The Bozeman Winter Beer Challenge

Posted on Updated on

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, Beer-and-Burgers.com 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 Beer-and-Burgers.com, 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

2 thoughts on “The Bozeman Winter Beer Challenge

    Jean Van Steenburg said:
    January 20, 2016 at 16:51

    Since I was unable to be there, who was your designated driver for all the fun. Sorry I missed it! 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s