Friday, February 27, 2015

Two New Anchorage Breweries in March

The weather is still pretty good up here on The Last Frontier and March is starting to look like one helluva good month for craft beer, with not one but two new breweries opening.

The first brewery isn't truly new, strictly speaking, as Gabe Fletcher's Anchorage Brewing Company has been producing amazing beers for several years now, using the brewhouse of the Sleeping Lady Brewing Company. But the new stand-alone brewery at 148 W 91st Avenue, under construction since June, will hold its grand opening on March 14th, from 2 to 8 PM. I definitely plan to be there to celebrate the moment.  How about you? Gabe has spared no expense to create a truly exceptional craft brewery. From the radiant-heated floors, to the walls paneled in reclaimed wood, to the state-of-the-art brewhouse from Newlands Systems, to the hewn tree-trunk bar tops in the Tasting Room, you can tell that this brewery is a labor of love. Patrons in the Tasting Room will have an open view back to the brewhouse, through two rows of giant wooden foudres, five on a side. The aging room has sufficient space to house some 800 barrels for secondary fermentation.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company
Anchorage Brewing also released its 2015 Rondy Brew, 80 Year IPA at Humpy's on Wednesday night. It's brewed with Citra and Galaxy hops, then dry-hopped with Mosaic. Sounds juicy and delicious.

The second new brewery preparing to open isn't on quite the same grand scale as Anchorage Brewing, but it's still exciting, nonetheless. Resolution Brewing Company, located in a strip mall at 3024 Mountain View Drive (just behind and above Bass Pro Shop), should be open by March 15th. I stopped by on Wednesday, February 25, to meet the Owner/Brewer Brandon Hall.

Brandon Hall. Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

The focus of Resolution Brewing Company will be direct retail sales in its taproom. Hall plans to self-distribute kegs of his brews to about five restaurants around Anchorage, but will reserve most of his production to support sales at the brewery. Resolution’s brewing equipment is a 3-barrel direct-fired system from Stout Tanks and Kettles of Portland, Oregon, along with three 3-barrel conical fermenters and one 3-barrel brite tank. Initially, Hall plans to only be open Thursday thru Sunday, until he’s confident he can meet customer demand at the brewery.

Serving bar and taps. Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

When I stopped by on Wednesday, Hall was working his way through various final inspections by local government agencies, as well as brewing batches of beer and working to put the finishing touches on his taproom. The front potion of the taproom is occupied by a serving counter, while the back area runs parallel to the brewery proper, separated by a leaning bar where patrons will be able to set their drinks while watching the brewer at work. Further back in the taproom are booths and café tables where patrons can sit and chat. Eventually, Hall hopes to replace the back wall of the taproom with a glass roll-up door, enabling drinkers to enjoy an excellent view of the Chugach Mountains on pleasant days.

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

There are eight regular taps and one nitro tap installed, and currently Hall has five separate beers either finished or in various stages of brewing. A tripel and a pale ale were still fermenting, but three beers were complete enough that I was able to taste them. The first was a saison, as yet unnamed, which had been hopped with Sorachi Ace. This hop variety is famous for the lemony notes in both its flavor and aroma, and it worked extremely well with the spicy flavors generated by the Belgian yeast, resulting in a delicious and extremely refreshing farmhouse ale. The second beer was called Father Dyer Belgian Brown Ale, named for a Methodist preacher who was famous in the frontier-days around Leadville, Colorado. The influence of Belgian yeast was evident in this beer as well, but there were also some nice roasted flavors from the malt used, as well as good bitterness from the American hop strains. Finally, I tasted Rewind IPA, which is designed as a classic West Coast IPA, bursting with hop aroma and flavor. Hall told me that 90% of the bitterness in this brew came from hop additions in the final 15 minutes. Based on how difficult it was to make, this beer will probably not return often, so you will want to try it before it’s gone.

Brite tank and three fermenters. Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

So it seems that by mid-March, craft beer lovers in Anchorage will have two new options when it comes to drinking good beer in a brewery taproom. Best of luck to both new operations, and I look forward to enjoying many beers at each.

Massie, RBC's mascot. Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

While I was busy learning about new Anchorage breweries, the Dean of Alaska beer writers, Jim "Dr. Fermento" Roberts, was busy scooping me on my home turf. In his latest column for the Anchorage Press, he reports that the Seward Brewing Company has purchased a new "crowler" machine. This wasn't something I'd ever heard of before, but Owner Erik Slater apparently saw one in operation in Colorado and thought it would be perfect for his brewpub. It sounds like it's a cross between a can and a growler, hence the name. Basically, it's a filled to order 32 oz can of beer, that you can purchase and take home. Since it's in a sealed can, the beer will keep much longer than in a screw-top growler. Read Jim's article via the link above for more details and pictures. Seward Brewing Company is planning to open again for business on Friday, May 1.

Besides it upcoming Beer Dinner with Jeff King (see last week's blog for details), Glacier BrewHouse has released another new beer. Here's what they have to say about it:

Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse

LEAD DOG LAGER FOR MAKE-A-WISH - We will donate 50 cents from every pint of Lead Dog Lager sold in our restaurant during Fur Rondy to Make-A-Wish Alaska. Medium bodied, sweet, malty, and supremely smooth. The color is a brilliant light copper. The beer was brewed using only the finest German Pilsner and Munich malts along with very subtle German hops. This one will get you down the trail! Alcohol: 6.28% by volume. Starting gravity: 15.30 Plato (1.064 S.G.)

 Arkose Brewery in Palmer has announced that it Maiden Mild (reviewed 3/22/2013) will be returning soon.

At Alaskan Brewing in Juneau, the Crab Feed and Pub Crawl last week was apparently quite successful, as it sold out. After feasting on crab at Tracy's Crab Shack, the celebrants visited the Red Dog, the Alaskan, and the Imperial saloons during the pub crawl. These three saloons were selected to spell out "Alaskan Imperial Red", since the event also celebrated the release of Alaskan Imperial Red Ale in 12 oz. bottles.

Phase One of Alaskan's expansion plan, which started last spring, is almost complete. The brewery expects to be moving beer into the new space by the middle of March.  Here are a couple of photos that give a pretty good idea of the space being gained:

Click to enlarge. Photos courtesy of Alaskan Brewing.

Besides the new space, Alaskan Brewing in also in the process of taking delivery of four 1,400-barrel tanks.

Click to enlarge. Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing

Together, the new facilities and increased tank capacity should allow a significant increase in annual production.

HooDoo Brewing's famous firetruck beermobile was featured in Outside Magazine. You can read all about it here.

On the national beer new front, I received some good news the other day. As the 2010 Wynkoop Beer Drinker of the Year, that competition has always been near and dear to me. The Beer Drinker of the Year Contest had been held annually by Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver until its merger with Breckenridge Brewery in 2013. No competitions were held in 2014 or this year, but there will be one in 2016. So it's time to start buffing up those beer drinker resumes; they'll be due at the end of the year. The finals will likely be held on February 20, 2016 at the Wynkoop in Denver. If you'd like more details, you can check out this blog post by Cody Christman, the 2009 BDOTY.

Here on the Peninsula, St. Elias Brewing Company has the following beers on tap as of yesterday:

Click to enlarge. Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell
The newest is the Cross-Bo Pilsner. Look for a review in next week's blog.

Speaking of reviews, here are two for this week:

Anchorage Brewing Company's The Tide and its Taker Tripel (Batch #1, bottled October, 2011): I first reviewed this beer on 1/13/2012. I stashed a bottle in my cellar, curious what the brett in it might get up to, after a long aging. I fished it out this week and drank it. After over three years in the bottle, the brett had consumed everything. The first clue to this was the way the cork shot out of the bottle on its own, as soon as I removed the wire. It poured a clear gold, highly carbonated, with a nice white head that slowly dissipated to a collar. The nose was overwhelmingly brett funk; the fruit notes and wood from the chardonnay barrels were no longer noticeable. On the palate, the brett notes again dominated, coming on strong upfront, then fading a bit in the middle to allow a few hints of the tripel's fruity esters to come forth, before roaring back strong on the finish. The beer was bone dry, with the brett having consumed all the residual sugars. An interesting experiment, but this beer is much better fresh or with only a few months aging on it, if you prefer a stronger brett character. After three years, it was pretty much a one note song. 9% ABV, 30 IBUs.

Firestone Walker's Pale 31 California Pale Ale: This beer poured a clear, slightly orange-gold color, with a nice, white head. The aroma was laced with bright, crisp American hop notes. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was fairly light. Flavors were clean and crisp, good hoppiness balanced by a decent malt backbone, with restrained bitterness. A delicious and highly drinkable pale ale, this beer would be an excellent pairing with a wide variety of foods. 4.9% ABV.

That's it for this week. Keeping enjoying this lovely Alaskan weather, and keep drinking good local beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Early Spring?

While a large chunk of the Lower 48 is shivering through record cold, here on the Kenai it's starting to look like an early spring. Temperatures were in the 40's yesterday and we've got a lot of rain forecast for the weekend, which should pretty much take care of the little bit of snow we've got left on the ground. So let's have another beer in anticipation of a quick breakup and a warm and early spring!

Taking a look at what's new in Alaska beer news, first up is King Street Brewing Company. Last Friday, February 13th, it released a new seasonal, Baltic Porter.  Here's how the King Street Crew described it:

The Baltic Porter style developed as a cross between English Porters and Russian Imperial Stouts. While the porter style has its roots in London, in the 18th century, strong porter variations became templates for brewers in the Baltic states of Latvia, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia. These brewers were also influenced by German brewing techniques, and so most versions, including ours, are brewed with lager yeast and aged to present a smooth clean lager finish.

Our interpretation has a malty sweet nose of plumbs, raisin, and chocolate, and has a clean dark brown/light black color.  The taste is a complex of velvety malty goodness, toffee, black current, a very slight hint of chocolate, and has a restrained roast lager finish.  7% ABV
 Sounds delicious, so I hope there's still some on tap when next I get up to Los Anchorage.

I received the February newsletter from Snow Goose/Sleeping Lady. Rather than paraphrase it, I'll just reproduce it in its entirety.

Click to enlarge
Congratulations to Alaskan Brewing Company for earning two more medals, this time at the 2015 International Brewing Awards. Its Hopothermia took Gold in the Strong Ale Category and its 2014 Alaskan Smoked Porter took Bronze in the Specialty Other Special Feature Beer Category. You can read all the details and see a list of all the other winners here.

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing

Alaskan Brewing Company also announced its Charity Partner for 2015.After voting by all employees, it was decided that the Gastineau Humane Society (GHS) will  be the beneficiary of many of its fundraising efforts for 2015. The brewery has a tradition of choosing a new non-profit partner every year. Last year, Alaskan Brewing was able to donate over $14,000 to the non-profit chosen for 2014, Trail Mix, through the proceeds of a number of charity events and through the donation of the brewery’s gift shop tip jar. Past non-profit partners have included Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL), The Red Cross, The Glory Hole, Southeast Alaskan Food Bank, AWARE, Cancer Connection, Hospice & Homecare of Juneau and SEADOGS.The first major brewery sponsored event that will raise funds for GHS will be the Crab Feed and Pub Crawl, which starts today at 6 PM at Tracy's King Crab Shack at  406 S. Franklin St. in Juneau. Here's your chance to drink beer and eat crab, all for a good cause!

Glacier Brewhouse released another new brew yesterday, a Vanilla Milk Stout.  Here's its description:

Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse

Vanilla Milk Stout - Smooth malty sweetness, chocolate, vanilla, and caramel flavors dominate this milker. Milk sugar (lactose) was added to render the smooth malty body. Vanilla beans were infused to achieve the fudgesicle-like flavors. Udderly fantastic! Alcohol: 5.14% alcohol by volume. Starting Gravity: 14.00 Plato (1.057 S.G.).

La Bodega has added another beer tap to each of its growler bars in both Anchorage and Girdwood. for a listing of what's on tap, click here.

Lots of news from the folks at Midnight Sun Brewing Company. First and foremost, another batch of Berserker Imperial Stout will be released next week. This is a truly amazing beer; see my review on 9/9/2009 if you've never been fortunate enough to have any in the past. So make your plans now to load up on it next week; you can drink it now, cellar it for a couple of years, or use it as trade bait for beer lovers from the Lower 48.

The other big news from Midnight Sun is that the planning has already started for its big 20th Anniversary bash this May. This brewery is the second oldest operating brewery in Alaska, after the venerable Alaskan Brewing Company. Owner/Founder Barb Miller sent me a email with a general outline of what's being planned.  Here's what she had to say:

FRI MAY 2 – First Firkin Friday – 20 artists, each having created one piece that "celebrates Midnight Sun Brewing Company at 20 years." This will be a very exciting and eclectic exhibit. All pieces will be for sale throughout the month of MAY.  5 – 8 PM. Firkin to be determined.

SAT MAY 3 – Midnight Sun's "official" anniversary party – special dishes and merchandise with beers tapped throughout the day

TUE MAY 5 – Cinco de Mayo – MSBC's actual anniversary date – Upscale Taco
Tuesday with a firkin tapped at 5:05 PM on 05-05-15

TUE MAY 5 – MSBC Anniversary Beer Dinner at Kinley's – 6 PM – Menu and price TBD

MSBC will be participating in Seattle Beer Week, MAY 7 – 17th. MSBC will probably not have events all 11 days — mostly likely, MSBC events will be TUE MAY 12 – SAT 16th in Seattle.

 American Craft Beer Week is MAY 11 – 17th: MSBC will create events at The Loft for all 7 days of ACBW.

Making it to 20 years is a big deal, so make your plans now to help the good folks at Midnight Sun Brewing Company celebrate this milestone.I'll share more details as I get them.

Moving on to beer reviews, here are three for this week.

St. Elias Brewing's Frozen River Fest Doppelbock. This beer was brewed specially for the Frozen River Fest held on Saturday, 7 February. Zach Henry brewed it strong, which is fortunate as it needed the extra alcohol to help it keep from freezing in the fest-goers mugs! It poured a very dark caramel color with a nice mocha-colored head that left good lace on the glass. The aroma had notes of sweet malt plus some hints of caramelization from the long boil. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was on the heavy side, as you'd expect from such a big beer. On the palate there were plenty of rich malt flavors, very clean tasting, but no hint of alcohol heat. Spot on for the style and delicious. Still on tap at St. Elias when last I checked, but sure to go fast.

St. Elias Brewing's White Cap Lager: At the opposite end of the lager spectrum from a doppelbock, this beer is a light lager.It poured a light gold in color, crystal clear, with a nice white head. The nose had some biscuity malt notes. Carbonation was very good and the mouthfeel was quite light. The flavor profile was very clean, with a light hoppiness providing balance to the underlying malt. A perfect accompaniment to pizza or salad, this beer is very refreshing and highly drinkable. I'd think it would go over even better during hot summer months.

Victory Brewing Wild Devil Ale: This is a variation on Victory's popular HopDevil IPA (reviewed on 3/21/2014). As you might have guessed from the name, this beer adds Brettanomyces to the party. It poured a clear copper color with a big off-white colored head.  The nose had bright, almost tropical hop elements, plus some of the barnyard funk that is Brett's signature. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light and slightly effervescent. The was good up front bitterness, then some nice hop flavors, with the Brett funkiness coming to the fore on the finish. All-in-all, a very nice blend of hops and funk. 6.7% ABV.

Well, that's about it for this week. Enjoy the unseasonably warm weather, and keep drinking good, local beers.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Another Successful Fest

Well, for those of you who couldn't make it to Soldotna last weekend, you missed another great time. The Frozen River Fest was very successful, in spite of everything Mother Nature could throw at it. The temperature was hovering around 9 F and there was a strong, cold wind blowing, but that didn't stop hundreds of hardy Alaskans from coming out to drink good beer and listen to good music. Nine breweries, a winery, a meadery, and Specialty Imports were all pouring. It was also very family-friendly, with lots of kids activities as well. You can check out lots of photos from the event on its Facebook page here.

The Meet  the Brewers Reception that took place the night before the Fest was a great success as well. Held at Mykel's Restaurant in Soldotna, it sold-out and was marked by lots of great food and plenty of excellent beer, as well as the chance to chat with the various brewers who had come in from out of town for the Fest.

While I was having much too great a time to do any formal brew reviews, here are some that stuck out as superb in my (admittedly hazy) memory: Arkose Brewery's Illuminate Black IPA, Broken Tooth Brewing's YellowEye PA, Homer Brewing's Queen Jane's Imperial Stout, and Celestial Mead's Batch #73, a bourbon-barrel-aged mead. The event started at 6:30 and Mykel's finally ran everyone out at 9:45, so we all obviously had a fantastic time.

Given how successful the whole weekend was, I have high hopes that this will become an annual event. Maybe next year we can have a little less wind...

Moving on to other beer news, several breweries/brewpubs have announced specials for Valentine's Day. Silver Gulch Brewing will have a special menu February 13 through February 15th; here it is:

Shrimp and Scallop Cocktail
Shrimp and scallops marinated with cucumbers, tomatoes, garlic, onion, cilantro, jalapeno, lemon juice, and lime juice. Elegant and refreshing with a hint of heat Served with house-made corn chips. 
Recommended pairing cucumber martini
Sweet and Savory Salad
Fresh spring mix with Micro Hearts on Fire tossed lightly with strawberry poppy seed vinaigrette and topped with candied pecans, diced egg, sweet red onion, feta cheese, crispy bacon bits, and fresh strawberries.
Recommended pairing Silver Gulch Tundra Apple Ale
Wagyu Rib Eye
16 oz. Wagyu Rib Eye, simply seasoned and cooked on a smoking hot griddle to medium rare, topped with a unfermented 40 Below Stout compound butter. Completing the plate with a parsnip and rutabaga puree and sautéed asparagus with a touch of tarragon.
Recommended pairing Silver Gulch RFA IPA
Stuffed Halibut
Alaskan Halibut stuffed with an Alaskan crab mixture, basted with a citrus butter and topped with a velvety Citrus Buerre Blanc sauce Completing the plate with a parsnip and rutabaga puree and sautéed asparagus with a touch of  tarragon.
Recommended pairing Silver Gulch Iliamna Raspberry Wheat
Dessert of Passion
Napoleon style cheesecake of strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry layered and covered with a 40 Below Stout chocolate ganache and garnished with a caramelized strawberry.
Recommended pairing a BEER cocktail with Silver Gulch 40 Below Stout and Lindemans Framboise
Subject to change, while supplies last

Glacier BrewHouse is already booked up for Valentine's Day itself, but it is also extending its special to Friday and Sunday.  Here's its flier:

Click to enlarge

Glacier will also be hosting a dinner in March at Orso with Jeff King.  Here's the poster for that one:

Click to enlarge

Glacier BrewHouse also has two new beers on tap. Here's how they describe them:

Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse

PALE ALE - Beautiful round malt flavor from the Northwest, pale malt balances great with American hop flavor and slightly fruity nose. Light copper in color and naturally carbonated. Alcohol: 4.94% by volume. Starting Gravity: 11.10 Plato (1.044 S.G.). **Pilot Batch – no growlers**

Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse

NITRO PORTER - Deep, dark, and chocolishous flavors abound. With medium body, low bitterness, and velvet mouth feel, this black beauty is sure to please. Nitrogenated. Alcohol: 6.30% by volume. Starting gravity: 15.95 Plato (1.065 S.G.)

At HooDoo Brewing in Fairbanks, the California Common is back on tap.

Photo courtesy of HooDoo Brewing

Gabe Fletcher has announced that the much-anticipated opening of Anchorage Brewing Company's new brewery will take place on either March 7th or March 14th. The exact date will be announced in a few weeks. Personally, I'm keeping both dates free and making plans to be in Anchorage for this one! 

Finally, Alaskan Brewing Company has posted a couple of photos of one really big tank on its way to the brewery. No details on it yet, but I assume this is part of the brewery expansion that started last spring. Here are the photos:

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing

I don't have any reviews for this week, as I have been too busy last week helping to prepare for the Frozen River Fest to get any done. However, I would like to let everyone know that St. Elias Brewing Company has released its special Frozen River Fest Doppelbock. I had some at the Fest and it was excellent, even if it did keep trying to freeze in my mug between sips.  Kenai River Brewing's Frozen River Fest Doppelbock did not finish in time for the Fest, but it should also be available within the next few days. I got a taste of it off the fermenter last week, and it was also excellent. So I'd recommend both of them very highly. Look for some more reviews next week.

That's it for this week. Happy Valentine's Day everyone, and keep drinking good beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Big Fish Eat Little Fish, Part Deux

Well, this has been an interesting week! Let's revisit the two main topics from last week, only in reverse order.

The proposed 8% (or more) alcohol sales tax for Anchorage: Epic Fail. Six of the eleven members of the Anchorage City Council show their good sense (or at least their good sense not to try to lay another tax on their constituents to boost spending on chronic drunks, who aren't exactly known for making it to the polls) and voted last night against even putting this dumb idea to the voters for them to vote down. So that's good news, at least until the next time the politcos try to stick it to the consumers of alcohol with another "sin" tax.

Dick Traini can kiss my a** ...
The AB-InBev buyout of Elysian Brewing: this one got even more surreal with the broadcast of AB-InBev's infamous Super Bowl commercial, which included a gratuitous bitch-slap at brewers of "pumpkin peach ales." What makes that so hilarious is the fact that Elysian Brewing is well-known for brewing Gourdgia on My Mind, a Pecan Pumpkin Peach Ale. So AB-InBev was basically cutting down its latest acquisition. Meanwhile, poor Dick Cantwell is probably wishing he could just take his millions and ride off into the sunset, instead of having to hang around and engage in the ever more futile task of trying to convince Elysian's employees and (former) drinkers that AB-InBev really will respect craft beer in the morning... Sucks to be you, Dick, but as the old saying goes, "He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon."

Taking a step back and looking at the commercial in the wider context, rather than just with respect to the Elysian purchase, I actually see it as a good sign. Initially, I was irritated by it, as I assume most craft beer drinkers were, but after giving it some thought, I think it shows even more than the recent spate of buyouts that craft brewing is really starting to worry AB-InBev. Dropping several million dollars on buying a Super Bowl ad isn't something you do if you don't perceive craft beer's growth as a real threat. Not to mention they just gave craft beer the sort of exposure we could never have afforded to purchase ourselves. As the old PR adage goes, "Write anything you want to about me, just spell my name right!" Plus the responses from the craft beer world are already flooding the websites, like this one.

So, as I said above, I'm actually pretty sanguine about the whole affair. I'm not worried that craft beer can't whip Budweiser in a fair fight for the consumer's palate. No, I'm much more concerned with them trying to use their political muscle to keep it from being a fair fight. For example, you can read about what AB-InBev has been trying to pull in Kentucky here. We all need to be watchful and keep our powder dry for the next exchange of fire.

In other news, it looks like Gabe Fletcher has fired up his new brewhouse at Anchorage Brewing Company's new brewery. He posted a picture yesterday of his first batch.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing

Hopefully the new brewery's taproom will soon be open for business!

There are less than a dozen tickets left to this Friday night's Meet the Brewers Reception/Beer Tasting at Mykel's Restaurant in Soldotna. The event starts at 6:30 and there will be heavy appetizers and brews from nine different breweries/wineries/meaderies to sample. The cost is $40, and this is a great chance to meet and talk to the brewers/vintners one on one. If you haven't gotten your ticket yet, you'd better hurry up; they are available at Kenai River Brewing and at Mykel's.

Click to enlarge

The Frozen River Fest will be happening this Saturday from 3 to 6 PM at the Soldotna Creek Park. In order to speed up admittance, Kenai River Brewing is selling the sampling mugs in advance. You can pay $15 at the brewery and you'll be given your sampling mug. You bring the mug to the Fest, get your ID checked, get a wristband, and a token for one 4 oz pour. You must bring the mug, as it's the proof that you pre-paid. The idea is to speed things up at the gate, so you can get to drinking the beers that much quicker!

Glacier BrewHouse has a new beer on tap as of last Friday: a Belgian Blonde Ale.  Here's how they describe it:

Belgian Blonde Ale - This blonde beauty was brewed using premium pilsner malt, noble hops, Belgian candi sugar and secret spices. The special Belgian yeast strain adds complex, classic, Belgian aromas and flavors that meld perfectly. Smooth and refreshing with a touch of juicy fruit flavor. Alcohol: 6.80% by volume. Starting Gravity: 15.10 Plato (1.061 S.G.).

Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse

Alaskan Brewing has announced that more of its beers will be available on Alaskan Airlines flights. Freeride APA will be available in cans on board starting in February, along with Amber Ale in bottles. In April, Freeride will be replaced with Icy Bay IPA in bottles. Alaskan's Summer Ale and Freeride will return in June and Summer Ale will stay on until September, when Amber comes back to replace it.

That's the news for this week. Let's hit the reviews.

Alaskan Brewing's Big Mountain Pale Ale:  This is the newest beer in Alaskan's seasonal line-up, a replacement for the gone-but-not-forgotten year-round Alaskan Pale Ale. See my blog of 5/22/2013 for the story behind that brews demise. Big Mountain pours a light copper in color, very clear with a small, cream-colored head. The aroma has plenty of citrusy, fruity notes from the Mosaic and Simcoe hops used in the beer. Carbonation is good and the mouthfeel is fairly light. There is nice bitterness up front, but it's well-balanced by the malt, keeping this brew firmly in the pale ale range. After the initial bitter attack, there's good hop flavor and aroma behind it, falling away to a nice finish. This beer focuses on what I think it the major virtue of pale ales: decent hoppiness without overwhelming bitterness. In other words: drinkability. This is a beer you can drink two or three of without any palate fatigue. A nice addition to Alaskan's stable fo beers. 5.7% ABV.

Kenai River Brewing's I'll Have Another Rye Kolsch: The brewery's contribution to the 2015 I'll Have Another AK Beer Week Collaboration, I picked up a growler of this to enjoy with friends during the Super Bowl. The beer poured a light honey color, with a decent head. The aroma was nice, and on the palate there was plenty of the clean, crisp maltiness you expect from a kolsch, plus the added interest of some peppery notes from the rye. Very nice and an excellent accompaniment to the many different finger foods we shared at the party. A great beer to have when you're planning to have more than one!

Kenai River Brewing's Galaxy Imperial Rye Pale Ale: While picking up the big growler for the Super Bowl party to share, I also grabbed a smaller growler of this beer just for myself. It poured a slightly dark honey color, with reddish tints and a small off-white head that left good lacing on the glass. The nose has the tropical fruit notes that you expect from Galaxy hops. Carbonation and mouthfeel were good. There was a significant initial bitter attack, followed by more tropical fruit flavor from the hops and peppery notes from the rye. These imperial rye pale ales are big beers, so they need plenty of hops for balance, meaning this is not the beer to have when you're planning to have more than one. This bad boy is a palate wrecker that you'll want to drink slow, but it's an excellent beer none the less.

That's it for this week. I hope to see you at Mykel's on Friday or at the Frozen River Fest on Saturday. Be sure to dress warm!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Breaking News: Bottled Beer Release at HooDoo Brewing

I got the email announcement for this release just after I'd posted my last blog, and since it's happening tomorrow, Saturday, January 31st, this news won't wait.  Here's what the brewery had to say about the release:

Fresh Local Beer - it’s what we pride ourselves on at HooDoo Brewing Co. Almost every beer we make is best consumed as soon as possible after it is packaged in kegs.
There are exceptions to every rule, and our delicious barleywine blend “Mammoth" is one of those exceptions. 

With much anticipation, we are pleased to announce the release of our 2015 Mammoth Barleywine Blend. The blend, which is packaged in 750mL bottles, is a first for our 2-year old brewery. Hand-packaged, waxed and numbered, the Mammoth will be available for in-state sales ($28/bottle, limit one case per customer) at the brewery starting Saturday, January 31. To celebrate, this Saturday we will be re-releasing the Mammoth, the 2014 Barleywine and the 2013 Barleywine for glasspours and growler fills. It will be a great day to be in the Taproom!

How does Mammoth taste now? Incredible. The majority of this delectable concoction was aged in Dry Fly Wheat Whiskey barrels for 11 months, then blended with a small amount of 2014 and 2013 steel-aged Barleywines. It's a big beer, weighing in at 10.6% ABV. Rich malty flavors and aromas, with light whiskey notes - all smoothed out by spending almost a year in toasted American Oak. Drink one fresh?  Absolutely. 

For an opportunity experience this beer in another flavor dimension, put a bottle away for a year. While you’re at it put a bottle away for 2 years. 5 years. Even 10+ years.

When aging hoppy beers, the hop components will degrade quickly and leave a resiny, muddled flavor.  Hoppy beers are best drank fresh.  HooDoo’s English Barleywine, released every January, is unique in that although we use hops to bitter the beer and balance out the malt sweetness, we use very little finishing hops for flavor and aroma.

This beer is a showcase of delicious Maris Otter malt.  Mammoth’s deliberate lack of finishing hops allow the malt flavors to stay at the forefront as they change and develop with time.  Dark fruit flavors will become more prevalent over the next few years and the beer will be delicious, rich, and very comparable to a fine port.

We would like to thank everyone who helped with this big project by staying after-hours, volunteering their time and energy so we could get these available. We touched each bottle through hand-filling, crowning, labeling, waxing, then hand-numbering. Each one is unique. We'd also like to extend a thanks to the ever-talented, local artist Brianna Reagan for creating the great artwork for the label.
Photo courtesy of HooDoo Brewing.
I know if I was in Fairbanks tomorrow, I'd definitely pick up a bottle!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Big Fish Eat Little Fish and So On Ad Infinitum...

Before moving on to the primary topics of this week's blog, I wanted to share an exciting bit of personal news. Take a look at what will be the cover of my upcoming book from The History Press, Alaska Beer: Liquid Gold in the Land of the Midnight Sun:

Click to enlarge

I realize I may be a bit biased, but I think the cover looks spectacular, especially since all the images were taken by my wife, Elaine. The current publication date is set for May 11th, and obviously I will have more info as we get closer to that date, but in the meantime, you can join me in admiring this lovely cover!

Now that the good news is out of the way, on to the bad news, which comes in two flavors: Outside Bad News and Alaska Bad News. We'll start Outside.

The online beer world has been shaken by the news that one of the stalwarts of craft brewing, the Elysian Brewing Company of Seattle, has been sold to AB-InBev.  Hence the title of this blog, though to be honest, you can't really find a bigger fish than AB-InBev...

The right-hand fish is definitely AB-InBev...

The idea that Elysian Brewing could be purchased by the company that many craft beer lovers view as The Evil Empire has gotten a lot of folks quite upset. I'm a bit more sanguine about it than many, I must admit. First off, Elysian has never been one of my go-to breweries. I visited it once, maybe a decade ago, during a trip to Seattle, and I've had its beers on occasion, but that's about it. I'm sure if I lived in Seattle and drank at Elysian regularly, I might be more upset. Secondly, I think it's inevitable that we will see more and more such buyouts as the founders of more and more breweries reach the age when they are looking to cash out some of the years of blood, sweat, and tears they have invested in their breweries. Absent a family member who wants to take up the reins or some sort of employee buyout like New Belgium's, what else is there except to sell to a big company with lots of cash? I'm too much of a capitalist to begrudge someone selling the company they built with their own hands for a profit.

All that being said, I don't plan to purchase any beers produced by Elysian Brewing in the future. This isn't because I think they will not be well-made, tasty beers; far from it. I expect that Elysian's brews will continue to be just as good as they ever were, at least for several years. The reason I won't buy Elysian's beers is that I have only a limited amount of money to spend on beer (more's the pity) and I want my dollars to go to support independent, local brewers. I'd rather plunk down my $9 or $10 for a six-pack from a brewery here in Alaska than have it help fatten AB-InBev's bottom line. But I realize that's a purely personal decision on my part, so if you want to keep drinking Elysian or Goose Island or 10-Barrel or whatever the next acquisition by AB-InBev or MillerCoors turns out to be, go ahead. I won't think any less of you. Well, not that much less...

The Bad News from Inside is that the politicians in Anchorage have had the bright idea to slap an 8% (or maybe more) tax on alcohol to help fund their efforts to deal with the chronic drunks camping out along that city's streets. Never mind that Alaska already has the second highest beer taxes in the country. Never mind that the state rammed through a 10-cents-a-drink tax just a few years ago, supposedly for the same purpose. Of course, once the tax was passed, the state rerouted the money, but hey, that's what politicians do, right? The old bait and switch...

No, what get me so mad is that so many politicians regard the vast majority of people who drink alcohol responsibly as someone being the cause of the few who are chronic drunks. They must believe this or they wouldn't keep trying to make us pay for the care and feeding of said drunks. But it seems to me that the "chronic inebriates" are no more the fault of the responsible drinkers than people who take prescription medicine should be held responsible for those who abuse drugs. Is the Anchorage City Council likely to pass a sales tax on prescription drugs to fund drug treatment centers? I don't think so. So why try to lay the entire cost of this social ill onto the folks who consume alcohol? And don't tell me that this tax will be paid by anyone except the consumers. Everybody who wants to have a glass of wine with their supper or a beer after work will get stuck paying the tab.

I don't live in Anchorage, so I don't really have a say in this, even though I'll get stuck paying the tax on the beer I buy up there to bring back to the Kenai with me. But if you do live in Anchorage, I'd urge you to contact your representative on the City Council and tell them not to vote for this. If the City of Anchorage wants to spend more money on its social problems, that's fine. But it should tax all its citizens to pay for it, via property or sales taxes. Singling out one group and requiring them to shoulder the whole burden is just wrong.

Alright, let's move on to some good news. First up, congratulations to Denali and Alaskan Brewing Companies for winning medals at the 2015 Best of Craft Beer Awards. Alaskan took Gold in the Smoked Beer Category with its 2013 Alaskan Smoked Porter, while Denali Brewing took Silver in the Blonde Ales category with its Mother Ale and Bronze in the Irish Red Ale category with its Single-Engine Red. Well done! If you are curious, here's the complete list of winners:

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There are now more details about the beer event taking place in Soldotna on Friday, February 6th, that I mentioned in last week's blog. It will be a Meet the Brewer’s Tasting at Mykel’s Restaurant in Soldotna. It starts at 6:30pm and will be a chance to meet the brewers and vintners who are participating in the Frozen River Festival. Tickets are $40 and are on sale at the Kenai River Brewing Company. Participants will get to enjoy a diverse appetizer buffet, sample beer/wine/mead from 9 different companies, and chat with the folks who made them!! A perfect warm-up for the Frozen River Fest, which will be the next day, from 3 to 6 pm in Soldotna Creek Park.

Another bit of good news, Resolution Brewing in the Mountain View neighborhood of Anchorage had a soft opening last Friday. Still no beer for sale yet, but they had some folks in to check out the new brewery and taproom. The intrepid James "Dr. Fermento" Roberts was on hand, as was a reporter for the Mountain View Post. You can check out her interview of him here. Hopefully, Resolution Brewing will be able to start selling its beer real soon.

Resolution Brewing Company. Photo courtesy of Mountain View Post.
Finally, I got a piece of big news from Doug Hogue. It seems that Lasse Holmes down in Homer has managed to grow some hops using a high tunnel and actually got them to produce cones. He lost a lot of the harvest due to not having enough people to harvest them quickly enough (something that Doug is going to help out with this year), but he did get enough to actually use in making a commercial beer. Since supplies are limited  the plan is to brew a 4.5 barrels on an English Pale Ale at Kenai River Brewing on March 18, and then brew 4.5 barrels of a lager style at St. Elias Brewing on March 22. The hops are a mixture of Chinooks, Cascades, and Centennials. What makes this so significant is that to the best of my knowledge, these beers will be the first commercial beers ever brewed utilizing only hops grown in Alaska. And that's a pretty big deal, if you ask me. Stay tuned for more details as they become available.

I only hope they look this good...

Since that's about it for news, let's move on to reviews.

Castle Brewery's Gueuze Fond Tradition: I'm always a sucker for a new gueuze and this was one I'd never had before. It poured a slightly cloudy orange color with a nice, off-white head. The aroma was sharp and tart. The carbonation was good and the beer was effervescent on the palate. It was not as tart as some lambics I've had, and it was well-balanced. There was no discernible brett. Overall, I'd call it an acceptable but not superb gueuze. I think I prefer Boon's or Cantillon's version to this one.

Midnight Sun Brewing's Matanuska Thunder Funk: Sticking with the sour theme, this beer poured a light orange color with a small but persistent white head that left good lacing. There was some brett funk in the nose, but it was light. Carbonation was good and the beer was light on the palate. In the flavor profile, the brett funkiness was evident, along with a slight tartness that lingered for quite a while on the finish. A very refreshing beer, it will be interesting to see how this one evolves as the brett continues to work on it. 5.9% ABV, 20 IBUs.

King Street Brewing's Portage Weizenbock: Another bottle release from King Street, this beer was aged in used wine barrels. It poured a deep, semi-translucent ruby with a small, cream-colored head that dissipated rapidly to a collar. The barrel-aging was very evident in the nose, which had lots of oaky, vinous notes. Carbonation was good and mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile seemed to be dominated slightly by the wine elements, which made the beer's contribution a bit difficult to discern. Still, a delicious and well-made brew. 7.4% ABV.

Well, that's it for this week. Keep fighting the good fight and drinking good local beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!