Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Another "New" Brewery Opens in Alaska

They say it's hard to keep a good man down.  I guess the same is true when it come to a good brewery/restaurant location up in the Mat-Su Valley.

The Last Frontier Brewing Company (hmmm, sounds familiar) and its next door restaurant The Last Frontier Brewhouse are tentatively scheduled to open in Wasilla on February 3.  They are located on the premises of the former Great Bear Brewing Company, which closed a few years ago due to a business dispute among its owners. Veteran Alaska brewer Ray Hodge and his apprentice Robbie Martin will be presenting seven different brews: Heavenly Wheat Ale, Garnet IPA, Black Diamond Dark Lager, 24 Karat Lager, Amber Scottish Ale, Prospector Pale Ale, and Grubstake Stout. I never got the chance to try the beers of the Great Bear before it closed, but I'm looking forward to getting up there and checking these out.  If you're passing through the Valley, you should stop by for a taste.

Speaking of new breweries, I mentioned Gabe Fletcher's soon-to-open Anchorage Brewing Company in my last blog, but there is another new brewery in Anchorage that should be open soon: King St. Brewing Company.  I don't have much info about I yet, but I'll be sure to pass anything I hear along.

Moving on to some new beer reviews, during the GABBF in Anchorage last month I picked up a bottle in the latest beer from Midnight Sun's Pop Ten series, their Barfly, a Smoked Imperial Stout aged in oak .  When I poured it into my nice, new Spiegelau glass (a Christmas present.  Thanks, Elaine!), it was opaque with a small, dark brown head that dissipated pretty rapidly to a collar around the glass.  The aroma was very complex, with smoke, roasted malts, and even some tobacco notes, plus some alcohol from the 12.6% ABV.  On the palate the mouthfeel is good, with the roast coming through first, followed by warmth from the alcohol, then some slight smoke.  The woody notes come in, as the beer drops gradually away to a long warm finish.  The 45 IBUs are there for balance; they can't punch through all the other big flavors in this beer.  All-in-all, very, very nice.  If you like big complex beers with smoke & wood, Barfly is a great one.

On the same trip I picked up a bottle of BrewDog's Hardcore IPABrewDog is probably one of the best known breweries of its size in the world, thanks to their take-no-prisoners attitude to brewing, and some of their more outlandish efforts, like Sink the Bismark IPA or their End of History, bottled inside stuffed roadkill.  We are starting to see some of their beers up here in Alaska, thanks to Specialty Imports, and I was able to grab this one.

It poured a lovely dark copper, with a massive off-white head.  The aroma was packed with floral hops; the brew is hopped and dry hopped with Centennial, Columbus, and Simcoe, to a ridiculous 150 IBUs.  Besides the tremendous hop aroma, the beer smelled very clean, with no off flavors at all.  On the palate the beer was fairly light, with a ton of good, clean hop bitterness and flavor, plus some heat from the 9.2% ABV.  The brew finishes well, and leaves you eager for another sip, which is a real feat for such a hopbomb.  I'm not sure why, but I found the beer strangely reminiscent of Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot Barley Wine.  It's certainly not as strong as the Bigfoot, but something about it tickled my memory, perhaps the hop profile. Regardless, it's a fine Imperial IPA from one of the most eccentric craft brewers in the world today.

Speaking of Bigfoot, the 2011 version was released a couple of weeks ago, though I have yet to see any up here in Alaska.  Personally, I like mine with a year or two of cellaring, and I drank a 2010 over the weekend.  It still poured a lovely copper with a massive head, but now the hop aroma is becoming a little more restrained, with more caramel and malt notes shining through.  Tasting it, the hop bitterness had begun to mellow a bit, producing a more rounded barley wine, though still one with plenty of hoppiness.  Very nice.  When Bigfoot does hit the shelves, I recommend picking up a case and drinking a six-pack over each of the next four years.  You won't be disappointed. 

Turning to the local front, fresh off his second place in the GABBF Barley Wine Competition, Zach Henry at St. Elias Brewing has released a new beer, Colonial Porter.  I've gotten so used to Zach trotting out bourbon-barrel aged, blended, beer-style-category-bending new releases that it's almost a shock for him to release a "straight-ahead" robust porter like this one.  A shock, but a good one; after all, there's only so much of those other ones you can take, before you need to relax with something a little less complex.  Colonial Porter is a great beer for that, opaque with a big light tan head, an aroma of roast malt & some sweet/chocolate notes.  Medium mouthfeel, good carbonation, plenty of roastiness with enough hops for balance, this is an exceptionally well-made robust porter.  No bells or whistles, just a really good beer to enjoy with a meal or after a hard day's work.  And you can have more than one without wrecking your palate.

The future of craft beer packaging...
In other local news, Kenai River has received their canning machine and their new 20 bbl fermenter, Fiona the Fermenter, is currently full of a double batch of Skilak Scottish which is destined for canning.  Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop reports brewing a Smoked Russian Imperial Porter (yum!) and that they will be releasing their Big Nutz Imperial Brown Ale on February 15.  They are also sponsoring the Great Northern Brewers Hombrew Club's homebrew competition at the Fur Rondy.  Entries are due at the Snow Goose in Anchorage between 11 and 6 on Friday, 4 Feb. Best in show gets their beer brewed by Kassik's!

Finally, two pieces of not so good news from the beer world outside Alaska.  First, Gambrinus Company has announced that they are discontinuing brewing Pete's Wicked Ale.  For those of us of a certain age, Pete Slosberg's beer was possibly the first craft beer we ever encountered.  While Pete sold his brand to Gambrinus in 1998 and it subsequently was "dumbed down" pretty badly (at least in my opinion), it's still a sad moment to see it go away.

The second piece of bad news in the death of Don Younger, owner of The Horse Brass Pub in Portland, Oregon, at the age of 69.  I never had the pleasure of meeting Don, but like all lovers of good American beer I knew of him.  He was a pioneering publican in a city that has come to be the craft beer capital of the US, in no small part due to his efforts.  He will be missed.  Here's to you, Don.

Until Next Time, Cheers!


Anonymous said...

RIP Pete's Wicked Ale

Anonymous said...

My wife and I visited the new Wasilla brewery last week with great anticipation. I was excited to see someone had the courage (or time) to brew a true pilsner style lager and put it on the menu. I dove right in and ordered a pint of the “24 Karat Lager”. I was not disappointed. The aroma was reminiscent of my younger years in Germany where the “Pils” is king. This brew alone will keep me coming back!
We also tried the “sampler” of six other brews offered. If you like “Hefeweizen”, then the Heavenly Wheat is sure to please. The IPA was good in color but lacked the heavy hops aroma and bitterness you would expect from a proper IPA. Their Pale Ale was a little on the sweet side. If I had been blindfolded, I would have guessed it was the Amber from the panhandle. The Black Diamond Dark had a bit of smokiness I did not expect but it was pleasant worthy of a full pint for further investigation. The Grubstake Stout was heavy and carried a smooth head of foam (even in the tiny sampler glass).
We are very happy to have “The Last Frontier” here in Wasilla. A little tweaking here and there and this brew line-up will certainly make this brewery the place to visit.
On another note, the kitchen manager has much to learn. Eat before you go!

I'm Bill Howell. said...

Thanks for the update! I hope to make it up to the Valley again soon so I can check them out for myself. Cheers!