Western Montana’s Summit Beverage has an excellent guide to decadent winter beer on its website. The guide has more than 30 beers, from Deschutes’ Stoic to Bayner’s Face Plant to Boston Beer’s Infinium Ale, to help keep you warm on these cold nights. There’s also food pairing recommendation with each brew. Now I assume these are all beers that Summit distributes, so it may be a little biased, but I can’t complain with the choices. You can pick up most these at Worden’s, Pattee Creek Market, Good Food Store, Orange Street and the like.
- Matt Pritchard
As we raced the cold and snowy dark to get back to Missoula, I saw a warm and inviting oasis in Lakeside at Tamarack Brewing Co. Knowing that it was probably my only chance to sneak in and grab some Cross-Eyed Christmas Ale, we pulled off the highway and darted inside. Two quick samples of the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown Ale and the Cross-Eyed Christmas, I went with the holiday ale, because, well, I’m a sucker for holiday ales. The brown will be for another time.
I don’t know a lot about what Craig did with this beer, as he wasn’t there to visit with yesterday, but it’s a fun take on holiday ales. It’s not a heavy duty winter warmer, by any means, but what it lacks in darkness and body, it makes up for in flavor and alcohol. Coming in roughly at 7 percent ABV, I noticed that this has a bit of a jammy taste on the palate, almost a fruitcake fruitiness on the nose and the first few sips. The light body makes me want to think along the lines of a Belgian Tripel, but this beer lacks the yeastiness of that beer. The spice note, if there is one, is very subtle and plays into the fruit. This would be an interesting beer to try with some spicier Christmas food.
And though the alcohol comes across in this beer, the light body and fruitier aspects actually tame it a bit. So if you’re going to imbibe this particular beverage, do so knowing it’s a bigger beer and will pack a big wallop.
On a brief business trip to Kalispell, I had a chance to shoot up the highway to Whitefish and pop into the Black Star Draught House, the bar that serves as a clearing house for the great ales from Great Northern Brewing Co. It was a quick trip, so I ordered a Snow Ghost Winter Lager and stared longingly at the slopes for an hour or so. So did the bar tender, who is really looking forward to ski season, if for nothing more than a little more business in the resort town.
Snow Ghost was a delightful, chewy lager a little heavier on the body than one might expect, but it offers some nice malts that make one think of skiing for some reason. I could totally see cruising down the runs one last time then heading off to the bar for a pint or two of this toasty malt bomb.
I thought the beer had exceptional presence, and though a bit heavy for a quick drive up from Kalispell, it was definitely worth the effort. Definitely an after-ski-trip tummy warmer.
The Black Star Draught House, upstairs at the brewery, is a really cool place to hang out and see how things happen in a brewery. You actually get to sit inside the middle of it all, which makes for a lot of fun. I talked to brewer Andy briefly, and he’s excited about a lot of the upcoming beer specials, as well as their current list of beers. A transplant from the now defunct Lang Creek Brewing Co., Andy seems to enjoy his new digs at Great Northern Brewing Co.
If you’re passing through Polson today, they tapped a keg of the Shotgun Winter Warmer last night. The prediction is that it will be gone by Saturday night. If you had some, let me know what it was like.
I don’t like making lists. Someone inevitably gets left off and then pissed off at me. But, I know some of you really like lists, so I’m going to round out the top local beers of 2008. I may or may not get around to doing my favorite beers anywhere list, so enjoy this one.
In no particular order:
Big Sky Brewing Co. Biere de Noel: I grabbed three or four bottles of this year’s Biere de Noel to take home for the holidays. It was a huge hit last year, so I figured I’d make everyone happy once more. Huge aroma of vanilla, spice, dark chocolate and dried fruit. This beer is so amazingly complex it offers something new an almost every sip. Once warmed, Biere de Noel explodes into rich red wine territory with hints of tobacco, leather and black fruit on the nose and intense vanilla vodka on the palate. With a mouthfeel like warmed brandy, Biere de Noel consumed slowly over the course of a long winter’s evening, can increase the size of a Grinch’s heart three sizes.
Bitter Root Brewing Co. Saison:
Watching many Montana brewers put out batches of this famous French farmhouse ale, I thought it would be fun to compare one against the others. But, being the hardened professionals they are, our brewers outdid themselves in their own right. Not much to compare here, just several great takes on this classic brew. I grabbed a growler of Bitter Root Brewing’s saison to taste at home on a warm August day. The earthiness of the beer comes right off the nose, as does a pleasant grassy smell. It’s not fresh-cut lawn exactly but like when you walk out into a meadow after the sun has warmed the dew. The bready yeastiness of this beer was so good with Asian food and even lighter fare like salads.
Flathead Lake Brewing Co. ROY’S Imperial India Pale Ale:
This is imperial IPA the way imperial IPA should be. Big, over-the-top hops and alcohol meeting in a malty medium of balanced goodness. Fig, dark berries, dried peach and green herbs are evident in the nose, and the mouthfeel is of a serious nature given the high gravity of this beer.
Kettlehouse Brewing Co. Sports Recovery Beer:
The reason I’m picking this beer had to do with the fact that the brewers took time out to consider what kind of beer might fit well with the lifestyle here in Missoula. A light, caffeinated beer with hints of ginseng is a perfect idea for the outdoor-minded community that inhabits this fair valley. Nothing is overdone on this beer, and one feels they can drink a pint shortly after a run, hike or bike without the side-splitting affects of consuming a heavier beer. Kudos to the Kettlehouse crew for pushing the boundaries and keeping beer fun.
Great Northern Brewing Co. Highlander:
While not even closely resembling its noble ancestor, Highlander beer has returned to Western Montana in the form of a scotch-style ale brewed by Great Northern Brewing Co. in Whitefish. This malty dog with hints of smoke and a velvet mouthfeel has become a popular talking point for the folks who still remember when the fabled red and white cans still were available in Missoula and the college crowds alike.
Glacier Brewing Co. Autumn Ale:
I don’t like smoked beers. Might have something to do with ordering a pint of Rogue Ales smoked porter several years ago to find the beer tasted just like smoked salmon. Makes me gag just to think about it. But in the last few years I’ve grown to appreciate the fact that brewers have toned down the smoke for better balance. And so I’ve resumed tasting them. A big one still can take me back to Newport Bay, but a great one can be some of the best food beer on the planet. Glacier’s version has the intense flavor of smoked peat, but the smokiness has a woodsy characteristic more like a Laphroaig scotch. The malt dances on your tongue with the smokiness from spotfires of roasted grains spread out with a silky smooth mouthfeel.
Tamarack Brewing Co. Old Stache Porter:
I didn’t try this beer. But everything I’ve heard about it has led me to add it to this year’s top list. Apparently, this popular whisky barrel aged porter was a hit with skiers and boarders returning from Blacktail Mountain as well as locals and tourists alike. Which is why I didn’t get to try any. Craig, you better save some for me this year.
Happy New Year,
Bayern’s Thorsten Geuer called yesterday with some big news. The brewery is releasing its first new beer since the 1990s ( as far as anyone can recall). Faceplant is a combination of German ingenuity and American marketing savvy. The doppel weizen is a warm and pleasant beer with major wheat characteristics, which gives it a softly sweet texture and keeps the warmth of the higher alcohol content (7.5 percent) in check. Nicely balanced, but with enough attitude to live up to the name, Faceplant is sure to be a favorite up at Snowbowl, the Rhino or in the tap room at Bayern Brewing.