Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Photo Album: What I Did on My Summer Vacation (So Far)...

While I haven't been very active in blogging, that doesn't mean I haven't been visiting breweries. In the last couple of months, I managed to hit four that are either new or which I hadn't had a chance to visit before. I thought you might enjoy seeing some of the photos that my wife Elaine took during our visits to them.

Matanuska Brewing Company

We were in Palmer the day before Matanuska Brewing's grand opening in May, but Head Brewer Kevin Burton was kind enough to walk us through this amazing new facility.

A whole lot of canning going on!

Four 120-bbl fermenters. There are two more are on order.

A 40-bbl JV Northwest Brewhouse, highly automated.

A ProBrew canning line that can fill 100 cans per minute.

I can remember when beer vending machines used to be common in Navy BOQs...

The tap room.

The brewery is located in the old Mat-Maid Dairy.
Bleeding Heart Brewery

I'd been trying to visit Bleeding Heart in Palmer ever since it opened, but something always got in my way. I finally bit the bullet and made a special trip up there to check it out. It's a real farmhouse brewery, as in it's located on an actual farm, not far from the Alaska State Fairgrounds. The brewery was just voted as the Best Place to Have a Drink by the readers of the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman Newspaper, as part of its annual “Best of the Valley” poll.

Yours truly leaning on the "serving counter" and talking to Stefan

Doing a little business

Bleeding Heart's fermentation area

I also sampled some damn fine beers...

HooDoo Brewing Company

I hadn't been up to Fairbanks in several years, so a trip in June meant a chance to swing by HooDoo Brewing. I heard that its beer garden area had been seriously upgraded and wanted to see it for myself. All I can say is: Wow! The new area is great and has clearly become a major gathering spot in Fairbanks. Having a different food truck there each day certainly doesn't hurt, either.

The beer garden from Fox Street in front of the brewery.

The tap room

The beer garden, looking from the brewery toward Fox Street. Note the twin firetrucks...

The man himself, Bobby Wilken, in his element.
King Street Brewing Company

King Street completed its move to its new location on June 2, and I stopped by a month later to check things out. There's still a fair amount of construction being done on the new building, but you can already tell it's going to be amazing when everything is complete. Dana Walukiewicz was kind enough to walk us around.

View from the second story catwalk. Brewhouse on the left, fermenters on the right, & a million empty cans in the background.

Further along the catwalk, looking over the fermenters back at the brewhouse.

Dan and I are standing in what will be the rooftop drinking area, looking at Denali in the distance.

This third story room will eventually be an event space. Check out the view!

The tap room on the ground floor is open for business!
So there you have it. A brand-new brewery, a well-established farmhouse brewery, a brand-new beer garden, and a brand-new facility. Craft brewing in Alaska is certainly on the upswing these days.

Be sure to listen to my radio show Drinking on the Last Frontier on Saturday, July 28th, at 11 am on KDLL 91.9 FM. I'll be interviewing Grant Yutrzenka of Resolution Brewing and Jake & James Wade of Bearpaw River Brewing. If you can't listen to it live, you can download the recorded show at shortly after it's broadcast.

Finally, if you happen to live in the Central Kenia Peninsula, I'll be teaching my beer class again this fall semester at Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna. We always have a great time, so please consider it.

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Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

10 Years of Blogging

As I'm sure at least some of you have noticed, this blog has been inactive for over eight months, with my last post being on November 1, 2017. I'm very sorry that I haven't really had the time to do it justice, mainly because I went back to school full-time and also started doing my monthly radio show, Drinking on the Last Frontier, on KDLL FM 91.9. By the way, if you haven't checked my show out yet, I'd really encourage you to do so. You can find the recorded shows at I'm still hoping to get back to this blog on a more regular basis, but that's not happening right now.

All that being said, I couldn't let today pass without comment, as it's the 10th anniversary of my first post on the blog, way back in 2008. At that time I had absolutely no idea what it would lead to, but from that small beginning has come (so far):

  • Publishing four books on beer (and a fifth in progress)
  • Writing a long-running monthly beer column for The Redoubt Reporter
  • Being named the 2010 Beerdrinker of the Year
  • Becoming the Alaska columnist for Northwest Brewing News
  • Writing articles for several other magazines and websites
  • My monthly radio show

Over the last ten years, I've made 367 blog posts (not counting this one). So even taking the last eight months off, I've still averaged better than 3 posts a month for a decade. Take it from me, that's a lot of writing. Some of it was even pretty good if I do say so myself.

Looking back, it also amazes me how much the beer scene in our state has changed since 2008. Just look at the (partial?) list of breweries that have opened in that time:

  • 49th State Brewing
  • HooDoo Brewing
  • Last Frontier Brewing
  • Arkose Brewery
  • Bleeding Heart Brewery
  • Bearpaw River Brewing
  • Matanuska Brewing
  • Resolution Brewing
  • Anchorage Brewing
  • King Street Brewing
  • Odd Man Rush Brewing
  • Denali Brewing
  • Gakona Brewing
  • Seward Brewing
  • Grace Ridge Brewing
  • Cooper Landing Brewing
  • Girdwood Brewing
  • Icy Straits Brewing
  • Devil's Club Brewing
  • Barnaby Brewing
  • Cynosure Brewing

In that same time, we've had only two "close":

  • Great Bear (now Last Frontier)
  • Snow Goose/Sleeping Lady (now 49th State - Anchorage)

Alaska has more than doubled its number of breweries in a decade, and more are on the way, with Turnagain Brewing set to open in four days and Baleen Brewing not far behind. It's certainly been a great time to be a beer blogger.

The next decade promises to be interesting as well. While there is still room for small breweries to enter the market, the limited amount of retail shelf space and tap handles suggest to me that competition between the mid-size packaging breweries can only intensify. Meanwhile, bar owners are beginning to feel the competitive pressure from brewery taprooms. Their recent attempt to hijack SB 76 to hamstring direct brewery sales is likely just the first salvo in what may become an intense effort to use the power of the state to their business advantage, requiring an organized campaign in response. At the same time, the state's sluggish economy will encourage local and state government to try to find new revenue streams to tap, such as increasing the already high taxes on alcohol.

Put it all together and you definitely have a recipe for "interesting times."

In conclusion, I'd like to thank you, my readers, for hanging around and reading my blog. It's always gratifying we I bump into someone and they tell me "Hey, I read your stuff" or "I heard you on the radio." It makes me feel like the time I spend trying to put all this together is well spent. So thanks again, you folks keep drinking good local craft beer, and I'll do my best to keep writing about it.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The First of November

So, in spite of my best efforts, it's been over three weeks since my last blog. Oh well, what can I say?Part of the reason is the other Drinking on the Last Frontier, my monthly radio show. If you missed my broadcast on last Saturday, October 28th, you can listen to a recording of it on the KDLL website. Just click on this link.

By the way, my radio show received an Honorable Mention in the Broadcast/Podcast Category of the 2017 North American Guild of Beer Writers Awards. Winners were announced on Friday, October 6th, at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. You can see a complete list of this year's awards here. So if you haven't listened to it yet, you might want to check it out.

There's been a fair amount of beer news since my last blog. Let's hit some highlights.

Denali Brewing Company received a Small Business of the Year Award from the Alaska Chamber of Commerce. Here's its press release:

"Denali Brewing is proud to announce that we have won the 2017 Bill Bivin Small Business Award from the Alaska Chamber of Commerce!  This award pays tribute to businesses that exemplify leadership, ethics and organization.  Our brewery’s achievements are directly related to the dedication and passion of our employees. We’d like to express our gratitude to our community, customers, and the Chamber for their constant support, enthusiasm, and love of locally made craft beer."

Owner/Founder Sassan Mossanen has also been busy. In July he traveled to Beijing, China to brew with Jing-A Brewing. Their joint effort was released this month. It's called Mead Me in the Middle (Kingdom), a 9% braggot brewed with chasteberry honey from a nature reserve in the hills west of Beijing. Then in September brewers from Nogne O Brewery in Norway visited Talkeetna and helped brew a Sea Truffle Gose. Sea truffles are a rare delicacy harvested on the southern coast of Norway. Other ingredients included Himalayan sea salt and coriander.

Photo courtesy of Denali Brewing Company

As part of my radio show, I drove over to Cooper Landing to interview Nelz Barnett of Cooper Landing Brewing Company. You can listen to the interview using the link above, but here are some photos that I took.

The exterior of Cooper Landing Brewing Co.

The interior of Cooper Landing Brewing Co.
Nelz Barnett and Assitant Brewer Charlie next to his brewing system.
Cooper Landing's beers are on sale in crowlers at Wildman's Liquors in Cooper Landing and should be on tap soon at the Sunrise Inn.

HooDoo Brewing Company in Fairbanks celebrated its 5th Anniversary on Halloween. Congratulation to Bobby Wilken and the rest of the crew, and best wishes for the next five years!

Anchorage Brewing Company's Deal With the Devil Day was apparently a big success. It even received covered from KTUU Channel 2. The brewery sold 443 boxed sets at $300 each. People began lining up the evening before, camping out in the brewery's parking lot in 30-degree weather. Gabe Fletcher estimated that over 120 people flew into town just to purchase the six-bottle box set.

Photos courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Co.

QUAKE! Brewing Company has announced that it will be closing for the season Saturday, November 4th. During QUAKE!’s off-season founder Danyelle will travel abroad; honing his skills, studying with various brewmasters, and continuing his education in the fine art of making beer. The Season Closing Party will run from 3 to 8 PM.

Photo courtesy of QUAKE! brewing.

La Bodega's annual Bodega-Fest will be taking place on Saturday, November 11th, from 5 to 9 PM, at the Alaska Aviation Museum. This year, it will feature brews from Kodiak Island Brewing Company; these beers seldom make it off The Rock, so this is a wonderful opportunity to taste them without having to fly to Kodiak! Tickets are available online for $35 each, $45 at the door.

Also on November 11th, Kenai River Brewing Company will be hosting its first Fall Beer Dinner. Tickets cost $70, which includes the gratuity, but if you don't have yours already, you're out of luck, as the event sold out in less than an hour! Menu for it includes Braised Pork Belly over a crispy rice cake, Maple Bacon Salad, Butternut Squash Bisque, 8 oz. Beef Fillet topped with crab compound butter, along with roasted red & purple potatoes and asparagus with a bearnaise sauce, plus dessert. I've got my ticket, so I'll be sure to paste some photos for people to drool over...

Midnight Sun Brewing Company in Anchorage has announced that it has a new head brewer. Sean Jackson has been an assistant brewer at Midnight Sun for several years and is now heading up the brewing team. Former head brewer Lee Ellis has become Midnight Sun’s Chief of Brewing Operations. Ellis became head brewer in 2012, after being an assistant brewer for several years. Midnight Sun has also begun selling its newest flagship beer, Wolf Pack Pilsner, in 6- and 12-packs of 12 oz. cans. It's available here on the Peninsula at Country Liquors; see below for my review.

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun Brewing Company

Alaska Brewing Company’s Heritage Coffee Brown Ale was awarded a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. There were 89 entrants in the Coffee Beer category this year. Alaskan has also released its 2017 Smoked Porter; just weeks after the 2016 vintage received a Gold Award for Strong Smoke Beer at the European Beer Star Awards. First brewed by Alaskan in 1988, Smoked Porter is a pioneer of the American smoked beer movement and has won more medals at the Great American Beer Festival than any other beer in history.

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing Co.

So that's it for news, let's do some reviews.

Kenai River Brewing's 2017 Winter Warlock Old Ale: Released on October 1st of each year, this is Kenai River's renowned old ale. It's brewed each October and then cold-conditioned for a year before being released the following 1 October. This year's version poured a slightly cloudy honey color with a nice, cream-colored head. The aroma has lots of clean malt flavor. Carbonation was good, and the mouthfeel was medium. The flavor profile is definitely malt forward and clean, with enough bitterness to balance. It's another excellent batch of the Winter Warlock. 9% ABV.

St. Elias Brewing's 2017 Oktoberfest Lager: This year's version of this traditional lager poured a lovely clear red/copper color with a nice, cream-colored head that dissipated to a collar. The nose had plenty clean malt & caramel notes. Carbonation was good, and mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile was classic marzen - clean malt, caramel notes, and a balanced hoppiness. Another excellent lager from St. Elias Brewing. 6% ABV, 20 IBUs.

Broken Tooth Brewing's Hive Mind Tripel: This limited release poured a clear copper color with a dense, off-white head. The aroma had the spicy, peppery notes you'd expect from a Belgian yeast. Mouthfeel was light thanks to the use of honey, and the carbonation was excellent. On the palate there were nice fruity notes; overall, the flavor was excellent. A delicious tripel from Broken Tooth! 9.5% ABV, 21 IBUs.

Midnight Sun Brewing's Wolf Pack Pilsner: This is the newest flagship beer from Midnight Sun. It pours a clear gold with a small white head that dissipated to a collar. The nose was mainly clean malt notes, with little hop presence. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile was maltier than a typical Czech or Bohemian pilsner. It's hopped with Galaxy and Hersbrocker hops, but just enough for balance. 5% ABV, 34 IBUs.

Well, that's it for this time around. Winter is definitely on its way, which means everyone will be releasing their big winter beers, so keep an eye out for them on the shelves. Soon it will be time to start drinking all those imperial stouts and barley wines!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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.

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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!