Saturday, March 24, 2012

Happy Birthday, Ken!

Elaine and I happened to be in Anchorage Sunday evening, which turned out to be quite fortuitous.  It seems March 18 was Ken Pajak's 60th birthday, and since we were in town, we were able to make it to his party at Cafe Amsterdam.  We had an early start the next day, so we didn't stay too late, but the food was great, the beers were exotic and plentiful, and a great time was had by all.  Here's to another 60, Ken!

Since the Alaska State Legislature in currently in session -- meaning no Alaskan's Life, Liberty, or Property is safe-- I thought the following graphic might be a timely reminder of just what greedy b******s they are.  Please note which state is Numero Uno when it comes to having the highest excise tax on beer:

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Now take a look as this graph:
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Look at all the states we're behind! Hell, I'm brewing more than 40 gallons a year.  This is embarrassing; we need to pick up the pace. I'm doing my part; how about you?

On Monday, I was knocking around Anchorage, doing some shopping, while Elaine attended a conference.  After lunch, I dropped by the Snow Goose to see what Gabe Fletcher was up to.  I found him in the middle of brewing another batch of his Galaxy White IPA; while I was there he finished the boil, whirlpooled it, and started moving it down to his oak foudres.  Speaking of foudres, Gabe is in the process of purchasing four more of these huge wooden vessels; this will give him a total of six.  I guess he will need them, given the popularity of Galaxy; Gabe tells me he expects to bottle 5,200 hundred cases of it this year, plus another 1300 cases of it's big brother, Double Galaxy.  According to Gabe, Double Galaxy will be just like it's namesake, just with lots more of everything: more alcohol, more Galaxy hops, more spices, and more 'quat.  Here are some photos I snapped:

Foudre, awaiting filling.

The other foudre

Wine casks awaiting filling with Love Buzz Saison!

Gabe adding the spice bag to the kettle
Seems to me that Gabe's biggest problem is that he keeps outgrowing his space.  Darned if I know how he's going to shoehorn four more foudres in there, but I'm sure glad he's making such great beers for the rest of us to enjoy!

Also from Anchorage, congratulations to Michael Kiker of Celestial Meads, who brought home more medals from the 2012 Mazer Cup Mead Competition in Boulder, CO than any other meadery in the world!   Celestial earned five medals (two Gold, a Silver, and two Bronzes).  Once again, we see that Alaskans produce some of the highest quality products in the entire world.  Well done, Michael!

Moving on to the Peninsula, I had a chance to taste Kenai River Brewing's soon to be released Gummi Bear Tripel a week ago.  It will not be released until next Friday, 3/30, but I can tell you that this is one fine-tasting tripel.  Doug and the boys used 20 pounds of Belgian candi sugar plus 15 pounds of gummi bears to produce this 9.2% ABV brew.  Tasting it, I have to say that I couldn't find any gummi flavors, just all the wonderful Belgian yeast notes you'd expect from a tripel.  Regardless of what they used to make it, this is a great beer and I plan to grab more as soon as it's released!

While I was at Kenai River, I finally got some shots of their new Taproom.  Here they are:

This is a great place to hangout and have a beer or two.  There's no food service, but the brewery is happy for folks to bring food in from any of the surrounding restaurants or fast-food joints.  So be sure to stop by and check it out if you haven't already.  Also while I was there, I finally picked up a quart of their excellent Russian Imperial Stout; here's my formal review:

It poured totally opaque, with a nice tan head.  The nose was of caramel and coffee, with a little more emphasis on the former than on the roasty coffee aromas.  On the palate there was good mouthfeel, with the degree of chewiness that I like in a big imperial stout.  The rich flavors of caramel and roasted malt were superbly balanced, with just a touch of alcohol heat around the edges, and a long, lingering finish.  Several of my friends have said they think this is the best beer they've ever had from Kenai River.  As for me, my heart still belongs to their Skilak Wee Heavy, but this Russian Imperial  Stout is a close second.  Nice job, guys!

One last piece of Kenai River news: Odie's Deli in Soldotna is getting a beer and wine license and will be offering Kenai River beers both on tap and in the can.  Besides Skilak Scottish and Sunken Isle IPA in cans, look for two brews on tap, Peninsula Brewers Reserve and another (possibly rotating) selection.  There is also talk on monthly beer dinners; I should have more info on these soon.

Over at St. Elias Brewing, Zach Henry has two new beers on.  One is a return of regular spring visitor, his Brass Monkey ESB.  Besides the standard draft version, Zach has filled his casks with some dry-hopped versions of this brew, so we should all be able to enjoy it on hand pump before too much longer.  This year Zach went back to using exclusively English hops, including Fuggles and East Kent Goldings.  This makes for a beer a little less aggressively hoppy than last year's, which included Amarillo hops.  This year's ESB is also darker, showing a deep ruby color in the glass and has a rich malt backbone for the hops to hang off of.  Very nice and I can't wait to taste it from the cask!

The second new brew is Red-Headed StepChild, an Imperial Red Ale aged for six month in Hungarian oak red wine barrels. The resulting 9% ABV beer is a slightly cloudy, dark red ale with a lovely cream-colored head.  The aroma is fairly hoppy (Citra, I think but I did not confirm this).  On the palate, there's good carbonation and nice mouthfeel, with the bitterness arriving first, followed by some caramel, then a touch of wood.  No perceivable alcohol heat, but this is definitely a sipper not a session brew.  This beer should be particularly attractive to the red wine drinkers out there.

Moving on to bottled beer reviews, Here are a few new beers I tried since my last blog:

Southern Tier Brewing's Imperial Chokolat Stout.  I picked this bottle up at Country Liquors in Kenai.  It poured perfectly opaque with a small tan head.  The aroma was pure dark chocolate, and I mean absolutely pure.  This beer had more chocolate aroma than any other beer I've ever had.  On the tongue the chocolate was a little more restrained than in the nose, but it was still very forceful, balanced by some roastiness from the malts used.  Great mouthfeel and a touch of heat from the 10% ABV on the finish.  If chocolate stouts are your thing, you'll go crazy over this one.

Alaskan Brewing's Birch Bock, latest in their Pilot Series.  This doppelbock made with birch syrup a dark honey-amber with a small, fast-dissipating head.  The aroma is clean caramel, nothing else.  On the tongue, this one expresses as a very clean lager, with good mouthfeel and sweetness from the syrup, falling away gradually to a nice finish.  The 8.5% ABV is well hidden, making this one dangerously drinkable.  A very nice doppelbock, with the Alaskan-made birch syrup very nicely integrated into the flavor profile.

Bridgeport Brewing's Raven Mad Imperial Porter.  I picked this one up at Fred Meyer, with an eye toward recommending it to my friend Curt.  He loves big, whiskey-barrel aged brews, and the label said that 50% of this beer was such, blended with the other 50% aged on oak sans whiskey.  It poured nicely, dark with a big khaki head.  The nose was of coffee and vanilla notes (likely from the oak), but no whiskey.  On the palate, I was a bit disappointed, as the whiskey element was pretty non-existent.  Usually with beers like this, my problem is with too much whiskey, rather than too little.  I like the beer to dominate, and the spirit to play second fiddle.  Here, the whiskey was so far in the background, I couldn't really find it at all.  That being said, the beer had good carbonation, nice mouthfeel, and plenty of roasty flavors.  As a 7.5% ABV imperial porter, it wasn't bad; as a whiskey-barrel aged one, it was a little disappointing.

Victory Brewing's Prima Pils.  This is one of the top craft pilsners in the US, and a beer I've been wanting to try for some time.  I finally picked up a couple from La Bodega during my trip to Anchorage last weekend.  However, when I pulled them out to drink later in the week, I found I'd made a rookie mistake and failed to check the Best By date.  We're a long way from anywhere up here in Alaska, and getting beers in a timely manner is often a problem.  I drank these beers on March 22, exactly two months past their Best By date of 1/22/12.  Given how critical freshness is for pilsners (perhaps more so than any other style), it wouldn't be fair for me to really review this beer based on the samples I drank, so I will limit myself to saying that even two months past due, they were still quite good, and I look forward to grabbing some fresher examples in the future.  If you are reading this somewhere where you can get Prima Pils fresh and you like pilsners, I suggest you give it a try.

Well, that's it for this week.  Stand by for me to share a pretty exciting piece of news next week.  Until then, keep searching out those good craft brews.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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