Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Wolf Pack Brewing Co (West Yellowstone, MT)

This was one of the weirdest pub hunts ever. My wife and I ordered the Wapiti Wheat Hefeweizen and Embalmer's Eisbock samples to start ($1.50 for six ounce samples for all beers except the Eisbock was double). Both were exceptional. My wife ordered a ($8) pint of the Eisbock and it was well worth itwish I had gotten more of it.

Emboldened by the good beer, we ordered a margherita pizzaa bold move in Montanabut the beer was good, so it seemed ok. We both agreed that it was the worst pizza we've ever had: doggy, tomatoes were old, cheese was a little too strong to be good. Ugh. Ordered french fries to cover, which were very good. Crispy and incredibly well seasoned, somewhat like potato oles at Taco John's (which is a compliment for us), we'd go back for just the fries alone if in town.

Then I tried the other beers. The pilsner, and, especially, the Patriot Pale Ale had very off flavors and poorly done. The Storm Castle Irish Stout was good and fairly well done, but not superior. None matched the first two beers at all.  Overall, this was one of the best and worst stops on this vacation. If going to Yellowstone, show up during the day for this pub (open noon to 8 p.m only because of Montana law, according to the door), order food safe for the backcountry, and, when you find a beer you like, stick to it.

Jasper Brewing Co Brewpub & Eatery (Jasper, AB)

Jasper Brewing is right on the main street coming into town via Jasper National Park, an absolutely beautiful drive through Banff NP past the Columbia Ice Field. We asked how to get to the pub from a local shopkeeper, which responded with another recommendation for better food though she didn't know what the beer was like. The food was good, though was ate french fries since there wasn't anything else vegetarian on the menu. The sampler came with 5 or 6 oz pours of all six beers. The Honey Bear Ale and the Rockhopper IPA weren't good and I didn't finish the samples. The rest were ok with the 6060 Stout being easily the best, a good Irish Stout that still lacked a bit in the body.

If you're interested in walking on a glacier, taking a magnificent drive in the Canadian Rockies or hiking in the less crowded Jasper NP, a stop at Jasper Brewing is warranted, but I won't go too far out of the way just for the beer. But, if you want to be there anyway, it was a pleasant stop with lots of touristy stores and opportunities in the area.

A block north and a block west was Jasper Liquors which had a great beer selection in a walk in cooler. I meant to go in the Wine Cellar next door, but walked into the smaller one by accident and walked out with a case of beers.

Montana Brewing Co (Billings, MT)

For a quick stop off the freeway in Billings, this was a worthwhile.  My wife and I had been in Yellowstone NP for the day and were very hungry when we arrived. Montana Brewing Co is set in an historic building that was the Montana Power Co in 1887, the first electricity in Billings. Very beautiful old white building that towered above the patio for the bar. We sat inside and ordered chips and salsa to start. Good chips w/ two types of salsa, one standard and spicy, the other mango based. Our pasta dish was also tasty with more spice than I expected in Montana.

The sampler of beers was only five bucks and we got seven different beers, all respectable, and GABF winners according to the menu. Of the beers tasted, Custer's Last Stout was good but a little thin, just like the barleywine. By far and away the best beer was the Sharptail Pale Ale, a strong well balance pale ale that bordered on but did not quite cross over to an IPA. Light, refreshing, and well hopped with an excellent aroma. Waitress was friendly and fast, but didn't know much about beer.

Definitely stop by if you pass by Billings.

Brewsters Brewing Co & Restaurant (Calgary, AB)

Brewster's is a Canadian chain that does a pretty good job. In the downtown location, it's pretty much a sports bar with several large and small screen TVs on the walls. We watched a preseason Canandian football game, which was fun even though we didn't know the teams. Overall, clean, fun, and possibly a meat market for younger types at night.

With no veggie options except pizza and nachos, we opted for the Brewhouse Nachos, which were very good. Waitress was friendly and fairly fast, seemingly knew a bit about beer. No air conditioning, which probably isn't much of a problem in Calgary, but it was the day we were there. Very hot. On a cool evening, the fireplace inside the door would've felt better.

All the beers were well done and very respectable. The standard Canadian style Original Lager was crap, but it's supposed to be, just like a standard American ale/lager in an U.S. pub. But all of the other beers were very drinkable. Stand outs included the Flying Pig Lager that had a nice clean hop bite balanced w/ a bit of malt. An unexpected surprise. The Blueberry Wheat Ale was well done and my wife had a draft that came with real blueberries in the bottom. Unlike most fruit beers that taste like syrup poured down the center, this fruit taste was well integrated, which, in my experience, is difficult to do with blueberry.  The Shaughnessy Stout was my favorite, an Irish Stout that was very smooth, a little thin, but very solid.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

4th Street Liquor & Wine (Calgary, AB)

The guys at 4th Street Liquor were very helpful finding beer when I simply asked "What shouldn't I miss?" Ended up taking a variety pack from Big Rock brewery that I would have missed. According to the staff, Big Rock is credited with turning beer around in British Columbia.

Also a nice range of beers not available in Minnesota from St. Peter's (England) to Innis & Gunn (Scotland) to Fruli (Belgium) to Tree Brewing (British Columbia). While the selection doesn't match the 1000 beers of my local liquor store, it is very good compared to what I've found elsewhere in Canada.

All of the beers I sampled were fresh and tasted good going down. Most of the beer was in a walk in cooler, so it is well taken care of.  Also, 4th Street Liquor is only a few blocks drive from the downtown Brewster's Brewpub in Calgary.  Nice combination stop on the way to Banff that affords an excellent chance to pick up some quality quaffs for the cooler while visiting the parks.

The Grizzly Paw Brewing Co (Canmore, AB)

On the gondola to the top of Sulpher Mountain, my wife and I rode to the top with a local who worked in the souvenir shop. Her description of Grizzly Paw was to my point: only tourists who don't know better go therelocals never do.

We had lunch there right when it opened before heading out to check out the natural sceneryit has sort of a Hooters/sports bar feel: under dressed waitresses, big patio, and everything is shiny. Didn't see the brewery. I had a veggie burger that sounded great, but was very bad.  My wife's food was ok, but we never returned in spite of being in town for five days.

The beer isn't worth the trip either. The Brewing Badger Light was the worst, no surprise in a pub line up, but this was nearly undrinkable. The rest were very hard to tell apart, similarly bad with little distinction between the light beers. The best of the lot was the draft Root Beer that my wife ordered. Never got past the samples to have a pint of anything else.

It's the only brewpub in town, so stop if you have to. I did.