Grand Teton Brewing - Bone Warmer
- ABV: 8.2%
- Serving Temperature: 54-61° F
- Suggested Glassware: Snifter, Tulip
We’ve been particularly impressed by Grand Teton’s Cellar Reserve offerings as of late, such that we’re constantly eyeing up potential inclusions for The Rare Beer Club. You might recall their exceptional Bourbon Black Cauldron that we highlighted late last year (a standout beer within that season’s patch of imperial stouts), and long-time members may remember Grand Teton’s Imperial Weizenbock and Wee Heavy from a few years previous. Once again, we’ve found a Grand Teton release we can’t pass up, and this one hasn’t been brewed in five years. It won’t be brewed again anytime soon, and a quarter of this batch is allocated for the Club.
Bone Warmer is ideally timed for early fall. The weather’s cooling, and this beer provides just a touch of warmth and plenty of darker, robust German malts. The latter conjures up toasty Oktoberfest Märzens, as well as the deeper caramel of full-flavored, cold-weather bocks. In the glass, Bone Warmer pours a deep and clear cola-brown color, like a gold-tinged port with its alcohol tucked away. Allowed to warm, the aroma here offers up layers of rich red fruits, caramel, a light vinous alcohol in the background, and a nice midsection of crystalline sugar.
Whereas American strong ales (imperial amber ales, etc.) tend to rely more on that impact of bracing hops and alcohol from the start, this beer is more careful, showcasing the influences and richness from dark German malts while keeping the fruitiness and alcohol in check. The impact at first sip is precision: that kiss of caramel, restrained red apples, toasty cereal grains, plus a hint of huskiness. The carbonation is slight, while the overall presentation is, for sure, carefully malt-forward, and maybe the closest style parallels here are with that of world-class dunkels: rich Munich malt, liquid-bread comparisons, and a crisp mouthfeel (courtesy of this beer’s lengthy cold-conditioning period). This is the sort of strong ale one could sip all year.
Overall, we found this opened significantly as we allowed it to warm. The dense caramel and malty toastiness took center stage, and this beer realized an exceptionally drinkable midpoint between refreshing German dunkels and the heftier bocks. Those caramel notes will amplify with time, and Bone Warmer seems an ideal frame for watching that oxidation develop. We expect this to go well with countless varieties of roasted pork (with the caramel notes finding a natural match), while a creamy sweet-potato dish could help bring out that core toastiness.
Picture it: Wyoming, the mid-1980s; images of rolling waves of wheat along the Great Plains, wild animal preserves, Yellowstone National Park, grand mountainous terrain and world class skiing. Absolutely gorgeous country and boundless resources, standing in stark contrast to an almost total lack of good beer. Necessity is the mother of invention, and this was a period of time when a few pioneering brewers decided enough was enough—it was time to get full-flavored, freshly-brewed, locally-produced beers back into the fold. Thankfully, two brothers from Wyoming stepped forth to brew and sell beer in ways not seen in that state since Prohibition. Charlie and Ernie Otto, brothers of German-Austrian descent, had long been familiar with great beers. Charlie had become a well-respected area homebrewer, with friends and family constantly asking him to brew more beer (perhaps some of you homebrewers out there know the feeling?). Of course, the pleas for his brew soon spread beyond familial lines as locals caught wind of his fine handcrafted ales. This interest in better, pre-Prohibition style beer got the brothers thinking about starting their own commercial enterprise. But because Wyoming did not issue licenses to homebrewers, Charlie had to muscle up and take on the law. Through an ambitious effort, he eventually helped get a bill passed which would allow him to start selling his beer commercially. In 1988, he was awarded Wyoming brewery license “no. 1”.
That license came just in time—the brothers had already built a small brewhouse in Wilson, Wyoming (just outside Jackson Hole)—so securing the first malt beverage manufacturers’ permit issued in the state in over 35 years made it possible for them to start selling their delicious brew (which is sort of crucial to a business model that calls for the selling of beer). In 1988, the Otto Brothers’ Brewing Company, officially the first modern microbrewery in the state of Wyoming, opened for business and soon released their original “Teton Ale.”
As demand grew, the brothers broke ground for a new, high-capacity brewery at the base of the Teton Pass in Victor, Idaho in 1998. The site was chosen for its proximity to locally-grown barleys and Northwestern hops, as well as nearby Teton Glacier water. In the Fall of 2000 the company was officially renamed the Grand Teton Brewing Company in order to portray a more regional and recognizable marketing approach, while still retaining their proud history and tradition of beer-brewing in the area.
For more information about the brewery, brewpub or scheduled tours, call 888-899-1656, or visit their website at www.grandtetonbrewing.com.
While working together on The Northern California Craft Beer Guide, my wife and I had some of our most memorable sipping experiences far removed from the breweries themselves. Don’t get me wrong: There’s still no replacement for sampling a beer at its birthplace, or enjoying it in the company of its creator. But there is something to be said for getting away from it all.
One of our few calm periods while researching the Guide had us visiting Yosemite National Park, for which Mammoth Brewing Company (in nearby Mammoth Lakes) relabels some of their beers for sale throughout the region. Tuolumne Meadows IPA. The Ahwahnee Amber. Yosemite Park Ale. While these beers are normally top-tier offerings in their own right, they tasted even better when sipped along the Merced River, or following an incline-heavy hike.
Grand Teton Brewing, which I’ve been keeping an eye on for a few years now via occasional samples, does something similar in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Their Old Faithful Ale, Teton Ale, and Howling Wolf Weisse Bier embody both the mood and a local attachment. I have yet to make the trip to Yellowstone, and the Wyoming and Idaho Craft Beer Guides may still be a ways off in terms of critical mass. So I can’t really say with any certainty if those beers, too, improve within those epic surroundings. I did, however, recently enjoy an early bottle of Grand Teton’s Bone Warmer down in California’s Big Basin Redwoods State Park. My wife and I had finished up a twelve-mile trek, retiring to our campsite tucked inside the trees. I’ll say this: although most Club selections highlight appropriate culinary pairings, it goes without saying that these beers also pair well with beautiful scenery and great company.
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