One fabulous weekend

This past week, Nic and Victoria of the Great Northern Resort graciously allowed us to stay at the resort. We had an absolutely fabulous time. We ate amazing food made by Meg of Earth Angel Organics (come cook for me every day, Meg!) and went on a really fun (if blustery) snowshoe hike to Johns Lake in Glacier.

Johns Lake was a pretty cold place to be Saturday afternoon, but beautiful nonetheless. I think this photo looks like an old daguerreotype. The snow was really falling (we had quite the blizzard that night), which obscured the view of some Glacier peaks that is visible from the middle of the frozen lake. But it was still worth the hike. The forest is a beautiful place, especially in the winter, when it seems hushed and secluded. Part of a different world. And yet the sound of snow falling on the pines is deafening. Trees sway in the wind, knocking together. Deer bolt from their bedding places and shake the snow from their backs. Everything looks so different from summertime.

Shawn and Nic take in the “view.”

We came upon several deer on the hike (none of my pictures turned out – ARGH!). The looked cold, covered in snow, and wary. But they watched us as we watched them, probably loath to leave their warm bedding spot. Deer do have hollow hair, however, which helps them keep from freezing.

Maybe this handsome man has hollow hair as well? At least it’s woolly!

Check out that icicle in the middle that came from two separate icicles.

After Johns Lake, we hiked down McDonald Creek, which was really rushing for the middle of winter! I guess with the off-and-on melting the past month or so the river’s up. This is an “off” melting week. According to weather.com, it currently feels like 0 degrees (it’s actually 9), and that’s up from feeling like -22 this morning! It wasn’t that cold in the Park Saturday, but it was snowing hard!

I’m always amazed by the ability of trees to grow in the seemingly most impossible places. This tree is growing out of a rock. It grew down, in a curve, and then back up. Talk about a precarious perch!

This is Sacred Dancing Cascade on McDonald Creek. Nic told us that the Blackfeet (Glacier’s original inhabitants) believed that spirits got trapped in the glaciers, and when those glaciers melted, the spirits floated down the creek. It took them a while to warm up and the Blackfeet believed the spirits warmed and escaped back into the air at this waterfall. Hence Sacred Dancing.

Saturday night we went to an Irish whiskey tasting at the Stonefly Lounge in Coram (My new favorite bar, though the Belton Taproom is a really close second…). We tried six kinds of whiskey (Jameson, Michael Collins, Bushmills’ Black Bush, Jameson 1780 — their 12-year-old whiskey — Tyrconnell and Redbreast. I think Black Bush and Redbreast were my favorites. No pictures from the evening though because we were too busy getting our drink on!

These are the Swiss-style chalets at the Great Northern Resort. We stayed in the one that’s second from the right. Two Bear. We had a lovely, cozy weekend there and LOVED the fireplace.

Amazing food + fireplace + comfy bed + Internet + cable + raging blizzard = fabulous winter getaway weekend!

Here’s the view from Two Bear (when it cleared up Sunday afternoon).

There was quite the drift on the path to the parking lot from the chalet Sunday after the wind howled all night (thank you Nic for digging us out!). Here’s me for scale. Standing, the drift came to above my waist.

This certainly is a beautiful place!

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Moonshine, grit and guts

So there’s a new distillery opening near where I live and I’m SO EXCITED. So much, here’s the story I wrote for the Hungry Horse News, with photos.

Nic Lee takes a whiff of the first batch.

Moonshine, grit and guts

By K.J. Hascall/Hungry Horse News

Last week, Nicolas Lee and Danny McIntosh huddled around the spouts at the end of the distilling process, watching a clear, sweet-smelling liquid cascade into a mason jar.

Lee stuck the end of a finger in the spout, the first batch off the still, made from distilled Great Northern beer. He tasted it, smacking his lips. McIntosh did the same.

After a few moments pensive silence, watching the spirit steadily fill the jar, the two men started laughing and clapped each other on the back. At the end of a long process from dream to reality, Glacier Distilling is up and running.

Danny McIntosh and Nic Lee celebrate two long years come to a successful conclusion.

Glacier Distilling began as an idea about two years ago. Today it’s housed in the Whiskey Barn, a bright red building on U.S. Highway 2 in Coram. The shiny new Kothe brand combination pot and column still stands copper in the window. There’s a tasting room in the works. Lee and McIntosh hope to be open by mid-to-late February.

“I feel like I’d always wanted to do it,” Lee said. “We were sitting around with some friends a couple of winters ago talking about microbreweries, talking about old timers and what people had to do to survive.”

Lee told the story of Josephine Doody, a homesteader near Harrison Creek in Glacier National Park. The memory of Josephine’s renowned whiskey lives on.

“She used to moonshine out of there,” he said. “When the Great Northern trains would go by they’d flash their lights to signal how many jugs they wanted. She was somewhat of a hermit, but apparently made really good moonshine.”

Glacier Distilling’s first brew is a light whiskey called Glacier Dew in honor of Josephine Doody and hardworking pioneers.

“They survived on moonshine and lots of grit and gut,” Lee said. “We wanted to create something to remind you of that time.”

A light whiskey is an un-aged spirit. All spirits come off the still clear; the color of a whiskey comes from the barrel it ages in. Glacier Distilling is using charred and toasted oak barrels to color and flavor the whiskeys they make. Glacier Dew will only sit in the barrels a brief time before bottling.

Unlike Scotch, which is aged in used barrels, American law dictates that whiskey must be aged in new barrels, which gives bourbon a distinct flavor. Glacier Distilling plans to find a home for their used barrels, perhaps at a brewery that ages beer in whiskey barrels.

In addition to Glacier Dew, Lee plans to release Badrock Rye, a rye whiskey, and North Fork White Whiskey. The piece de resistance, however, will be Belton Point Bourbon.

“The bourbon is my favorite whiskey drink,” Lee said. “I like that heavy, aged, oaked taste.”

The corn, rye and barley, once the alcohol is distilled out of them, make a great fertilizer. Lee hopes local farmers will use the grains. And in keeping it local, Lee said the distillery is trying to use all Montana grains in their whiskeys. The grains in the first batches off the still over the next few weeks come from Great Falls.

The distillation process is simple, and yet at the same time it’s a complex game of refinement. First the grains are combined with water and yeast in the mash tank, where the starches in the grain are converted to sugar. The yeast ferments the sugar, which turns it into alcohol.

The fermenting mixture is transferred to large blue tubs, where it sits for 72 hours, to days, to weeks, depending on the mixture.

The mixture, now called a wash, is placed into the still, where it’s heated to boiling. The steam that the wash gives off is what becomes the spirit.

“Steam is what you bottle,” Lee, a chemistry major in college, said. “The art is teasing, getting the temperature controlled, getting what you want out of there.

“With a small still like this, I’d like to play around. Everything is going to be small batches. We’ll have fun with it. The process is so simple you can do so much with it if you finesse it just right.”

The steam condenses into the spirit, which is placed in the oaken barrels, where the alcohol content drops off from around 160 proof to 80 to 100 proof. Glacier Distilling will bottle the spirit in small batches, which will be for sale out of the tasting room.

“We are trying to be a micro, local distillery,” Lee said. “Each product has a story of something that happened here. We’ve embraced this canyon area pretty hard. With the history that went on here it seemed like a good location at the doorstep of Glacier.”

A savings act that doesn’t save anybody

Every now and then members of Congress do things that really get my blood boiling. Like propose to cut the National Endowment for the Arts. And the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And Energy Star. Are you kidding me? So here’s my opinion on the matter (running as my column in this week’s newspaper).

In this time of tightening belts and slashing funds, there comes a point when Americans need to take a step back and ask, when is it too much?

Last week, the Republican Study Committee, chaired by Ohio representative Jim Jordan, revealed a plan to cut federal funding of the arts down to zero. The same committee wants to cut spending on a number of other important programs that leaves me scratching my head and asking, why?
Here are just a few of the programs the committee wants to eliminate.

• The National Endowment for the Arts. The committee says this will save America $167.5 million annually. First of all, isn’t that a drop in the proverbial bucket? Here’s some perspective: To build one fighter jet for the U.S. Air Force, it costs about $150 million.

Locally, the National Endowment for the Arts just contributed $20,000, split between the Glacier Symphony and Chorale and the Whitefish Theatre Company. The symphony will use the $10,000 grant to support its week-long classical music event Festival Amadeus, which is July 31-Aug. 6 at the O’Shaughnessy Center in Whitefish. Guest artists will teach clinics for the community. The Whitefish Theatre Company used its share for last weekend’s Dancing Earth performance. Outreach activities included school matinees and lectures targeted to rural youth.

Nationally, the Endowment supports the American Ballet and arts education programs around the country. It’s been said that part of the reason America is so great is because unlike other nations, American schools have extracurricular activities, like art and shop classes and sports. Other countries don’t have those programs to enrich the lives of their youth and keep those kids occupied after school. Soon, it looks like America won’t either.

Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts told the LA Times that federal investment in the arts helps to sustain 5.7 million jobs nationwide. But what’s another 5.7 million jobs in an economy that sloughs off 100,000 jobs a month?

• National Endowment for the Humanities. The committee says this will save America another $167.5 million. This endowment supports history and culture workshops for teachers. It supports the National Digital Newspaper Program, which makes available online a digital resource of United States newspapers from the nineteenth century to the present. It supports research; National Endowment for the Humanities-supported books have earned 18 Pulitzer Prizes.

• Save America’s Treasures program. The committee says this will save $25 million annually. The Conrad Mansion in Kalispell is a partner of this organization, which is a public-private partnership that includes the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. The program seeks to preserve places important to American history and identity, places and objects like the Star Spangled Banner flag, the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to move to the back, the Emily Dickinson home and the Thomas Edison Invention Factory.

• Title X Family Planning. This cut will save $318 million. Yet Title X provides vital assistance to many youth and low-income families every year. Yes, some family planning clinics perform abortions. However, Title X has allowed millions of American women to receive necessary reproductive health care, plan their pregnancies and prevent abortions.

• Energy Star program. The committee says this will save $52 million annually. And yet in 2009, Energy Star appliances and rebates helped Americans save $17 billion on their utility bills. I’d say that’s a program that pays for itself. Energy Star products range from high-performance windows and efficient heating and cooling equipment to light bulbs, refrigerators, TVs and dishwashers. The program, bottom line, helps Americans save money.

Then there’s the suspect line: “end prohibitions on competitive sourcing of government services.” That means outsourcing, people. And outsourcing means someone in Bangladesh gets an American’s job.

The committee has proposed cuts that do make sense, such as reducing funding for congressional printing and binding. Using less paper benefits us all. So does cutting the federal travel budget (though you’ll be seeing less of your senators and representatives).

But the vast majority of the cuts (with a supposed savings of $2.5 trillion, though that’s unadjusted for inflation) this committee wants to make will only hurt Americans. For a complete list of proposed cuts, visit http://rsc.jordan.house.gov/Solutions/SRA.htm.

If the government really wants to cut spending, the only budgets they need to zero in on are Defense and Homeland Security. But we wouldn’t want to jeopardize those likely unconstitutional full body scans, now would we?

The ridge above Akokola Creek

This blog is about getting out of my comfort zone, which was nerve-wracking and exhilarating at the same time. I can’t write a lot now, but I wanted to get pictures up, so I’ll post those and update soon!

Akokola Creek. The beautiful green color comes from water running on top of ice. Weird and neat.

I love the stark beauty of the trees and deadfall in this photo. The blurs were accidental, from snow on the lens of my camera after a slippery plunge down the steep hillside. Butt skiing we’ll call it. Though the frosty, foggy lens ruined photos I wish it hadn’t, the effect on this photo is rather splendid if I do say so myself.