Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Seward Brewing Company and Grace Ridge Brewing Company

With the coming of spring here on the Peninsula, plants are budding and breweries are opening and reopening. In the reopening category, Seward Brewing Company opened its doors for the season on Thursday, May 5th. I managed to get over there on Saturday, May 7th, to check things out. Here are some photos, courtesy of my wife, Elaine.

On the exterior, there's now a nice sign, though the brewery was never very hard to spot.

Heading inside, the first obvious change is that the big screen TVs have been removed from the bar, something I wholeheartedly approve of. If sports are what you're looking for, go to a sports bar. Me, I'm here for the beer.

The crowler machine is up and running, so you can can a 32 oz. can of delicious beer filled to order, and expect it to keep for a nice, long time. This is my crowler of Lazy Otter Lager being filled.

I chatted with owner/brewer Erik Slater for a few minutes, but he was shorthanded in the kitchen and was helping out on the cooking line, so we couldn't talk long. There is a new menu, which you can find on the brewery's website. I had a Pretzel appetizer and Mac's Meat Sandwich; both were excellent. My only disappointment was that the Inked Out Stout wasn't quite ready to drink, so I had a Pinbone IPA instead. The stout was delayed by a leaking man way cover, but it's on tap now. I snapped a picture of my IPA.

Pinbone IPA
It had tons of citrusy, American hop flavor to it. So, if you find yourself in Seward this summer, you should definitely stop by and check out the Seward Brewing Company.

In the opening brewery category, Grace Ridge Brewing in Homer opened for business at noon on Thursday, May 12. I stopped by about 1 PM, and it looked like there was a steady stream of folks dropping in to check things out. Don Stead and his wife Sherry were behind the counter, serving three different beers:

  • Kayak Beach Blonde Ale                  4.6% ABV      21 IBUs
  • Sadie Peak IPA                                 5.8% ABV     55 IBUs
  • Oystercatcher Stout                          4.5% ABV     32 IBUs (draft only, no growlers)

I tried samples of all three and enjoyed them all. The Kayak Beach Blonde has a nice clean taste, with a bit of hops but nothing to scare away the average macro beer drinker. Sadie Peak IPA uses Centennial hops in the boil and Amarillo and Simcoe as dry hops. It has lots of great hop flavor, but is fairly well balanced and very drinkable. The Oystercatcher Stout was brewed specially to celebrate the Shorebird Festival, and the ingredients included 10 dozen raw oysters in the 3-barrel batch. To my palate, the oysters gave it a hint of briny, marine flavor, which along with the roasted flavors made a delicious combination. Hours for Grace Ridge Brewing are currently 4 to 8 PM on Thursday, and noon to 8 PM on Friday and Saturday. The rest of the week it is closed, so Don can have time to brew and to sail. Here are some photos of the new brewery, also taken by my wife Elaine:

Sherry Stead waiting on customers

There is also an art exhibit in the brewery

Don Stead and yours truly chatting in the front of the brewing area

Grace Ridge's brewhouse

The exterior of Grace Ridge Brewing in Homer
It's currently American Craft Beer Week, and lots of breweries across the state have held or are holding events to celebrate it; too many to list here, so check your local brewery's website or Facebook page to see what it might be doing. However, we are counting down to a big event to wrap up the week: the First Annual Alaska Crafted Festival this Saturday, May 21, in Anchorage. Lots more details on the event have been released. Most importantly, you can get a 10% discount on your tickets using the promo code "Crafted", so if you haven't bought tickets yet, now's a good time. Here's the schedule for the Performance Stage:

  • 5 to 5:40 PM : Nervis Rex preforms, representing Anchorage
  • 6  to 6:40 PM: Denali Cooks performs, representing the Mat-Su
  • 7 to 7:40 PM: Strummin Dog & Double G performs, representing Southeast
  • 8 to 8:40 PM: Young Fangs performs, representing the Interior
  • 9 to 9:40 PM: Blackwater Railroad Company performs, representing the Kenai Peninsula

On the Williwaw Stage, there will be presentations and demonstrations:

  • 5:30 PM Meet the Author: I will be giving a presentation on Gold Rush Era Brewing 
  • 6:00 PM The Art of the Beer Cocktail
  • 6:30 PM Alaska Crafted Cocktail Competition
  • 8:30 PM Demonstration: Chilkoot Coffee by SteamDot
  • 9:00 PM Beer Trivia Contest for prizes

There will be five food trucks and thirteen other vendors there selling food and other items. Plus all the breweries, wineries, distilleries, etc. giving samples of their products. Here's a graphic that shows who will be there and where they are located in the state:

Putting it all together, this is going to be one amazing event. I'll be there and I hope you will be as well.

Speaking of American Craft Beer Week, both HooDoo Brewing Company and 49th State Brewing are participating in its "Biggest Small Beer Ever Made Event", where craft breweries across the country will be brewing the same beer recipe, an imperial porter.  Here's a video about it:

I believe you will be able to sample the beer at the Alaska Crafted Festival, as well as at these breweries. Also as part of American Craft Beer Week, there will be a National Toast at 4 PM Alaska Time tomorrow, Thursday, 19 May. If you can, try to raise a glass with the rest of the craft beer lovers across America at that time.

Let's move on the some other beer news.

First up, Midnight Sun Brewing has announced that it will be releasing its Panty Peeler Tripel in cans, making it the fourth beer to join MSBC's canned offerings. The label has been approved by the feds and the brewery is just waiting on the cans to be made and delivered, so look for them to hit the shelves sometime mid-summer. MSBC has also released its Buzzwinkle Sour Wheat Ale, which I wrote about in my last blog.

Click to enlarge

Alaskan Brewing Company has made a couple of major announcements. First, long-time Chief Operations Officer, Linda Thomas, has been named the new CEO, while the founders of the company, Geoff and Marcy Larson, are looking forward to dedicating more time towards building the pioneering legacy of Alaskan, focusing on innovation and the spirit of craft brewing. Second, Alaskan will begin distributing its beers across Ohio this summer. Ohio will be the 18th state to which Alaskan sends its beers, and also the easternmost one.

Starting May 31st, La Bodega will be holding a beer tasting event focused on a local brewery every other Tuesday at the beer garden at Jack Sprat Restaurant in Girdwood. First up, 49th State Brewing. Here's the ad for the events:

King Street Brewing Company just released a new seasonal brew yesterday: a Belgian Rye IPA.

Arkose Brewery is continuing its Small Batch on Nitro Series. Last Thursday, it was Black Cherry Porter.

It's Spruce Tip Time in Southeast. At Haines Brewing, the Captain Cook's Spruce Tip Ale is back on tap.

Photo courtesy of Haines Brewing

This Saturday, from 3 to 8 PM, it's the Spruce Tip Festival at Baranof Island Brewing Company in Sitka.

Click to enlarge

Here on the Peninsula, St. Elias Brewing Company has a new beer on tap: Frapple Lambic. It's flavored with both apples and raspberries, then barrel-aged with brettanomyces. At Kenai River Brewing, they are in the throes over trying to plan and execute the move into the new brewery. All questions about opening dates are being referred to a Magic 8-Ball...

That's it for news, so let's move on to reviews.

I paid a visit to Costco recently, and while I was there I came across a 4-bottle variety pack from Sierra Nevada Brewing. It was called the High Altitude Series, and consisted of Dunkelweizen Bock, Six Rights  Double IPA, Chocolate Chili Stout, and Bourbon-barrel-aged Bigfoot Barley Wine. The bottles were bomber sized, and the whole pack was only $29.99, which I thought was a pretty good price, so I picked one up. I've reviewed the Barrel-Aged Bigfoot before, so I'm only going to do the other three today.

Sierra Nevada's Dunkelweizen Bock: It poured opaque with a small, cream-colored head. The aroma was of roasted malt and chocolate. The mouthfeel was good and so was the carbonation. The flavor profile was slightly sweet, with lots of rich, deep flavors of roasted malts, falling away to a long finish. It reminded me of a nice dessert, rich and satisfying. 7.2% ABV

Sierra Nevada's Six Rights IPA: It poured a clear copper color with a big, off-white head. The nose was all citrusy American hops, but with a slightly unusual element that reminded me of tangerines. The mouthfeel was light and the carbonation was excellent. The initial attack had good bitterness, but balanced with a robust malt backbone. Overall, a very nice beer, walking the line between a single and double IPA. 8% ABV

Sierra Nevada's Chocolate Chili Stout: I approached this brew with some trepidation, as I am typically not a fan of chili in beers. It poured opaque with a big tan head. The aroma was of dark chocolate and malted milk. Mouthfeel  and carbonation were both good. On the palate there were rich chocolate and roasted notes up front, then the slightest amount of chili heat on the finish. The chili was very understated, which is how I like it if it has to be there at all; your mileage may vary. 8.5% ABV

Black Market Brewing's Seek & Destroy Smoked Quad IPA: With a style like a that, it was hard to know what to expect for this beer. It poured a deep copper color with a big, off-white head that left good lace on the glass. The nose was smoke free, with only notes from the American hops. Mouthfeel was medium, and the carbonation was excellent. There was good bitterness up front, followed by mild smoke flavor. Surprisingly, I got no heat from the 12.7% ABV. There a lot going on in this beer, but I'm not really sure everyone's on the same page. Still, it was not a total train wreck, so if you are curious what a "smoked quad IPA" tastes like, give it a try.

That's it for this time. Next time round, I should have a report on how things went at the Alaska Crafted Festival. Enjoy the rest of American Craft Beer Week.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Happy 21st Birthday to Midnight Sun Brewing Company!

This Thursday, May 5th, will be the 21st anniversary of Midnight Sun Brewing Company opening its doors, way back in 1995. While I've only been in Alaska since 2004, I still remember visiting its cramped original location on Arctic Blvd, next to the taxidermist's shop. As the second oldest operating brewery in Alaska (after the venerable Alaskan Brewing Company, which will turn 30 this fall), Midnight Sun has come a long way from those early days. You can read about its trials and tribulations in my book Alaska Beer: Liquid Gold in the Land of the Midnight Sun if you are so inclined.

For the celebration on Thursday, which starts at 5 PM, MSBC will be tapping a firkin of Panty Peeler Tripel, cask conditioned with tequila soaked staves and lime zest. There will be 21 beers on offer, either on tap or in bottles. Friday will be First Firkin Friday,with a special art show featuring art from the brewery's crew and their loved ones. There will be a firkin of  5000 Berliner Weisse, tapped at 5 pm. Then on Saturday there will be another Beer Brunch in The Loft, from 11 am to 3 pm. Here's the menu:

Click to enlarge

Midnight Sun has also posted a photo of the label for a new beer it will be releasing soon: Buzzwinkle Sour Wheat Ale, featuring the moose made famous in Chad Carpenter's Tundra comics.

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun

Congratulations again to Midnight Sun and I'm looking forward to the next twenty-one years!

Speaking of May 7th, Arkose Brewery will be holding a special Mother's Day Edition of its popular Beer Meets Chocolate at 3 PM. Enjoy four handcrafted chocolates from JB Chocolatier paired with four artisan ales from Arkose. 21 yrs and older. $25. Buy tickets online or call 746-BEER. Arkose is also continuing its Limited Release Nitro Series, with Key Lime Pie Pale Ale still on tap at last report.

Photo courtesy of Arkose Brewery

Up in Healy, 49th State Brewing opened its doors on 25 April and held a grand opening party last Saturday, April 30th. This Saturday, May 7th, Prospectors Pizzeria will be holding its opening party. Doors open at 4 PM, and music starts at 8 PM from The Kris Eli Jones Band and Hall, Tark, and Dansom. No cover charge.

Anchorage Brewing Company will be releasing a new beer on Thursday, May 5th, Crazy Ray's IPA. This will be the first IPA that ABC has bottled on a regular basis for the fishing season. The Crazy Ray Boat and Crew will be there along with Kodiak Custom Lures and the folks from Port Ashton Lodge. They will be serving some of their famous salmon tacos! Here are pictures of the bottle:

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company
Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company

Grace Ridge Brewing Company has been posting on its Facebook page as beers have been brewed and kegged. Looks like it will be open at noon on next Thursday, May 12th, just in time for the kick-off of the Shorebird Festival down in Homer. Owner Don Stead is initially offering five core beers: Sadie Peak IPA, Jackalof Porter, Diva’s Toasted Nuts Brown Ale, Oystercatcher Stout, and Kayak Beach Blonde.

Photo courtesy of Grace Ridge Brewing
The First Annual Alaska Crafted Festival on May 21st is less than three weeks away now, and excitement for it continues to build. The organizers have released a graphic, showing all the producers that will be in attendance.

I've been asked to give a short presentation on brewing in Alaska prior to Prohibition, plus I'll be signing copies of my books. There will be live music and food, and even mixology demonstrations on making cocktails using local ingredients. Performance schedule is as follows: 5 p.m. Nervis Rex representing Anchorage; 6 p.m. Denali Cooks representing Mat-Su; 7 p.m. Southeast entertainment TBD; 8 p.m. Young Fangs representing the Interior; 9 p.m. Blackwater Railroad Company representing the Kenai Peninsula.Tickets are $75 a person or $120 for a couple and are currently available online. They will also be sold at the door, unless the event sells out in advance, which seems likely.

Also on May 5th, Odd Man Rush Brewing will be releasing its infamous El Guapo Blonde Ale, brewed with 80 pounds of jalapeno, Anaheim, and habanero peppers.

May 5th is also the day that Seward Brewing Company reopens for the summer season, after its long winter hibernation.

Bearpaw River Brewing has sent several kegs of its beers to the growler bar at the Brown Jug Warehouse store on Old Seward in Anchorage. So if you haven't made it up to Wasilla to check out its beers yet, this is your chance.

Here on the Peninsula, Kenai River Brewing Company's new brewery is rapidly moving toward completion. The sign is up on the side of the building, so folks driving by on the Sterling Highway will have no doubt about what is is. The Grand Opening will take place on Saturday, June 18th, to coincide with the brewery's 10th Anniversary. Doug Hogue tells me that he's going retro with the beer line-up for that event by bringing back all the beers that were on tap when the brewery opened in 2006, so stand-by for the return of such brews as Pothole Porter, Swiftwater Stout, and Eagle Rock ESB! The soft opening will probably be in late May, but that date is still pretty squishy. Here are some photos that I took on Thursday, April 28th:

The new sign, visible from the Sterling Highway

The new covered patio on the side away from the Sterling

The new tap room, looking from the patio door toward the main entrance

The new 20-bbl brewhouse, plumbed in and ready to go
Moving on to beer reviews, I have five for this blog.

Black Raven Brewing's Raven de Garde Pale Ale: In my last blog, I gave a less than stellar review to a bourbon barrel aged Scotch Ale from this Redmond, Washington brewery. This time around, I have to say that this was one of the best and most enjoyable brews I've had in recent memory. It poured a clear, light copper in color with a big white head. The aroma had the characteristic peppery, spicy notes that scream Belgian yeast. Carbonation was excellent and the mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile was a nice balance between hops, more Belgian yeast notes and brett funk, with the last becoming more pronounced on the finish. In some ways, this beer could almost be and American version of the classic Orval. Yes, it's that good. I went to Country Liquors and bought all they had on the shelf, but if you see it there or anywhere else, buy it. ABV 7.4%.

Denali Brewing Company's One Tree Birch Beer: Another special release from the Talkeetna brewery, this is a Belgian-style Golden Strong Ale made with birch syrup from a local provider. It poured a deep gold color, with a large, off-white head. The nose had the spicy, peppery notes you'd expect from Belgian yeast. Carbonation was great, and the mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile had some fruity notes to it, reminding me more of a tripel rather than the classic clean and hoppy profile of Duvel. There was a touch of residual sweetness on the finish, likely from the syrup priming. A very nice beer and a great utilization of a local ingredient. 9.1% ABV.

Black Raven Brewing's La Mort Rouge (2016): This is a Strong Dark Belgian Ale that's been aged in red wine barrels. It poured a deep, semi-translucent ruby color, with a small but persistent cream-colored head. The aroma was highly complex, with a mix of dark fruit and vinous notes. Carbonation was low but acceptable and the mouthfeel was medium to heavy. The complexity of the nose was repeated on the palate, with rich dark fruit flavors (plums, raisins, figs) intertwining with oak tannins and wine elements, before for falling away to a slow, long finish. This is a definitely sipper and a great beer for lovers of big red wines. I liked it, though not as much as the pale ale I reviewed above. 9.3% ABV.

Southern Tier Brewing's Grand Arbor Farmhouse Ale: This is a different take on how to use a local ingredient (maple syrup this time) in a Belgian-style beer. It poured a slightly cloudy gold with the typical huge white head of a saison. Again, the aroma had plenty of the spicy, peppery notes I always associate with a Belgian yeast. Carbonation was great and the beer had a nice, light mouthfeel. There was some initial up front hop bitterness, then the beer slowly settled back, until I picked up some alcohol warmth on the finish. Not a superb saison, but an eminently drinkable one. 9% ABV.

Hanssens Artisanal's Oude Gueuze Lambic: I tried this beer a  few years ago, but blending lambics is quite an art, so I decided to try it again. It poured a slightly cloudy gold with a big white head. The nose had the tart sourness you expect in a good gueuze, with some brett funk as well. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light and effervescent. There was nice tartness up front, followed by light notes of brett funk, falling away to a long finish. There are few things better than a good, well-balanced gueuze, and this certainly was one. 6% ABV.

Well, that's about it for this time. Get out and enjoy some of the beer events happening in the next few days and get your tickets for the Alaska Crafted Festival on May 21st.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Another Player Joins the Game: Welcome to Bleeding Heart Brewery

It's mid-April and lots of things are beginning to bloom here in Alaska, including our newest crop of breweries. First out of the gate is Bleeding Heart Brewery in Palmer, which opened for business at noon on Saturday.

Stefan Marty and Zack Lanphier. Photo courtesy of Bleeding Heart Brewery
Looks like the initial tap list consisted of the brewery's four flagship brews: Grounds for Divorce Coffee Porter, Valley Trash Dirty Blonde, Kold Shoulder Kristallweizen and the namesake Bleeding Heart India Pale Ale. Bleeding Heart has also fired up a blog, with an initial post about how it got started. Congratulations on finally making it, guys,, and I can't wait to get up to Palmer and check things out.

While Bleeding Heart is open for business, Quake Brewing in Eagle River is still working towards that goal. As part of that effort, Quake has initiated a campaign to raise $10,000 to help finish the brewpub. Quake will also be unusual in that it will offer other breweries' beers, alongside its own. To my knowledge, the only other brewpub in the state doing that is the Seward Brewing Company. Here's a video from February, describing their plans.

If you'd like to contribute to getting Quake Brewing up and running, check them out on

Speaking of new breweries, there was a report in the Alaska Dispatch News that a business plan for a new brewery in Unalaska won first place and $20,000 in a contest sponsored by the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association and Aleut Corp. Josh Good is a 5th Grade teacher who hopes to open the Unalaska Brewing Company. He's obviously got a long way to go, but I certainly hope he's successful, even if it means a long trip to pay him a visit and sample his beers. You can read the entire ADN report here.

While new breweries are working to open, existing breweries continue to expand. Midnight Sun Brewing Company has just taken delivery of a fancy new bottling machine. Here are some pictures of it being delivered:

Images courtesy of Midnight Sun Brewing Company
At Kenai River Brewing Company's new brewery, Doug Hogue finished assembling the new 20-bbl brewhouse last week, so it's likely been plumbed in and wired to power by now.

Some assembly required... Photo courtesy of Kenai River Brewing.

Brewhouse in its new home. Photo courtesy of Kenai River.
Ed Miner of Gakona Brewing let me know that he has bought a 3-barrel brewhouse from Odd Man Rush Brewing in Eagle River. He should be picking it up this week, and then he will need to get it plumbed in and wired up, but he expects to have it up and running by the beginning of June, give or take. Along with his new tanks, this should significantly increase his production.

Over at Bearpaw River Brewing in Wasilla, they have finally gotten ahead of the demand curve enough to send some beer out to a few places around the area. As of last Thursday, Bearpaw River was on tap at:

  • Spenard Roadhouse
  • PubHouse
  • Settlers Bay Golf Course 
  • Fat Ptarmigan 
  • La Bodega 
  • ER Alehouse 
  • Palmer City Alehouse 
  • Schwabenhoff

Or just hit the brewery itself.

Moving on to beer events, at 6 PM on Thursday, April 28, Kinley's Restaurant and Bar in Anchorage will be hosting the Sierra Nevada Beer Makers Dinner,which will feature the beers of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, paired with the amazing food that Kinley's is known for. There will be six beers and five course, and the detailed menu is posted here. The cost is $70 per person; call 907-644-8953 to make reservations. I have attended beer dinners at Kinley's in the past, and they were all amazing, so if you will be in Anchorage next week, I'd definitely try to make this one.

49th State Brewing Company in Healy will be celebrating the end of its annual winter hibernation with a 2016 Kick Off Party on Saturday, April 30th. The brewpub will actually open next Monday, April 25th. There's rumor that there might even be a barley wine on tap during the first week in Healy!

49th State Brewing Company in Anchorage will be hosting an Audience Appreciation Show by the comedy improv group Scared Scriptless this Saturday, April 23rd,  from 8 to 9:30 PM.

La Bodega will be hosting a beer and small bites tasting with John Kathman of Rogue at its Northern Lights location on Tuesday, April 26th at 5:30 PM. $10 gets you beer samples and small bites. Seating is limited to 25, and tickets are only on sale at the Northern Lights store, next to Hearth.

Here on the Peninsula, the Three Bears Warehouse Store in Kenai has added a 6-tap growler bar to its liquor store. I'm told that the beers currently on tap are Elysian Brewing's Space Dust IPA, Alaskan Brewing's Honey Hemp Ale (ESB), Broken Tooth Brewing's Apple Ale, two beers from Glacier Brewhouse, and Kassik's Brewery's  Morning Wood IPA. This means we now have more growler fill options!

Moving on to beer reviews, I've got three for this blog.

Burton Bridge Brewing's Olde Expensive Ale: To be honest, I picked this one up on a whim at La Bodega because I liked the label design. It poured a deep copper color and was seriously over-carbonated, with a huge meringue-like head that took forever to settle, making this beer a real pain to pour. The aroma was zesty, with some pear-like notes. Too much carbonation, okay mouthfeel. Flavor profile seemed a bit off, which along with the excessive carbonation, makes me suspect problems with this beer. Some yeasty notes, but plenty of medicinal ones as well. Not really worth drinking, so I'm afraid I can't recommend this one, despite its cool label. 6.5% ABV.

Sierra Nevada Brewing's Otra Vez Gose-style Ale: This beer poured a cloudy gold with a white head that slowly dissipated to a collar. The nose had citrus & grapefruit notes. The mouthfeel was light and the carbonation was good. On the palate there was a subtle tartness, which made the beer seem light and refreshing, before making a nice, clean finish. I could see enjoying this on a hot day or pairing it with a nice, light salad. 4.5% ABV.

Black Raven Brewing's Splinters Bourbon-barrel Aged Scotch Ale: I am somewhat familiar with this brewery from its participation in the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival, not to mention I'm a sucker for Scotch Ales, so when I saw this beer at La Bodega, I decided to give it a try. It poured a deep ruby color with a good cream-colored head. The aroma was strongly of bourbon, and only bourbon. Mouthfeel was good, a bit heavy as a Scotch Ale should be, and carbonation was okay. The flavor profile tracked with the aroma, i.e. overwhelmingly bourbon. For me, this beer illustrates the mistake many breweries make with barrel-aging: they allow the barrel to totally dominate the beer. If all I want is bourbon flavors, I'll drink bourbon! If I'm having a beer, I want it to taste primarily like beer, with some bourbon notes, not the other way round. However, if you want to drink a beer that tastes like bourbon and only bourbon, this one's for you. 10.8 % ABV.

That's it for this week. More news and reviews next week.

Until Next Time, Cheers!