I ran into Bjorn Nabozney at Big Sky Brewing Company the other day, and he asked if I’d been on vacation. It wasn’t the sun-tanned skin and the tank top and shorts I was attired in that gave me away, it was a week away from my Grizzly Growler beer blog. Not long before that, Nabozney had returned from a 110-mile north to south traverse of the Bob Marshall wilderness with his kids, and he happened to check out the Growler looking for updates on what is going on in the beer world in Montana and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the last posting was from August 5th.
I broke the cardinal rule of blogging, which is some variation of; Post often, Post Every Day, Post Frequently, Post Regularly, etc., etc.
But I’m not all that sorry I did, and here is why.
The digital world is in constant flux and keeping up takes a diligence I didn’t know was available here on earth. Keeping up with blog posts, Facebook, Twitter and other social media is like keeping up with newborn triplets. There are an awful lot of diapers to change right after feeding time, if you know what I mean.
Information comes rolling in at a pace that can be difficult to keep up with, so this year I decided to turn my phone off and unplug for a week, which was almost impossible, because we took a “staycation” this year.
I wasn’t able to completely live out my week Internet free, as I posted some photos and updates to Facebook, but I spent my evenings talking to friends and my days tooling around enjoying the best of Western Montana, including some great craft beers.
I didn’t take photos or make notes of each beer I tried, I just really enjoyed the circumstances surrounding each experience. In this way, I come back a little refreshed and ready for the fall beer season, which is arguably the real power-ale season in Montana and around the country.
That said, there were a few craft-beer highlights from my week off.
1. Enjoying some cold Scapegoat in cans after riding roller coasters all day at Silverwood Theme Park.
2. Having an old Rasputin and eating super chocolaty brownies with the first guy I ever had a craft beer with.
3. Sharing a growler of Imperial Pilsner from Big Sky Brewing Company with my friends as we floated down the Blackfoot River on Sunday.
Sometimes a little getaway can really clear the mind, and with our lives becoming increasingly digital, it’s important to be able to disconnect once-in-a-while and feel, well, disconnected again.
Did you know there is a parallel between coffee and beer? I did. But after watching this Ignite Missoula presentation by beer buddy Jon, I now understand that parallel much more.
Why am I pushing a coffee video on this blog? Because beer buddy Jon and I share a lot of the same opinions about coffee, tea, beer, wine, spirits, you name it. If you can drink it and it brings people together, we think about it.
Besides, all you have to do is substitute beer every time he says coffee in the video, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. But this is about coffee, so watch it and learn.
If pressed, I’ll usually tell people my favorite single beer that I return to time and time again is North Coast Brewing Company’s Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.
For several years, my best friend and I would get up at 6 a.m. on Sunday mornings and prepare a huge breakfast for 60 + people. We’d peel potatoes, brew coffee, slice up breakfasts steaks or unpack bacon and sausage. Then we’d load everything up in a big trailer and head down to the Marion Street Bridge in Salem, Oregon. We’d unpack several large camp stoves and some big boilers and start making breakfast as a bunch of hungry homeless guys stood nearby and warmed there hands over frying bacon.
It started as a mere curiosity, a question really. Can you feed 60 + homeless guys every week on a portion of the tips you make serving at a bar? My best friend since childhood asked himself that question and decided to challenge himself to the task. But it was no ordinary breakfast. Just a block away from the bridge, the Union Gospel Mission feeds sober men a diet rich in sweet carbohydrates if they’ll sit and listen to a sermon first. The breakfast Jason created, “Sunday Morning Breakfast,” would feature proteins, specifically in the form of eggs, bacon, sausage, and when we could afford it, breakfast steak. And there was no sermon. As Jason put it, “food is a basic right. You can’t dangle it as a carrot for other things.” And to Jason, good food was more than a right, it was an expression of care that gave value to people that society considers trash.
Jason roped me in early, and we combined our tips to buy large, inexpensive roasts that we cut up on the slicer at the brew pub we both worked at during those years. Our main goal was to give these guys something special, something many probably hadn’t had in years. And over the course of our two-year experiment, we saw that number rise from 60 to close to 200. People would come from as far as Los Angeles and tell us they’d heard about “The Sunday Morning Breakfast.”
Our combined tips were about $60 to $70 at the time. As our needs grew, people would pitch in a new stove or a big boiler, a few bucks here and there, maybe a box of onions from their farm. In two years we never had to reach much deeper than our original $30 each. The needs were always met, and we made fast friends with a bunch of guys, including women and children, who the world would normally cast off.
It would be easy to say the reward in our labors was the smile on their faces and the huge grins when a toothless man would look longingly at a breakfast steak, and Jason’s wife, Erika, would cut it up into tiny pieces he could gnaw on. Of course those were the rewards, how could they not be?
But every Sunday, we’d drive the dirty pots and pans back to Jason’s house and spread them out on the front lawn, where we’d set up an impromptu dish washing station. And as we finished and let the big pots dry in the sun, we’d crack open a bottle of Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout and sit down with our legs in the grass and talk about what the world would be like if everyone knew how easy an economical it was to help others and give them value. It was over those big, roasted malts and that tangy, dry hopped bitterness in that huge beer that we formed some of the thoughts that would drive us both to go to college in our late 20s and early 30s to pursue degrees that we felt could help inform the world about social injustice. Jason studied art and now runs his own design studio, and I pursued journalism and communication. But our conversations over beer in a veritable outdoor kitchen drying on the lawn before us really shaped who we’d eventually become.
We both went our separate ways, he to Portland, Oregon and bigger challenges with a huge homeless population and I to Montana and a whole different notion of wealth and poverty.
Sadly, when we tried to get a few others to take over “Sunday Morning Breakfast,” we found no takers. Despite the $60-a-week cost, no one wanted to take on the vision Jason had several years before. And so we disbanded it, and the men and woman under the Marion Street Bridge are eating day-old donuts and crusty bread leftover from bakeries and listening to sermons to get a hot cup of soup on a cold afternoon again.
Occasionally Jason and I will get together and pick up a few Old Rasputins and relive the “Sunday Morning Breakfast.”
There are a few beers out there that are permanently stuck to memories for me. Old Rasputin brings back one of my favorite memories.
And today, when I saw that Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout X Anniversary Edition scored 100 on www.ratebeer.com, it brought back a flood of memories.
That means that I need to go in search of one of these anniversary beers, set up a video chat with Jason and plan the next version of “Sunday Morning Breakfast.”
My wife and I walked into the Big Sky Brewing Co. with our daughter Gabrielle a few weeks ago, and we bellied up to the standing bar while she played with dolls and otherwise entertained the after-work crowd. Pretty soon the people around us were talking to us and to our daughter as we enjoyed the sample-size tasters of Big Sky’s Powder Hound and IPA. I couldn’t help but notice that the lady standing next to my wife had the same eyes as Alix Jennings, who was serving beer. My suspicion, at the time, was that this lady and the gentlemen next to her were likely Alix’s parents visiting from out of town. Ten minutes later my suspicions were confirmed, as they asked our daughter questions, which eventually blossomed into a long and delightful conversation about raising children, beer and even some light politics.
That’s the thing I love about beer, it’s not the beer itself, although it certainly has its benefits. But it’s the role craft beer plays as a lubricant to conversation and social interaction. The theory has been tested in bars and other watering holes for years, but nowhere does it hold true like it does in tap rooms and pubs that serve locally made beer.
Go into any tap room in Montana, and you’ll likely find a family friendly environment where your children can enjoy root beer and the camaraderie of other kids, while overworked parents can actually relax and, greased by the art and beauty of craft beer, engage in intelligent and life-giving conversation.
I know too many parents who are constrained by tight budgets and lack of babysitters and who do not get to socialize beyond each other and their children. And this is not a bad thing in and of itself. But imagine if they could unwind once-a-week with other people in an environment that is clean, safe and fun.
Sure, this concept could happen anywhere. Coffee shops come to mind, cafes and restaurants as well as outdoor venues are all possibilities for this type of conversation. But this is where beer is the key ingredient for this type of fellowship to take place. You see, in those subtle bubbles just beneath the foam, there is a little bit of happiness that overrides the common stressors of the day. In moderation, the beverage of the gods allows people to relax and enjoy one another rather than to carry all the worries of the workplace or the hustle and bustle of raising children with them all the time.
A well-placed pint of beer with the family in tow and interaction with friends and strangers alike can have a good effect on a person, which then has a ripple effect on the family.
I don’t say this without experience. Two-and-a-half years after moving to Missoula, my kids still enjoy going to the tap room with me on a Friday afternoon or on Sundays after returning from a long hike in the Bitterroot Mountains.
And me, well, I like running into people like Alix’s parents at our tap rooms. It gives me perspective beyond this little town and helps me to maintain my belief that people are generally good when they are content. And I can think of no greater contentment than to be happy with one’s family with a pint of something magical in your hand. Or a taster, as the case may be.
I stumbled across this excellent description of the natural progression of a beer palate on Beer Advocate, and I wanted to share it with you, because it’s a valuable resource. Please check out the original post and the comments posted in the forum as a followup.
The Natural Progression of a Beer Palate
I have had a few small and large conversations with fellow BAs over the past few months about this concept, and it still fascinates me to think about it; hence this thread (my apologies ahead of time for the length here).
It seems as though there is a loose progression that all palates take when exploring new flavors and styles in beer, and my personal experience falls right into it. I am mildly convinced that it is mostly psychological, but there could be some physiological basis for it as well. The progression is as follows:
A. Generally BAs begin their explorations into better beers through the maltier and sweeter styles, like the stouts, porters, ambers, etc.. This is most likely because these beers mostly resemble foods and drinks that people are already used to: coffee, bread, caramel and chocolate flavors, etc..
B. Next, as the palate gets familiar with beer-related taste profiles, the more extreme and distinct styles are preferred, like an IPA, DIPA, Strong Ale, Barleywine, RIS. Usually this happens first with the malt bombs and progresses to the hoppier styles.
C. Third, the more obscure beers and out of the ordinary flavors become the target, like Sour Ales, Gruits, Cask Beers, and other styles that are hard to get into. The basis of knowledge that comes from A and B is what allows a full appreciation of these styles.
D. lastly, the progression comes full circle and the well-done lighter styles are truly appreciated for what they are: like a good Czech Pils or a good Kolsch. This could be because the palate has been dialed into what beer should be, and can pick it out of the most subtle styles.
Now, this is in no way absolute for any drinker, but through my conversations I have learned that most palates go through a process similar to this one. Also, I do believe that through diverse culinary experiences, one can appreciate the more obscure beers with more ease.
What are your experiences? Does this hypothesis carry weight?
Weekends are for good strenuous work, be it hiking or mowing the lawn. Good strenuous work calls for good refreshment.
Contrary to popular belief, I’m not all beer all the time. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to enjoy many other adult beverages in season. What do I mean by in season? Well, drinks, like foods, are seasonal. And just like tires, some drinks are all season.
Beer definitely fits into the all-season category as do martinis. The seasonality of drinks can be broken down to hours of the day as well. There are drinks that are acceptable for the three-cocktail working lunch, and then there is happy hour. Beer is acceptable in between just as it is during happy hour, but a three-beer lunch is frowned upon. Why? Because three beers would leave you nearly comatose in the heat of the afternoon. Because of their filling nature, three beers would have more affect on you in the drowsy hours than three cocktails.
Weekends are another way to break down the consumation of adult beverages.
While Friday nights might start with a cocktail hour, beer is a popular choice as the evening progresses, though wine might find its way into your glass if you’re out checking out art galleries or something similar.
The problem is that you don’t want to start with beer, switch to liquor or wine and then finish with beer unless you have the stomach of a god. And, for the record, I don’t recommend consuming beverages in that style anyway. It’s called binge drinking, and it ain’t good.
However, if you are going to drink alcoholic beverages during the weekend, there are a few things you might want to consider. A beer at happy hour will produce less of a buzz and a fuller feeling taking you into dinner time less than famished. A glass of wine with dinner is perfectly acceptable, though we all know beer is as good with food as wine and drinking a glass of water in between will help you maintain a balance in your system.
If you are moving about from place to place, cocktails to end the evening are a fine choice as well, and if you’ve consumed in moderation, you should be in feeling no ill effects from mixing beverages, contrary to the popular slogan: that beer before liquor, never sicker.
Imbibing is all about your system and what it can handle. If you really enjoy adult beverages, drinking fewer, finer styles will leave you with a quality experience, where as drinking a bunch of a cheaper drink or drinks will leave you needing some hair of the dog on Saturday morning.
Speaking of which, Saturday mornings are a perfectly acceptable time to drink mimosas, a Bloody Mary or even a beer. That’s right, breakfast beer is a great idea for a brunch treat. Try a full-flavored Belgian beer with breakfast sausages, crepes, eggs-any-style or even pancakes.
A cold, light beer is as refreshing as a martini after a hard day of mowing lawns, and if you’re going to wine club on Saturday nights, try not to drink anything really hoppy or strong before hand. You’ll blow your palate out before it can even get started.
Drinking rules are not hard and fast. But, if you enjoy a good beverage, and if it improves conversation and adds to your basic experience, then enjoy in moderation.
Because we all know what it means when someone says, “Dude, I can’t drink tequila any more.”
Alix at Big Sky Brewing Co. turned me on to this story several months ago. I never realized how significant it could be, proving that if you ask the right question, you’ll often get a great story.
The number in the left-hand corner of the chalkboard in the Big Sky Brewing Co. taproom gets bigger every Thursday: 614, 615, 616.
Inevitably, patrons ask taproom server Alix Jennings, “What’s that number mean?”
“Let me tell you about Kimo,” Jennings replies.
Almost 12 years ago, Kimo Galland lost his close friend Mark Sowre to suicide.
“Mark and I were bicycle-racing buddies,” Galland remembers. “I didn’t know he had some real demons inside of him that were really haunting him.”
After Sowre’s death, Galland and a group of guys who’d been friends since grade school decided to check up on each other every Thursday.
In those early days, three or four guys would meet at each other’s houses.
“We decided to get together each Thursday, drink a couple beers, eat a good meal, play some games and sit around and talk and make sure everyone was happy with themselves and with everybody else,” Galland said.
They called it the Safety Meeting, and Galland offered to pick up a couple of growlers of Moose Drool beer each Thursday because he worked near the brewery’s former downtown location.
Numbers mean something to Galland.
Whether he’s counting the 400 people on his list of Missoula hockey enthusiasts, the 200 to 300 pairs of skates he sharpens each week during hockey season, the score of the last Maulers game, Wayne Gretzky’s 14 consecutive 100-or-more-point seasons, or his own streak at Big Sky Brewing, Galland is nothing if not meticulous.
On Thursday, he waited for a friend to pick him up from his job at Bob’s Sew & Vac – where he also runs the hockey store – for the weekly ride to Big Sky.
In the car, Galland and his former boss, David Gjefle, talked about the Safety Meeting.
“We’ve never really missed one, have we?” Gjefle said.
“No, we never have.” Galland said.
“You’ve been an absolute trouper,” Gjefle told Galland. “There were times when you didn’t feel well and you just went anyway.”
“OK, let’s see what Alix is up to today,” Galland said.
Galland has seen eight different servers since his streak began.
With a wet thumb, he smudged out the 6 at the end of the number and replaced it with a 7 as one of his six growlers was filled with Moose Drool.
Thus was marked week 617 in a streak that stretches back to the middle of the Clinton presidency, before Sept. 11, 2001, before Big Sky Brewing Co. built its state-of-the-art facility out by Missoula International Airport.
“I’ve always kept it,” Galland said of his number. “It started in the brewery downtown. Old Russ, every Thursday he’d know I was coming in,” he said of a longtime taproom server. “When they moved out here, they had a chalkboard, so I started writing it down in the corner.”
Galland has never missed a Thursday in nearly 12 years of coming to Big Sky Brewing Co. to get his growlers for the Safety Meeting.
The closest call came when Galland was so ill he had to sit in the car and wait for a friend to fill the growlers for him.
The number 617 represents a commitment to more than his favorite beer. It’s a commitment to the memory of a good friend, the commitment to a group of guys who faithfully look out for each other.
“In nine years, I think I’ve missed one,” Gjefle said, sipping on one of the brewery’s several sample brews. “I ditched my mother-in-law’s wedding for a Safety Meeting.”
Gjefle was not one of the original members of the Safety Meeting, but it’s been a huge part of his life since he joined.
“Well, you know how stress builds up in life?” Gjefle said. “Your stress just goes away after a Safety Meeting.”
Board games, hockey games, beer, steak, camaraderie and an endless list of topics characterize a typical Safety Meeting.
“Maybe somebody has a personal problem,” Gjefle said. “Everybody supports them. We get serious about things as well.”
If somebody runs out of money on a poker night, they can’t just say, “I’m out.”
“Nope, somebody throws them the cash,” Gjefle said. “You’re in.”
At the 260-week mark, Galland picked up some growlers as usual, and the friends went to a bar called the Lumberjack.
“They had a horseshoe pit, so we played horseshoes until dark,” Galland said.
That’s how you celebrate a five-year anniversary at Safety Meeting.
At the 520-week mark, the whole gang got together at somebody’s house to celebrate.
“We talked about Mark,” Galland said. “It had been 10 years, and he was our close friend.”
Alix Jennings looks forward to Galland’s weekly visits, too.
“Well, I mean, it’s one of those things, and I’m sure I had the question as well: ‘What does he do on holidays? What does he do when he goes out of town? What does he do when he’s sick?’ ” Jennings said.
On Thanksgiving, Galland visited the brewery on Wednesday instead of Thursday.
Other than that, he plans road trips to hockey games so they won’t interfere with Safety Meeting.
Meanwhile, the number in the corner of the chalkboard at Big Sky Brewing grows bigger and more meaningful.
“I’d say people ask about the number at least five times a week, if not more,” Jennings said.
Galland pays for his six growlers, up from the original two he’d pick up every week because Safety Meeting has grown to 15 or 20 people.
He looks down at the growlers in their wooden carrying case.
“Six hundred and seventeen,” he says. “That is a long streak.”
“I thought the first couple of years were great,” Galland said. “We were going to everyone else’s house for dinner. I thought, ‘OK, couple of years down the road it will be over,’ but it’s kind of hung on. Now it’s so big it’s unstoppable.”
Saw this picture in an Internet cafe in Calcutta.
Which one are you?
The term probably has more significance for brewery workers than your average beer-drinking Joe, but I’d like to expound upon it from an everyman’s point of view.
The thought of cheating on your brewery or favorite beer crossed my mind last night as I stood sipping an IPA at the Big Sky Brewing Co. taproom chatting with one of my favorite cellarers.
As the clean aroma of hops cleared my mind, momentarily wiping away thoughts of the variety of beers available in Montana, I was transported back to a simpler time. It was a time when I loved IPAs to the point of hunting them obssesively.
“Do you have an IPA?” became my constant query upon entering any establishment. Oh, I’d drink a porter or a stout in season, but, invariably, my interests, my constant attention went to that hoppy queen of beers.
I was, you could say, in love.
If you ever find yourself staring at the inspired words on the white board above the bar at Kettlehouse Brewing Co., than I’m sure you will be grateful, as I am, to discover that our favorite Missoula philosopher and Green Bay Guru, Al, is online.
They won’t have the magic of his hand-written white-board sermons, but you’ll find the meat of what he’s saying here.
September 26th, 2008 In: Taproom News …I’m here comin’ at-cha in cybersapce. I always thought that people “enjoyed” my white board rants mostly because of the beer that they had already drank. ie beer makes me seem funnier? Well this is the real test. Can i be “cyber-funny/entertaining? The answer is probably not, but we’ll see. Don’t untuck, skip the debate or bail out your rich banker friends untill you’ve read this…….the end is not near…….an infant in your lap may dampen your spirits………