Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Back in the Saddle Again

Hello! It's been quite some time since I got one of these blog posts up; more than a month, in fact, which is a long time, even for me. For those of you who have been wondering, let me tell you what happened. In early September, I had some minor surgery on my right hand. After several months of going back and forth with the Veterans Administration, I finally got in to see a hand surgeon, who did an MRI and then told me I had a tumor on a tendon in my right forefinger. It was benign (fortunately), but it had to come out. After the surgery, here's what my finger looked like:

As you might imagine, I haven't able to use my right hand very well for several weeks. Since I'm right-handed, this has made it very hard to hold a pen or even type very much. What little typing I was able to do, I had to dedicate to my college courses, as I've gone back to school and am taking 12 credits. Something had to give, and it was this blog. So there, that's my excuse.

The good news is that my finger is pretty close to 100% now, and I'm more or less caught up with everything, so it's time to get this blog out again! Lots of stuff has happened while I was out of action, and I can't begin to cover it all in detail, so let me do my best to hit the high points. Then I'm going to move to beer reviews. While I couldn't use my hand much for anything else, it was still capable of holding a beer glass, so I've got thirteen beer reviews to pass along. But first, let's do some news:

2nd Annual Alaska Day Beer Festival in Sitka: It's on October 18, as part of the Alaska Day celebrations. It will be held in historic Totem Square in Sitka.  All proceeds from this up and coming event will go to support the new Sitka History Museum which plans to open soon.

Quake Brewing Company has finally opened. The Grand Opening at its Wasilla location was on September 8th.

Cooper Landing Brewing is also open. See reviews of two of its beers below. Crowlers are on sale periodically at Wildman's Liquor in Cooper Landing.

HooDoo Brewing opened its new outdoor beer garden on September 16th with a ribbon-cutting by the mayor of Fairbanks.

Photo courtesy of HooDoo Brewing

Kodiak Island Brewing Company has begun offering its beers in 32 oz. crowler cans. The cans come in both single-use and refillable versions.

Photo courtesy of Kodiak Island Brewing

Midnight Sun Brewing released the second beer in its Wild Adventures series on September 16: Sporter, a sour porter brewed with wild yeast and aged in oak barrels. It weighs in at 7.5% ABV. Any day now should see the release of this year’s version of its Belgian-style barley wine, Termination Dust. The brewery has also received its order of cans for Wolf Pack Pilsner and will be releasing the canned version of that brew next Thursday at a beer dinner at The Lakefront Hotel in Anchorage.

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

Bearpaw River Brewing in Wasilla has purchased a canning line from Cask and has begun canning its Frontiersman IPA and Mat Maid Milk Stout in six packs of 12 oz. cans. The brewery has also released a new beer for draft distribution -- Hatcher Pass Pale Ale, weighing in at 5% ABV and 35 IBU. This is a beer will be released in 12oz 6-packs, most likely next spring.

Photo courtesy of Bearpaw River Brewing
Kevin Burton, the long-time head brewer at Glacier BrewHouse in Anchorage, has left that job. Burton became head brewer there in 2001 and has overseen over 4500 brews since then.  Burton is now the Operating Partner at the new Matanuska Brewing Company in Palmer. The facility build-out is almost complete and plans are to produce the first batch of beer no later than January 2018.

Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse

Alaska Brewing has added last year’s popular seasonal, Husky IPA to its year-round offerings. The beer features Mosaic hops and has an unmistakable tropical and fruity aroma. See my review on 1/27/2017. Alaskan will also be having a beer dinner on October 15th at Fire Tap in Anchorage.

Construction on King Street Brewing's new home seems to be progressing well. Here's photo that was posted on September 29th.

Photo courtesy of King Street Brewing
Kenai River Brewing released this year's version of its Winter Warlock Old Ale on Sunday, October 1st. This beer is brewed each October and then cold-conditioned for almost a year before being released on 1 October. I will have a review of this year's release in my next blog.

Photo courtesy of Kenai River Brewing

That's it for the highlights. I'm sure I missed some great stuff, so if I missed something of yours, please accept my apologies. I plan to go into much more detail in my next blog.

Let's do those promised beer reviews.

Alaskan Brewing's Mocha Milk Stout: It poured opaque with a nice tan head. The aroma had notes of both coffee and sweet malt. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium, with lots of body. There were lots of good, roasted notes, but they were balanced by the sweetness from the malt and the lactose. It also well away to a nice finish that invited another sip. Quite delicious. 7% ABV.

Boon's Oude Geuze Black Label (2nd edition): This beer used to only be available in Belgium, and I enjoyed it on my last visit to that country some 17 years ago. Now it is being imported to the US, which is excellent news for lovers of lambics! It poured a clear red-gold in color, with a nice head that dissipated to a collar. The aroma had the tart notes you expect from a proper geuze. Carbonation was good, though not as good as is typical for the style, and the mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile was spot on for the classic traditional geuze: light, tart, bone dry, super complex, and effervescant. This is truly a superb beer. As a bonus, I got to use my lambic basket... 6.4% ABV.

St. Elias Brewing's Black Widow Russian Imperial Stout: This beer was aged for a year in Wild Turkey bourbon barrels. It poured opaque with a small tan head. The aroma had noted of sweet malt, bourbon, and oak. Carbonation was okay, and the mouthfeel was heavy and chewy. Big Russian Imperial stout flavors up front; first the sweet notes, then the roasted elements, with the oak and bourbon coming in at the finish. Another excellent barrel-aged beer from Zach Henry.

Sierra Nevada's 2017 Oktoberfest with Brewhaus Miltenberger: This year's collaboration Oktoberfest brew from Sierra Nevada. It poured a lovely light copper color with a nice white head. The nose had a nice blend of clean malty and German hops notes. Mouthfeel was light and the carbonation was good. On the palate, there were the classic bready notes, balanced with a nice amount of hops. An excellent example of this classic seasonal. 6.1% ABV.

Arkose Brewery's Ovis Belgian-style Golden Ale: It poured a slightly cloudy gold, with a white head that dissipated to a collar. The aroma had light hop notes. Mouthfeel was light, and the carbonation was good. Nice balance between the maltiness and hop bitterness, with the hops winning through on the finish. 9% ABV, 35 IBUs.

 Cooper Landing Brewing's Pale Ale: It poured a clear honey color with a nice white head. The nose had plenty of American hop notes, plus some malt elements. Good carbonation and a light mouthfeel. Good malt backbone, but plenty of American hop flavors. A very nice American Pale Ale and an excellent piece of work from a brand-new brewery. 5.8% ABV

Black Market Brewing's David's Belgian Golden Blonde Ale: It poured a clear gold color with a big white head. The aroma had the classic spicy, peppery notes of a Belgian yeast. Mouthfeel was light, and carbonation was good. On the palate, there were some phenolic notes from the Belgian yeast, but overall the flavors seemed slightly muddy and indistinct. There are much better Belgian-style golden ales out there, so I can't really recommend this one. 7.7% ABV

St. Elias Brewing's Simple Porter: It poured dark but with some ruby highlights and a nice tan head. The nose had notes of chocolate and roasted malt. Mouthfeel was medium and the carbonation was good. Very nice balance between the malt and hop notes, very clean. Overall, a straight-ahead porter, but delicious none the same. 5.4% ABV, 46 IBUs.

Founder's Brewing's ReDankulous Imperial Red IPA: It poured a clear dark red with a cream-colored head. The nose had lots of piney, resiny hop notes. The mouthfeel was light, and the carbonation was good. There was nice upfront bitterness, followed by good hop flavor. Frankly, it tasted like a slightly amped up version of Midnight Sun Brewing's Sockeye Red IPA. 9.5%, 95 IBUs.

Cooper Landing Brewing's Backroller IPA: It poured the color of honey with a nice, off-white head. The aroma had lots of piney, resiny Northwest hops in it. The initial bitter attack was nice, followed by good clean hop flavor. An excellent American IPA from the newest brewery on the Peninsula. 7% ABV.

Deschutes Brewing's 2016 Abyss Russian Imperial Stout: Last year's version of this reliably excellent beer. It poured opaque with a nice tan head. The aroma had lots of coffee and molassess notes. Mouthfeel was medium and the carbonation was good. Great flavor profile, with tons of big roasted malt flavors. As always, another excellent year for The Abyss! 11.1% ABV, 80 IBUs.

The next two beers, both from Kenai River Brewing, are made using a new hop, Experimental #727. This hop is typically described as having dank or resiny flavors, unlike the tropical fruit notes which have recently become so popular in hops.

Kenai River Brewing's Experimental #727 Single Hop IPA: It poured a clear copper color with a nice cream-colored head. The aroma had lots of piney hops notes, very much to my taste. Carbonation was good, and mouthfeel was light. On the palate, there was nice clean hop bitterness up front followed by lots of dank, resiny hop flavors, just as advertised. Overall, I really liked this new hop and it made a great IPA. 7 % ABV, 70 IBUs.

Kenai River Brewing's Experimental #727 Imperial Rye Pale Ale (IRPA): This version was a deeper honey color and slightly cloudy, with a nice cream-colored head. The aroma had plenty of nice hop notes, again with lots of piney, Pacific Northwest character to them. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light to medium. There was plenty of bitterness, but it was well-balanced by the malt, and there was a touch of alcohol heat on the finish. A bigger version, weighing in at 11% ABV and 100 IBUS. I liked them both, though I think the IPA probably showcases the hop slightly better, as the IRPA has a lot more going on. Still, they are both excellent brews.

That's it for this blog, though hopefully not for this month! I'm going to try to get these out at least every two weeks, if not sooner. Meantime, remember to check out my monthly radio show, also called Drinking on the Last Frontier, on KDLL 91.9 FM Kenai Soldotna, Public Radio for the Central Peninsula. It's broadcast the last Saturday of each month at 11 AM, but if you miss it, recording of all the shows are available at

So get out there an enjoy our fall weather will it lasts. It won't be much longer before we all have to start dealing with Old Man Winter.

Until Next Time. Cheers!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Summer's Passing

With all the rain we've been getting lately here on the Peninsula, it seems more like fall than the end of summer. Things are definitely heading in that direction, with schools starting back up and the fireweed in full bloom. Soon we'll start seeing pumpkin beers on the shelves again, a sure sign of the change of seasons.

The Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival was another big success, with Kenai River Brewing winning the People's Choice Award for Best Brewery (again! This is like 5 or 6 in a row, I think!) and newcomer Girdwood Brewing winning the People's Choice for Best Beer with it No Woman No Cryo New England-style-IPA.

Photo courtesy of Kenai River Brewing
Photo courtesy of Girdwood Brewing
Well done to Matt Pyhala and the rest of the Soldotna Rotary on a great festival. Looking forward to 2018, when I'm sure it will be even better.

QUAKE! Brewing is open for business at last. The brewery is located at 1540 N. Shoreline Drive, Wasilla, AK 99654. Hours of operation are Wed - Fri = 5 - 8 pm, Sat - Sun = 12 - 8 pm. QUAKE! is also looking to hire a brewer; check out its Facebook page for more information.

Photo courtesy of QUAKE! brewing.

With fall on its way, it won't be long before termination dust appears on the Chugach Mountains. When that happens, it's the signal for Midnight Sun Brewing to release its barrel-aged Belgian-style barley wine, Termination Dust (reviewed 11/10/2014). So keep an eye out for it.

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun Brewing

With the growing concentration of distilleries, breweries, and a cidery in South Anchorage, a new tourist brochure, a bike trail map connecting all of them, has been published.

Photo courtesy of Double Shovel 
Anchorage Brewing has announced new beer releases for tomorrow and Saturday. Here's what Gabe Fletcher had to say about it:

This Friday we will be releasing ALIEN CHURCH IPA in CANS! This is a beer that is made by Tired Hands Brewing in Pennsylvania. When Jean and Marty were up for The Culmination Festival we decided to brew an Anchorage version! ALSO, THE MASONRY WILL BE BACK WITH THERE WOOD FIRED OVEN cooking up some killer pizza! THEN on Saturday, we are releasing Cans of COAST2COAST TRIPLE IPA! This is our collaboration with Peter from OTHER HALF BREWING! It's a JUICY BEAST! Matt from THE MASONRY will be there all day Saturday as well! DON'T miss these releases! They are awesome and very limited!
Here's what the can labels will look like.

Alaskan Brewing has expanded its distribution to the state of Illinois; this is the 20th state in which Alaskan sells it beers. Alaskan has also released a new beer in its Pilot Series: Mocha Milk Stout. It's on local store shelves now, but I have not had a chance to review it yet.

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing
Drinking on the Last Frontier, my monthly radio show, will be broadcast this Saturday at 11 am on KDLL 91.9 FM. The show will focus on beer festivals, with extensive interviews from the Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival. If you can't listen to the broadcast, the recorded show will be available on the station's website,

Don't forget the upcoming Alaska Crafted Festival (September 9), Talkeetna Brewfest (September 16), and Capital Brewfest (September 23). I've written about them in previous blogs, or you can follow these links for more information.

That's it for news. I've got five new beers to review this time.

Black Market Brewing's Aftermath IPA:  It poured a clear gold with a huge white head; very highly carbonated. The nose has tons of citrusy American hops. The mouthfeel was quite light, especially from the high carbonation. The initial bitter attack was not too overwhelming, and it was followed by lots of citrusy hop flavor and aroma. If you really love Citra, this is the IPA for you! 5.8% ABV.

St. Elias Brewing's Cokosesh IPA: In the glass, it was a clear gold color with a nice white head. There was a nice hoppy aroma with only the slightest hint of toasted coconut from the dry hopping. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. There was nice upfront bitterness, followed by good hop flavor and aroma, before falling away to a nice, clean finish. The coconut was essentially undetectable, at least to my palate. A very nice session IPA, perfect for a sunny summer's day.

Stone Brewing's Stone-Farking Wheaton Woot Stout: I reviewed an earlier vintage of this beer on 7/23/2015. This one poured opaque with a small tan head that dissipated rapidly to a collar. The nose was mostly notes of sweet malt and caramel. The mouthfeel was heavy and thick, with okay carbonation. On the palate, the flavors were rich and oily, with roasted coffee notes and caramel predominant. It seemed a bit sweeter than your typical imperial stout. There was some alcohol heat noticeable on the finish. Overall, a pretty tasty RIS. 13% ABV.

Midnight Sun Brewing's Rider Sour Pale Lager: It poured a deep, slightly hazy gold with a wonderful off-white head. The nose had hints of brett funk, as well as a little oak, but nothing overwhelming. The carbonation was excellent and the mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile began with clean lager notes, followed by some brett tart funk, then oaky notes on the finish. This beer will not be everyone's cup of tea, but I loved it! I applaud Midnight Sun for being willing to try something as different and experimental as this (as opposed to just pumping out another new IPA variant). Great job, and I'm eager to try the next beer in the Wild Adventures series! 8.7% ABV, 25 IBUs.

Crazy Mountain Brewing's Lawyers, Guns, & Money Barley Wine: I stumbled on this at Country Liquors in Kenai. This new brewery from Colorado has just started to distribute here in Alaska, so I picked up a four-pack of cans of this beer. It poured a slightly cloudy honey color with a cream-colored head. There was a fair amount of American hop aroma from dry hopping. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. On the palate, the malt and bitterness were in fairly good balance. Overall, I rate it an okay beer, but not a spectacular example of the American Barley Wine style. 10% ABV, 56 IBUs.

That's it for this blog. Get out and enjoy these last days of summer if you can do so in between the rain showers. The snow will be here before you know it.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Festivals, Festivals!

It's late summer here in Alaska, which seems to be just about everyone's favorite time to have a beer festival. There are two great ones coming up this weekend: the 7th Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival and Augtoberfest 2017. I've written extensively about them both in recent blogs, so if you need any more information about either of them, you can find it there. I'll be taping interviews for my radio show at the Kenai Fest, so be sure to say hello if you see me there.

Besides Augtoberfest, 49th State Brewing will also be taking part in another beer event in August. On Saturday, August 26th, the brewery and Major Marine Tours will be presenting the Blackwater Brew Cruise out of Whittier.

On the subject of festivals, there will be several in September as well. In my last blog, I wrote about the 6th Annual Capital Brewfest on September 23. However, there will be two others earlier in the month. On Saturday, September 9th, the 2nd Annual Alaska Crafted will be taking place from 5 to 9 PM in downtown Anchorage. Held on F St. between Humpy's and Williwaw, this is a reprise of last year's event, which was held on May 21, 2016 (see my 5/30/2016 blog for a report on it). This event is unique in that it features only Alaska-made beer, wine, and spirits.

The other September event will be the Talkeetna Brewfest on Saturday, September 16th. It's held at the Sheldon Community Arts Hangar in Talkeetna from 2 to 6 PM. Tickets are $55 each and are limited to 200, so advance purchase is recommended. I was fortunate enough to attend this festival back in 2015, and you can read about my experience here. Also, on the Friday night before the festival, the Denali Brewpub/Twister Creek Restaurant in downtown Talkeetna will be hosting the 6th Annual Collaborative Brewers Dinner, a truly exceptional meal. When I attended it in 2015, this was still just a beer dinner, but it has now grown to encompass Alaska-made wines, ciders, meads, and spirits, as well as beer. Seats are $75 and sell out quickly, so if you want to attend, call 907-733-2537 and make your reservations right away.

At the end of July, I attended The Culmination Festival at Anchorage Brewing Company. This festival is always a wonderful opportunity to taste beers which are not available at all here in Alaska. While the Festival ran for four hours, I could only be there for the first two, during which time I managed to sample 11 beers, or a different beer every 11 minutes or so, which is a pretty good pace, at least for me. The sad thing is that there were 93 different beers on offer, meaning that if I could have maintained that pace, I would have needed just under 17 hours to sample them all! As it was, I made it through less than 12% of what was available. It's the story of my life: So many beers, so little time...

While I only scratched the surface, I was particularly impressed with the beers from Toppling Goliath Brewing Company from Decorah, IA.  Two of its offerings, Assassin (2016 -Purple Wax) and Chain Smoker (2015- Cycle Collaboration) were truly outstanding, with the former being my choice for the best beer I tasted that day.

Anchorage Brewing will also be hosting Zwanze Day again this year, on September 23rd, starting at 11 AM.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing
The Travel Channel's show Food Paradise will be filming at Midnight Sun Brewing on Wednesday, August 16th, from 12:30 to 4:00 pm. If you'd like to be on TV, they ask anyone who hopes to be in the episode to wear bright, solid colors, please no logos of any kind and no white shirts. Midnight Sun has also announced that its Big Stout Campout will be on September 22nd at the Sheep Mountain Lodge. Midnight Sun has also released the first beer in its new Wild Adventures series: Rider, a pale lager, barrel aged with brett! Next up, Sporter, a sour porter.

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun Brewing

Quake Brewing Company in Wasilla has announced that it is now fully licensed and will be opening soon.

The Brewers Association has published the statistics by state for 2016. Here's how Alaska stacks up:

Click to enlarge
That about covers the news, so let's move on to beer reviews. As I mentioned in my last blog, I pulled a couple of beers out of my cellar, so let's start with them.

Midnight Sun Brewing's Grand Crew Brew (2016): This one has been in the cellar for just under a year. When opened, there was next to no carbonation left; in hindsight, perhaps I should have wax-dipped the cap. It poured a dark caramel to brown color with no head. The nose had mostly sweet malt notes with some hints of alcohol heat. The mouthfeel seemed quite heavy, though some of that was probably from the lack of carbonation. On the palate, it was smooth and silky, with lots of sweet malt notes, almost like drinking a bread pudding. It was still a decent beer, though it would likely have presented much better if there had been any carbonation left. 14% ABV, 59 IBUs.

Deschutes Brewing's Black Butte XXVIII: This beer was bottled on 6/13/2016. It poured completely opaque with a nice, persistent tan head. The nose was of cocoa, oak, and whiskey. Carbonation was good, and the mouthfeel was medium. The flavor profile was rich and thick, almost oily; there were coffee and chocolate notes, hints of molasses, with a bit of alcoholic warmth on the finish. Another excellent beer in this classic annual series. Delicious! 11.5% ABV, 51 IBUs.

Harvey & Son Brewing's Imperial Extra Double Stout: A famous name in the imperial stout world. The beer poured black with a tan head. The aroma tantalized with tart brett notes. The mouthfeel was medium to heavy and the carbonation was good. On the tongue, there were notes of coffee and dark chocolate, rich and strong, before falling away to a long finish with hints of brett funkiness. 9% ABV.

Innis & Gunn's Original Ale: This Scottish ale poured a clear copper color with a small, off-white head. The nose had notes of caramel and hints of oak. Mouthfeel was medium and the carbonation was good. On the palate, I picked up sweet notes of toffee and caramel, but there was enough hop bitterness to balance, followed by hints of oak. A very nice beer made even more complex with the addition of the oak-aging. 6.6% ABV.

Innis & Gunn's Rum-Aged Ale: This beer was aged on rum-soaked oak chips. It poured a red-gold color with a nice off-white head. The aroma had notes of toffee and rum. The mouthfeel was medium and the carbonation was good. Like the Original Ale, this beer had notes of toffee and caramel, with the addition of subtle rum and oak notes. Very nice. 6.8% ABV.

Black Market Brewing's Quadrophenia: A Belgian Quad brewed with coconut palm sugar, this beer poured a deep red-gold in color with a nice cream-colored head. The nose had a subtle fruit odor, difficult to identify; I finally settled on apricot, but your mileage may vary. The mouthfeel was light to medium and the carbonation was excellent. On the palate, there was considerable sweet notes, both of fruit and caramel, followed by alcohol warmth on the finish. Unlike most Belgian quads, which seem to favor dark fruits (plums, figs, raisins) in their flavor profiles, this one seemed to recall lighter fruits (peaches, pears). Overall, I found it to be quite enjoyable. 11% ABV, 29 IBUs.

That's it for this week. Get out and enjoy this late summer weather while it lasts. Pick out a good beer festival or two from those coming up in August and September. Drink beer and be merry!

Until Next Time, Cheers!