Meet Missoula’s Beer Blogger
Alan McCormick knows beer. He also knows land use planning law (he’s a lawyer), Virginia Tech football (he’s an alum), and running (he loves the Missoula Marathon). But it’s beer that inspired him to begin a small blog in 2009 focused on reviewing Montana’s growing menu of craft beer. Fast forward six years and that small hobby project is now GrowlerFills.beer, the preeminent online voice in Montana’s robust craft beer scene.
Montana boasts 60 licensed breweries. In Missoula alone, eight local breweries compete for residents’ taste buds alongside two tap houses featuring Flathead Valley breweries. Each brewery pours at least a half dozen standard beers plus a rotating list of seasonal and specialty brews, so there are literally hundreds of Montana-brewed beers to taste, analyze, and review. Top off this dizzying array of flavors with updates about Montana’s convoluted brewing laws, details for beer-related festivals, tastings, and celebrations, and a steady stream of news and opinions, and you’ll soon see why McCormick’s blog has become the go-to source for all things craft beer related in Montana.
“I enjoy writing and starting a blog gave me an opportunity to experiment with it. From there, I began writing about whatever popped into my head. It has evolved each year. I hardly do reviews anymore, preferring instead to tell the stories of the people in the industry, make sense of beer laws, explain the consequences of beer legislation, and introduce people to new experiences,” he says.
As we sat on the deck at Draught Works, discussing Montana’s beer scene, it became clear McCormick is a living beer encyclopedia. He rattles off the names of brewery owners, head brewers, and others in the industry with ease—and not just Montana-based breweries, but ones in California, Oregon and Colorado; he explains the ins and outs of Montana’s strange beer laws and even contextualizes them by detailing how other states manage their breweries and beer sales; he offers tips on homebrewing techniques; and he shares several growlers’ worth of stories about Montana’s beer culture.
He also enthusiastically talks about Missoula Craft Beer Week, a weeklong celebration he organizes with local beer writer Ryan Newhouse. 2015 marked the fourth year they’ve organized the event.
“Beer is social and people have a strong connection to their favorite beers and breweries. Beer weeks celebrate this experience by providing a concentration of fun events,” McCormick says.
These “fun events” aren’t just your typical “meet the brewer” type of thing, although the week does provide plenty of opportunity for connecting to local brewers.
“We have made a particular effort to have events that connect people to beer and brewers in unusual ways. Beer and art, for example. The Craft Beer Cup mini-golf tournament. The human foosball tournament,” he says.
McCormick and Newhouse have big plans for the festival, if not enough time to implement them all. Ultimately, they hope to create a festival that brings visitors from across the country to sample Missoula’s beers and learn more about local beer culture.
GrowlerFills.beer isn’t a money maker. In fact, McCormick says it costs him money to run. But being a beer blogger gives him access to the brewing world most of us can’t hope to have. This past April, McCormick headed to Asheville, N.C., for the 2015 Beer Bloggers and Writers Conference.
The three-day conference moves locations annually and provides its attendees with once-in-a-beer-drinking-lifetime chances to meet the head brewers and talents behind their favorite brews. The 2015 conference included tours of the new Sierra Nevada Company and Oskar Blues breweries located in Asheville. At the Sierra stop, the crew got to meet Ken and Brian Grossman, the brewery’s founders. A couple of years ago, at the conference in Boston, McCormick hung out with Jim Cook, the founder of Sam Adams. For McCormick, the chance to hobnob with guys like that is well worth the costs the blog incurs.
So what’s next for the Montana brewing scene? I put that question to him as we finished our pints on the Draught Works deck. He predicts we’ll continue to see new breweries and tap rooms open across the state, albeit at a slower rate than in the last few years. Craft brewers will continue to wrest tap handles and retail shelf space from the big, national breweries as more and more folks connect with local beer. Montana’s brewery laws will remain convoluted and confusing until there’s a paradigm shift in the entire licensing system. Mostly, though, he just thinks there’ll be more high-quality, locally produced beer available across the state.
“Montanans recognize good beer,” he says. “They seek it out. We’re fortunate to have good beer here in the state. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”