Saturday, December 15, 2012

2013 Beerdrinker of the Year Search

You could be the next Beerdrinker of the Year!

You could be the next Beerdrinker of the Year. If you are reading this blog you are a beer lover – and that is the first step! To apply you need to submit a Beer Resume. This document must include your beer philosophy, details on your passion for beer, and your 2012 beer experiences. It should “detail the entrant’s understanding of beer and its history and importance to civilization, and the entrant’s efforts to educate others to the joys of great beer.”

And all of this cannot exceed three 8.5 x 11″ pages in 12-point font. Your beer resume needs to be emailed into the Wynkoop no later than December 31st. There are a few other rules, so make sure and check out the official Beerdrinker of the Year web site for all of the details. (

As an example, and to view the resume that got me into the finals, check out my 2009 resume. Each year, all of the beer resumes received by the Wynkoop are reviewed and thinned down to the top 10, at which point they are sent out to a panel of experts around the country to select the three finalists. Those lucky three will be flown to Denver for the finals on February 23th, 2013, at which time seven wigged & robed judges will ultimately select the winner.

The winner will receive free beer for life at the Wynkoop, $250 at their local brewpub or beer bar, apparel, and their name will be engraved on the Beerdrinker of the Year trophy at the Wynkoop Brewery.

A good resume will take some work, so hopefully you’ve already started, or are touching up a previous year’s application. (I submitted a resume in 1997 and 2005 before my 2009 resume got me to the finals.) I encourage all of you to take a shot at the ultimate beer accolade!

Westvleteren XII

I'm sure you all heard the news this week.  The Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren needs a new roof, in addition to some other repairs, so the reclusive and silent order decided to sell a limited number of six-packs of their famous Westvleteren XII to the US market.  This is a temporary promotion, and don't expect it to come back.  This order of monks is not interested in making money, which they could obviously make a lot of if they wished.  Needless to say they are not capitalists.  Typically their beer is only available, on a very limited basis, sold directly from the monastery.

The six-packs are going for around $85, which is actually a deal.  The four liquor stores in Colorado lucky enough to get 35 six packs of the limited distribution all sold out in minutes.

Did I get one?  No, I did not.  But I've had Westvleteren XII before in 2008 during a trip to Sweden.  Our B&B was located in the Soedermalm district of Stockholm.  Near our flat was a bar and restaurant called Akkurat.  If you ever visit Stockholm, a visit to Akkurat is a must.  Upon entering the bar and bellying-up, the tender gave me a small-phone-book-sized list of their unique bottled and tap beers.  There were specialties from Sweden, Germany, Belgium, etc.  After a few beers and some discussion, the bartender said, "you sound like you know a thing or two about beer."  He took away the beer menu I had and replaced it with a large-phone-book-sized list of their beer.

I've never seen anything like this before.  For example, you could not only order Chimay Red, White, or Blue - you could also pick the vintage.  A 2002 Red, or 1998 White, for example.  They had quite a cellar collection.

Then I saw Westvleteren XII.  I pointed and asked, "You don't really have this?"  I've been to Belgium numerous times, and never seen that beer for sale.  The bartender replied, "Of course we do."  I don't know how they got it (it is not supposed to be resold), but they did.  I ordered one.  To this day it is the most expensive single beer I've purchased in my life.  Around $60 for one 1/3 liter bottle. 

Westvleteren bottles have no label.  All of the information required by the EU to sell an alcoholic beverage is printed on the colored cap - the color being the primary way to differentiate between their three offerings.  The bartender used a Swedish Crown coin over the cap and carefully opened the beer.  It was served in the proper glass, and he presented me with the pristine bottle cap to boot.  The rest is history.  And yes, it was worth the hype.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Brettanomyces and Anchorage Brewing Company

Over the past few years the use of Brettanomyces and other non-traditional organisms during fermentation has become all the rage.  At this year's Great American Beer Festival I pleasantly experienced few lines - except those lines for the funky and sour beers.  They seem to be a magnet for GABF-goers.  In this post I will provide some basic background information about "Brett" in beer and use the Anchorage Brewing Company as a vehicle for this discussion.

Anchorage Brewing Company

This blog entry was inspired by a 750ml bottle of Anchorage Brewing Company's Galaxy White IPA.  Galaxy White transported me back to last summer's trip to Alaska.   Fellow Beerdrinker of the Year, Bill Howell, tipped me off to Anchorage Brewing before our visit.  There are a couple of attributes that make this brewery quite unique.

This relatively new brewery is run by former Midnight Sun head brewer Gabe Fletcher.  The small "brewery" is actually in the basement of yet another brewery - the Sleeping Lady.  Gabe does not have his own Sudhaus, rather he rents time on Sleeping Lady's upstairs.  Technically this is not contract brewing.  Gabe does all of the work himself, with his ingredients, just on someone else's equipment.  This lets him focus on what really makes his beers unique - experimenting with wild fermentation and different woods.  Chardonnay barrels, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, etc.  Most of his beers are triple fermented.  Primary fermentation is carried out in stainless steel, which is followed by a long secondary in French oak dosed with Brettanomyces, and a final fermentation takes place to carbonate the bottle - usually 750ml bombers.  All of his beers are fermented at least in part by Brett.

Galaxy White IPA

What is a "White IPA" you ask?  Well, the style has not been defined.  Not until now anyway.  Galaxy is a marriage of the Belgian Wit (white) style, which is a spiced wheat beer, and an IPA, which is a higher-gravity aggressively hopped beer.  As you can imagine the result is quite diverse.  In the production of this beer Gabe uses Indian coriander, black peppercorns, Galaxy hops from Australia (hence the name), fresh kumquats from Asia, and ferments the concoction with a Belgian Wit yeast.  The beer is further aged in Brett inoculated French oak.

Galaxy pours a pale hazy yellow capped by a brilliant, fluffy white head.  The aroma is heavy on citrus from the single hop used.  Notes of lemon and grapefruit are present.  Coriander may also be contributing to a hint of orange.  The nose may be subtle, but the flavor is not.  In true IPA fashion, there is plenty of citrus and bitterness coupled with a slight sourness.  There is a very characteristic pineapple twang that comes from the Brettanomyces.  The finish is long with the peppercorns showing up at the very end.  Overall Galaxy White IPA is a very complex and impressive beer.

Taking a gamble with Brett?

Gabe has basically built his brewery around Brett. This "bug" has become quite popular as of late, and all of Anchorage Brewing's beers are at least partially fermented with it.  So what is all the fuss about this microorganism?  Why are some beer lovers obsessed with it?  And exactly what is it?


Brettanomyces was discovered in the early 1900s by the Carlsberg brewery in Denmark while investigating spoilage in English Ales.   Many people do not realize this, but Brett is a form of yeast.  With that said it is a bit different than common/traditional brewing yeasts.  Brettanomyces is a non-spore forming genus of yeast, where as Saccharomyces cerevisiae reproduces via budding.  (By the way, Saccharo-myces is derived from the Greek "sugar fungus," and Brettano-myces from Greek meaning "British fungus.")  The different reproductive cycle influences the growth of Brettanomyces, which is much slower than typical brewer's yeasts.  Brewers who work with Brett know this well.  Brett character develops over time during long fermentation schedules.  Like ordinary yeast Brettanomyces will produce esters and phenols.  However, unlike ordinary yeast it is a lactic and acetic acid producer.

Brettanomyces occurs naturally living on the skins of fruit.  Before the single cell Saccharomyces strains were isolated and understood, most beers brewed probably had some form of Brett character to them.  Spread mechanically during harvest, the wind, via insects, or other means, Brett would find its way into fermenting worts.  The open and spontaneous fermentation of Belgian Lambic beers is one example of "contamination" where nature has taken its course.

Over the years this wild yeast has played a role in both the brewing and wine making industries, which the latter generally considers a spoiling organism and avoids like the plague.  Most brewers outside of Belgium typically did also, though now its cult following is leading to a resurgence. 

The Super Yeast

Brettanomyces is a super-attenuating form of yeast.  If left alone in the proper conditions long enough, Brett beers can become quite dry.  One good example is the world-class Belgian Trappist beer Orval.  It is fermented traditionally, but dosed with Brettanomyces for bottle conditioning.  Especially if aged at cellar temperature for a year or more, Orval can become very dry and lack body.  (Why many people seek it out.)

Brett has the ability to ferment higher molecular weight sugars and even Dextrins that Saccharomyces are not able to process.   Typical yeast feeds on mono and disaccharides with the ability to ferment some trisaccharides.  (Lager yeast being the most capable - and are generally a bit more attenuative than ale yeast.)  Dextrins, four or more glucose molecules, are not fermentable by normal yeast.  These Dextrines add body to beer.  Brett slowly works away at these longer chained molecules.  This explains the dryness of Orval.

Another distinguishing factor of Brettanomyces is that it produces a thick, snot-like pellicle on the top of the fermenting beer.  Belgian brewers sometime talk about their beer "getting sick."  This is a result of the Brett fermentation.  Oak barrels, which cannot be sanitized, are ideal for harboring Brett.  So are other porous and difficult to clean surfaces.  Belgian Lambic brewers do not disturb the brewery's environment leaving their delicate balance alone.  But as an experimenting home brewer, work with caution to ensure there is no cross contamination or Brett contamination in general.  Once Brett gets a foothold in a brewery, it can be almost impossible to eradicate.

Flavor Profile

Brettanomyces is not one specific microorganism.  Just like yeast there are many different strains of Brett.  Many Belgian breweries speak of "house" strains, similar to how old breweries have house strains of yeast.  Major yeast suppliers such as Wyeast and White Labs supply different cultures of Brettanomyces as well as some blends that contain Brett as well as bacteria specific to wild beer fermentations such as Flanders Red and Lambics.  The suppliers offer good flavor profiles for their strains, though environmental factors can greatly influence the resulting characteristics of the beer, so results may very.  But the descriptions provide a good general guideline of what to expect.

The wild flavors produced by Brett vary greatly depending on the strains, but here are some of the most common descriptors: sweaty horse blanket ("horsy"), pie cherry, pineapple, mouse urine ("mousy"), smoky, barnyard, antiseptic, cheese... the list goes on.  I can detect Brett pretty well, but often have a difficult time articulating the flavor and aroma.  Though pie cherry and pineapple are two that really jump out at me in most Brett inoculated beers.


Above I mention Lambic breweries and the physical buildings being infected.  Years ago in Belgium I toured the Cantillion Lambic brewery.  Upon entering the barn-like structure housing the brewery the tangy wild smell was unmistakable.  And Cantillion's Gueuze tasted exactly like the building smelled.  When Michael Jackson spoke of terrior, this is what he was talking about.  The spontaneous fermentation that takes place in that building cannot be reproduced anywhere else in the world.
Lambic Fermenting at Cantillion

Brett Beer Styles

Here is a list of beers typically associated with a Brettanomyces fermentation.  Many of the beer styles below include a cocktail of "bugs," such as acid producing bacteria, in addition to Brett.  Although there are exceptions of 100% Brettanomyces fermented beers, standard ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) typically processes a majority of the fermentables even in wild beers.  The other microorganisms add character, and can be overwhelming if left unchecked.

If you are not already a Brett-lover, seek out some of these beers and let me know what you think of this super attenuating, acid producing, wild yeast.

  • Lambic and its sub-styles Gueuze, Fruit Lambic (Kreik, Framboise, etc.), Faro and Mars
  • Flanders Red Ales
  • Some Farmhouse Ales
  • Some Saisons
  • Sour Belgian Ales
  • Some English Old Ales
  • Anchorage Brewing Company's offerings
  • Numerous American "funky" beers cropping up lately

Post Publishing Note

I would like to make a clarification about Anchorage Brewing Company's fermentation regiment.  This update comes from fellow Beerdrinker of the Year and Alaska beer expert Bill Howell.

Gabe is now doing his primary fermentations in wooden foudres, rather than stainless. When he started, he was using stainless for the primary, then racking to barrels, but now it's wood all the way. I believe Galaxy doesn't get a secondary treatment; it's fermented in wooden foudres, then bottled with Brett. His other beers go in the barrels for a secondary, but not Galaxy.

          - Bill Howell

Note that a foudre is a French term for a large barrel.  Gabe's are massive French Oak vats that hold around 600 gallons.  Thanks for the comment and update Bill!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mistakes Beer Drinkers Make

One of my most popular blog posts was a list that I published last September  - 30 things to add to your to-do list.  So this year I though I would take another shot at a list.  This time I'm going to outline some of the "mistakes" that beer drinkers make when they partake.  Though the term mistake may actually be a bit harsh.  It is hard to make a major blunder while you're drinking beer, isn't it?  Have I done any of the things on this list?  Of course not!  Well, actually, now that I think about it, yes, I've done them all.

Here is my list of some common beer drinker errors:

1) Drink a beer too cold. There is nothing wrong with an ice cold refreshing lawnmower beer now and then, but most craft beers are not intended to be consumed that way.  Coldness numbs the taste buds and masks the complexities we are after in most beers.  In central Europe most people drink their lagers chilled, but not ice cold.  And most ales are intended to be consumed at a cellar temperature.  (high 40s through the 50s)  The warmer temperature really lets the yeast and hops shine.  The Belgians are resolute about this, and as they say in England, "warm and flat is where it's at."

2) Order what everyone else is having.  I hear this all the time, "I'll have a Fat Tire."  People know New Belgium and are comfortable with their Amber Ale.  And it is a great beer.  But don't be afraid to take the time to read the beer menu and select something that may better suite your taste, or the weather, or what you are eating, etc.  Don't be afraid to experiment or defy the crowd.

3) Like a beer because of a flaw.  I'm guilty of this one.  Back in high school we used to seek out Mooshead because it was skunked!  What were we thinking?  This happens especially to drinkers of light beers.  Any flavor (any flavor) is construed as something new and good.  My first homebrewed beer was not particularly good, but my Miller drinking buddies raved about it because it had flavor.

I often detect diacetyl (buttery flavor) in lagers for example.  This is a flaw.  Not to something be appreciated, rather something to be pointed out to the brewer.

4) Drink a beer out of the wrong glass.  Not to be a snob here, but drinking glasses have evolved over the centuries to suite specific styles of beer.  Their specific shape, style and even weight are designed to enhance aromas, accommodate highly or lightly carbonated beers, or simply be aesthetically pleasing.  The tall vase shape of a Weißbier glass shows off the streaming bubbles of the highly carbonated wheat beer, and a snifter works well to corral the complex yeast and malt aromas of an English Barleywine.  What about the sturdy Maß used to serve beers at Munich's Oktoberfest?  They are designed not to break during the frequent Prosts!  No Belgian pub would be caught serving a beer in the wrong glass.  Even if they have 100 beers on tap or in the bottle, they will stock the proper glassware.  Not that these beers would not taste good out of a simple tumbler, but the proper glass can enhance the experience.  There is often a reason for tradition.

5) Under appreciate subtle beers.  In this day of extreme, highly-hopped, barrel aged, 60 proof beers, I feel sometimes people get too obsessed with palate over-stimulation.  There is nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned session Bitter, for example.  These "light" beer possess lots of character.  And lagers are seldom called "complex" (the yeast gets out of the way for the malt and hops) but some of the greatest beers in the world are clean, subtle, drinkable lagers like Helles, Pils, and Dunkles.

6) Be afraid to send a beer back.  If what you've been served is not good (flawed), send it back.  This is done more with wine than beer, but beer should be treated no differently.  Unfortunately, with restaurants and bars carrying a greater selection of beers (which is a good thing) quality can suffer.  It is difficult to keep 20, 30 or 50 beers in stock without having some that are past their prime.  Not to mention the enormous task of maintaining all of the lines and faucets to dispense that many beers.

Years ago I was in a brewery in Boulder and ordered their cask offering.  It had a strong flavor of formaldehyde.  When I sent it back the bartender noted that I simply just must not be a fan of cask ale.  I suggested that he take the beer off tap and notify the brewer.

7) Drink canned beer.  I still have this phobia, and for some reason I still prefer bottles.  With that said, more and more US craft breweries are canning their beer.  Cans are lighter, cheaper to ship, don't break, and best of all they protect the beer from light.  The Germans have been doing this for years.  Over a decade ago on a trip to Germany I saw Paulaner Hefeweizen in 1/2 liter cans - I knew the tide had turned.  Of course, bottle or can, it is still recommended to use the proper glass.  (see #4 above)

8) "Dis" the big guys.  I've never liked the derogatory term "fizzy yellow stuff."  Mass produced beers are not to my taste, but many beer-lovers still enjoy High Life and PBR.  Light lagers are by far the most difficult beers to brew, and the quality and consistency of the big brands has to be admired.  So I don't drink those beers, but I don't talk down about them either.  (Full disclosure:  Up in Montana my father grows 2-row barley for Coors, and my cousin grows 6-row for Bud.) 

9) Be afraid to pour a beer out.  During wine tastings in the Napa Valley, connoisseurs frequently pour out wine after a sip.  If you are sampling beers, don't be afraid to discard some if don't like it.  In 2009 Joycelyn and I hosted a number of local beer legends in our basement - one of which was Charlie Papazian.  I had several beers on tap, most of which he thoroughly enjoyed.  But after a few sips of the cask Brown Ale I brewed specifically for the occasion, he poured it out.  Right in front of me.  And then he poured himself another glass of my Pilsner.

10) Neglect to take good notes when brewing.  (OK, this one is specifically for homebrewers.)  A brewer should always sample their raw ingredients during the brewing process and take good notes every step along the way.  The combination of these two things can help he or she improve on their product after it is done, sampled and analyzed.  If the beer is perfect, these notes help to recreate that special beer again.  If not, they help in the refining process to zero in on that perfect home made beer.

I'm sure I've missed several "mistakes."  Please let me know if you have any that should be added to this list.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Brewing Revolution in Germany!

A brewing revolution in Germany you ask?  How could one of the world's greatest brewing countries, already rich with tradition, have a revolution?

Well, this very topic came up in a recent article I read in the weekly German news magazine "Stern."

"Ein Bier?  Nein: Dutzende!

Kleine Hausbrauereien zeigen, wie lecker Bier schmechen kann - in Berlin gibt es besonders viele davon."

A beer?  No, dozens! 

Small 'Hausbrauereien' show how delicious beer can taste - in Berlin there are particularly a lot of these.

The article interviews and reports on a handful of the dozen or so new breweries that have cropped up in Berlin recently.  The term "Hausbrauerei" is a bit of a misnomer.  These are not really "home breweries," though some are located in residential areas and quite quaint.  Rather the term probably closest compares to our term "Brew Pub." The term implies new, small, and craft.  I'm not sure if I'd go as far as to use the word "artisan."  I've still never met a German brewer that would consider himself an artisan.  That distinction can be left to the Belgians.

Berlin's most common drink is Pils beer, and that general region is probably best known for Berliner Weiße and Schwarzbier, but read below for what the newcomers are serving up.

US Influence

These new breweries are a bit unconventional by German standards.  Some of the Hausbrauereien have their roots in homebrewing.  Making beer at home is a hobby that is not as popular in Germany as here.  Remember, our homebrewing past grew out of necessity.  There has never been a shortage of excellent beer in Germany - hence the lack of necessity.  Most German brewers are professionally schooled and come from traditional brewing families; it is not as common to rise out of the homebrewing ranks.

The ever-present bug of homebrewing creativity shows up in these boutique breweries.  Eschenbräu is a Hausbrauerei in the center of Berlin.  Brewer Martin Eschenbrenner brags of using "USA Cascade Hopfen" in his "PankeGold."  What?  Grapefruity "C-hops" imported into the biggest hop producing country in the world?  Germans are not used to non-noble hops.  I'm sure it catches a few patrons off guard.

Michael Schwab of Brewbaker Hausbrauerei, a few kilometers to the south of Eschenbräu, takes creativity even further.  He circumvents the famous Rheinheitsgebot with his "Pumpkin Lager," as well as "Fritz," a beer brewed with potato starch to honor the 300th birthday of the beloved Prussian King Frederick The Great.  (Known as the leader that introduced potatoes to the Germanic people.)


Germans are fiercely proud of their beer purity law - the Rheinheitsgebot.  Most German beer bottles, especially those from Bavaria where the order originated, adorn their labels with "Gebraut nach dem deutschen/bayerischen Rheinheitsgebot."  Since 1516, the world's first food quality law has guided beer production in this land.

But there is a debate in the beer-lover community.  Is the Rheinheitsgebot a good thing or a bad thing?  The Germans are undoubtedly the world leaders in brewing science and beer quality.  Germans are engineers that brew, using the famous ordinance as their blueprint.  But many argue it inhibits the brewer's creativity and flexibility.  Germans can't even artificially carbonate their beers let alone use orange peel and coriander (Wit comes from Belgium), or even use roasted barley (which is not malted).

So how do these creative, new Hausbrauereien get around the Rheinheitsgebot and use ingredients such as pumpkin and potato starch?  The don't call their product beer.  Guinness contains a high percentage of roasted (unmalted) barley in its grain bill - definitely verboten.  Eschenbräu brews a similar version of this beer, but they call it "Schwarze Molle." This means "black Molle" - Molle is a colloquial term in Berlin for a glass of beer.

Where Else?

Berlin is a very international and cosmopolitan city, so it is well suited for this new trend.  But the proliferation of Hausbrauereien is not limited to the German capital.  There are other new breweries like this popping up across the land, and also examples in neighboring countries.
Huus-Braui in Roggwil Switzerland

While visiting Switzerland in the fall of 2009, our good friend from St. Gallen took Joycelyn and I to the "Huus-Braui" in the hamlet of Roggwil near the banks of Lake Constance.  I take Huus-Braui to be the rough Swiss German equivalent of Hausbrauerei.  This was a quaint little brewery with the main bar and brew house located in the cellar of an old building.  There was a modestly sized beer garden outside in the front.  Co-owner Marianne Hasler gave us a interesting private tour of their modern brewing facility, and then served up several very tasty beers including their Hell, Gold and Dunkel.

What about Bavaria?  To be honest, I have not seen this trend spread to Bayern, nor do I expect it to.  First of all, Bavaria is already flush with breweries.  German has 16 states (Länder), but half of its 1300 breweries are in the single state of Bavaria.  There is little room for more, and Bavarians are typically quite happy with their local breweries.

Also, Bavaria is not what I would call of progressive or cosmopolitan.  Tradition reigns there.  Nor are they overly concerned about trends in other parts of Germany.  They are very independent people, still calling themselves Freistaat Bayern.  (the free state of Bavaria)  Nor do they particularly care about Berlin, or the north in general.  They occasionally label their counterparts up there pagan Prussians.  (technically they are Protestants)  Munich is their capital, not Berlin.  Bavarians pay little attention to what is going on north of the "Weißwurst equator."
Forsthaus Templin between Potsdam and Caputh

Bavaria does have real 'Hausbrauereien' - places where beer is brewed and dispensed directly from people's homes.  This is called "Zoigl."  These home breweries are different than the young breweries discussed in this article.  The Zoigl house brewing right dates back to the early 1400s.  For more detail about Zoiglbier - see my entry from October of 2012:

Final Thoughts

When I visit Germany I love the tradition that comes with each glass of beer.  With that said, the proliferation of these less traditional Hausbrauereien appears to be a very positive movement.  A little creativity never hurts.  And despite the US hops and unconventional ingredients, most of these breweries still serve German staples.  Pils, Weizen, Dunkles, etc.

In 2007 Joycelyn and I visited the former East Germany, and we did visit and tour a new brewery called Forsthaus Templin.  Forsthaus is just south west of Berlin between Potsdam and Caputh.  I'm not exactly sure if this brewery considers itself a Hausbrauerei, but at a minimum there were similarities.  We enjoyed some excellent beers there with our host Sabine and her family.

And what about the Rheinheitsgebot debate?  Is the Rheinheitsgebot good or bad?  I concede, it does limit the flexibility of the brewer.  With that said, there is still a diverse selection of German-style beers.  In the end, I'll argue that you can't argue with success.  This order is the foundation for a brewing culture that the rest of the world is indebted to.  If I had to make a list of the best breweries and beers in the world, the top would be heavily loaded with Rheinheitsgebot entries.  As people in the US argue this point, I believe the Germans have earned the right to simply say, "scoreboard."

Here is a list of some of the Hausbrauereien in Berlin.  Drop me a note if you get a chance to visit any of these.  The next time I'm in Berlin many of these will be on my list.

Brewbaker (
Eschenbräu (
Rollberger (
Brauhaus Lemke (
Brauhaus Mitte (
Brauhaus Spandau (
Brauhaus Südstern ( Hausbrauereien
Georgbräu (
Hops & Barley (
Schalander Hausbrauerei (

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Überbrew - Montana's Newest Brewery

2305 Montana Avenue
Billings, MT  59101

Today Montana's newest brewery, Überbrew, opens for business.  Located downtown it joins four other breweries (Montana Brewing Company, Carter's, Yellowstone Brewing, and Angry Hanks) as well as the Railyard Ale House (full disclosure - owned and operated by my parents and nephew) in Billing's "Brewing District."  On a recent trip back to the Fatherland I was lucky enough to meet brewer Andy and owners Jason Shroyer and Mark Hastings to get a pre-opening tour of their pride and joy.

Historic Location

The old brick building was once the bottling facility for the long-since-defunct Billings Brewing Company, which opened around 1900.   During Überbrew's construction process they uncovered feet of crushed glass under the floor, and found some nearly intact prohibition era bottles from the old brewery.  Überbrew's main room appears to be an old alley that, in the distant past, was roofed over to create a new dwelling.  The red brick walls are those of the neighboring buildings, and old painted timber rafters are exposed creating a unique atmosphere.  Five skylights allow in natural light during those long Montana summer days.  

Mark and Jason used reclaimed barn lumber on the interior adding to the rustic ambiance.  Their 40' long bar is also a thing of beauty made from stained and polished concrete. The mounted head of a bull elk overlooks the spacious tasting room.  Maybe tasting room is not the proper term.  One of Überbrew's hooks is that they have a full kitchen.  They not only intend to serve food, but their goal is to highlight their cuisine and promote beer-food pairings.  This is bit unique, since most of Montana's taprooms do not have kitchens.

The Brewery

I was extremely impressed with Überbrew's brewhouse and serving cooler.  Their systems and lines were meticulously planned and laid out.  They are blessed with plenty of room - there is no clutter, and their working facility is kept very tidy.  Andy provided me with an overview of their modern 10 bbl brewing system.  For fermentation they have three 10 bbl plus two 20 bbl unitanks.  That translates into some very long brewing days to complete two full batches for the 20 bbl cylindrical conical fermenters.  That also means they'll need a lot of thirst customers to keep up with the supply.  They have the capability to produce 18,000 barrels (half million gallons) per year.  My prediction is that the supply and demand will work out fine.

In their malt storage and milling room I noticed stacks of German Weyermann and British Fawcett malt bags.  It is nice to see a brewery using the finest grains to pair with that premium Yellowstone River water.  I was not allowed to sample any of their beers, but I was told for the opening they would be serving an Imperial Hefeweizen, an American Hefeweizen, an Amber, an IPA, as well as an English Summer Ale.  Behind the long bar they have two separate banks of twelve taps - one for serving pints and another for growlers to go.  So expect a wide selection of beers on tap as Überbrew ramps up production.

They are currently providing their spent grains to a local goat farmer.  The plan is to trade feed for artisan goat cheese to serve and pair with Überbrew's beers.  Sounds like a good plan to me!

Their Philosophy

I sat down with owner and brewer Mark Hastings to discuss their name and philosophy.  Über means "above" in German and has superlative connotations in the English language.  A perfect fit for some German-inspired American brewers.   "Überbrew... superlative beer is what it means to me," Mark stated.  "Our philosophy is to provide the best of everything we do.  Excellent and knowledgeable service, great food, the best beer, etc.  We also are excited about promoting beer-food pairings and educating our customers about how fine beer and different dishes go together.  Much like wine."  And this doctrine of quality spills over to every aspect of the facility.  From the beautiful modern/rustic tasting room to the meticulously laid out brewing facility.

Montana is on a roll...

Montana is already in the top tier of states when it comes to breweries per capita.  Überbrew will be Billing's fifth brewery, and there are rumors that two more are planned - these would be located in the West end of the town.  Billings barely has 100,000 inhabitants, but they have proven to be quite thirsty.  If you live in the area, head on down and try out Montana's newest brewery.  It is also a short walk to the other breweries downtown, and the Railyard is just down the street.  If you don't live in the area, next time you plan a trip think of Montana.  For a beer lover it will not disappoint.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Icelandic Beer

I’ve been very lucky over the past seven years to have met, and become good friends with, an Icelander named Bergsteinn – better known as Beggi.  (His full name will not be used in this post to protect guilty.)  Beggi periodically returns to his Fatherland, and knowing I am a connoisseur, he always brings me back a couple bottles of their local beer to sample – each unique from the others before.  Upon receiving his last delivery, I felt a calling to write a blog about Iceland’s brewing industry.  Not necessarily because Iceland is a beer Mecca, but it does produce some excellent products, and it is a case study in a booming, global craft-beer economy.

First Some History

Iceland was settled over 1100 years ago by Norse Vikings who, at the time, sailed the North Atlantic seas raping and pillaging.  (Beggi prefers the term “raiding and trading…”)  After discovering this remote, uninhabited island near the Arctic Circle, for some reason, they decided to set up camp.  In the years since it was settled the country has had very little immigration.  The Icelandic bloodline pristine.  Their language is also very pure and ancient.  While modern Norwegian has been influence by other northern European languages over the centuries, Iceland’s is that of the original Vikings.  Icelanders are known to be able to read Medieval texts.  I speak German and have dabbled in Norwegian, and though I can read some, aside from skaal, it is almost impossible to discern a single word of spoken Icelandic.  It is known as one of the world’s most difficult languages to learn.

Over the centuries Iceland has at times fallen under the Norwegian and Danish crowns, albeit with varying degrees of autonomy.  World War II and the German occupation of Denmark brought change to the country’s rule, and in 1944 Icelanders voted to become a sovereign republic.  Though currently independent, and despite technically being closer to North America (Greenland) than Europe, Iceland has maintained close ties to Europe, especially Scandinavia, and foremost with Denmark. 


Most of us think of Prohibition in the context of the United States, but there were a number of other lands that also tried this flawed experiment.  Starting in 1907 countries such as the Faroe Islands, Russia, Norway, Hungary, Finland and Iceland all suffered through periods of Prohibition.  Iceland’s Prohibition started in 1915.  The ban on spirits and wine was lifted in 1935.  It is hard to believe, but beer remained prohibited until March 1st, 1989!  March 1st is now celebrated as “Beer Day” on the island.
In hindsight it is obvious to say that past prohibition experiments have been complete failures, but knowing a handful of Icelanders now, I cannot imagine any government wanting to push their rain-soaked, winter-sunlight-deprived population toward hard liquors like Vodka and Brennivín instead of letting them drink low alcohol, safe and nutritious beer. 

Brewing Background

Iceland is better known for chess, puffin hunting and unpronounceable volcanoes than beer, but it should be proud of its local breweries.  The island is approximately the size of Kentucky, and with only 313,000 people, it would be the smallest state in the US by population.  With that said, Iceland boasts eight breweries.  That doesn’t sound terribly high, but keep in mind that number would put it in a per capita rank with the top tier US states like Vermont, Oregon, Montana, and Colorado.  And to think that when I was in college at MSU, brewing in Iceland was not even legal!  No brewing tradition, no Charlie Papazian, nothing…  Also, Iceland rests squarely in the spirit belt, well north of the beer belt.  Its climate does not lend itself to raising the ingredients needed in beer.  So to see a new and growing beer industry there is exciting.

Their craft brewing movement somewhat reminds me of the US – a hip new industry with a number of young breweries.  Unlike Iceland, the US does have a long brewing tradition, but keep in mind; all but a handful of the 2000 breweries in this country today did not exist in 1980. 

Beer Evolution

In the short amount of time I’ve been privileged to sample Iceland’s beers, I’ve noticed a bold maturation in their offerings.  Initially the beers I sampled were light or amber lagers – beers I would put squarely in the Euro Lager category.  Comparisons to the Danish brewer Carlsberg comes to mind.  (Remember the Denmark connection earlier…)  They were excellent beers for refreshment and the “mass” market, but not overly creative.  But times have changed and Iceland’s beers have evolved.  And it makes sense.  The cool climate near the Arctic Circle lends itself to more robust Ales.  (“Never drink a beer from a country that does not have a real winter.”)  The beers I’ve sampled lately are much more creative: a hoppy Pale Ale, a Smoked Imperial Stout, two Wit beers, even an Angelica Spiced Ale.  And an interesting thing to note, though the styles being brewed there have European heritage, they appear to be inspired by American breweries.  For example, the Wit beers I sampled are what I would categorize as “American Wit,” not really an interpretation of the Belgian original.  So the American craft movement we all know and love is spreading to other countries.

Breweries and Beers

Below is a sampling of some of the beers I’ve had the chance to sample:

Ölvisholt Brugghús (
-       Mori: Pours hazy amber with a light tan, creamy head.  The nose boasts fresh hops and a dry, grainy maltiness.  It tastes very Maris-Otter-esque with a blend of earthy and citrusy hops.  In the finish hops eventually overtake the malt.  This is a wonderful beer – fitting nicely in the Pale Ale or ESB category.  This is the most aggressively hopped Icelandic beer I’ve tried to date.

-       Lava:  (Smoked Imperial Stout) This beer pours pitch black and is capped with a light brown head.  Its aroma is of sweet beechwood smoke.  (possibly Weyermann Rauchmalz)  The flavor is dominated by roasted malts and smoke – all the time maintaining a smooth texture.  For a style of beer that can get out of hand, Lava is very balanced.  It finishes with lingering smoked malt.  This is a nice “extreme” beer from Iceland.

-       Stinnings Kaldi:  (med Islenskri Hvönn –> with Icelandic angelica)  This hazy copper beer has a long lasting head and comes with a subtle lactic acid aroma.  Its flavor is very light with floral notes and a mild tartness.  Lactic dryness closes this beer out.  Stinnings Kaldi was a very surprising beer, floral and very light in flavor with a sour note – similar to some Belgian Farmhouse Ales I’ve sampled.

-       Víking Gylltur: (Premium Lager / Pils)  Not a lot to comment on here.  This is a typical European-style pale lager.  I found it very enjoyable.  I think sheep do most of the work over there, but if Icelanders had lawn mowers, this is the beer they’d drink after doing that.

Einstök Ölgerđ (
-       Icelandic White Ale: Einstök’s Wit is a cloudy, pale yellow beer with a thin head and lot of chunks in suspension after pouring.  (Healthy vitamin B!)  Its nose offers up a musty combination of citrus and coriander.  The wheat in this beer is very present along with a slight tang.  The finish is surprisingly clean with a faint bit of orange.  It is an excellent example of a Wit Beer.

There are several other Icelandic beers I’ve tried, but did not take notes on: Thule, Kaldi Lager, Egill’s Christmas beer, Vífilfell’s Christmas beer, and Freyja to name a few.   Not every beer needs to be evaluated, some can simply be enjoyed without a pen and my notes!

Below is a list of the four other Icelandic breweries not mentioned above:

Brewery Reykjavíkur
Egill Skallagrímsson Brewery
Gæðingur Brugghús (
Víking Ölgerđ Akureyri (

It is always a pleasure to try new beers – especially rare ones.  And when drinking a Freyja (Ölvisholt Brugghús) I can feel confidant I’m the only one within thousands of miles enjoying that beer.  I would like to give a big thanks to “the mayor of Beggivik” as well as his family for braving customs and supplying me with some excellent new beers from an isolated part of the Atlantic.  And much better than the rotten shark and Brennivín I was conned into comsuming last weekend up snowcave camping!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Arvada Beer Company

5600 Olde Wadsworth Blvd
Arvada, CO  80002

I’ve lived in Golden just west of the city of Arvada for 12 years.  In that relatively short amount of time, I’ve witnessed a miraculous reincarnation of the original nineteenth century heart of the town.  Just west of Wadsworth on the north side of the tacks, Olde Town Arvada has sprung up from the empty buildings on the hill around the historic water tower – and it has turned into a great destination for area residents. 

Denver’s Fast Tracks rail system has been one of the driving forces behind the recent development.  The “Gold Line” connecting Denver and Golden is scheduled to open in 2016, and one of the few stops on this stretch is right across the street from the Grandview restaurant.  Ever since the transit plans were solidified, more and more establishments have been popping up.  And in Colorado it is hard for a new neighborhood to spring up without a local brewery – so last year the Arvada Beer Company stepped in to fill the void.  

The Brewery and spacious tasting area is located on the corner of Olde Wadsworth and Grandview Avenue.  The atmosphere is simple and suites their business well.  Their location is perfect.  They opened their doors last October, but the quality of their beer belies the fact that this brewery is barely out of its diapers.  Arvada Beer not only serves as the local tasting room, it is also an integral part of the emerging community.

A Community Working Together

Success can be difficult for any start-up business, and Olde Town Arvada has several that have sprung up in the past couple of years.  To help each other out, all of the businesses in that area are cooperating to make things work. 

The Arvada Beer Company does not have a kitchen, but they want to give their patrons as many excuses as possible to hang out and drink more of their beer.  So they have partnered with local restaurants to help them out.  Each table has a menu card with contact information for seven different eateries that will deliver to the table.  The food choices range from pizza to hotdogs to cheese steaks to Indian/Nepalese/Tibetan cuisine.  The establishment around the corner, Mannequin Frites, also delivers.  (Their name is a word play on Brussels’ mischievous mascot... the Mannequin Pis)  They specialize in Belgian-style fries served with a dollop of your choice of 20 different sauces.  They also offer a terrific sampling of famous Belgian beers such as Hoegaarden, Duvel, De Koninck, Kasteel Rouge, Orval, and various Lambics.

Next door to the brewery is great little ice cream and candy shop called Scrumptious.  Their sorbet is made with the brewery's Watertower Wheat beer – perfect for warm springs days, and their beer cheese soup is made with Arvada Beer’s 59er Schwarzbier.  So through their partnership with the brewery next door, they have beer lovers covered whether they need a hot or cold to snack while wandering Olde Town.  It really is a community where everyone appears to be helping each other out.

Favorite Beer

Arvada Beer Company brews a wide range of true-to-style beers.  I’ve enjoyed their Olde Town Brown, Ralston Golden Ale, Goldline IPA, Coffee Porter and Watertower Wheat, but my favorite draft is their Schwarzbier called 59er.  It is an excellent interpretation of the Northeastern German specialty.  It pours almost opaque and has a fresh, clean aroma.  The rich flavor is a perfect balance between dark malts and a smooth lager.  There is no perceived roast flavor.  Nothing dominates, which is the way a Schwarzbier should be.  It finishes smooth & clean and fades out with pleasant malt flavors.  Overall it is well balanced and a nice example of the beer that is more difficult to make than most think.

Worth Noting

The Arvada Beer Company does not yet distribute to other establishments.  According to my server, Josh, they are “taking things slow to make sure and do it right.”  As they feel more comfortable with their production they plan to expand their distribution.  In the mean time, patrons can pop in to pick up growlers, or even grab a cornie if they have a keg-a-rator, or just need a small keg for a party.   Tours can be arranged by request.   Stop by and check them out – I think you’ll be pleased.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Congratulations J. Wilson – 2012 Beerdrinker of the Year

Some of the greatest beer minds in the country gathered at the Wynkoop Mercantile Room on Saturday for the National Finals of the 2012 Beerdrinker of the Year competition.  I had the honor of being a judge (for the third straight year) along with outgoing champion Phil Farrell, Wynkoop head brewer Andy Brown, Jill Redding – Editor-in-Chief at the Brewer’s Association, and the first person to ever win the competition - 1997 Beerdrinker of the Year Jack McDougall.   After two hours of questioning, presentations, and being asked to identify three different blind beer samples, J. Wilson a Prescott, Iowa writer, homebrewer, beer judge and beer blogger took home the top honors.   J. Wilson edged out Greg Nowatzki of Las Vegas, Nevada and Warren Monteiro of New York city.  All three finalists proved that they were more than worthy to be on the national stage with their deep knowledge of all things related to beer. 

What it takes

J. used a combination of wit, knowledge, and passion along with his keen sensory perception to sway the judges.  He also kept the packed Mercantile room crowd thoroughly entertained throughout the event.  The judges were impressed with his advocacy and outreach efforts relating to beer and his drive to educate others about the drink we all love so much.  His philosophy is to create a balance in life between friends, family, work and his appreciation for beer – to promote responsible beer drinking.  He is one of those people that you want to sit down and have a beer with – and that is what the event is all about.

2011 and The Fast

J. had numerous beer related accomplishments in 2011, which helped get him to the finals, but the most impressive was his 46-day fast living on nothing more than water and a Doppelbock he brewed with a local brewery.  The Doppelbock style originated with the Paulaner monks in Munich who would brew the strong, nutrient-rich beer to sustain them while fasting during lent.  The Bockbier of that time had a similar original gravity, but was far less attenuated, leaving more residual sugar and less alcohol.  This is a story known by many beer lovers, but I’ve never known anyone to actually give it a shot.  J. is not a big guy, weighing in at 154 pounds during Saturday’s competition.  In order to prepare for the experiment, he put on 20 pounds before the fast.  Over the next month-and-a-half he would drink between four and a half and five beers per day.  (This diet takes a very understanding boss!)  He said after a few days his body “shifted” and got used to the new diet without any major issues or hunger.  He did, however, loose 26.5 pounds during that time.   His blogging and notes became a book that he published last year titled “Diary of a Part-Time Monk.”  If you want to learn more about his experiences I recommend surfing over to Amazon and purchasing the book.  He gifted each of the judges one during the “bribe” segment of the competition, and I’m looking forward to diving into it.

It is good to be the winner!

As the winner J. will receive, among other things, $250 to spend at his home pub (El Bait Shop, Des Moines, Iowa), a beer brewed in his honor by the Wynkoop for next year’s competition, free beer for life at the Wynkoop Brewery, and worldwide recognition.

It is always tough to not win, but Warren and Greg should be very proud of their performances. I am sure both will be back in the finals in the future.  Finally, I want to thank those of you that came downtown to take part in the event.  I know I had a great time, as always, and I hope you all did also!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

2012 Beerdrinker of the Year Finalists Announced

Three new faces will be competing for the 2012 Beerdrinker of the Year National Finals on Saturday the 25th. This year’s lucky but deserving trio is Warren Monteiro from New York City, Greg Nowatzki from Las Vegas and J. Wilson from Prescott, Iowa. If you are in the Denver area, or have the means to travel, don’t miss this event – it is the most prestigious title in the country for beer aficionados. Being involved in the selection process, and having reviewed numerous resumes, I can guarantee you that these three are on a different level when it comes to beer knowledge and appreciation. Warren, Greg and J. Wilson will be flown in for the long weekend and pampered at the Brown Palace at the Wynkoop's expense.

The competition is open to the public and will be held in the Wynkoop Mercantile Room on Saturday, February 25th starting at 2 pm MT. Get there early to nab a seat and have time to enjoy happy-hour priced beers, including a whiskey-barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout brewed to honor last year’s champion Phil Farrell.

More information about the Friday and Saturday events can be found at:

Here is a bit of background on each of the finalists.

Warren Monteiro

Warren Monteiro, a New York City beer traveler, homebrewer and BeerSensei contributor for Alestreet News. Monteiro has sampled beers in Europe, Central American, India, Sri Lanka, numerous other nations and throughout the United States. In 2011 he visited breweries and beer festivals in England, Belgium, the Netherlands and the US. He samples an average of 350 beers each year.

His philosophy of beer drinking: “It’s not a habit, it’s a lifestyle. This is why I constantly travel – to get a taste of a new brew or one I’ve been missing, and to find a way to share it whenever possible. I consider creative beer drinking to be an essential part of the tapestry of art and fellowship contributing to a full life. The beauty of beer hunting now as opposed to the early ‘80’s is that I’ll never catch up!

His home beer bar: Blind Tiger Ale House, New York City.

Greg Nowatzki

Greg Nowatzki, a Las Vegas, Nevada accountant, home brewer and beer judge. Nowatzki has tasted over 13,600 beers from 84 different countries and all 50 states in the US. He has visited over 500 breweries in 32 different states and the District of Columbia, and attended over 150 beer festivals in 8 states. In 2011 he visited 16 beer festivals (including an 11th consecutive Great American Beer Festival) and visited over 100 different breweries in 7 states.

His beer philosophy:
“Everyone likes beer. Some just haven’t tasted enough to find the ones they like yet.”

His home beer bar: Big Dog’s Draft House, Las Vegas, Nevada

J. Wilson

J. Wilson, a Prescott, Iowa writer, homebrewer, beer judge and beer blogger. He has a 3-tap, 8-foot home bar supplied by a 10-gallon brewing system in his basement. An advocate for beer for 15 years, he organized numerous beer events in his hometown in 2011. The past year was highlighted by a research project in which he fasted for 46 days on water and a dopplebock he brewed with a local brewery. It became a book, Diary of a Part-Time Monk.

His philosophy about beer: Living life in search of brewvana (an ideal condition of harmony, beer and joy), I seek to educate and advocate on behalf of craft beer, folding good beer into a good life.

His home beer bar: El Bait Shop, Des Moines, Iowa

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Classic Waterin’ Holes – The “New” Atlas Bar

Columbus, MT
528 East Pike Avenue
(406) 322-9818

While back in God’s Country over the holidays, I had the chance to visit one of my favorite old west waterin' holes – The “New” Atlas Bar in Columbus. If you are traveling through Montana, there is a good chance you’ll end up on I-90 between Billings and Bozeman. While in the area make sure and stop off in Columbus and head “downtown” to The Atlas and blow the froth off a couple at this classic saloon.


This bar has a lot of history. Built in 1906 the bar boasts some unique features. Most first time visitors will notice that the men’s bathroom is in the back of the bar (complete with a Crane urinal trough), while the women’s bathroom is in the front near the main door. There is also a rustic game room in front.

There is a good explanation for this historic relic. In the old days women were not allowed past the front area into the main bar – that area was reserved for the men. Women had their own small section (the current game room) where they were packed in and served drinks through a window into the main bar. Their bathroom was across the walkway so there was no need to even consider straying further inside. Nowadays both sexes are welcome all the way inside, but the disassociated bathrooms remain. (More about other unique features in the next section…)

In the early twentieth century, this bar was called the “Atlas Bar.” Of course prohibition was a difficult period in our country’s past. Thankfully for all of us in 1933 cooler heads prevailed, and with the ratification of the 21st Amendment bars were back in business. It is rumored that the Atlas Bar received Montana’s first post-prohibition liquor license and was reborn as “The New Atlas Bar.” It has always been a main congregation spot for Stillwater county locals. Today it is known as one of most historically accurate, and most famous, bars in the state. When you walk in the front door you’ll feel like nothing has changed for the past 100 years. Last summer the National Park Service even added the bar to the National Register of Historic Places. Quite an honor for a small town saloon!

The Dead Animal Bar

The atmosphere in this bar is almost museum-like. The massive backbar is a work of art itself - composed of sturdy arches, wood columns, mirrors, and elaborate, dark-stained woodwork. It is adorned with notes, signs, and random currency plastered all over the place. Underneath the pressed tin ceiling, the long, narrow bar is packed with mounts of every critter you could imagine. Elk, whitetail & mule deer, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, a mountain lion, bobcat, wolverine, badger, eagles, buffalo, etc, etc, etc. There is even an albino deer and two-headed calf. Needless to say, this is not the place to take your card-carrying PETA friend for a drink. Most of these mounts have been around since at least 1916 – and they show it! This is the reason locals affectionately call the place “The Dead Animal Bar.”

Spittoons are mounted in the base of the bar to accommodate those belly-uppers that prefer their tobacco smokeless. When is the last time you drank a Pale Ale with a built-in brass pot at your feet? There are also pool tables in the back half of the Atlas to accommodate rural Montana’s favorite pastime. (Winning a few bucks and maybe getting into a little scrap.)

A few changes over the years…

Not many things have changed over the century, but one important one has – the beer selection. Yes, they have Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Coors, and of cause PBR, but they also have a great selection of craft bottles and drafts. On tap they offered Sam Adams Boston Lager, Bozone Amber (Bozeman, MT), Red Lodge Beartooth Pale Ale (Red Lodge, MT), and Bayern Dragon’s Breath Dunkelweizen (Missoula, MT). And in classic Montana fashion, 16oz micro drafts are only $2.50. Happy Hour is even cheaper! Great beer at this price really can’t be beat.

Old West Charm

In my September, 2011 blog entry titled “30 things to add to your to do list” number 13 recommended that one “Drink a local Montana craft beer in a real, old-school western watering hole.” For those checking items off their list - there are countless options for this one. The Hofbräu or Crystal in Bozeman, Grizzly Bar in Roscoe, Cowboy bar in Fishtail, Bulldog in Whitefish, Mooses in Kalispell… the list goes on and on. (What is your favorite?) But the New Atlas is a classic that can’t be missed. It is a totally unique experience and a great place to enjoy a few Montana brewed specialties. And then you can also brag that you’ve been to the Dead Animal Bar!