Utah became the 46th state to legalize homebrewing recently, according to the Brewer’s Association, along with other significant changes to the state’s alcohol policies.
This encourages me, because if a state like Utah, with a lot of religious interests mixed in with its government, can do it, it gives me hope for Montana.
But it also begs the question, are the two different animals or just different sides of the same animal?
Montana’s alcohol policies, like most states, were born out of prohibition. But, Utah’s policies were crafted and honed by the interests of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a religious group that discourages the practice of drinking alcohol and other beverages.
Montana’s policies have been crafted and honed by the voice of the the Montana Tavern Owners Association, and the laws are fundamentally embedded in anti-competitive legislation that caters to the needs of one particular group of business owners.
In some ways, Utah is putting Montana to shame, because the state, which is largely politically controlled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is progressive enough to recognize the craft brewing industry’s impact on the state financially.
Good-’ol-boy politics in Montana are hindering true economic reform in the area of beer tourism, and though the passage of HB400, which allows brewers a few concessions, like brewing higher-gravity beer, is a good thing, it’s a far cry from the laws recently changed in Utah.
By the way, HB 400 just awaits the governor’s signature, and those of us who love craft beer should see Chimay’s blue and white labels along with other beers available in area grocery stores again.
And, just for fun, since the federal government legalized homebrewing in 1978, just four states continue to ban the practice. They are; Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Oklahoma.
Let’s tip one back to our beleaguered friends in those states and hope that they can all be inspired by Utah, of all places.
Big Sky Brewing Co. has been in the canning business before. Exorbitant prices for aluminum bottles, which they used at the time, took them out of the game just as fast.
Thanks to some amazing new technology, Big Sky is canning again. Their Moose Drool and Trout Slayer beers are available now. Read the story here.
I realize it’s been a while since my last beer vlog, so I’m out of practice a bit. However, this one might be more informational than most for those of you looking to get great beer in Montana that might be higher ABV than allowed in the state.
Cans should be available wherever Big Sky beer are sold in May.
Beer blogs have come on in recent years, as have all kinds of multimedia possibilities for discussing that wonderful beverage. There are numerous beer-related video blogs, you can see some of mine here. And there are fantastic beer radio shows. And, don’t get me started on the many beer pages on Facebook. There are a ton.
But, just for sheer entertainment and quick insight, I really like the beer folks breaking it all down on Twitter. If you don’t know what Twitter is, you’re probably about to get laid off, which means you’ll want to find out about Twitter so you can find out which beers to buy with your last paycheck. Seriously, check out Twitter now. You owe it to yourself.
There are hundreds if not thousands of people twittering (short, 140-character micro blogs) about beer. I don’t even follow half of them. But, I follow those who follow my Grizzly Growler feed, and these are a few of the better feeds out there. Check them out yourself, and then cruise on over to www.twitter.com/grizzlygrowler.com to find more of them to follow.
It’s always fun to walk into the tap room at Big Sky Brewing Co. and find something new. Since we had a nice corned beef and cabbage in the crock pot, the wife, the daughter and I cruised over to Big Sky on St. Patrick’s Day for a little sample.
Here’s what we had first:
The Stone Thrower is a Scotch-style ale that is tantalizingly malty and sweet, more in actual Scotch-beer character than other American contemporaries. I’m not sure who brewed this beauty, but I know head brewer Matt Long likes some of the traditional Scotch-style beers like the house ale at Traquair House Brewery. Big Sky’s version has a slight amontillado sherry character, which reminds me of the house ale in many ways. And it’s a big hit with the spousal unit, who generally prefers Summer Honey once it comes back around.
The second beer we tried:
The Belgian Blonde style is one of my all-time favorite beers. It’s generally a light, refreshing beer with a hint of barnyard, not in the way a big Cabernet Sauvignon can be barnyard, but with a nose of straw and an earthy quality that reminds me of the French countryside.
Big Sky’s version is super light and has a slightly spiced quality that might be coming from the yeast, as I know they don’t tend to spice many of their beers.
So get in and get yourself a growler of each of the new beers before they disappear.
All of my knowledge of whiskey comes from the years I spent tending bar while in journalism school. My first St. Patty’s day at the pub was a dark affair. We only had Jameson’s, and we seriously offended a bunch of beer-drunk Irish Protestants. That was the first and last time I was pulled over the bar and deposited on my rear.
The second year we only had Black Bush and seriously offended the majority of our Catholic Irish brothers who obscenely opened their own smuggled-in bottles of Jameson’s and refused to share unless other patrons could prove their Irish ancestry. I’ll let you decide how the proof was preferred.
And so my education into the nuances of Irish whiskey went. From year to year I learned more about the preferences of the different religious groups in Ireland and abroad as well as the subtle differences in styles. And, I learned to carry both Bushmill’s and Jameson’s and to feature them prominently and equally on St. Patty’s Day.
So, while it is safer to stick to beer on St. Patrick’s Day, if you should choose whiskey, know who you are about to drink with, and if you can’t discern their religious preferences by appearance, and there is no reason you should, be sensitive enough to ask before you buy them a shot of Irish whiskey, then you’ll know their religious preference as well, and you can steer clear of those risky topics.
Or just drink Scotch.
With the number of Irish folks in these parts, it’s a wonder that the only local brewery that really advertises an Irish beer of any kind is Bayern Brewing. Their Killarney Red Lager is a German ode to that most Irish of saints. And while it can be a fine beer to quaff on St. Patty’s Day, there are other, rather more Irish beers available around these parts, though they’d undoubtedly fall into the macro category.
I enjoyed a bottle or two of Smithwick’s, pronounced Smitticks, at a party this weekend, and I’m always enchanted with this tasty Irish beer. It’s decidedly smooth, roasted grain flavor holds up well as an import beer, and it’s a great match with corned beef and cabbage or just about any Irish dish you feel like whipping up.
Oh, and it’s available at the Orange Street Food Farm.
Next, and widely available around Missoula, Guinness is the one thing I must do on every St. Patrick’s Day. The day just is not complete without a dry Irish stout, and American microbrewed stouts often fail to achieve that perfect balance of body, taste and finish that Guinness has been doing for nearly 300 years.
And last but not least, how should you celebrate?
Above all, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day safetly. Don’t go kissing unknown Leprechauns. Don’t believe them if they say they’ve got a bucket of gold that you should check out. And remember, if you’re going to drink Jameson or Bushmills on St. Patrick’s Day, do it before you drink the beer. Going from beer to hard liquor is a great way to start talking to Leprechauns and other mythological creatures.
I was rereading Hemingway’s “Green Hills of Africa,” and I came across a great passage about beer that I had forgotten.
“N’Dio,” he said with great force, and from the chop box one of the natives had carried on his head produced, in its straw casing, a bottle of German beer, one of the sixty-four bottles Dan had bought from the German trading station. Its neck was wrapped in silver foil and on its black and yellow label there was a horseman in armor. It was still cool from the night and opened by the tin opener it creamed into three cups, thick-foamed, full-bodied.”
“No,” said Pop. “Very bad for the liver.”
We all drank and when M’Cola opened the second bottle Pop refused, firmly.
“Go on, it means more to you. I’m going to take a nap.”
“Poor old Mama?”
“Just a little.”
“All for me,” I said. M’Cola smiled and shook his head at this drinking. I lay back against the tree and watched the wind bringing the clouds and drank the beer slowly out of the bottle. It was cooler that way and it was excellent beer.
The conversation started long before the food came. In fact, it started long before I had a beer in hand, which is always a good omen.
My wife and I walked in to the Tamarack Brewing Co. in Lakeside, Montana after having spent the day doing a story about nearby Blacktail Mountain Ski Area.
When brewer Craig Koontz left a comment about an upcoming brewer’s dinner on ye olde blog, I have to admit that the thought of a five-hour round trip to Lakeside and back didn’t sound appealing. Though Craig’s beers always sound appealing to me. However, serendipity stepped in and made sure I had a great reason to be in Lakeside besides the brewer’s dinner.
Arriving slightly late, we met our table mates Ben and Diana Ruddy of Lakeside, and it felt like we’d run into long-lost friends. Over an introductory Lakeside ESP, we covered topics ranging from the state of banks to child rearing. By the time we got to the first course, we were making plans for meeting up at the lake this summer.
This, my friends, is what beer should do. It should stimulate conversation and grease the wheels of friendship in a world that is prone to let us rust in the station.
Here then is how the evening progressed:
First Course: Winter salad of mixed greens, Montana-made Chevre, julienne of red onion, spiced pecans and duck prosciutto tossed with a fig vinaigrette.
The slight hint of hops on the Yard Sale Amber Ale balanced out the richness of the duck, while the sweet malt characteristic carried the tartness of the fig vinaigrette into another realm of mouthwatering goodness.
Second Course: Vermont white cheddar soup with lobster garnish.
The Bear Bottom Blonde was an apt choice for this warm-up course, offering a light, tongue engulfing spritz of honeyed maltiness to counteract the sharpness of the aged cheddar and the ocean saltiness of the lobster.
Third Course: Pancetta wrapped seared sea scallops atop navy beans drizzled with a Fuggle hop hollandaise sauce and accompanied by asparagus and shaved pecorino Romana.
I initially thought using the Dock Days Hefeweizen with this course was underselling the beer. However, chef Roger deftly used neutral ingredients like the navy beans, asparagus and sea scallops to play around with the beer’s candied essence of dried fruit with a hint of banana and Christmas spices on the nose. The real brilliance here was using a lightly-hopped hefeweizen that allowed the beautiful Fuggle hop hollandaise to stand out. Superb!
Fourth Course: Ganache-filled beignet with house-made cinnamon ice cream and bourbon caramel sauce.
The beer served with this course is what I’ve waited a year to try. I’ve had people swear to me that the Olde Stache Whiskey Barrel Porter is the best beer of it’s kind in the state. Having missed out on last year’s batch, I’d challenged brewer Craig Koontz to save me a pint from this year’s batch. Hence the invitation to this wonderful event.
And it did not disappoint. I’m a huge fan of drinking big whisky barrel aged beers a little warmer than normal, so I held this chilled beer in my hands until those whiskey vapors started peeling off the top. Oceans of depth opened up in this beer once it had reached 50 degrees, or thereabouts. Most of you know I can’t get enough of beer and ice cream, so the cinnamon ice cream was a real treat as a taste break to explore the layers of this phenomenal beer.
All in all, the evening spent at Tamarack Brewing Co. is one of the most enjoyable I’ve had in my nearly two years in this great state. The conversations were priceless, as was the food and beverages.
But mostly, it was the service and attention to detail by Josh, Andra, Craig and Roger that made the evening what it was. Forgive me if I left anyone out. The servers were absolutely great, and I apologize that I didn’t take the time to learn your names. You do your establishment proud.