Feel good Montana, good barley wines abound in the Treasure State

January 25, 2010 | admin

This article about barley wine from GQ magazine states that barley wines can be hard to find. Well, that’s only if you don’t live in Montana, where Big Sky Brewing Co., Bitterroot Brewing and Blackfoot River Brewing Co. all produce outstanding barley wines, just to name a few.

Still, I agree with the assessment that barley wines are a unique beer that should be sipped and enjoyed slowly. They’re a beer where you can really learn about fruit and nut flavors in beer, and they stand out from other beers mainly because of their malty sweetness tempered only by bold hops and their high alcohol content.

Besides the locals, you can find some good barley wines at the Good Food Store and at Worden’s Market.



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Thanksgiving Beer Primer Day 1

November 23, 2009 | admin
Old Ruffian Barley Wine

Old Ruffian Barley Wine

I’ve said this every year since I started saying things about beer. Beer is a far better choice for your Thanksgiving meal than wine. There are myriad reasons why, but I won’t go over them here. Suffice it to say that your craft-beer selection for T-Day is bigger than ever, and the possibilities for amazing beer-food pairings is almost endless. So, to make you aware of some of the best stuff out there right now, I’m going to highlight several great Thanksgiving beers to try over the next few days as you finish your shopping for the big day.

Today we’ll start with your breakfast beer. Yes, I said breakfast beer. For most people, Thanksgiving is a day off, which is the perfect time to enjoy a breakfast beer. I’m not talking any PBR or Coors Light breakfast for champions either.

In my family, Thanksgiving starts at the crack of dawn. Breakfast is a chance to get together and sit around while mom lays out the fixings for the big meal. This is when I’ll open a bottle of barley wine or two.

Barley wine is a great breakfast beer, especially many of the bourbon-barrel aged varieties out there today. The vanilla and caramel flavors go well with many breakfast foods, while the big body and hop structure give you a solid beer to sip on throughout the morning. The key to enjoying beer on Thanksgiving is sipping a few big beers or sticking with session beers throughout the day. The second option won’t give you very many taste choices though.

Here are some great options for your Thanksgiving breakfast beer:

Olde Blue Hiar Barley Wine

Olde Blue Hiar Barley Wine

Big Sky Brewing Co.: Olde Blue Hair Barley Wine

Great Divide Brewing Co.: Old Ruffian Barley Wine

Stone Brewing Co.: Stone Old Guardian

Any barley wine will work for your Thanksgiving breakfast beer, so find one from your area or one from the list and crack one open for mom as she slaves away over turkey, stuffing and green beans. It’ll make her day better.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss beer to watch Thanksgiving Day football with.



Old Guardian - Stone Brewing Co.

Old Guardian - Stone Brewing Co.

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Look mom, I finally got my own beer mug

November 20, 2009 | admin
Bitterroot Brewing's Winter Ale

Bitterroot Brewing's Winter Ale

And it has my name on it. Well, not really. It has the Grizzly Growler name on it, but since I try to fill those rather tremendous shoes by posting under that name, I’ll count it.

So I was finally able to stop into Bitterroot Brewing to try some samples of all their current Brewer’s Whims. And I was not disappointed in the least. The Imperial IPA is everything you’ve heard it is. With four hops with citrusy characteristics, it’s kind of like the Greyhound of beers. Big, fruity with a lighter body than you might expect in a an Imperial IPA, this beer literally knocks your socks off with hop flavor on a very comfortable base. Big alcohol with a nose like walking into a tropical greenhouse, the hop profile on this bad boy takes you back to the early days of Oregon and Washington when they were perfecting the Northwest-style IPAs. But rest assured, this beer retains those magical Montana qualities that have made Bitterroot Brewing such a destination in this state.

The CollaBeeration Porter, a Baltic-style porter that spent more than a little time on bourbon wood, is a fantastic early winter beer. I can only imagine joining my colleagues at the Ravalli Republic as they plot their next snowboard or back-country ski adventure over a few snifters of this. Chocolaty with some vanilla hints from the bourbon, this beer displays some deeper notes characteristic of dark malts like dried fruit and even some coconut that I thought rounded out the bourbon flavors a bit.

The year-old Barley Wine was phenomenal, as only aged barley wine can be. With honey, straw, whiskey, dried fruit and some Euro-style licorice, this beer is a conucopia of flavors. I can only imagine what it would taste liked aged another year or two. Oh, well, some beers you just have to drink now.

And finally, if you can’t get down to Bitteroot Brewing for their Brewer’s Whims, you should be able to get a hold of their Winter Ale, a very well-balanced dark ale with a hint of spices on a very smooth and drinkable malt base. With an effervescent white-ish head and some healthy hop structure, this winter bear harkens to those favorites like Deschute’s Jubalale, but the hop profile makes this one extra special. If you like those big, dark beers that warm you on cold winter days, this would be one to try.

You should see these beers in Missoula at places that carry Bitteroot Brewing beers. Try Orange Street Food Farm, Worden’s Market and The Good Food Store.



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Mirror Mirror in my glass

April 6, 2009 | admin

Mirror Mirror

I love that my friends love to pull something new and unique out of their cellars when I come over for a visit. For one, it helps expand my beer horizons, and it helps me to have a conversation about the beer I try for this blog. A one-sided conversation, which I often have with myself about my beer reviews, just doesn’t work when it comes to making beer a real live conversation between many people.

After spending some time with some new friends last week, Jon pulled this great beer out of his cellar. He, like me, is unable to keep his cellar going for long without the need for refilling it. We’ll call it an enthusiasm for beer whether it’s freshly stored or well aged.

Over a long, rambling and enjoyable conversation that covered a good portion of our personal stories, we sipped this fine beer and smelled the good food simmering in the kitchen.

Hints of fresh oak, vanilla and rum-raisin pummeled our taste buds, while the beer finished with slightly wine-like streaks of green fruit and then, finally, a subtle hoppiness that is evidence of the dry hopping the beer gets before it is bottled.

I’ve had numerous beers about which you can have a conversation, but I’ve had few conversational beers as delightful as Mirror Mirror from Deschutes Brewing Co.

Let’s hope HB 400 is signed by the governor soon, so that we’ll be able to get some Mirror Mirror come October when the law raising the legal definition of beer in Montana to 14 percent.



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Barley Wine at Bitter Root Brewery

January 22, 2009 | admin

There is a new barley wine on tap at Bitter Root Brewery. I haven’t had one from them yet, but knowing how brewer Paul Thomas makes his beer, it’s bound to be good. And if this inversion doesn’t lift soon, I’m going to start looking for a place to live in Hamilton, which means I can drink Bitter Root beer every day.

According to general manager Jason Goeltz, the beer is:

Brew #868, American Style Barley Wine, A hoppy and strong beer with citrus notes and a malty, bitter finish

Can’t wait to try it.



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Hard-to-find craft beer

January 9, 2009 | admin

I know I make a big deal out of hard-to-find Belgian beers, but there are a few American craft brews popping up in this category as of late. Deschute’s The Abyss is one of them, but the king of hard-to-find beers might just be Alaskan Brewing Co.’s Barley Wine Ale.

One of the most decorated craft beers on the planet, this once-a-year release was bottled for the first time in 2008. Now, I’m hearing that you can order bottles through Liquid Solutions in Oregon and Liquor Max in Colorado.

I have friends who’ve successfully ordered beer and wine to be delivered here in Montana, but proceed at your own risk. You might end up with a charge on your credit card and no beer to speak of. The distributor has to be willing to ship it here, and I’ve not found anybody (in the beer arena) who will do that.

If you have a bottle of this beer, call me. If you find a bottle, buy two, and I’ll pay you back.




It’s Barley Wine Time!

November 11, 2008 | admin

Olde Blue Hair Barley Wine is on tap at Big Sky Brewing Co., according to the brewery’s latest newsletter. That means that it is barley wine time again.


Perhaps one of my favorite seasonal beers, barley wine is about as good as it gets as an aperitif on turkey day or for something to poor in celebration when your team wins whatever championship it is playing for.



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Going Olde School with Dogfish Head

November 26, 2007 | admin


Like a fruitcake in a bottle and nearly that chewy, Dogfish Head’s Olde School barley wine is nothing to be toyed with. As you’ll read in other reviews, this beer is bigger than big, and to the uninitiated, it could turn you off of the style.

But given the chance to age, which I have not tried, I’m sure this ale will be even more spectacular than it is now.

My wife’s reaction is worth noting, it went something like this:

“Oh, my goodness,” she said. “That caught me off guard.”


A huge fruit nose with none of the hot alcohol and hops evident in so many barleywines today, Olde School is unique in the style.

And forget the fact that the beer is conditioned on dates and prunes, besides a deep raisin taste it’s difficult to define any specific dried-fruit tastes or ethers, though I think the addition of those dried fruits gives the beer a rounder taste to accompany the silky texture of the beer.

At 15 percent ABV, this beer is not one to drink from the bottle, in fact, I’d have the same recommendation as Dogfish Head:

Open bottle, pour contents into two snifters. Enjoy. ALTERNATIVELY: Walk hand-in-neck with bottle into the middle of the woods. Use shovel to dig 2×2 hole three feet deep. Seal bottle in plastic bag. Place in hole and pack with dirt. Memorize location and leave. Return exactly one year later. Dig up bottle, open and enjoy.

Oh, and Olde School might just be one of the best beers to match with cheese. We sampled between 10 and 15 different styles over the Thanksgiving weekend, and I can’t think of one that this beer wouldn’t cozy up to like a favorite blanket.



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Barley Wine in six packs?

October 29, 2007 | admin

Barley wine always was this refined beverage that came in tiny bottles like Rogue’s Old Crustacean used to, and which you consumed in a sherry glass or something similar.

Apparently that is not the case anymore as I found out while perusing the beer selection at the Good Food Store last week.

Turns out Sierra Nevada is packaging their Bigfoot Barleywine in sixers these days. (They might have been doing this for a awhile now, but I haven’t seen them until now)
These cloudy, high-gravity, high IBU (90) barley bombs are in a convenient size for sharing with friends, but I’m not sure you want to treat them like a session beer or even a six-pack of your favorite IPA for that matter. At 9.6 ABV, these big beers pack a punch.

Bigfoot contains a trio of my favorite hops, Cascade, Centennial and Chinook.

This beer has hints of caramel candy and dried peach and pear with an intense hop and malt presence that can overwhelm the uninitiated.

The cloudy nature of the beer is both beautiful and an indication of just how much body it has.
I found this beer to be a nice sipper, as well as a good match with a hearty bourbon spice pumpkin cheesecake my wife made this weekend. Other good matches might be a chocolate mouse with raspberries and sharp, aged cheeses, according to the Sierra Nevada website.



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