In the Case of Texas v. Montana

Posted on Updated on

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

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

Playing with Portissimo

Posted on Updated on

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