One benefit of hanging around skilled brewmasters is their constant need for experimentation. Even when they formulate and virtually perfect a delicious beer, they still love playing with new flavors, tweaking the tried and true in search of a tasty twist.
That willingness to play is the inspiration for River City Brewing's first International Marmot Beer Festival, a day-long party celebrating 10 new variations of their popular winter seasonal, Midnight Marmot Imperial Stout. The 140 or so ticket holders will get to sample raspberry-infused Marmot, a root beer version, and Marmot aged in whiskey barrels that give the festival its "international" flavor, including Irish, Scottish and Canadian whiskey (or whisky) barrels and American bourbon barrels. In addition to the 2-ounce samples, they'll also get a commemorative snifter and a full pint of their favorite.
"We thought there was an opportunity to do something bigger with the beer," says Todd Grove, who along with fellow brewer Moose Sanders came up with the different versions of Marmot for the festival. "This is our most successful seasonal offering or specialty offering. It has a good fan base." Aside from being a favorite of the in-house staff since River City started making it in 2013, the malty, rich Marmot is particularly suited to experimentation.
Both Grove and Sanders note that the Midnight Marmot is a favorite of theirs among the beers they produce for River City. While they always look to improve it year to year, the one-day festival allowed both of them to get more creative than their day-to-day brewing typically allows. Sanders says he was able to pull out some techniques he hadn't used since his homebrewing days, and Grove notes that the 10 variations produced for the festival include a mix of "tried techniques and experiments, too."
"We like this beer so much, we're just bursting with ideas," Grove says. "Between Moose and I, we had more ideas than we have taps to put on for the fest. We could have easily kicked out 20 different variations."
For the first International Marmot Beer Festival, 10 will have to suffice. But there's always next year. ♦
First Annual International Marmot Beer Festival • Sat, Dec. 19, from noon to 8 pm • $25 advance/$30 at the door • River City Brewing • 121 S. Cedar • rivercityred.blogspot.com • 413-2388
More Winter Beers Worth Sipping
12 Strings of Winter
Twelve String Brewing Company, Spokane Valley
This winter ale, available through January, blends four kinds of hops with some sweet malty flavors to make for a smooth, highly drinkable après-ski treat. The dash of vanilla adds to the seasonal appeal. Available on tap at the brewery and regional bars and restaurants.
2 Finger Pour
Orlison Brewing Company, Airway Heights
An altogether different taste for a seasonal brew, 2 Finger Pour is Orlison's effort to make a beer taste like an Old Fashioned cocktail, using several different malts, whiskey barrel chips, orange peel and some small-batch local bitters. It's sweet, but not too much so, and a welcome change from cookie-cutter winter ales. Available through the winter at the brewery, Orlison's Spokane taproom and in cans.
Laughing Dog Brewing, Sandpoint
A new batch of the Dogfather imperial stout is being distributed as this issue hits the streets, and fans of its bold approach are rejoicing. Its blend of seven malts and four different hops add to the complexity of this slightly bitter beer, given seasonal appeal by hints of coffee and chocolate. Available at the brewery, regional bars and restaurants and in cans.
— DAN NAILEN