The new checklist for a summer beer festival:
- Wool socks
- Long johns
That should prepare you to comfortably enjoy any beer fest in July.
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.
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
- Gold — Mountain 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.
- 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
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
There was no doubt this was all about the stout. All the breweries with any clout had followed this route so they could go all-out about their stout. And anyone in a stout drought did not need to pout because it was time to shout for they were about to have a stout below their snout.
OK, I’m just about out of words that rhyme with stout, so let me tell you about the Know Good Beer Festival that took place last weekend in Charlottesville. It was called the Siberian Express since its focus was winter beers. Finally, a beer festival made for me.
See, usually when my IPA-slurping friend and I attend a beer tasting, beer festival, beer anything, I spend the first 30 minutes walking around searching for any offerings that tilt toward the malty side of the beer spectrum. Typically I’ll find a couple of stouts, a brown ale, and zero porters. This time, the malt was on the other foot (or something like that).
There were 11 different malty falcons that I was able to sample. Meanwhile, the IPA-chugger was limited to just a couple of options. Aha! … So there! … How’s that feel? … Apparently not too bad because she made numerous trips to Get Bent from Parkway Brewing Co. Hmm. Is that something I should be concerned about?
Anyway, back to the stouts … and the other deliciously malty concoctions available to me at the chilly (it was outdoors in 30-something degree temps) winter beer festival. First, kudos to all the people — attendees, brewers, volunteers, photographers (check out Ron Rammelkamp’s handiwork), and musical performers — who realized the importance that the opportunity for good beer trumps the chance of being cold.
Here’s my take on what I tasted, and ranked, in reverse order, of the best of the best available beers:
11. Raspberry Stout – Hardywood Park Craft Brewery – Actually, it was delicious. I love raspberries. And I love stouts. This is almost like my personal Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (which I don’t particularly care for, by the way). But it didn’t have the malty kick that I was looking for. A great beer, but not today, standing outside in the cold. Though at 9.3% ABV, it could easily warm you up. SCORE: On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it four stout shout-outs.
10. Anniversary Ale – Wild Wolf Brewing Co. – A brown ale in the Belgian style. I didn’t taste the chocolate that it’s supposed to have, and the malt flavor was rather mild. At 5.6% ABV, this would be a great starter beer to kick off a day of winter beer tasting. Oh hey, that’s exactly what I did. SCORE: Four stout shout-outs.
9. Virginia Black Bear – Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery – A tasty Russian imperial stout that checks in at 9.3% ABV. I could taste the Russian, but not the imperial. This brewer-farmer also has a vanilla version of this beer, which I can’t wait to try. SCORE: Four stout shout-outs.
8. Cavalier Milk Stout – C’Ville-Ian Brewing Co. – A new brewery in Charlottesville (aka C’Ville) that made a solid milk stout on it first trip around the stout yard. Dry in the mouth, but full at the same time. And it was cool the next day to walk down Main Street and discover where the brewery is located. Brewery owner Stephen Gibbs gets an “atta boy” for this one. Nice job rookie! SCORE: Five stout shout-outs.
7. Little Red RooStarr Coffee Cream Stout – Starr Hill – I remember that I tried it, but I don’t remember what it tasted like. Must have been late in the day. Good thing I could grab this milk stout at my local pub back in the ‘Burg. Just as its name indicates, it was creamy, but went down easily. And at 5.8% ABV, a couple or three of these might make for a nice evening on a cold winter day. SCORE: Six stout shout-outs.
6. Dopplbock – Three Notch’d Brewing Co. – So this dark German lager isn’t really in the stout category. But neither was the Anniversary Ale, and we let it crash the party. And because it’s from Three Notch’d, you have a pretty good chance that it’s gonna be darn good. The bocky beer had a wonderfully creamy finish that had lots of toasted caramel flavor. ABV = 7.3%. Just missed out on making the top five. SCORE: Six stout shout-outs.
5. Black Me Stout – Champion Brewing Co. – A solid, traditional stout. About as traditional as they come. In a blind taste test, one almost might think this is a Guinness. Almost. It was dry and light, exactly how lead brewer Levi Duncan said he wanted it to be. Nice job. SCORE: Seven stout shout-outs.
4. French Toast Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout – Terrapin Beer Co. – It’s got a long name, but I can sum up how it tasted in one word – yum-diddy-yum-yum. That counts as one word because I hyphenated it. But back to the stout. The coffee and oatmeal were extremely well balanced in that neither overpowered the other. Very easy to drink, but at 9.4% ABV be careful about downing too many because the alcohol will kick the coffee’s ass every time. SCORE: Eight stout shout-outs.
3. Dark Hallow Imperial Stout – Blue Mountain Brewery – I didn’t get a chance to taste it, but that was somewhat intentional. See, I can get the Dark Hallow at my local pub just about anytime. So I decided to save this one for last. But last it did not. In other words, they kicked the keg well before the four-hour drink-a-thon ended. Oh well, I had one last night at the pub and it was as wonderful as I knew it would be. Rich, malty, powerful. This imperial stout is a smooth drinker. Watch out, though, because it will knock you out. SCORE: Nine stout shout-outs.
2. Biggie S’mores Imperial Stout – Three Notch’d Brewing Co. – Just as the name indicates, this sweet stout tasted like s’mores in a glass. And who doesn’t want that? Particularly when the s’mores come with an ABV of 8.0%. I was told this beer is made with pounds and pounds of Honey Maid Graham Crackers. Why didn’t anyone else think of this brilliant idea before? I will definitely partake in this one again … if I can ever find it again. SCORE: Nine stout shout-outs.
1. Morning Bear Coffee Imperial Stout – Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. – Now this is one coffee that will have you saying “Good Morning!” within seconds after your first taste. Easily the best drinking beer at the festival, and that’s saying a great deal since all the beers were tasty. But this cask-conditioned stout was clearly on a slightly different level that the others. Too bad the cask was the smallest one I’d ever seen. My strategy was to not wander too far from this one. SCORE: Ten stout shout-outs.
I think that’s about all I can tout in regard to the stouts. But as your faithful beer scout, I’ll be on the look-out should a stout tasting suddenly sprout. Until then, when in doubt, drink a stout.
— Eric Van Steenburg
I told you that I was on Santa’s “nice” list. And he apparently listened to my request for a winter beer tasting because next Saturday, Jan. 24 in Charlottesville, VA, the winter version of the Know Good Beer festival is taking place. You can’t turn down the opportunity to taste this many wintry style brews. And how can you turn down a beer festival that goes by KGB?
Therefore, as a dedicated beer blogger, it is my duty to attend. If you want to also, here’s the dirt:
- Where it at: Ix Art Park – 963 2nd Street Southeast, Charlottesville, VA 22902 – inside and outside, but in a heated tent. Whew!
- When: 12-5 p.m. That should just about do ya.
- Who’s Pourin’: Breweries offering samples include Beach Brewing, Blue Mountain, Bold Rock, Champion, C’Ville-Ian, Devil’s Backbone, Hardywood, Lickinghole Creek, Old Hill, Pale Fire, Parkway, South Street, Starr Hill, and Three Notch’d. Is that enough?
- Tickets Tickets Tickets: $30, plus a $2.64 inconvenience fee. Get ’em here.
- Whatcha get: A dozen pours of four ounces each. Attendees can also purchase additional tickets inside the festival – four for $6. That’s a good deal.
- Noshables: Blue Ridge Pizza Co. and South Fork will be providing munchies. Yum.
- Beneficiaries: Funds raised go to WNRN, one of the best indie radio sources in the world. Seriously.
See you there.
– Eric Van Steenburg
The challenge: Cover a beer festival for your beer blog without drinking any beer. Wasn’t that one of the Labors of Hercules?
If not, it could have been. For I have sniffed the hop … seen the foam … stared down the barrel of the beer … and emerged sober. Thank you.
Unfortunately, an old back injury has curtailed my beer drinking for the moment. Oh, codeine, thou art a heartless bitch. Unless, of course, you’re my brother, who strongly recommends consuming alcohol while on codeine for that “extra kick.” To each his own, I guess.
For me, it was better safe than sorry. So off to the Rocktown Beer & Music Festival I went last Saturday, knowing there would be no tasting in my future. Still, I had my designated drinker alongside, and she’s always game for trying a pint or three.
No pints at this Festival, though. Instead it was miniature plastic beer mugs that the volunteers were more than hoppy to fill to the top. That easily made up for the fact that the $35 entry ticket only got you 12 tastes. But each tiny mug looked to be about 4 ounces. So that meant three pints of delicious, high ABV, craft beer for each Fest-goer.
Based on the crowd’s actions by the end of the festival, it seems a few people might have found a way to extend their 12 tastes a little longer. And that’s one of the benefits of attending a beer festival and not drinking any beer – crowd watching.
In fact, enjoying the antics of the attendees was as much fun as tasting all the delicious beer. I lie. But it was still fun. And I got to mix and mingle with lots of cool people.
There were former students Allyson and Katie. There were current students Alexa and Nikki. There were colleagues (all from Management, hmm) Brad, Bill and Eric in attendance, the latter two clearly having a good time throwing French fries at unsuspecting festvalees despite their lack of aim. And there were cool bands.
As I predicted, Start Making Sense, the Talking Heads tribute band, stole the show. Not only did they sound close to perfect, the lead singer even worked hard mimicking David Byrne. The crowd loved it.
Of course, by that time, the festival was winding down and everyone had had their fill, and then some. My IPA-swilling friend, for example, got to taste her 12 samples, and made a pretty good dent in my pristine quota. And it was obvious D.J. and Tyler had found a way to flex their muscle to get a few extras here and there, and there, and there, and there.
As for me, I had a blast. And that’s what makes the burgeoning U.S. craft beer scene so freakin’ great. You don’t even have to be a craft beer drinker to experience the joy of what it means to finally have great beer in this country. And that joy is contagious.
Fortunately, the reason of my codeine dependence is not. So in a few weeks, I’ll be squeaky clean and ready to jump back on the wagon, uh, off the wagon … um, DRINK BEER.
– Eric Van Steenburg