Monday, December 5, 2016

Happy Anniversary & Christmas Shopping

Hello again! First off, I want to send each and every one of you best wishes on this most auspicious of occasions, the 83rd anniversary of Repeal. On December 5, 1933, at 3:31 pm local time, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, officially ending Prohibition, the so-called Noble Experiment. Personally, I've always been fascinated by the whole story of how Americans came to embark on the collective madness that Prohibition represented, as well as how we finally came to our senses. If you'd like to learn more about this, I heartily recommend Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent, which is an excellent book on the subject. If visual media is more your style,  Ken Burns: Prohibition is an excellent documentary adaptation of Okrent's work.

Either one is an great choice as a way to learn more about this important but largely forgotten era in America's history. The reason I say that it's largely forgotten is that I see people continuing to make the same arguments in favor of drug and alcohol laws as were used by the folks who pushed for Prohibition a century ago. When will we learn that you cannot legislate morality, especially if you want to live in a free country?

I wrote last week that this blog would be all about Christmas ideas for beer lovers, so you can consider the book and DVD above to be my first suggestions. My suggestions will be made with the craft beer drinker rather than the brewer in mind. I'm not going to make any suggestions regarding books or equipment that are specifically for homebrewers; there is a ton of great new homebrewing gear out there, with more new gadget and things being created every day, but unless you know the details of a homebrewer's set-up and level of expertise, it's hard to make good suggestions. If you're shopping for a homebrewer, your best bet is to just ask them; they probably have a wish list as long as their arm. Homebrewing is like golf or guns in that respect: it's a hobby that you can pretty much spend unlimited amounts of money on...

So, let's talk about gifts for the average craft beer lover. I always like to start with books, because I'm a bit of a bibliophile. Here are five, published this year, that I think are worth you while:

The Pub: A Cultural Institution - from Country Inns to Craft Beer Bars and Corner Locals: This is a coffee-table-style hardback, bursting with gorgeous pictures of historic British pubs and sparkling text from Pete Brown, one of the foremost in our current crop of beer writers. Having lived in Britain for three years and spent many a pleasant hour in its public houses, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It would make a great gift for anyone who's been or is planning to go to Britain.

My next two choices are both first-person accounts. The Fermented Man: A Year on the Front Lines of a Food Revolution by Derek Dellinger is not focused so much on beer as on fermentation in general. The author decided to try to live for a year by consuming only fermented foods and beverages, which obviously includes many things besides beer, though beer did make up a substantial part of his diet.He's also the brewmaster at Kent Falls Brewing Company in Connecticut. The book asks questions about the role of fermented foods in maintaining our overall health, and supports the notion that we should be including more of them in our daily diet.

The second personal account is My Beer Year: Adventures with Hop Farmers, Craft Brewers, Chefs, Beer Sommeliers, and Fanatical Drinkers as a Beer Master in Training by Lucy Burningham. It recounts her year-long quest to become a Certified Cicerone. If you are unfamiliar with the Cicerone program, it is the equivalent of becoming a certified wine sommelier. The book's tone is light but interesting, as the author works to educate herself and her sense of taste in the art of enjoying and evaluating beer in order to pass the rigorous examination to become a certified beer expert.

You can't have a Christmas Beer Book list without having at least one book about beer and food on it. A decade ago that wouldn't have been the case, as such book were few and far between. However, in recent years, writers have begun to recognize that beer and food have a natural affinity that is at least as good and perhaps even better than that of beer and wine, and the number of books being published on the subject has increased accordingly. The best on on that subject that I have read so far this year is Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros by Julia Herz & Gwen Conley. As the sub-title implies, these two ladies are professionals in this business; Herz works for the Brewers Association and Conley is a biologist by training who has worked for several breweries and currently teaches at the University of California. The hardback takes a comprehensive look at the sources of flavors in beer, how they are perceived by our sense of taste, and how to create pleasing pairings with food. For my money, it's the best single book on this subject currently available.

For my final book recommendation, I've save the best for last. The Beer Geek Handbook: Living a Life Ruled by Beer by Patrick Dawson was my favorite new beer book of the year. I was already an admirer of Dawson's writing from reading his excellent Vintage Beer: A Taster's Guide to Brews That Improve over Time, published back in 2012. This time round, he's written a breezy, funny book full of cool facts and trenchant observations about craft beer and the people who love it. Ever craft beer lover should read this book; it'll make you a better beer geek, I promise!

Moving on from books, there's glassware, one of the "go to" gifts for beer lovers. However, before you decide to go this route, you might want to make sure this is something the recipient truly needs! If they're like me, they're probably hip deep in glassware, much of which never gets used, but just gathers dust. However, if they do need glassware, check out the Buffalo Beer Mug Company. The sell nice 16 oz. Belgian-style glasses, and they do some interesting etchings on them.

When it comes growlers, much the same rules apply as with glassware. It's best to make sure the recipient actually needs/wants another insulated and/or logo'd growler before you spend good money on one as a gift. However, if you want to really go overboard, you can always lay out $139 for the Rolls Royce of growlers, the uKeg 64 Pressurized Growler for Craft Beer - Stainless Steel from Growler Werks. It has all the bells and whistles: insulated, automatic CO2 regulator, external sight glass, customizable tap, you name it. It costs a pretty penny, but it's the top of the line for growlers on the market today.

If that's a little too rich for your blood, but the person you're shopping for gets to Anchorage or Girdwood often, you might consider giving them a cermaic growler from La Bodega. They're $59, but are lovely to look at at get you a 10% discount on growlers fills at the various La Bodega locations for life!

A good choice for stocking stuffers is food made with beer. There are plenty of choices out there, but one that I personally like is Beer Kissed. They make delicious cookies, caramel popcorn, and caramel sauces; the Scotch Porter Caramel Sauce looks especially yummy!

Often, the best gift choice for a craft beer lover is often just more good beer. If you're not a craft beer lover yourself, find a good beer store and ask for some suggestions from the staff. The folks at Country Liquors in Kenai or La Bodega in Anchorage can give you great ideas, especially if you can tell them something about the kind of beers the person you're shopping for likes to drink. Part of being a craft beer lover is enjoying trying new breweries and new styles, so gifts of beer are always welcome.

Finally, if you're looking for a gift for yourself or someone else, consider the gift of knowledge. I'll be teaching my beer class, CED A157 The Art & History of Brewing, again during the spring semester at Kenai Peninsula College. We meet once a week, on Tuesdays from 5:30 to 6:45 pm, with the first class on January. We cover lots of topics and taste beer in every class. If you've always wanted to learn more about craft beer, here's your chance.

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On that self-serving note, I'll close my Christmas Gift Blog. Enjoy the 83rd Anniversary of Repeal and keep warm in these cold, dark days of December.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Monday, November 28, 2016

The End of November

Like most people, I've had a busy couple of weeks. Looks like the snow is on the ground to stay, and the wood stove is burning to keep things cozy. Big brews, suitable for sipping by the fire are hitting the beer store shelves. Thanksgiving is now in the rear view mirror and Christmas is looming larger and larger ahead. Time to get serious about Christmas shopping. To that end, my next blog will be a special one, focusing on beer-themed gifts you can buy for your beer-loving friends, or that you can ask someone to buy for you. So if you don't blow through your shopping budget on Cyber Monday, you might want to check it out in a week or so.

I want to congratulate the team at King Street Brewing on celebrating their 5th Anniversary last Wednesday, November 23. I couldn't make it up to Anchorage for it, but I understand the party included the release of a new beer, an Oak-Aged Cherry Saison, as well as this year's release of King Street's excellent Winter Warmer. Five successful years is nothing to sneeze at, so please keep up the great work! Here's an old  photo from King Street's 1st Anniversary, at which they gave away free wort to local homebrewers, including yours truly.

On the subject of anniversaries, Bearpaw River Brewing will be celebrating its 1st on Saturday, December 17th. Not sure if I'll be able to make it up there, but if you can make it to Wasilla that day, I strongly recommend checking it out, along with the excellent Thai food restaurant, a couple of doors down from them. Bearpaw River has also started a growler club; you can read the details here.

As our local breweries continue to mark these milestones, I'd like to point out that we have not had a brewery in Alaska fail (as in go out of business permanently) since the Borealis Brewery shut its doors in 2002. Great Bear Brewing closed in 2009, but then re-opened as The Last Frontier Brewing in 2011. So that's fourteen years of continuous growth for craft beer in Alaska, which is quite an achievement. It speaks both to the quality of the beer being produced up here, as well as the level of community support that our local breweries receive. So again, well done to all concerned!

Speaking of local breweries, my wife and I stopped in at Kenai River Brewing yesterday (Sunday) evening to try some samples of the new menu for its tap room. Owner Doug Hogue told me that they are just about ready to open the kitchen to the public. The food will likely start flowing tomorrow (11/29), or later this week at the latest. It looks like the menu will focus on classic pub grub. We tasted chicken wings (two flavors: spicy and honey teriyaki), hamburgers, reuben sandwiches, mac & cheese, and french fries. There was also a salad, but we didn't have any of that. Here's a quick photo that I snapped of some of the food on offer:

Everything was uniformly excellent. My wife considers herself a bit of a mac & cheese connoisseur, and she loved their take on this classic comfort food. My favorite was the reuben sandwich, though the burger (pictured above) was a close second.

Alaskan Brewing Company's Kicker Session IPA took the Gold Medal in its category at the Brussels Beer Challenge.Over 1100 beers were entered into the competition this year, taking three days to judge. Also recognized in the category for Session IPAs was a fairly new Italian brewery called Birrificio della Granda, and Firestone Walker with its Easy Jack. Congratulations to the team at Alaskan on this impressive award!

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing Company

I've learned from Brandon Hall of Resolution Brewing Company that he is looking to sell his current brewery lock, stock, and barrel as a turn-key operation. To be clear, he's only selling the location and the equipment, not the brewery's name or recipes. He told me that there is no space left at the current location for any additional tanks, which he needs to meet the ever-growing demand for his beers. He's working on plans for a new location, but doesn't have anything "super concrete" yet. So if you're looking to get into the business, here's your chance to pick up a fully-operational brewery. Just bring your own name and recipes.

Would you buy a brewery from this man? I would...
I just heard today from Mike Healy of Skagway Brewing that he has purchased a 4-head filler and the brewery has begun bottling its beers in 22 oz. bombers. Here's what else he had to say:

"This is a pilot program to work out the kinks before our new facility, with 10-barrel brew house, opens in Spring of 2018. Currently, these bombers are only for sale at our pub. This pilot bottling program will end sometime in May, when we run out of excess capacity, and will pick up again in September when capacity opens up. Once our new facility is completed we will bottle more of our beers, and on a year-round basis. The beers currently being bottled are: Spruce Tip Blonde Ale Prospector Pail Ale Chilkoot IPA Boomtown Brown Ale."
That's all great news, especially the part about getting a new facility. If, like me, you've ever had the chance to tour Skagway's tiny brewhouse, shoe-horned into a cramped space above the bar, you know how desperately needed that expansion is!

Skagway Head Brewer Trevor Clifford and Owner Mike Healy

That's it for the major news items. If you want to keep up to date on new beer releases and other beer news, be sure to follow me on Twitter at billhowellauth and/or like my Facebook news page, Beer on the Last Frontier. News hits them much quicker than it does this (semi-) weekly blog.

I haven't been tasting many new beers over the last couple of weeks, as I've been mainly enjoying old favorites. However, I did taste and review three big brews.

Stone Brewing's Double Bastard: This beer is an old friend, but one I've never reviewed before. It poured a clear, dark honey color, with a persistent cream-colored head. The aroma had notes of toffee and plenty of American hops. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. On the palate, there was a nice bitter attack, followed by lots of deep malt flavor, and then some alcohol warmth on the long finish. A classic American barley wine, perfect for the season. 11% ABV.

Midnight Sun Brewing's Berserker Imperial Stout, 2016 vintage: Just released on Halloween, this is the return of a personal favorite. This year's version poured opaque with a tan head that dissipated to a collar. The nose had notes of bourbon, oak, and roasted coffee. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was heavy and luscious. As usual, the flavor profile was rich and complex, with elements of chocolate, coffee, bourbon, and oak taking turns in dancing across my palate. The strength of the beer makes itself felt in some warmth on the finish. Perfect for drinking now, or lay down as many bottle as you can afford for a couple of years in your beer cellar. 12.7% ABV, 30 IBUs.

Boulevard Brewing Company's Imperial Stout, 2016-vintage: I've always been impressed with the beers coming out of Boulevard Brewing, and this one was no exception. It poured opaque with a mocha-colored head. The aroma was of roasted malt and some subtle whiskey notes. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. The flavor profile was mostly nice roasted malt notes, with the whiskey barrel-aging making a very subtle contribution, before the beer turns just the least bit sweet on the finish. An excellent beer, subtler than MSBC's Berserker, but equally delicious. 11% ABV, 63 IBUs.

That's it for this blog. As I mentioned above, my next one will focus on Christmas gift ideas for the discerning beer lover. Until then, I hope stay warm on the outside and on the inside. You can ensure the latter by drinking lots of good, local craft beer!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Snow Again. Will It Stay This Time?

There's snow on the ground again here on the Kenai Peninsula; we got about an inch or so last night. Will it stay this time or melt away like the last batch we had? Who knows? Meanwhile, we are moving into a bit of a lull beer-wise, after a whole bunch of events last week, so this blog will be a bit shorter than usual.

At the Beers By the Bay Event in Seward last weekend, King Street Brewing's Blood Orange Porter took home the People's Choice Award.

Photo courtesy of King Street Brewing
Midnight Sun Brewing released this year's Berserker Imperial Stout last Monday, and tomorrow is holding a release party for Buzzwinkle Sour Wheat Ale tomorrow, November 8, at 5:00 pm. Here's the flier for it:

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Speaking of Midnight Sun, Head Brewer Lee Ellis seems to be continuing his quest to be King of All Media. He was on KTVA 11 a few weeks ago, and now he's featured in a Sip Northwest Magazine article. You can read it here.

Bearpaw River Brewing in Wasilla is now open seven days a week. Here are its new hours:

Odd Man Rush Brewing in Eagle River has released its first collaboration beer, Otter Rock Oyster Ale. It's a dark, malty ale brewed with smoked malt and 25 dozen Kachemak Bay oysters from Otter Rock Oyster Farm. 6.9% ABV. Sounds like a great beer to enjoy by the wood stove on a dark evening.

Over a Cynosure Brewing, Clarke Pelz will fill your 5 gallon keg to go, so long as you give him a day or so to do it.

Grace Ridge Brewing in Homer now has a crowler machine, so you can get its beers to go in 32 oz. cans, filled to order at the brewery.

Photo courtesy of Grace Ridge Brewing
Here's the current tap list at St. Elias Brewing Company:

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On the national beer news desk, AB-InBev, fresh from consuming SAB Miller, has snapped up another craft brewery: Karbach Brewing Company in Texas. This comes less than two months after the Department of Justice promised to “carefully scrutinize any future craft acquisitions,” upon closing an investigation into AB-InBev’s purchase of Devils Backbone Brewing in Virginia. At the time, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Juan Arteaga said the division would “consider whether these transactions, either singularly or collectively, are likely to harm competition by, among other things, giving ABI the ability to prevent its craft rivals from effectively getting their products to the market.” It will be interesting to see if the Anti-Trust Division of the DOJ actually looks at the deal, or just rubber-stamps it. If approved, Karbach will join the ten other former craft breweries in AB-InBev's "The High End" business unit.

The latest morsel for AB-InBev's insatiable maw...

On that somber note, let's do a couple of beer reviews.

Stone Brewing's 20th Anniversary Citracado IPA: This beer was bottled on 7/29/2016. It poured a deep, clear copper color, with a big, off-white head. The nose was full of Citra hop notes. The carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. Up front, there was good bitterness, followed by lots of hop flavor and aroma. The use of avocado flower honey lightens the body, while still giving it a hefty 9% ABV. Not fantastic, but a good, solid entry into the ever-growing ranks of imperial IPAs...

St. Elias Brewing's Defiance Black IPA: The beer poured very dark, but with ruby highlights and a small cream-colored head. The aroma had lots of citrus hop notes but no roasted flavors. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. On the palate there was a nice, initial bitter attack, purely from the hops. This is what I call a true black IPA, in that it has no roasty flavors. For my money, if a beer has lots of roasted malts notes, it's a hoppy porter, not a black IPA. Defiance drinks like a delicious, well-made American IPA that just happens to be dark in color.

That's it for this week. If you haven't gotten all your wood stacked and your winter tires put on, you'd better hurry up and get done, because I think winter is about here!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

BREAKING NEWS: Jolly Pumpkin Tap Takeover at Anchorage Brewing Company

Hello! Just received some breaking news from Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing about an event at the brewery this Friday & Saturday. Here's what he had to say:

Lots of reasons to Come join us this Fri/Sat 2p-8p! It's Jolly Pumpkin Tap Takeover! Our good friend Ron Jeffries from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales has sent us some amazing beers from his brewery. We'll have 10 of his beers on tap, including a version of our Galaxy White IPA they brewed at their Michigan brewery with their house yeast culture!
Local author, Chantelle Pence (Jacenda's sister) will be doing a book release and signing of her newly published book, Homestead Girl! Chantelle writes beautifully about life from the perspective of a homestead girl raised up in rural Alaska...A must read book!
Delicious Dave will be throwing down some awesome grub to top everything off! See you this weekend!!! Here is a list of the beers we will have on tap! Make sure and come this Friday if you want to taste them all! Whatever is left will be poured on Saturday.
Calabaza BorealMatame AhoritaGalaxy WhiteSaison XOro de CalabazaBam BiereCalabaza BlancaNo Ka ‘OiBlack Walnut SaisonLa Vida Improvisation

Sounds like a great time, so if you'll be in Anchorage on Friday or Saturday, I recommend you check it out!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!

Hello again and Happy Halloween! We seem to be getting a slight reprieve from the start of winter here on the Peninsula, with temperatures in the upper 40s, but we all know that won't last. Besides, every one I know keeps hoping for a "real winter" this year, unlike the last couple. We'll see if that enthusiasm still lingers come February.

Some interesting stories are percolating on the "National Beer News" Desk. The first one is the announcement by Stone Brewing of significant layoffs. Somewhere between 50 and 100 employees, some of whom had been with the company for quite some time, were given their walking papers. This is the same Stone Brewing which is busily expanding by opening new breweries in Richmond, VA and Berlin. So we have a craft brewery that seems to be behaving more or less like one of those big, industrial breweries that its founder, Greg Koch, loves to rail against. What does it mean for Stone's beers? Beats me, but it does give me pause when I'm standing in the bottle shop, trying to decide how to dispose of my limited beer budget. For when a craft brewery (whatever that is; insert your own definition here) begins acting just like a big corporate brewery (ditto), is it still a craft brewery? It take some thinking on...

Speaking of big corporate breweries, here's a link to an article in which Carlos Brito, the Brazilian banker who is head of the Belgium-based AB-InBev, opines that the American beer drinker is "tired of choice." I'm not sure where and when he developed his keen grasp of the American psyche, but I guess we should thank him for doing his level best to ensure we are never again confronted with an over-abundance of choice. If Brito had his way, there would be no choice required on our part, as the only beers we'd be able to purchase would come from his company, even if they were tarted up with different names. It would be laughable, if it wasn't so damn serious...

The face of the enemy, Carlos Brito

Moving on to more local news, Midnight Sun Brewing's trademark dispute with Sockeye Grill & Brewery in Boise, ID is still on-going. I confirmed late last week that the status was still the same as reported in my last blog, i.e. a Cease & Desist Letter has been sent, but the two breweries are still trying to work things out between them. As soon as I hear anything differnt, I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, today is MSBC's Halloween Horde Beserker Release Party, starting at 4 PM at The Loft.  There will be flights of vintage Berserkers (2008, 2013, Nitro 2014 and 2016) for $12.On Saturday, Anchorage legend Mr. Whitekeys stopped bye and helped Head Brewer Lee Ellis brew up the first batch of Christmas in Spenard Spiced Brown Ale. Mr. Whitekeys is evidently a big fan of MSBC's Kodiak Brown Ale, so he was happy to help put his own unique spin on this new brew. Finally, MSBC will be releasing a new batch of Buzzwinkle Sour Wheat Ale next week.

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun Brewing

Speaking of Halloween parties, today is also HooDoo Brewing's 4th Anniversary, and they will be celebrating at the Thanks Fairbanks, We're Four Event, starting at 3 PM. Congratulations to Bobby and the rest of the team there; keep brewing those great beers.

More beer event news: Here's the schedule for La Bodega's Winter in the Wood Tasting Series at Jack Sprat Restaurant in Girdwood:

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Also coming up this weekend is the Beers by the Bay event at the Sea-Life Center in Seward. Here's the flier for that one:

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In additional new beer release news, Denali Brewing Company will be releasing its Big DIPA Double IPA soon, and cans of its Schwarzbier should be replacing its Slow Down Brown on store shelves soon as well.

Last Saturday, Anchorage Brewing Company released a new batch of its excellent The Tide and its Takers Tripel. This beer was last released in July of 2014, and to celebrate the new release, the brewery tapped a keg from that previous batch as well.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company

Here on the Peninsula, St. Elias Brewing Company has released another new beer: Czar's Gone Wild, a Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels with Brettanomyces. See my review of it below. Here's the current tap list:

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Okay, let's review some beers:

St. Elias Brewing's Czars Gone Wild Imperial Stout: As mentioned above, this RIS is barrel-aged with Brettanomyces. It poured opaque with a tan head that dissipated to a collar. The aroma was rich with malt and bourbon notes. Carbonation was low but acceptable (I poured it from a growler, which could account for this); mouthfeel was heavy and viscous. The flavor profile held lots of rich malt notes, bourbon elements, with hints of brett funk. It will be interesting to watch the brett influence change over time. An unusual but excellent take on the standard Russian Imperial Stout.

Anchor Brewing's Old Foghorn Barley Wine: When it was first brewed in 1975, this beer became the first modern barley wine brewed in the US. I have enjoyed it many times over the years, but never got around to formally reviewing it, so here goes. It poured a clear ruby color with a small, cream-colored head that dissipated to a collar. The nose had caramel and toffee notes; a classic English-style barley wine, this beer had no discernible hop aroma. The malt-forward flavor profile is also characteristic of that style. Only 8.8% ABV, which seems pretty tame by today's standards, and 52 IBUs. Like many of Anchor's beers, Old Foghorn broke trail for all the craft beers that followed it, and illustrates the tremendous debt owed by all modern beer lovers to Fritz Maytag.

Sierra Nevada Brewing's Estate Homegrown IPA: All the barley and hops for this beer were produced in Chico, CA, from the Sierra Nevada complex. It poured a clear, very pretty copper color with a big, off-white head that left good lace. The aroma was of American hops, primarily Cascades. Carbonation was excellent, mouthfeel was light. There was a nice initial bitter attack, then hop flavor and aroma, but the beer still maintained excellent balance. 6.7% ABV, 67 IBUs.

Well, that's it for this week. Happy Halloween to you all, and good luck making your final preparations before winter arrives in full force.

Until Next Week, Cheers!