side note, if you like the Imperial IPA, I recommend Lone Peak’s. Another place where my IPA chugging friend and I diverge on the hoppy road is on the overly hopped, overly malted IPA known as the Imperial. As I once wrote, I find Imperial IPAs to be the Paris Hilton of beers. You know how Paris is so skanky she comes full circle back around to almost being hot. Well, the Imperial IPAs are so hoppy they come back around to something I can drink. However, the extra malt needed to balance all those hops send my IPA friend into face contortions that clearly indicate disapproval. Bottom line, when it comes to Lone Peak Brewey’s Imperial IPA, Joe Bob says “check it out.”

From Lone Peak we headed a mile down the road to Big Sky, the resort’s, newest brewery, Beehive Basin.

Beehive Basin has the views of the mountains surrounding Big Sky, including the famous Lone Peak standing at about 12,000 feet.
Beehive Basin has the views of the mountains surrounding Big Sky, including the famous Lone Peak towering over the area at 12,000 feet.

Opening just this summer, Beehive Basin Brewery had a noticeably different feel than the brew pub we’d just left. First, there was no food. Good thing we’d chowed on an order of what we call “chips all three” — tortilla chips with salas, guacamole, and queso — before leaving Lone Peak. But Beehive Basin was shiney and new. The furniture hardly looked sat in. And the bar hardly spilled on. Well, we can fix that.

Unfortuntely for me, the two beers I’d wanted to sample were tapped out. That’s the challenge of a brand new brewery with just a seven barrel system. However, that’s also an indication that the beer must be pretty good. The two that will have to wait for next time, then, are The Big Baltic Porter and the 50 cal. Coffee Porter.

That left the tasting to my IPA drinking companion, though I did my part by sampling and sumarily disapproving of each one. The Green Bridge IPA was easily her favorite, with the Li’Beer’ty American Pale Ale not hitting the right hoppy notes for her dandylion palate. The Dunkelweisen was exactly what it sounds like — a combination dunkel and wheat beer. I can always drink a good dunkel, but not one with this much wheat. Neither could the IPAer sitting next to me.

Still, the Green Bridge was a winner. And hopefuly, I’ll be able to weigh in on the two porters soon. When I do, I’ll definitely let you know.

So the next time you plan a ski vacation, or want to escape your summer heat, head to Big Sky, Montana knowing two things: 1) Big Sky Brewing isn’t there; and 2) there are two extremely capable craft breweries at the resort that give everyone another reason to hit this place any season.

— Eric Van Steenburg

The Bozeman IPA Challenge

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Word has it that my new home state — Montana — has great craft beer. So we decided to put one city’s beer to the test.

A year ago, my IPA drinking friend joined a hundred or so fellow IPA chuckers at the Virginia IPA Challenge, in which two dozen different IPAs were sampled in a blind tasting at our favorite pub in Harrisonburg, Capital Ale House. But we won’t there this coming weekend for the annual event because, well, we’ve moved west and now live 2,108 miles away.

Even worse, there’s no Capital Ale House in Montana. Well, at least not in Bozeman. There’s an Ale Works, but not an Ale House. And it’s not just the name that is different. Bottom line, we’re on our own this year.

My IPA slurping friend, left, and her drinking buddy Phil plow through another two IPAs, this time at 406 Brewing Co.
My IPA slurping friend, left, and her drinking buddy Phil plow through another two IPAs at 406 Brewing Co.

The challenge? To create our own IPA challenge.

To accomplish this important task, I brought in an outside expert — my IPA slurping friend’s Father In Law, a.k.a. FIL (or Phil, as he’s known down at the lumber yard).

The FIL has been known to throw back an IPA or two. He’s all about the IBUs. And that makes him an expert IPA chucker.

The set-up was pretty simple. There are six breweries in the Bozeman area. and each has at least two IPAs on tap. So while my IPA tasters would know the name of the brewing company as they sampled their beers, they would not know which beer was which. In fact, I made them choose a table away from the taps and had them face away from the bar just so that they did not know which beers were brought to them by the Bozeman IPA Challenge assistant, and the day’s chauffeur, my IPA chugging friend’s Mother In Law (a.k.a. the MIL).

A clockwise trip around town nets the six breweries in the following order: Outlaw Brewing; Madison River Brewing Co.; 406 Brewing Co.; Bozeman Brewing Co.; White Dog Brewery; and Bridger Brewing. Two samples at each brewery means 12 different beers to taste.

The scoresheets after a full day of tasting IPAs were definitely more worn out than the IPA drinkers ... by far.
The scoresheets after a full day of tasting IPAs were definitely more worn out than the IPA drinkers … by far.

Each participant was given a scoresheet with 12 blank lines for them to write their comments about each beer, and a five-start rating system in which they could fill in as many stars, and as many parts of a star, as they wanted. My only other rule to the participants and the gathering crowd of onlookers was to keep in mind that this was an exhibition, not a competition, therefore … no wagering.

After a full afternoon of tasting, which included bonus tastes compliments of the bartenders at Bozeman Brewing Co. and Bridger Brewing — they must have known our tasters were getting a bit tipsy and therefore thought there was a chance to influence the vote — the results were in:

My IPA slurping friend said:

  • GoldHopzone IPA (Bozeman Brewing Co.) — Straightforward. Right amount of hops. Delicious
  • Silver — Horse Thief IPA (Outlaw Brewing) — Slightly hopped. Balanced. Lite. Yummy.
  • BronzeLee Metcalf Pale Ale (Bridger Brewing) — Very good. Smooth. Unassuming.
  • Honorable Mention — Hopper Pale Ale (Madison River Brewing Co.) and The Juice DIPA (Madison River Brewing Co.) — For the former, the taster noted that it “has a bite” and was “lemony delicious” and for the latter she said “balanced” and “yummy.”

Then the FIL weighed in:

  • Gold — Hopzone IPA (Bozeman Brewing Co.) — Nice hops, not too heavy. Well balanced. Almost perfect. Wow.
  • SilverAntilogy Black IPA (Bridger Brewing) — Good hops.
  • Bronze — Hangin’ Judge Imperial IPA (Outlaw Brewing) — Balanced. Could have several, easily.
  • Honorable Mention — Lee Metcalf Pale Ale (Bridger Brewing) and the American Pale Ale (White Dog Brewery) — For the former, Phil said it was “a smooth, nice IPA” and “somewhat lite, but very drinkable” and about the latter commented “nice, but a little lite … low hops … drinkable.”

After a full day of tasting, in which I had one or two stouts on the sly (I lost track), the first ever Bozeman IPA Challenge was over.

Congratulations to the folks at Bozeman Brewing Co. for taking gold from both tasters. And thanks to all the tremendously nice bartenders and servers who put up with the antics of the two IPA chuggers.

Now that we’ve conquered all the IPAs in Bozeman, it’s on to the rest of Montana. Watch out Missoula, we’ve got you in our sights.

— Eric Van Steenburg