The Gospel of Cold Smoke

When the beer is worthy, no road is too long

I am going to tell you about the God Beer, Kettlehouse Cold Smoke Scotch Ale, perhaps the next mystery to be tackled by those folks at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.

On June 16, 2010, my wife and I walked three empty and drizzling blocks from our Missoula, Mont., hotel to the MacKenzie River Pizza Co. We told the server to bring us a draft of something dark. Instead of beer, we received enlightenment in a glass: Its opaque, deep-brown body goes down in sweet curves, a cool warmth that hints at coffee and distant wood smoke. There is nothing cloying there, no bitterness, no gimmicky incense or fruit perfumes, just a sum of subtle notes.

As we pulled that first sip, the thin halo of creamy foam shimmered like an Eastern Orthodox icon. We basked in St. Cold Smoke’s benevolent gaze. The next day we went looking for the stuff in a local Albertsons.

“Sorry, looks like we’re sold out.”

We hit everything from chain stores to mom-and-pop places. We were only able to score four four-packs, just 16 tall cans.

We weren’t worried. Las Vegas is booze central, right? We pulled into town after five weeks away and didn’t go home first. We drove straight to Lee’s Discount Liquor. They didn’t have it.

The search continued with phone calls and e-mails. Large and small retailers alike couldn’t get it, hadn’t heard of it. Had we been hallucinating?

It turns out Kettlehouse can’t pump out Cold Smoke fast enough to satisfy even their western Montana demand, and expansion isn’t planned, largely because of a maze of legal issues surrounding beer production and distribution in Montana.

With half our stash already consumed on the road, we realized we might never find this beer again. So we entombed the last eight cans at the bottom of the pantry behind the root vegetables. Nobody wants to dig behind root vegetables.

After a couple of months, we started wondering, “Was Cold Smoke really that good?” We encountered it during the first week of our first long vacation since we had procreated. Our daughters were out in the world, and we were in Big Sky country. Freedom is bound to make everything better. Cold Smoke was good, sure, but mind-bending, life-altering? Come on.

So we went over to Total Wine & More, the nondenominational church of booze, and pulled down some likely contenders: Devastator double bock, Sierra Nevada porter, 8 Ball stout and several more, including our old standby, Deschutes Black Butte porter.

We got home and set up a blind taste test along our kitchen counter. Cold Smoke beat all comers hands down. We finished the last can of carefully hoarded Cold Smoke on our anniversary.

I still eagerly sip just about anything dark and mysterious that evangelizes from a liquor store shelf, but have yet to encounter a brew as relentlessly satisfying to the soul as Cold Smoke.

So we have been planning a pilgrimage. We built an itinerary that culminates at the Kettlehouse Brewery Tap House, where we dream of suckling Cold Smoke from the mother teat. It is part of conversations with friends, family, at dinner, in the quiet after our most intimate moments. The journey to Cold Smoke has become pillow talk.

Now the journey is before us. This month we are traveling east to visit family … by way of Montana. We’ll raise a glass to the unconverted. And hope they stay that way.

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