beer

The Mega Jumbo Shrimp of Beer

Posted on

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.”

Really?

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.”

Bingo.

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

Posted on Updated on

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

Posted on Updated on

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

The Greatest Burger That Never Was

Posted on Updated on

You only turn 50 once.

I think it was the great philosopher Fred (Mr.) Rogers who first uttered those famous words.

So when my IPA drinking friend asked me what I wanted for my 50th birthday, I said “A great beer and a great burger in a great place.”

The last part was the easiest. We were sitting at a pub in Chicago, perhaps our favorite city in the entire United States. We’ve both been to Chicago numerous times. Why not? We’ve both lived in Illinois — she in Carbondale, and me in Champaign-Urbana — and would visit Chicagoland whenever possible. In fact, I’ve always told people that, because I lived just 100 miles south of Chicago, I could easily get there in an hour.

So there we sat, at a pub, in Chicago, about half a block from where Michigan Avenue crosses the Chicago River. A great city? Check.

Great beer was pretty easy also. Of course, Howells & Hood has 100+ beers on tap, so it’s hard to go wrong. I’d already enjoyed a Eugene Porter from Revolution Brewing, while my drinking buddy had downed an Anti-Hero IPA from the same Chicago-based brewery. Both were delicious.

The Eugene Porter, named after famous railroad union leader Eugene Debs, is a dark, dark beer with a ton of malt flavor and hints of chocolate. An excellent porter. Checking in at 70 IBUs, the Anti-Hero IPA has a nice hope bite that is complimented by lots of citrus aromas and flavors. It’s one my IPA slurping friend had in the past, which means it’s a go-to IPA whenever she has the chance.

And now I was on to my second malty beverage, and one that I’d never tried before — a White Stout.

The White Stout from James Page Brewery tasted like a combination of Pilsner and chocolate.
The White Stout from James Page Brewery tasted like a combination of Pilsner and chocolate.

What is a white stout, you ask. Well, it tastes like a Pilsner up front and nutty chocolate at the end. Who knew? The one I had was called Casper White Stout from James Page Brewery in Wisconsin, and is a two-time gold medal winner. So before you cast aspersions toward the white stout by claiming that merely adding coffee to a pale ale is BS, know that this beer has been approved by the judges at two pretty good competitions.

Good beer? Check.

The final piece of the birthday trifecta was a great burger. And where to find that, we didn’t know. So my IPA chugging companion polled the staff by asking two bartenders, a waiter, and a busboy.

Both bartenders (one male and one female in an effort to avoid any data collection bias) responded the same: Au Cheval. The waiter was asked. His answer? Au Cheval. Well, you can predict what the busboy said. That’s right … Wataburger. No, not really. He said Au Cheval, too.

The problem, the female bartender said, is that the wait to get a table can be a couple hours long. Two reasons: 1) the space is pretty small, and 2) the burgers are the best in Chicago. The good news is that diagonally across the corner from Au Cheval is Haymarket Pub & Brewery.

We checked out the menu online and found the restaurant had two bugers — a hamburger, and a cheeseburger. Wow, they’ve really gone all out in the creativity department.

It was 5:30 p.m., so we grabbed a cab and headed to Au Cheval. Twenty minutes later we were inside the front door putting our name on the waiting list. And the wait? Well, it wasn’t the two hours the bartender had predicted. It was three and a half. Yikes. This burger had better be damn good.

We added our name anyway, and after walking around the area taking an inventory of all the cool restaurants, bars and brownstones, we ended up at Haymarket, where we found plenty of ways to occupy our time waiting for the summons from the burger gods over yonder.

I started my now three-hour wait with the Defender American Stout, a big, bold beer (7.5% ABV) with a powerful malt kick that perfectly balanced a brewing process that included hops and then dry hops, and earned it numerous gold medals. My IPA sipping friend tried the Toonces #six IPA, the sixth version of Haymarket’s single-hop IPA that the IPAer said was “light and crispy.”

The Toonces IPA and the Defender American Stout, both from Haymarket Pub & Brewery in Chicago.
The Toonces IPA and the Defender American Stout, both from Haymarket Pub & Brewery in Chicago.

After taking our time with those two, and having a delightful conversation with the bar staff, I moved on to the Woot Stout, an impressive Imperial Stout that tasted of roasted caramel and a hint of pecans, one of my favorite beer ingredients.

More delightful conversation with the bar staff ensued. And by the time I’d finished off the stout, my IPA drinking buddy had found a table for us outside in the warm summer evening. But before I could make my way outside, the bartender poured the Cuppa Joe Hill Coffee Porter and gave it to me as a birthday gift. Aww.

This porter is made with lots of chocolate malt and 10 pounds of fresh coffee. You could definitely taste both. But even though each was in-your-face flavor, neither overpowered the other. The perfect present.

Two hours had passed, and we were starting to get hungry when my IPA chugging pal remembered there was a Tex-Mex restaurant on the next block. Perfect. We’ll go there for some chips and salsa, maybe even guacamole or queso, and have that as an appetizer before we, hopefully, eat at Au Cheval.

Two baskets of chips, a plate of guacamole, three servings of salsa, and a giant bowl of queso filled with chorizo later, there was no room for anything else. So much for Au Cheval. So, being full, and having our craving for grease-ladended Mexican food fulfilled for another year, we wandered toward the El to catch a train back downtown.

As we stood on the platform and the train approached, I received a text … from Au Cheval.

“Your name has moved into the top five on our waiting list. Please have your FULL party at the hostess stand in the next 10 minutes if you still want to eat at Au Cheval.”

I wrote back:

“No thanks. The wait was too long so decided to eat elsewhere. Too bad, because we’re really good tippers.”

Guess I won’t be getting a table at Au Cheval anytime soon.

So if you’re ever in Chicago and want a great burger, apparently Au Cheval is the place to go. And if you do go, please do me a favor … tell me how it was.

— Eric Van Steenburg

A Summer Beer Fest in Winter

Posted on Updated on

The new checklist for a summer beer festival:

  1. Wool socks
  2. Boots
  3. Parka
  4. Long johns

That should prepare you to comfortably enjoy any beer fest in July.

Wait. What?

OK, perhaps I won’t wear all that cold weather gear to the next beer tasting extravaganza in the middle of summer. But it would have come in handy at the last one.

The temperature in Big Sky, Montana, was in the upper 60s when I arrived on site last weekend with my IPA chugging companion. Not bad. It felt like a early spring day.

But three hours later, as we drove away, Mini told us the temperature was 49. I would have guessed even lower.

Blame it on the front that blew through that afternoon. Or blame the high altitude of Big Sky, which is perched at about 7,500 feet. Or blame the thunderstorms that dropped buckets of rain on the place. A quick thanks to P.T. Barnum for inventing the giant tent. Or was it Bailey?.

Well, whomever came up with the idea to hold the Big Sky Brewfest in a couple of large event tents was brilliant. It might not have kept the attendees, volunteers, and brewery reps warm, but it did keep them dry, for the most part.

The craft beer fans at the Big Sky Beerfest decided close quarters meant warmer.
The craft beer fans at the Big Sky Brewfest decided close quarters meant warmer. Doesn’t it just look like everyone is dressed for a typical summer day?

And for the most part, the beer was pretty good. We focused our attention on the tent with the Montana beers rather than the tent featuring beers from around the United States because we’d tried almost all the national craft beer brands before. And besides, the Montana beer tent was warmer.

One look around, though, and you could tell this was a summer beer festival … not a single porter or stout to be found. Oh wait, there was one. Thanks to the folks at Bridger Brewing Co. for bringing the Ghost Town Coffee Stout or I would have been on an island surrounded by hostile IPA waters. It is one of the best stouts I’ve tasted so far from the Big Sky state.

Despite the lack of my favorites, there were still plenty of malty beverages available. In fact, Scotch Ales easily outnumbered the IPAs. I think Montanans like their Scotch ales. At least in the “summer.” So we split the tasting chores into two camps — IPAs for her and Scotch ales for me. Here are our choices for best of the fest:

India Pale Ales

  • Gold — Double Haul IPA from KettleHouse Brewing Co. A nitro IPA that will knock your wool socks off. Smooth and easy drinking, this became my IPA slurping companion’s go-to beer all afternoon. Enough hop bite at 65 IBUs to meet the needs of almost any IPAer, it also checks in at a modest 6.5% ABV. Why not have more than one? In addition to winning Gold from Beer-and-Burgers.com, this beer also captured gold medal at the 2008 North American Brewers Association, which is almost as prestigious.
  • Silver — The Juice Double IPA from Madison River Brewing Co. This golden beer has a malty taste at the start that is quickly overtaken by a strong hop bite in the middle and end. No wonder. The brewers use three types of hops and four types of malts to create this delicious concoction that checks in at 9.0% ABV and a whopping 101 IBUs.
  • Bronze — Soul Shine IPA from The Front Brewing Co. My IPA chugging friend could only say it was outstanding. Then again, everything we’ve tried from TFBC has been so far. And Joel and Josh from TFBC were great to chat with. Must visit the brewery in Great Falls, MT, sometime.
  • Honorable Mention — A tie between Lone Peak Brewery‘s Imperial IPA and their Idiosyncratic IPA. According to the official IPA taster, both were “delicious.”

Scotch Ales/Scottish Ales

  • GoldMountain Man Scotch Ale  by TFBC. This is a delicious blend of caramel, chocolate, smoke (which usually I don’t like), coffee and toffee. A beautiful mahogany color with malty goodness throughout.
  • Silver — Big Sky Brewing Co.’s Heavy Horse Scottish Ale. The brewery known nationally for Moose Drool brown ale delivered in a big way with this limited release version of a wee heavy Scotch ale. It is a deep red color with lots ofcreaminess. At 6.7% ABV, you can afford to have a couple.

    LaNette Jones, one of the owners at Katabatic Brewing Co., was on hand to serve.
    LaNette Jones, one of the owners at Katabatic Brewing Co., was on hand to serve.
  • Bronze — Among the four beers that Katabatic Brewing Co. had on hand was their Scotch Ale, which tasted exactly the way a Scotch ale should, light and malty. (The others being poured were a Hefeweizen, an American Pale Ale, and Summer Ale, obviously in the wrong place.) By the way, Katabatic is the name for the heavy winds experienced regularly in Livingston, MT. So the front that blew through the beer fest that made me think the tent would come crashing down any minute was nothing to them. In fact, they said “this is a breeze.” To which I replied “Literally.”
  • Honorable Mention — Lewis & Clark Back Country Scottish Ale. The beer won a silver medal at Great America Beer Festival in 2014, so it didn’t need another medal from Beer-and-Burgers to validate its goodness. I found it to be crisp without much maltiness. Good for a hot summer day.

Which this was not, by the way. As the thunder and lighting raged above the mountains in the distance, the rain fell in buckets — seriously, the organizers placed buckets around the tents to catch some of the run-off in hope that the place wouldn’t turn into a muddy mess. And, of course, the temperature dropped.

We’d brought jackets. Unfortunately, neither was down lined because, well, who thought one would need a ski jacket in the summer? So when it became too cold for us transplanted Texans, we bailed to the nearby tavern for a plate of nachos to soak up the day’s tastings.

By the time we got to the car and hour later, the temperature was below 50. I knew those seat warmers in the Mini would come in handy in Montana. I just didn’t think it would be in July.

— Eric Van Steenburg

 

Going to My First Beer Fest … in Montana

Posted on Updated on

You know how when you read a fortune cookie it’s always funnier when you add “in bed” at the end. So if your fortune read “You are an inspiring individual” you would say “You are an inspiring individual … in bed.” Or if it said “You are good at multi-tasking” you would say “You are good at multi-tasking … in bed.” And you get some good ones like “Everyone knows you are outstanding, in bed” or “You will get a raise based on your performance, in bed.” And so on.

Well, I’ve decided that since I’m new to the state of Montana, I’m going to add “in Montana” to the end of almost everything that I say. Sort of like how in The Office they always say “That’s what she said” a lot of the time.

So today I’m going to my first beer festival … in Montana. It’s going to be at Big Sky Resort, and it will be the first time my IPA-swilling friend and I visit that area, in Montana.

Brewfest 2015 is expected to feature 16 breweries from Montana, and another half-dozen or so from around the country. But really, when you’re hanging out in the mountains of Big Sky and tasting beer, does it really matter how many breweries are present … in Montana?

I’m particularly looking forward to trying craft beer from breweries I’ve never tasted before (in Montana). These include Lone Peak Brewery from Big Sky, MT, UberBrew Brewring Co. in Billings, MT, Draught Works Brewery from Missoula, MT, Great Northern Brewing Co. out of Whitfish near Glacier National Park (in Montana), Flat Head Brewering Co. from some place named Big Fork (in Montana?), Katabatic Brewery in Livingston which I know is just 30 minutes east of me (in Montana), Bowser Brewing Co. from Great Falls, MT, and Upslope Brewing Co. out of Colorado … in Montana.

This is the 10th year that Big Sky has hosted a beer festival, and according to the resort, there will be a band playing soul-funk music, bbq brats, and a burger bar.

So I’m looking forward to my first beer festival, in Montana. Who knows, maybe I will get a raise based on my performance.

— Eric Van Steenburg

Drinking from Different Pages

Posted on Updated on

Trip completed. Check. Plants survived. Check. Didn’t kill each other. Check. Tried the local beer immediately upon arrival. You betcha.

The trek across the country from Appalachians to Rockies is over. For those of you scoring at home, the numbers look like this:

  • Miles traveled – 2,676
  • Days traveled – 10
  • Days arrived in advance of our furniture – 4 (and counting)
  • Hotels slept in – 5
  • Tents slept in – 1
  • New beers tasted – 21
  • New burgers tried – 5
  • Breweries visited – 7
  • States entered and/or exited – 9
  • States crossed without stopping – 1
  • Different state license plates seen and recorded – 48
  • Most number of states visited in one day – 4
  • Times crossed the continental divide – 5
  • Former grad school colleagues visited – 2
  • Former grad school colleagues not visited who commented on my posts – 2
  • Former grad school colleagues not visited who did not comment on my posts – 17.4285 (rounded up)
  • Times visited the gym – 0
  • Weight gained – 8.17

So, yes, the pants are a little tighter than when we began this little odyssey. But that didn’t stop us from waddling down the street to the neighborhood restaurant the first night in town.

There the waitron took our drink orders – the Hopzone IPA from Bozeman Brewing Co. for my hop-headed little friend and the Cold Smoke Scotch Ale by Kettle House Brewing Co. out of Missoula for me. She then

It took some searching, but after two days we found some breweries in the Grand Tetons.
It took serious searching, but we found some breweries in the Grand Tetons.

proceeded to inform us that the evening’s special was a basket of 20 spicy buffalo wings (aside: calling chicken wings buffalo wings is dumb because everyone knows buffalos can’t fly) and a pitcher of beer.

“But that won’t work for you,” she said, “since you two are drinking from different pages.”

Ah, yes, drinking from different pages. Ranks right up there on the list of mixed metaphors I’ve actually heard individuals utter in my presence, along with such classics as:

  • “I’ve got something right up your ballpark”
  • “We’re just scratching the iceberg”
  • “This isn’t rocket surgery”

and the all-time winner:

  • “The ink is in the pudding.”

The best thing is, our waitron was exactly correct. We’ve been drinking from different pages for 15 years now, and expect to until one of us drops dead. As I’ve said numerous times, we’re like left hand / right hand. Each one works well independently, but both work better together.

Why should we expect our beer drinking, and burger eating, to be any different? I like malty and sweet, she likes hoppy and bitter. I like ground beef medium rare, she likes chicken sandwiches marinated in teriyaki.

Yet somehow it works, and is probably how we survived 10 days in constant company with one another trapped in a Mini Cooper and surrounded by plants.

I did get a break from IPA-lapping traveling companion the two times I went to baseball games. Or, a more accurate way to say it, she got a break from me.

But we all made it to Bozeman, Montana in one piece – people, plants, and Mini included. Not sure I’ll be able to say the same for the furniture, which is, according to the moving company, still in Virginia.

Nothing quite like sitting a a brewery and enjoying the mountains that are less than 30 minutes away.
There’s nothing quite like sitting at a brewery and enjoying the mountains that are less than 30 minutes away.

Upon arrival, we did try a few new beers. She has sampled two IPAs, the Deschutes Pinedrops and the Horse Thief from Sheriff Harry Plummer’s Outlaw Brewing. I, on the other hand, have enjoyed the Madison River Oatmeal Stout and Outlaw’s Pugilist Chocolate Porter.

At the same time, we’re taking in the dry air and cool nights, along with the 360-degree view of mountains. And even though we know we’re in for a long, cold winter, there’s something comforting knowing that a town of just under 40,000 residents has four local breweries, and perhaps up to three more on the way.

Perfect fodder for plenty of posts by the entire staff at Beer-and-Burgers.com. You can definitely count on more to come. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them all, no matter which page you are drinking from.

— Eric Van Steenburg