The 21st annual Colorado Brewer’s Festival was last weekend, and I must admit that I was a bit nervous about this year’s new format. Apparently the Old Town Fort Collins merchants had grown tired of the wildly successful and crowed CBF. Rowdy and intoxicated attendees were causing problems and, surprisingly, their business was down over CBF weekend. The merchants claimed attendees were not patronizing their stores and were scaring off other would-be shoppers. So this year the event was moved a couple blocks from Old Town across College to Civic Center Park. There were also other changes. Instead of an entry fee and individual drink tokens,
there was a single ticket charge, which allowed the attendee to drink as many 4-ounce samples as he or she desired. There were two sessions on Saturday, noon to 3 pm and 3pm to 6pm, and one four hour session on Sunday starting at noon. And ticket sales were limited to keep the crowd down. The group I was with attended the Saturday noon session. I must admit that I was not ready to move on after 3 pm. People with the early session tickets were allowed to stay in the Civic Center Park area, but could not longer sample beers at the brewery booths.
With all of that said, the new format was better than I had feared. Laporte Avenue and Howes Street are lined with mature trees and
provided a nice atmosphere. I still prefer Old Town, but it was better than expected. And the crowd was noticeably smaller than in the past. Lines at the brewery sample stations were almost non-existent which was very nice. There were still bands playing during the event, but a bit out of the way. Not quite as nice as the central band location by the pond in Old Town. Still the event offered 58 beers from 32 breweries (basically the same as last year) and a nice atmosphere to sample many of Colorado’s finest offerings. If the event moves back to Old Town, I would be fine with that, but we’ll be back next year regardless. Whether or not you would like the new format probably depends on if you like festivals with big, rowdy crows or a quieter setting with no lines.
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Monday, June 14, 2010
In February Tom Ciccateri, the 2005 BDOTY winner, was back in Denver as a judge for this year’s national Beerdrinker of the Year Finals. Tom knew I spent five years at MSU and visit Bozeman regularly, so he was excited to show me a picture on his camera of the Bozeman Brewing Company tap house. I was embarrassed to say that I had never been there. We joked as to whether or not my title should be revoked since I had not even visited the lone tap house in my second home town!
The tap room for Bozone, as it is affectionately called, is located on 504 N. Broadway in Bozeman, a bit off the beaten path. When I am in Bozeman, usually over MSU Homecoming weekend, I spend most of my time on campus in meetings, or downtown. The brewery is on the exact opposite side of town as the campus tucked away in an industrial area on the north fringes. But a visit to the brewery and adjoining tap house is well worth the bike ride.
The Bozone tap room is like being in a large living room with a bar and numerous tap handles at one end. It is open from 4 – 8 pm, and like all other Montana tap rooms, patrons are limited to 48 ounces of beer.
I was very lucky to get a private tour of the recently renovated brewery from brewer Tucker Kalberg. Bozeman Brewing purchased Spanish Peak’s old equipment after they dismantled in the 90s. For years they produced beers on this seven barrel system. Faced with high demand they were required to upgrade their entire system to a new 20 barrel system that also employs a number of 40 barrel cylindrical-conical unitanks for fermentation. Their facility is quite large, and they still have adequate room for further expansion according to Tucker.The first beer I tried was the Pinhead Pils. (6.3% abv) It was very pale in color with a nice firm head. It was a clean Pilsner with a noticeable presence of alcohol, and it finished with a barely detectible note of diacetyl. (so does Pilsner Urquell) Pinhead had a nice hop balance from start to finish. I noticed that it was a very high alcohol Pilsner, and then I also noticed that all of their offerings were quite strong – all over 6%. This may be the Bozone way of “getting around” the 48 ounce per person limit.
Tucker said once per year they make a special wet-hop beer made with “C” hops all grown locally in the Gallatin Valley. A celebration of the fall harvest and local ingrediants. This beer sounds very unique and like quite a treat – especially for hop lovers. I’ll have to visit next fall when it is on tap.
I won’t go into details about the other beers, you’ll have to visit yourself and try them out. Don’t worry about too much about not being able to sample them given the limit, they do offer flights of beer (four 4 ounce glasses of your choice), and if you still don’t get a chance to sample all of their styles, just take home a couple growlers, or come back the next day. There is no better place in the States to visit than Bozeman. So hang out and stay for a while. With that said, I have one final note. When I woke up on Friday morning it was snowing. (It will snow in July too) The locals wanted me to make sure and point that out. Tourism is great, but rich immigrants wear on the natives. Bozemanites love harsh winters and are doing their best to chase the flat-landers back to their warm weather states!
Saturday, June 12, 2010
I am back in the Big Sky for an 18 day tour through God’s Country. Every state has their own unique liquor laws, and Montana is no different. As a way to promote the craft brewing industry, the state legislature passed MT Law 16-3-213. This ordinance allows breweries to serve beer at a tap room without an expensive liquor license as long as nobody is served more than 48 ounces, and as long as they close by 8 pm. Most of these tap rooms are open from 4 – 8 pm and give their guests a three-punch card to keep track of the beer consumed.
One of my favorite tap rooms is Carter’s in Billings on Montana Avenue. It has a nice atmosphere with indoor seating right next to the open brew house. Space is tight because oak barrels full of sour and wild beers take up a good portion of the seating area. Carter’s is right next to the railroad and Mike (owner/brewer) just added on a small deck out the back door next to the tracks to accommodate more thirsty guests. Trains and brewing seem to go together.
Mike does not discriminate against nationality in his extensive list of offerings. He serves a Dort and Kölsch (Germany), Bitter and Mild (England), Farmhouse and Saison (Belgium), as well as great American styles like his Black IPA. In addition to the draft selections, patrons can also buy 750 ml bottles of Carter’s Saison for six dollars to take home. This is a real steal. I just finished his 2009 vintage, which is partially fermented with brettanomyces and is a bit drier than previous vintages that I have had. It is a very nice, floral and complex Saison. I recommend purchasing a couple bottles since they are so reasonable. Drink one now and lay the others down to see how they mature over the years.
The picture I’ve inserted is from Walhalla – my property on the Yellowstone river. As you can see I was “roughing it” and did not have the proper glass to drink the Saison in, but the peace and tranquility of the open space and river made it taste just fine none the less.
After my stay in Billings, I headed to the mountains with my brother to do some hiking. Con has a plot of land at the base of Black Butte Mountain in the East Rosebud river valley. After a cup of coffee and some socializing with the locals that live in the area, including famous Native American artist John Potter, we headed up into the Beartooths for a hike up to Elk Lake. As a reward after finishing up the seven mile hike, we though we'd treat ourselves to a couple of drafts. So we packed up and headed toward Red Lodge to visit the Red Lodge Ales tap room. But most roads out of the Beartooths lead through Roscoe, and Roscoe is home of the famous Grizzly Bar. As we passed, we had to pull over. It is hard to drive by without stopping. Con and I had a quick Bent Nail IPA. Two beers cost us $3.50 – that is how you know you are in Montana! And for another $15 you can buy your own “Where the hell is Roscoe” t-shirt. It is a tiny blip off the road, but every good Montanan knows where Roscoe and the Grizzly Bar are.
After the quick stop we finally made our way over to the Red Lodge Ales Brewery. Since I was last there a year and a half ago they moved a couple miles out of town to a new and much larger facility. The old tap room was a bit tight, especially since dogs often outnumber the two-legers. The new location is very open with a glassed-off view of the new 20 barrel system and bottling line. Strong demand required them to expand from their old seven barrel system. Most of the interior was made out of scrap material off of an old family barn and the decor has a nice retro/modern feel. Outside there is also a patio and grass court where people can eat, drink and play frisbee under a beautiful mountain backdrop. Red Lodge Ales is technically not a tap house. They have a tavern license which allows them to serve more than three pints and stay open later like a more traditional bar.
I sampled their Maibock, which was honey colored with a big malty flavor and a pleasant dry finish. A nice, clean, strong lager. I also enjoyed a pint of their nitro tap Porter. The nitrogen pour made this a very smooth beer which tasted sweetish – almost like lactose had been added in the boil. I also detected a hint of vanilla. Dark, smooth and tasty. Stop by if you are in the area. Red Lodge is about an hour south of Billings, and the brewery in on the right before you get into town.
Stay tuned for more to come from Bozeman…