What makes a beer great? Hops, malts, and yeast all are invaluable contributors to the final equation. However, I know from drinking healthy quantities of Munich Helles style and even Olympia beer over the years that “it’s the water” which can distinguish a brewery from the masses. And while many breweries claim to have that “special” water, there is only one way to truly quantify the uniqueness of any water…you have to drink it at the source.
With this in mind, I headed out last Friday with my lovely wife, Liz, to the Grand Teton Brewing Company in Victor, Idaho to experience first hand the water used to brew the best beers in that state and, by shear coincidence, participate in the Cellar Release Party for the brewery’s Wake Up Call Imperial Coffee Porter.
The brewery is set on the back side of the Teton Mountain range, with a quiet view of the outskirts of Victor and the surrounding hills…definitely not a bad place to work. The entire staff at Grand Teton and the community of people attending the release party were the friendliest and most down-to-earth people we have enjoyed being around for quite some time.
But what about the water you ask?
Straight out of the tap, the water tastes clean, fresh, and pure…clean natural goodness. Emanating from the Teton Mountains, the water filters through granite and limestone and finally bubbles up to the surface in a natural spring literally ½ mile away from the brewery (I’ll never believe that science can complete replicate what nature creates).
The brewers at Grand Teton believe, as do I, that the best beer is only as good as the water it’s made from and believe me when I say that you can taste the brilliance of the water in every Teton beer. It sets the foundation for each beer, but never interferes or creates an unimaginative repetitive taste that so many “micro” breweries have by using the same hops or malts in every creation (that includes you Sierra Nevada).
While every beer from Grand Teton is a unique expression of a particular beer style, we especially enjoyed the Bitch Creek ESB, Sweetgrass APA, Howling Wolf Weizenbock, and the newly released Wake Up Call Imperial Coffer Porter (read the brewery’s description of this beer and you’ll understand how ridiculously good it is).
The excitement for our tastebuds didn’t stop with the beers on tap, as brewer Rob Mullin invited us to sample some of Grand Teton’s experimental brews that were still aging.
First up were two fruity expressions of Grand Teton’s Grand Saison Farmhouse Ale (as you might recall this was the first beer my palate encountered from the brewery). Using the Saison as a base, fresh apricots and cherries were added into separate tanks and allowed to ferment with the beer. While I’m not necessary enthusiastic about fruit beers in general, the addition of apricot to the Saison was spot on and added a subtle fruity complexion to an already great beer. The cherry was still a work in progress, but Liz thought is had great potential (objectively I agree with her, but since I’m not a cherry fan per-se, I found the apricot more satisfying).
Second up was a tasting of two barreled aged beers that were started by Grand Teton’s former head brewer. Aged in chardonnay barrels from the local winery, Sawtooth, we tasted a huckleberry and a lactose sourgrass beer. Both still works/experiments in progress, the beers were literally unlike anything that I had ever tasted…blurring the lines of taste between fermented spirits. While not necessarily marketable, the beers were entirely drinkable and spoke to the brewery’s creative spirit to set out along a brewing path without knowing what the final product might be, willing to take the chance that it might be great.
I also learned from Rob that the brewery will be working on a Berliner Weisse, becoming one of the few American breweries to venture into this beer style (for those unfamiliar with Berlin Weisse, it’s tart unfiltered weisse beer style found only in Berlin which is typically served with either red or green syrup).
Rob was a great host and the most impressive nugget of information I gleamed from Grand Teton’s trusted brewer was the fact that the brewery was using Andechs’ yeast to make their Fest Bier. Andechs, a monestary located south of Munich, is a highly respected brewery in Bavaria and having the ability to use their yeast is a special privilege (being a Bavarian man I was naturally fairly excited).
A special treat occurred later in the evening when Grand Teton’s new head brewer Kevin Bolen graciously took the time to chat with me about himself and his passions for brewing and future plans for contributing to the brewery. The former head brewer at The Ram in Boise, reaffirmed his interest in brewing unfiltered and, what interests me the most, Munich Helles style beers. The course of our conversation left me excited about the future of Grand Teton brews and that the best is yet to come.
Perhaps more importantly though, as the result of an extremely pressing questions poised to Kevin by yours truly, I walked away convinced that the brewery is philosophically in good hands.
The question: “If I was to open your refrigerator right now, what beers would I find inside?”
The answer: “Pacifico, Big Sky IPA, and Coors.”
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Kevin is a firm believer in the philosophy that I adhere to everyday…there is always a time and place for any type/quality of beer in this world. Even though I tend to have higher standards when it comes to the consumption of beers, there is nothing quite oh so refreshing on a hot summer’s day as drinking an ice cold Coors or Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Therefore, you should expect nothing mundane about beers made at Grand Teton under Kevin’s supervision. Instead, expect beers that fit a particular expression of a style, while meeting and exceeding one’s expectations.
And what of the release party itself?
It was a relaxed casual affair during a perfect summer evening spiced up by a rockin’ band, some keg slinging, Elk bugling, and some surprisingly tasty bratwurst (I say surprisingly because I’m more often disappointed then impressed with the quality of bratwurst in this country). Also present were the owners of Caffe Ibis, Randy Wirth and Sally Sears, who’s coffee was used to create the Wake Up Call Imperial Porter (100% organic & Fair Trade coffee that seriously impressed this die-hard Peet’s coffee drinker).
But enough about the water, the beer, and the festivities in general. I know you all are dying to hear about the keg tossing competition.
Simply stated, the event was the highlight of the evening, as men and women competed separately for the chance to take home 4 bottles of Grand Teton Cellar Reserve beers.
Unlike Olympic shot put, the keg toss at Grand Teton was more about technique than brute strength, as victory was achieved by the final resting place of the keg, not its initial landing spot. Thus creativity was at a premium, as each competitor attempted to out-roll the previous best toss. There were plenty of great rolls accompanied by the boo-birds reacting to those who had failed. I even got into the action, only to come up a foot or so short of achieving victory (if you can find me in the keg tossing photos, leave a comment and the first person to correctly guess my identity will win a sports-glutton.com t-shirt).
Winning the keg toss was not without an obligatory victory lap of sorts…also know as beer chugging.
Overall, I can’t say enough about how impressed we were by Grand Teton’s beers and how pleasant everyone made our visit. If you’re ever in the area or visiting Grand Teton National Park, you owe it to yourself to visit an American brewery which is using great water to produce phenomenal beers. For those of you who can’t wait to taste Grand Teton’s beers click here to see if their brews are available in your area.
A few final notes:
- I’d like to extend a special thanks to Julie Levy, Chuck Nowicki, Rob Mullin, Kevin Bolen, and the entire staff at Grant Teton for their hospitality during our visit.
- If you’re planning a visit to the brewery and are looking for local accommodations the sole motel in Victor is a series of three small log cabins located behind the Phillips 66 gas station. Quaint, clean, and comfortable, the Trails End Motel Cabins’ front desk/check-in is at the register in the convenience store of the gas station. “$10 on pump five and a log cabin with two double beds please!”
- Keep an eye out during the next few weeks for additional reviews of their beers, sodas, and perhaps a few food pairing as well.
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