The Brooklyn Growler

"Life is all skittles and beer." — Tom Lehrer

Cascadian Dark Ales: East Coast Style Meets West Coast Hops

There are times when you have to get away from it all to discover something that’s been staring at you without your notice for far too long. For me, that was rediscovering the glories of an IPA, while tasting beers in Montana.

American IPAs can be some heady brews with bold and bitter flavors offset by strong citric acids. The high alcohol by volume (ABV) means these beers often pack more than just a flavor punch.

Maybe it’s my East Coast-centric worldview, but it’s easy to forget how the Pacific Northwest is such a fertile bed for hop production – hence the proliferation of so many West Coast IPAs. The Pacific Northwest’s Cascades range is one such region, which is thick in hop production. And, ahem, not that IPAs haven’t spread throughout the U.S. and not that I don’t have something to say about it, just that I’m trying to wind my way to a point without mentioning how New York State used to be one of the largest U.S. producers of hops or that Brooklyn’s Six Point Craft Ale‘s Sweet Action is an IPA to inspire.

My point, and I suppose I might have one, is that with so many hops grown in Washington and Oregon – and with craft brewers excited to experiment with new varieties – a trip out West should be one where myriad IPAs are consumed.

Enter the Bozeman Brewing Co.

Bozeman Brewing was founded by Todd Scott, former employee of Spanish Peaks Brewing Co., around 2001. The brewery, a former pea cannery, produces three basic beers and five seasonal varieties. Its logo (pictured above) features elements from historic Montana beers (see New West for a detailed profile of the brewery). Scott has added a tasting room to the front of the business where about five beers are on tap and growler refills are in quick supply. The Bozone Select Amber Ale is its flagship beer.

We tried all of the beers on tap that afternoon. There were four of us in my party, so we were able to spread the beers around to get a full sampling (worth noting because Montana breweries not only have to close by 8 p.m. but also must limit each patron’s sampling to a total of three beers).

Hop-heavy beers dominated the Bozeman Brewing menu, with one hefeweizen thrown in for good measure (in tasting, the IPAs knocked it sadly into submission). Among the beers on tap were:

  • Hopzone IPA (7 percent ABV)
  • Hefeweizen (6 percent ABV)
  • Imperial IPA (9.6 percent ABV)
  • Belgian-Style Wit Beer (5 percent ABV)
  • Cascadian Dark Ale (7.5 percent ABV)

I was impressed by all of them, although, the Hopzone was a little too astringent in its bitterness to me. I can be sensitive to overly bitter flavors at times, which means that after one IPA, I’m usually done and ready to move on to an ale. I’m not into this drive of late to push the alcohol envelope in beers. Give me flavor and I’ll keep coming back.

It was with this in mindset that I dipped my beak into the Imperial IPA (everyone’s gotta have a high-ABV IPA that costs a few sheckels more) and, though enjoyable, didn’t blow me away. I liked the Belgian-Style Wit Beer and have to side with Tim Webb who noted that “American imitations [knock] the socks off certain freshly imported ‘real’ Trappist ales,” in his introduction to Stan Hieronymus’s must-read Brew Like a Monk.

But I’d yet to find “the one” to rule them all. That’s when I had my first taste of a Cascadian Dark Ale.

Cascadian Dark Ales are a relatively new variety of IPA, originated by Shaun Hill at Vermont’s Shed Brewery. Speaking to Imbibe Magazine, Hill described this new style of beer as one that can “drink like an IPA but look like a stout.”

The style was picked up by San Diego’s Stone Brewing Co. with the brewery’s Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, which is a double IPA (see this Beer Advocate article on American double IPAs for more info; in America, we go big with everything, y’know). The style has spread like a hop vine from there.

I’d not had the pleasure of drinking a Cascadian Dark Ale until I hit Bozeman Brewing. It was fantastic. Not too bracingly bitter, easy to drink, distinctively stout with a rich roasty malty taste and an IPA’s carbonation. I didn’t take it for an IPA at all at first. I thought it was a just a stout. My initial ignorance made me overlook the complexity going on with this beer. Further sips brought out the hoppy crispness of an IPA.

There’s a lot going on in these Cascadian Dark Ales. Though the style originated on the East Coast, it took a trip out West for me to discover this amazing beer. Expect more on these beauties in the future.

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Beers of Montana: Pig’s Ass Porter Packs a Punch

Montana is known as big sky country for a reason – the sky as viewed out there just seems enormous. Photographs don’t do it justice. The summer horizon is lined with evergreen trees, receding into a blue expanse of mountain ranges, while an IMAX-wide sky is dotted with cumulus clouds. In towns such as Bozeman, the buildings are kept low and spaced out as to not block out the view.

Snow covers most of Montana during the year. If it’s a powder day, everything pretty much shuts down so the locals can hit the slopes. During the summer, Montanans remain just as active – biking, hiking, fly fishing, and in general getting in shape for the ski season. It’s not a place where one goes to watch the world pass by. There’s just too much to do.

And nothing, but nothing, quenches a thirst after a long, summer day in Montana than a cold beer.

During my most recent trip to Montana, I was fortunate enough to get a taste of the Harvest Moon Brewery‘s Pig’s Ass Porter and, boy, was I lucky.

Another Pulitzer-Prize winning photograph of some beer or something.Pig’s Ass Porter is a light-bodied beer with a tan head that fades into a film on the rim of the glass after a few sips. Harvest Moon’s marketing copy would have you know that it’s a classic-style porter that is brewed with black malts and chocolate to create a creamy ale that offers hints of roasted coffee beans and chocolate (a bottle is pictured to the right; we can credit my complete lack of photography training for its excellence). The beer is named Pig’s Ass because after each batch is brewed, the leftover mash (leftover grain that has been boiled) is given to a local farmer who feeds it to his pigs. Sustainability – who doesn’t dig it?

There’s a hint of hops in each taste of Pig’s Ass Porter as well.

It’s not hard to get a head out of each bottle pour, and I’d also recommend letting it grab some air before you dive in as there’s also a hint of vanilla in each sip along with the coffee and chocolate that dominates Pig’s Ass. It has a nice carbonation and isn’t as thick as a stout, though there’s a nice body to it (for more info on porters, I recommend reading Beer Advocate’s What the Hell Is a Porter?). I also picked up some kind of herbal flavoring going on that gives the beer a nice complexity and offsets its sweetness.

I am not a fan of sweet beers, and I tend to think that bringing out the chocolate in a dark ale is kind of a lazy move. I did not expect to enjoy Pig’s Ass Porter as much as I did.

There are a lot of dark beers out there that fuck up the savory notes and end up tasting like baker’s chocolate. A piece of chocolate (be it from a candy bar, slice of cake, or hunk of brownie) on its own compliments a stout or porter just fine. Let the grain and malt do the talking, y’know. So all that said, a beer that offers this taste combination, while also standing up on its own, is truly a beer worth savoring.

My natural inclination toward darker beers – stouts and porters, fer instance – is to save them the colder months of the year. They just taste better to me then. Summers in Brooklyn aren’t pretty. It’s hot and humid and sweaty and grumpy. Meanwhile, in Montana, the temp barely scrapes above seventy during the day and drops to the forties at night, which makes the livin’ so much easier. And a beer like Pig’s Ass Porter from Harvest Moon just nails what it means to be in Montana. Because –

Even when it’s summer, you’re thinking of everything winter offers.

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Editor’s Note, Aug. 12, 2010

Hello. I thought I should take a moment to address some issues as to my current intent with The Brooklyn Growler as well as my plans for its future.

I’ve read a lot of beer blogs and websites over the last few years, and I tend to think that ones that document someone’s personal beer journey tend to be the ones that I enjoy the most. I like keeping up with news and the general big trending thoughts that beer enthusiasts have, however, publications like Beer Advocate, really do rule that market – and rightfully so. I like to drink beer and learned in my own modest attempts at homebrewing, that I really love thinking about beer. So this is a map of my world, via the lens on the bottom of a beer bottle.

Sometimes I’ll hit on news and most of the time I won’t. I’m aiming to update daily, but life often gets in the way. More importantly, I don’t enjoy feeling like I need to hack something out just to hit a daily quota. Blogs are ruled by the constant churning out of content in order to keep pageviews up and thus keep advertising money coming in. I don’t have ads – not that I’m opposed to having them; quite the opposite – but I also think the blogosphere in general would greatly benefit from stepping away from the keyboard to stop and have a think every now and again.

Here are some things I’m going to be working on –

• Beer reviews: I drink a lot of beer and I also like to travel when I can. A lot of beers are specific to certain regions. There’s nothing more exciting than coming across a great beer that is new to you. I’ll also be writing up thoughts on some old familiars.

• Brewery tours: I could use an excuse to revisit some of the breweries in New York and also search out some new ones.

• Beer history: Nothing fascinates me more than the history of the brewing, especially the breweries that have been lost to time.

• Homebrewing: The internet is already rich with homebrewing websites and blogs, and I’ve yet to come across one that I didn’t think had something essential about the process to say. The topic is just so vast. My own attempts at it have been modest, but there will be thoughts on the making and storing of beer to come.

• Wine and liquor: I don’t limit myself to beer alone, so there will be times when I want to write about liquor or wine. Maybe I’ll even toss in a winery tour or a cocktail recipe.

• Literature and drinking: If writers didn’t drink, what would they write about?

On a final note, I’m leaving for Bozeman, Mont. for a few days. I’m hoping to gather some ideas for posts out there.

I hope you enjoy reading this site. I’ve enjoyed writing it thus far.

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May 2020