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.

Calling All Hop-Heads to the IPA Challenge

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All you hoppy beer lovers out there — the ones I lovingly refer to as grass-drinkers — be aware that Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg, Va., is hosting its third annual Virginia IPA Challenge on Saturday, Sept. 6 starting at noon. This event allows the everyday craft beer lover to weigh in with their opinion on Virginia IPAs.

The cost to participate is just $10, and your entry fee allows you to sample IPAs from 28 different craft breweries, or until the keg is kicked, and then get a final pint full of your favorite when you’re done. That should do ya’.

The competition ends when that first keg is empty, so be there early enough to get a taste of all the breweries in the event. Plus you can hob-knob with the brewers as they hover over their beers and try to earn your vote — kind of like a politician but with an IBU kick.

So for those of you who like your beer well-hopped and well-made, get over to Cap Ale House this Saturday for the IPA Challenge.

— Eric Van Steenburg

A Salute to The Admiral

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High-fived a guy wearing a t-shirt with the University of Texas (my alma mater) Longhorn logo on the front. Traded Big D stories with a young JAG officer who was originally from Dallas (my adopted hometown). Learned when Jack Wilshere is going to get his act together from a fellow Gooner wearing his Arsenal FC (my favorite team) game jersey. And while any of these could have easily been the highlight of a typical day, this was not a typical day.

This was the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest, and we were there to discover, sample, and recognize the best the state has to offer in craft beer. More than 40 breweries submitted 222 different beers into the competition vying for gold, silver and bronze medals in 14 categories.

Hooked up with this Beer Goddess at the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest and took her home with me that night.
Hooked up with this Beer Goddess at the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest and took her home with me that night … which is OK because she’s my wife.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Three Brothers Brewing Co., the craft brewery in my new hometown of Harrisonburg, won gold in the Imperial IPA category for their tasty delight named The Admiral.

Interesting thing about The Admiral. While the Beer Goddess and I are on opposite sides of the beer continuum, or beertinuum, from one another, we each have a completely different response to The Admiral. She’s all about hop bite, and wants her IPAs to pinch her in the back of the throat. I, on the other hand, am malty and sweet (as my siblings would attest) and prefer a full mouth feel of velvety goodness.

Where we do agree is that The Admiral does the latter more than the former, which makes it possibly the only IPA that I can drink. Perhaps it’s so much IPA that it comes back around full circle to something my palate finds delicious. You know, sort of how Paris Hilton is so skanky she’s kinda hot.

So we must salute The Admiral, and Three Brothers, for winning what this beer purist believes is the pinnacle category of craft beer.

Of course, with so many beers to sample, we decided to divide and conquer – the Beer Goddess focusing on IPAs and me focusing on Porters and Stouts. I know, big sacrifice for both of us, right? And while the Brewers Fest handed out their own awards – sure seemed like there was some hometown scoring going on – here were the best in our book:

The Hoppy Award Winners

  • Gold — Hoptopus Double IPA (Beach Brewing Co.) — My IPA swilling friend says this year-round offering is the perfect IPA in that it’s heavy on the hops (108 IBUs) and full of flavor. I’ll take her word for it.
  • Silver — King of Hop Imperial IPA (Starr Hill) — The everyday IPA by this brewer is not one that the IPA drinkers I know particularly care for. So it was with some hesitancy that my designated IPA taster tried this brew. Boy was she surprised. A nice citrus flavor helped balance this hoppy offering. If the King of Hop was easily found, it could be the everyday IPA in our household.
  • Bronze — Bucktooth IPA (Rusty Beaver Brewery) — I’m told this one was clearly made with love. I guess I have no choice but to believe that. The Goddess says it has lots of flower in the nose and a big hop bite in the finish.
  • Honorable Mention — Expedition IPA (Adventure Brewing Co.) — Sometimes it’s hard to pick just three. Therefore the Expedition IPA gets Bronze 1A for being a mellow, but quality IPA. Notes of white wine in the taste.

The Malty Award Winners

  • Gold — Wicked Nymph Imperial Stout (Adventure Brewing Co.) – Holy crap this was a great beer. Smooth with extremely slight hints of chocolate but with a wild stout kick. I know why they chose to put “wicked” in the name.
  • Silver — Pumpkin Ale (Aleworks Brewing Co.) – I love the fall season when we move away from the summer ales and start getting more bocks, Oktoberfests, and pumpkin flavored beers. This Pumpkin Ale was a great start with enough ale attitude that tamped down any chance to have the pumpkin flavor overpower the maltiness of the beer. It was like pumpkin pie in a glass.
  • Bronze — Gingerbread Stout (Hardywood Park) – Yum yum yum yum yum. An excellent balance of gingerbread and boldness from the imperial stout brewing process. Lots of spice flavors in the mouth including cinnamon and ginger. It’s beginning to taste a lot like Christmas.
  • Honorable Mention — Virginia Vulgarian Bourbon Bock (Strangeways Brewing) – As those of you who have read my blog before know, I’m usually reluctant to recommend the rum and bourbon flavored beers. But this Virginia Vulgarian Bourbon Bock was an eye-opener. It was malty in the front of the mouth, and then had a delayed liquor kick at the end. Everyone who tried it could only say “Wow.” And at only 6.6 ABV, I think I’ll have another.

After a great day of tasting quality beer, the Beer Goddess and I took off for home, stopping along the way at Blue Mountain Brewery for a final pint and a bite. It was here that I was able to drop a little water on my burger drought with the brewpub’s special, the aptly named Hangover Burger.

This tasty concoction featured an almost-properly cooked burger (it was closer to medium than medium rare) with the usual lettuce, onion, and tomato. But this burger special came with a fried egg (over easy) and bacon on top. And while it might not sound terribly appetizing, and it certainly wasn’t a photogenic meal because I tried several times, it was yum to the yumth degree.

So here’s to the best of Virginia Craft Brewers, along with a special salute to The Admiral, as well as a tip of the hat to the best burger I’ve had in months. You all have plenty of reasons to be proud.

— Eric Van Steenburg