Sunday, October 9, 2011

Red Lodge Ales - Red Lodge, MT

If you follow a girl a girl halfway across the country you'll find your calling? That's crazy talk. Well, that's exactly what Sam Hoffman of Red Lodge ales did. In 1998, at the age of 24, with zero business experience and no "real" business plan he did something crazy. He started a brewery. Some people work at breweries as interns or paid employees in order to gain the experience necessary to run a brewery. Sam had years of homebrewing experience and about 12 hours production brewing experience thanks to shadowing a brewer at Montana Brewing Company. RLA, now in it's third incarnation, is on the eastern edge of Red Lodge, MT in a large red roofed building. If you're not from this area you may not have heard of this 5000Bbl  brewery yet. I would venture a guess that wherever you are you soon will, the beer is top notch.

The original plan for RLA was bent towards the German Alt and Kolsch style ales. Sam's love of German beer styles and the desire to replicate them is most likely a result of having a German father. The ability to create them is demonstrated in the Glacier Ale, a spot on malt forward Alt beer. The German style Dopplebock and Octoberfest are also right on the mark in every way. Then the American style Bent Nail IPA hits your tongue and you get the suspicion you might be dealing with some sort of wizardry! No one who is so good at brewing German styles should be granted the additional ability to make an IPA so well. The aroma of this IPA is reminiscent of a freshly opened bag of hops! The taste is a near perfect balance of malt and hop, with the hops winning out at the end with a mild astringent finish that leaves you eager for the next taste. This shows that Red Lodge can make many styles very well. The tap list at RLA is almost like a style guidebook. This list runs the table from Czech Pils to English Mild, all the way to a fresh hop beer and a double Hefeweizen. While I was visiting there was even a Pils aged on Cedar. The cedar made for a spicy, green pepper finish in an already very complex pils. This is a fun place to drink!

 Not only can RLA brew a wide variety of great beers, they can do it with sustainability in mind. As you approach the brewery from the west you will see a bank of Solar panels on the roof. These solar panels are used to heat process water for the brewery's needs. In addition to harnessing the sun's rays RLA uses the 7 month winter to save energy as well. When you enter their cooler you will see valved vents coming from the outside, these are part of the Freeaire system. This is a thermostatically controlled system that pulls in outside air when the outside temperature is lower than the ambient
temperature in the cooler.

My host for the day was Rush. He has been brewing for RLA for a little over 2 years. His previous experience was in Kentucky at another brewery. I have to hand it to him, he didn't learn that he would be saddled with dead weight until late afternoon the day before my visit and he handled it well. My day, which was only about 3 hours, was informative and fun. The beer being brewed was Helio, Red Lodge's  Hefeweizen. Oddly, I somehow missed tasting this beer. Rush welcomed me to shadow him but I couldn't help but feel like I was in the way again. I took some pictures and asked general question. I came to the conclusion there was really no way for me to be of service in the brewery. I am dying to actually help someone; the last time I felt like I did that was at Boulder. After spending 2 hours of quality time with Rush I broke away to talk with Sam about his brewery. Thanks for the hospitality Rush (and thanks for putting some Rock and Roll on that jambox).

Talking with Sam was very refreshing. Sam was raised in Boston, MA. I have been sorely missing the non-linear east coast conversational style, which once learned is apparently not quickly lost. We bounced around to many topics very quickly and seemingly at random.We started off discussing how difficult it is to find a laundromat in Seattle. We also talked about his past jobs in construction and his story about following a girl in order to find a town that badly needed a brewery. I was very curious about whether the steps towards sustainability were  in his original plans. The answer was that there were no original plans beyond survival by brewing beer. Sustainability developed organically over the course of time. By the end when all the threads of our conversation were tied up I learned that Sam makes biodiesel. When asked about why he chose to do this the response was "it's so cool!" That seems like a great reason to me.

Red Lodge Ales is an inspiring place. If not for the fact that every beer is nearly perfect, then because of the way it happened. Sam took a crazy chance when he started this place. Most beer lovers drinving into Red Lodge, MT  would assume there is no good beer available there. To learn there is actually a top notch (and successful!) brewery in town is nothing short of shocking. Minutes after I took a spot at the bar a 65 year old woman came in requesting a bourbon barrel aged Dopplebock. If she had slapped me in my face and then endorsed abortion I would have been less surprised. The people of the area are into this place in a big way. You will be too if you stop by.

If you ride there you must ride the bear tooth highway. You'll most likely never see anything like it. If you need a place to stay (in order to properly enjoy the brewery) stay at the Alpine Lodge. Oh yeah, check out the town too.

Next up I'll try to peddle my stuff in Austin, TX

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