Dispatches from China

September 10, 2008 | admin

Craft brew really has made it across the Pacific.

This is from my good friend Peter Bowling, a business man, philanthropist, AIDS activist working in China.

Take it away Pete -

Here’s a shot of the import beer section. There used to be just about nothing in the way of good beer here, but now we are getting more and more appearing on the shelves of these import stores. I took this picture, but almost got my head taken off by the security guard. He came at me swinging his arms hoping to get in the way before I took a snapshot… but obviously he didn’t succeed. ‘No photography in the store… there’s a sign up front…’ I glanced around, half expecting to see armed guards with dogs, and a ‘China Customs – no photography beyond this point’ sign… but there wasn’t… just regular supermarket signage. Oh well. At least they have good beer… so what if they won’t let me take pictures. I’ll just have to be more stealthy next time.


Here’s a lineup of the beers we tasted tonight… only cost me about $20 for 8 bottles of good import beer… we divided the beers between the appetizers, the meal, and post-meal. Dried fish soaked in dark vinegar is really a great choice to go with almost any beer.


This was the first one we tried, and our least favorite. I would choose a Chinese wheat beer over this, at 1/20 the cost. The actual flavor was hard to detect because it was weak, and the beer tasted flat to begin with. I only drank it down because we don’t waste beer. If there’s ever leftover beer that no one will drink, we use it in the marinade brine for the next BBQ.


This was one of our favorites, in our top 3. Not too light or heavy, and an interesting flowery flavor or aftertaste. It’s called ‘island lager’, which I guess it kind of tasted island-ish…


We were not impressed with this beer, which made it into our bottom 3. It wasn’t bad, just wouldn’t be a top choice for me. I don’t know what ‘white beer’ is supposed to taste like, but I guess this is it. It was smooth, not sharp, weak flavor, and kind of murky appearance (as its unfiltered).


I think this is the first time I have tried an ‘auburn Lager’. The color was intriguing. The picture doesn’t show clearly the distinct sharp color. The flavor was a little bit sour, and not as good as the Long Board Lager, but I would still prefer this beer above many.


This beer had a very strong flavor, high in hops, and on the higher end of alcohol (8.5%). I didn’t particularly like the boldness of it. I could tell the beer was quality, the flavor wasn’t bad, and I didn’t dislike it, but I wouldn’t likely choose it very often as it might make me full before my meal does. Somehow this filled me up faster than a heavy dark beer does.


This is one of the beers I have been fascinated by lately. It’s a ‘lambic beer’ made by Lindemans. This is the peach flavor. I like this one as a refreshing drink, but it didn’t make it into my top 3. Very sweet, sour, good full flavor, low alcohol (2.5%). I am most intrigued by the way this beer is made.


This, although it’s not a beer, was a big disappointment. The flavor seemed watery, lower alcohol than I’d expect from a cider (5%), and just overall not very tasty, not refreshing, and not worth drinking again.


Now this one… has been my favorite so far. Since the first drink I had a couple weeks ago, I have been excited about this beer. This is also a ‘lambic’ made by Lindemans, flavored with raspberries. Just the smell gives away the secret that you’re in for a treat. The deep color is amazing, the flavor is like eating a handful of sun-ripened raspberries right off the vine. Every time I finish one of these, I wish I had bought more. And I think I most certainly will…


Thanks for sharing Pete, and keep sending those dispatches from China. We love hearing that craft beer is taking over the world.



When it’s hot as hell…

May 18, 2008 | admin


Why not throw back a Lucifer?

This bottle-conditioned Belgian golden ale is anathema to a long, cold, Montana spring. It is a slightly dangerous reward for a long day spent in a blistering reminder of the extremes of this perch above America’s prairies.

Yes, we live in a hamlet at the “confluence of great trout rivers.” Yes, we live in the “Last Great Place.” Yes, we live in Western Montana, this alpine paradise, but we don’t live in the backwoods.

You can get great beer in Western Montana, heck, you can get awesome local beer at any one of 20-plus breweries within a half-day’s drive. But on a hot Sunday, there is nothing finer than to hit Worden’s Market for a something naughty, or nice, depending on which side of your shoulder you listen to.

Lucifer pours like a Western Montana sunrise. It’s a fine balance between a lightly hoppy and fruity pale ale and a winter warmer. In fact, if you didn’t see the color, you’d think you were drinking something Santa might chill out with after the long haul.

At 8.5 ABV, this bad boy of summertime is the perfect beer for a fine meal on a warm day, or a trip to a sandbar in Alberton Gorge. The stubby bottle is unassuming, and the Italian mocha-colored head softens to a fine spiderweb around the rim of your glass.



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Big Sky Belgian Wit

May 7, 2008 | admin

big sky wit

On days when the sun beats down on Missoula after a long winter, on days when the blue sky promises to go on forever beyond the jagged mountain tops that frame our horizon, on days when the air seems to carry a heaviness born of the perfume of freshly mowed grass, those are the days when taste and thought collide to form a certain permanence.

I love spring for more than sunshine and baseball games.

I love spring because there are tastes that are only associated with it. Chocolate bunnies for one. Chocolate just tastes different shaped like a fluffy bunny. Lamb is another spring taste. You can eat lamb any time of year, but it tastes like it should fresh in the spring.

The Big Sky Belgian Wit is another one of those tastes. Crisp and light, like a mimosa on Easter, the wit beer seems to cross the zones of your mouth like a wedge of Curacao sunshine.

The slight wheat sweetness is balanced by a delicate lactic sourness, which makes this beer a perfect spring salad partner. Throw a spinach and strawberry salad together with a balsamic vinaigrette, and you’ll have the most amazing splash of taste combinations celebrating in your mouth.




Mussels and beer

January 30, 2008 | admin

Mussels are the national dish of Belgium, and though Belgium is not too far from the rich mussel beds of the North Sea, Missoula is about as far away as you can get.

Thanks God for Costco. My wife found a five-pound bag of Penn Cove mussels for $2 something a pound. So on Friday, I picked up some Belgian beer and set out to enjoy one of my favorite types of seafood.


I suffered from the remains of a head cold on Friday afternoon, so I made the decision to spice up our mussels with a Cajun recipe. Because the traditional method of cooking mussels Belgian style calls for beer, shallots, parsley and butter, a Belgian blond is a perfect match so as not to over power the subtleties of the dish.

I was in a bit of a dilemma because I bought some Belgian blond ales to have with the mussels, but I knew they wouldn’t hold up next to my Cajun heat.


So we used these for an appetizer while the mussels simmered and sweat on our stove.

It was a toss up whether to try a strong pale ale, or a Biere de Noele, a leftover Christmas ale.


We decided on the Delirium Tremens from Huyghe Brewery in Melle for the main course, and we enjoyed a bottle of Noel des Geants for dessert. After all, it’s January in Missoula, and Christmas-like weather is probably in the forecast for another few months.

The bigger pale ale, with an eight-percent abv and a little sweetness matched the spicy mussels perfectly. The alcohol, normally, would bring out the spice, which is what I wanted for my ailing nose. But, in this case, the sour and yeasty flavors actually flattened the spice somewhat and brought out the sea-salt flavors of the mussels in their shells.


The Noel des Geants was perfect for after dinner, if not a bit heavy. With raisony notes and hints of cinnamon and clove, this beer brought out some new flavors in the mussels I shucked later in the evening. I’m now debating whether the Noel des Geants would have been a better match with the meal.

Oh, well, that’s why it’s fun to experiment.

I picked up these beers at Worden’s Market.



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Bink Tripel

January 23, 2008 | admin


Red Bird has this interesting tripel from Kerkom brewery in Belgium. It’s called Bink, and it’s hoppier than most tripels. At first I was a bit surprised by the deep, earthy taste of this beer, but then the hop profile expanded once the beer warmed up a bit. Turns out this was a whole new tripel experience for me, and it wasn’t disappointing at all.


Where: Red Bird
Price: $22 for a 750 ml bottle
Thoughts: Rich, earthy with honey notes and caramel apple. Hops come on strong after the beer has warmed and give the beer a floral and earthy, almost grassy taste.



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Not so Grand Cru

January 4, 2008 | admin

You really have to be careful with beer drinkers when introducing them to new styles.

Never has this been more apparent to me than this last trip back to Oregon.

After finding a great little bottleshop in Vancouver, my buddy Jason and I headed back to his place to try a few of our discoveries.

I’d heard about Rodenbach Grand Cru, but I had never tried it.

The lady behind the counter at By the Bottle only had this to say: “If you like balsamic vinegar, you’ll like this beer.”

That’s probably what did it. I have a suspicion that if we had tried it with no hints as to taste, we might not have tasted an overwhelmingly balsamic vinegar taste.
Jason was not impressed at all. I enjoyed a glass of the beer, which became more like balsamic vinegar as it warmed, but two glasses was too much. It was time to move on.

“That is the worst beer I’ve ever had,” Jason said. And I knew it was time to open something else.
We decided to wash down the balsamic taste with a good IPA. We found in in this Botteworks edition brewed by Dick’s Brewing Co., out of Centralia. Although the bottle design didn’t win any points with Jason, who is a hot-shot designer in Portland. Oh, well, you can’t win all the points.
Then again, maybe you can.
This beer was so good that even Jason’s wife, Erika, who doesn’t like beer, liked this beer.
Karmeliet is fantastic, and when you can find it in 12-ounce bottles, all the better.
Dogfish Head’s 120 minute IPA was the bit hit of the evening, though it should have bee reserved for a tasting all on it’s own or with good brandy. It kind of took us out of the beer realm with it’s toasty raisin and leather fruit tastes with minimal hop balance that you’d expect in an IPA.
And of course, we had to end the evening with a can of beer. If for nothing else than to make Jason feel comfortable back in his working-beer realm of PBR and Henry’s. Seriously though, Caldera’s stuff is really good in the can, right up there with the ranks of Oskar Blues and Kettlehouse.




One for the ages

December 21, 2007 | admin

Hello Grizzly Growler readers. I wanted to pause to thank you all for reading and commenting on this blog. I hear from many of you through E-mail or in person, and I’m grateful for your feedback.

I’m off visiting family this week in Oregon, but I’ll keep the blog posted with short news bits about the industry, and keep any good beer-related tips coming.

Also, I wanted to let you know about a special beer available at The Good Food Store.
Lindeman’s Cuvee Rene is a very cool beer. It’s a gueuze, which we haven’t covered much in this blog, but it’s a dandy. And while it’s not something you can just drink as if it were a light beer, with a little confidence, you could match this beer with food or drink as an aperitif, and you may just find your taste buds excited by its unique taste.

Think of it as a wild-fermented wheat beer.

The thing that makes Cuvee Rene special is that it is different from the traditional Lindeman’s offerings here in the United States. We often see the Peche and the Framboise-style lambics, which are good, but which do not come close to the depth and nuance of a Cuvee Rene.

A good friend told me he likes to pick up a few bottles each year. He drinks some and dates the others, and puts them in his cellar. After a few years, he said, you’ve got a nice little cellar collection of really amazing beer.



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Pad Thai and Saison

December 9, 2007 | admin

pad thai3

Matching Asian cuisine with wine is tricky. Typically you would pair spicy Chinese food with a reisling or a Gewurztraminer. However, I can save you a lot of hassle right now.

Forge the wine, or better yet, sip the wine as an aperitif or with appetizers.

If you’re going to do Asian food, especially spicy Asian food, stick with beer.

I decided to do a little taste test last night. I make a mean Pad Thai from scratch. None of that boxed stuff at my house.

My Pad Thai has lot of green flavors, (cilantro and green onions) some residual sweetness and heat from the sauce (mashed up tamarind pulp, fish sauce, cayenne pepper and sugar) and nuttiness. (peanuts)

Finding a wine to match Pad Thai is a nightmare.

After sampling some real saisons from Belgium, some with delightful green flavors like apple, grass or tropical fruit, I thought a nice saison would be a perfect match.

You can find both of these locally. The first is an American, Belgian-style saison from North Coast Brewing Co. in California. La Merle is a bold, spicy and tasty American version of the Belgian farmhouse ale.

Higher in hops than most Belgian saisons, this beer had intense tropical fruit flavors on the nose and in the finish, which complemented the Pad Thai perfectly.




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