Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trying to Keep Up

One of the biggest problems I have as a beer writer/blogger is just trying to keep up with the plethora of beer events/news/brewery openings. You'd think, given how small the Alaska beer scene is when compared to someplace like Portland or Denver, that it would be so simple to keep abreast of all the goings-on, but it's not. Frankly, I don't know how the guys who cover the beer beats in places like Washington State or Colorado manage it. All I know is, I seem to spend half my time scouring social media sites and twitter feeds for news, and still I miss stuff.

Case in point, Rough Woods Inn and Cafe, a brewpub in Nenana. I first heard about this nanobrewpub from a tourist last year, but was unable to find out anything about it, even after searching the Alcohol Control Board's website. I consulted with the Dean of Alaska Beer Writers, Jim Roberts, AKA DR. Fermento, and he came up dry as well. We weren't able to confirm that there was a brewery operating in Nenana until last month, when Ed Miner of Gakona Brewing happened to be passing through and confirmed its existence for both of us. Not only was there a brewery there, but it had been brewing since 2013! If you'd like to learn more about Rough Woods and its tiny brewing operation, I'll refer you to Dr. Fermento's excellent Anchorage Press article, which you can read here. My point is, despite our best efforts, a brewpub managed to operate for three years without either of us knowing about it.

The other challenge I face is that almost as soon as I write something, it's obsolete. The Alaska craft beer scene is such a fast-changing one that little stays the same for very long. Case-in-point, I published the first volume of Beer on the Last Frontier: The Craft Breweries of Alaska back in 2012. Four years later, it was woefully out of date. Seward Brewing Company had a new owner/brewer, Kenai River Brewing had moved to a new facility, other breweries had made significant changes, and Grace Ridge Brewing had opened its doors in Homer. It was time to bite the bullet and publish an update, and I have finally found the time to do so. The revised and updated version of Volume I is now available on Kindle, and the paperback version should be available in a few weeks. If you have already purchased a Kindle version, I believe you can download the updated version for free. If you haven't bought it already, you can purchase it for $6.99 on

The cover of the 2nd Edition
Of course, now that I've updated Volume I, it's time to start trying to get Volume II up-to-date. Sigh...

On a bit of a side note, friend and fellow author Doug Vandegraft will be selling and signing copies of his book A Guide to the Notorious Bars of Alaska this Friday, 9/16, at The Bow Bar in Kenai from 5 to 7 PM. The book is a great read, so if you'll be in town then, I recommend you stop in.

Enough about writing; let's talk beer news. This weekend is a big one for beer events, as I've been writing in previous blogs. To summarize, events taking place include:

Hopefully by this late date you have already made plans for which one you'll be attending. If you need more details, click on the links above or check out my previous couple of blogs.

Coming up next weekend, on Saturday, September 24th, is Bodega-Fest 2016. I posted quite a bit of info about this in my last couple of blogs as well. FYI, I'm planning to attend that one, so look me up if you are there and say hi. La Bodega is also holding another of its Beer 101 events tonight at its Northern Lights store, from 5:15 to 6:30 pm. $15 gets you a flight of six beer samples plus small bites from Hearth. Finally, the leftovers from The Culmination have gone on the shelves there and at other beer stores around town, so this is your chance to check our beers which aren't usually distributed here in Alaska. See below for my reviews of a couple of beers from Prairie Artisan Ales out of Oklahoma.

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Alaskan Brewing is celebrating its 30th Anniversary with a new release of its Perseverance Ale. It first released this beer to mark its 25th Anniversary in 2011. See my blog on 9/7/2011 for a review of it fresh, and my blog on 10/2/2014 for a review of it with three years' cellar time. Congratulations to Geoff, Marcy, and all the rest of the folks at Alaskan for reaching this historic milestone. Here's to the next thirty years!

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing Company

Anchorage Brewing Company will be releasing a new beer this Friday, September 16th. It's called Love and the Death of Damnation. It's an IPA brewed with Mosaic and Equinox hops.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company

I've heard from Denali Brewing Company that more cans of its Slow Down Brown hit the shelves last week. Also, the Beer/Wine Dinner this Friday night before the Talkeetna Brewfest is sold out.

Photo courtesy of Denali Brewing Company

Tickets are now on sale for the annual HooDoo ChooChoo on October 1. You can get more info or tickets here.

Here on the Peninsula, St. Elias Brewing Company has its Oktoberfest Lager back on tap, and it's being served in 20 oz. glasses. Kenai River Brewing is having its parking lot paved with asphalt. Here's the tap list from Grace Ridge Brewing from my last visit on 9/2.

Grace Ridge tap list on 9/2/2016

Moving on to beer reviews, I have three for this blog:

Deschutes Brewing's Black Butte XXVII: Bottled on 7/20/2015, this one had been in my cellar for over a year. It poured dark with ruby highlights and a nice, mocha-colored head. The aroma was of cocoa, molasses, and bourbon notes. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. On the palate there was a complex flavor profile with lots of coffee, chocolate and oak/bourbon elements. A bit of alcohol heat on the finish. Overall, Deschutes continues to deliver an excellent imperial porter with this series. 11.6% ABV, 60 IBUs.

Prairie Artisan Ales' Apple Brandy Barrel Noir (2016): A beer from The Culmination that I picked up at La Bodega, this imperial stout was aged in used apple brandy barrels. It poured opaque with zero head. The nose was difficult to detect with no carbonation to lift it, but what I could get was mostly roasted malt and oak notes. Zero carbonation and a heavy mouthfeel. The initial impression was of chocolate notes in a heavy, almost oily brew, with some alcohol heat on the finish. The apple and oak elements are fairly subtle. Not bad, but it could have used at least a little carbonation to open things up a bit. 12% ABV, 70 IBUs.

Prairie Artisan Ales' Pirate Noir Imperial Stout: This time round, the stout is aged in used rum casks. It poured opaque but with a small tan-colored head that dissipated quickly to a collar. The aroma was rich with malt notes. Carbonation was low but present, and the mouthfeel was heavy.  Thick and rich, the rum notes added an interesting counterpoint to the malt and coffee elements from the base imperial stout. Even the modest carbonation in this beer made it much more appealing than the completely flat apple brandy version. Different but very enjoyable. 11% ABV, 60 IBUs.

That's it for this week. Choose wisely amongst all the upcoming beer events and keep drinking good local craft beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Fall is Here

It's clear that summer's over here on the Kenai Peninsula. The fireweed has all gone to seed, classes have started again, and the temperature was in the upper 30s this morning before the sun came up. We're clearly into our few weeks of fall, and winter isn't that far away. Still, the weather during the day is great, with clear skies and warm temperatures, so let's all enjoy it while we can.

The Culmination Beer Festival took place on Saturday, August 20th at Anchorage Brewing Company. Since all of the beers offered are essentially unobtainable in Alaska, there's little point in my reviewing any of them. I'll just say that as always the festival was a superb beer tasting experience, with great food, good music, and a wonderful crowd of folks who respected the unusual and exceptional beers they were being offered. Can't wait until next year.

As it's the start of fall, it's time for the yearly release of pumpkin beers and Oktoberfest brews. Midnight Sun has released this year's versions of its two classic pumpkin beers: the heavy-weight T.R.E.A.T. (7.8% ABV, 30 IBUs) and the lighter Trickster (7.0% ABV, 22 IBUs).

Midnight Sun has released two other brews:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The second, Ball & Chain Dortmunder, was brewed to celebrate the wedding of head brewer Lee Ellis to his fiancee Leah, which took place on Saturday, August 20th, in Seward. The brewery has also redesigned its website. You can check out the new layout here.

Bleeding Heart Brewery
 will be hosting an All-You-Can-Eat BBQ Buffet at the brewery on September 17th, from 5 to 8 PM. Tickets are $25 in Advance or $30 at the door and go on Sale on September 8. Congratulations as well to the brewery for taking a People's Choice Award at the Alaska State Fair.

Alaskan Brewing has decided not to release a pumpkin brew this fall. Instead, it is re-releasing its Alaskan Heritage Coffee Brown Ale, which was first released last year. Read a review of it in my 10/2/2015 blog. It will be released in September and will be available through mid-November.

As I was working through my compilation of festivals in my last blog, I missed one: the 2016 Yukon Beer Festival in Whitehorse. This is the 3rd time this festival has been held, and it will take place on October 14 & 15th in Whitehorse. Click on the link above for more info and tickets.

Speaking of Whitehorse, Winterlong Brewing Company is continuing to work on its expansion, which began back in July. This project includes a serious upgrade to the brewery's tap room, expanding it greatly and doubling the number of taps from 6 to 12. This expansion will allow the brewery to offer beers in regular size glasses, in addition to its samplers, for consumption on site. The target for opening the new space is late September. Here are a couple of photos of the work in progress, courtesy of Winterlong Brewing:

49th State Brewing Company has released a new beer, Blood Drop Red Ale. For every pint of this beer sold at either its Healy or Anchorage locations, the brewery will donate a dollar to the Blood Bank of Alaska.

Seward Brewing Company has announced that it will be hosting its Fall Beer Dinner on Tuesday, September 13th at 6:30 pm. Seating is limited to 24 folks, tickets are $75, and must be purchased in advance. The brewery will likely be closing its doors for winter soon, so this is one last chance to experience its outstanding cuisine.

The Double Shovel Cider Company in Anchorage now has a tap room. Its hours are 4 to 8 pm Wednesday & Thursday, and 3 to 9 pm Friday & Saturday. It's located at 502 W. 58th Ave, Unit C.

I mentioned Bodega-Fest in my last blog, but didn't have a flier for it to share. I've got one now, so here it is:

La Bodega will also be continuing its Summer Tasting series next Tuesday from 6 to 10 PM at Jack Sprat in Girdwood. This one will be focused on beers from King Street Brewing in Anchorage.

Here on the Peninsula, Kenai River Brewing is working hard to start filling more of the 18 taps in its new brewery. Currently, there are 13 beers on tap, including Kolsch, T200 Rye Pale Ale, and Duck it Down Rye Pale Ale.

Photo courtesy of Kenai River Brewing
At St. Elias Brewing the popular Green Giant DIPA is back on tap.

Grace Ridge Brewing in Homer will be open on Labor Day from noon to 8 pm. It has also debuted a new beer: Halibut Cove Lemon Tart.

That's about it for news, so let's review some beers.

Firestone-Walker's Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA: This beer poured opaque with a big, mocha-colored head that left good lace on the glass. The aroma was full of citrusy American hop notes. Carbonation was great, and the mouthfeel was light. There was good bitterness up front, with spicy rye notes, followed by good hop flavor. Unlike many so-called black IPAs, this beer was not loaded with roasty flavors, which I think is good. If your black beer has lots of roasted notes, you've made a hoppy porter, not a black IPA. 8.3% ABV, 80 IBUs.

Stone Brewing's RuinTen Triple IPA: It poured a deep, clear copper color, with a big, off-white head. The nose had tons of citrus hops, plus hints of toffee. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light to medium. There is a tremendous initial bitter attack, as you'd expect from 100 IBUs, then the big malt backbone moves in to bring things a bit more into balance, followed by some alcohol heat on the finish. It lives up to the Triple IPA name, so if you're looking to smash your palate with bitterness and alcohol, here's the beer for you. 10.8% ABV.

New Belgium's Bretta IPA: It poured a clear gold with a huge white head. The aroma was a combination of spritzy citrus hop notes and brett funk. Great carbonation and a light mouthfeel. On the palate there was moderate initial hop bitterness, followed by notes of brett funk, followed by hop flavors on the finish. A very nice beer, particularly if you are as fond of brett as I am. 7.5% ABV, 75 IBUs.

Sierra Nevada's Ovila Quad: I had cellared this bottles for a bit over a year. It poured a dark, barley translucent ruby color with a small, cream-colored head that dissipated to a collar. The nose was classic quad: plums, figs, raisins. The mouthfeel was medium, and the carbonation was okay. The taste profile was luscious, rich and complex, with notes of dark fruit, leather, and tobacco. The beer tasted perfectly Belgian; I could have easily believed it was made in a Trappist monastery in Europe, rather than in Chico, CA. 10.2% ABV, 21 IBUs.

Midnight Sun Brewing's 2011 Arctic Devil Barley Wine: Another bottle that I pulled in my recent visit to my beer cellar, this beer was over five years in the bottle. There was a slight his as I popped the cap, so it did retain some carbonation. It poured a dark honey-color with a small cream-colored head that quickly dissipated to a collar. The aroma was rich in caramel & toffee notes, plus a hint of oak. Carbonation was low, as you'd expect, and the mouthfeel was medium to heavy. The flavor profile was plenty of rich, thick malt notes, plus oak and some sherry notes, falling away to a long slow finish with some alcohol heat. The beer was still good, but I think I could detect the first hints of deterioration, so if you have any 2011, I'd recommend drinking them now. It's possible that if I had taken some extra precautions, such as waxing its cap, this bottle might have been able to be cellared a bit longer. 13.4% ABV, 20 IBUs.

That's it for this week. Get out an enjoy this great weather while we have it, as we all know it won't last much longer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Festive Season

We are now into what I always think of as the festive season here in Alaska, i.e. the season when it seems we're having a beer festival about every other week. Yes, we have great festivals other times of the year, but it always seems that we have the greatest concentration of them in this part of the year.

First up was the Annual Kenai River Beer Festival, which took place last Saturday. As this is my local fest and I had a (small) part in getting it off the ground a few years ago, I suppose I'm biased, but I still think it's one of the best festivals in the state. The weather could have been better this year, but the sporadic light rain couldn't keep the hardy beer drinkers away. Here are some photos that I snapped at the start of the festival.

Kenai River Brewing had a new twist this year. In order to taste the various vintages of its Winter Warlock Old Ale (which changed each hour and ranged from 2015 all the way back to 2009), you had to find the "Winter Warlock" and get a "magical gem" from him, which you then surrendered (along with a drink token) for your sample. Here's what the Warlock looked like:

All this helped Kenai River Brewing win the Best Brewery in the People's Choice Awards (for the 5th year running, I believe). King Street's IPA won as Best Beer. All-in-all, it was a great festival.

Next up is The Culmination, which will be taking place this Saturday at Anchorage Brewing Company, starting at 2 PM. Amazingly, I think there are actually a few tickets left, so if you haven't purchased yours yet, there's still time. And don't forget Hill Farmstead Brewery Day tomorrow at Anchorage Brewing; I wrote about this in detail in my last blog.

Speaking of Anchorage Brewing Company, it is putting three new beers on tap today:

Migrating Eyes - Collaboration with Tired Hands, spelt saison aged one year in French oak. Fermented with Tired Hands house culture.

An Eternity - Collaboration with Gigantic Brewing, Saison aged one year in French oak with Organic Oregon Marion Berries and Alaska Apples.

Mikkeller Invasion- Rustic IPA brewed with Citra and Galaxy Hops, fermented in Foudres with Brett. Dry hopped with Citra and Galaxy.

On September 17, Glacier Brewhouse will be celebrating its 20th Anniversary. Here's the flier for it:

September 17th will also be the day of the 5th Annual Talkeetna Brewfest. I attended this last year and had a great time, so if you can be in Talkeetna on that weekend, I strongly recommend it. Tickets are available at

September 17th also happens to be the date of the 5th Annual Capital Brewfest at the Juneau Arts & Cultural Center (JACC) from 12:30 to 5 pm. See what I mean about the Festive Season? So if you're in Southeast, here's an alternative festival for you.

Silver Gulch Brewing will be celebrating Oktoberfest on 16 & 17 September. It will have First Tap of this year’s Oktoberfest Brew Great polka from Alaska Blaskapel. Plus Steve Brown and the Bailers Tickets are only $10 at the door! Designated drivers get in free.

And we're not done yet! One week later, on Saturday, September 24th, it will be Bodega-Fest in Anchorage's Lucy Cuddy Park from 1 to 6 PM. Tickets are $39 and on-sale now. Besides beer and music at the fest itself, this year there will also be a concert at Tap-Root after the fest itself. Click on the link above for all the details.

But wait, there's more! October 1 is this year's Zwanze Day, sponsored by Belgian brewery Cantillon. Anchorage Brewing Company will be a Zwanze Day location again this year, as it was last year. There are only 27 other locations in the entire US, so were are fortunate to have one in Alaska.

Whew! That's a lot of festivals in the next six weeks or so. See why I think it's the Festive Season?

In other news, Midnight Sun Brewing has released its 21st Anniversary Beer, Grand Crew Brew. I got to taste a small sample of it at the Kenai Beer Festival, and I can tell you that it's outstanding! You definitely want to pick up as many bottles of this one as you can find, both to enjoy now and cellar for later. I believe it's only available at the brewery itself.

If we didn't have enough going on in the next few weeks, you can add in the Grand Opening of Quake Brewing Company in Eagle River on 1 September. Everything appears to be on track, and you can get details on Facebook here.

Arkose Brewery will be a part of an event called the Sapling and Smolt Soiree, along with the Great Land Trust, on August 28th, just before the start of the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. Here is the flier for it:

Arkose will be pouring its Palmer Extra Pale Ale and its Sister City Raspberry Saison. The brewery will also be hosting another of its regular Beer Meets Chocolate events this Friday, August 19th.

Newcomer Grace Ridge Brewing was at the Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival (and I believe it will be at the Talkeetna Brewfest). It is hosting a fund raiser for the Kevin Bell Arena/Homer Hockey Association on Friday, August 26th, from 4 to 8 PM. Here's the flier:

Note that there will also be beers from Kenai River Brewing and Odd Man Rush Brewing on offer as well.

St. Elias Brewing's Old's Cool Session IPA (reviewed in my last blog) has already run out. However, the very popular Green Giant DIPA should be back on tap before the end of the week. Here's the current tap list:

That's the news, now let's do some reviews.

Southern Tier Brewing's Salted Caramel Imperial Stout: It poured opaque with a small tan head that dissipated to a collar. The aroma was caramelized sugar and cocoa notes. The mouthfeel was medium to heavy, with good carbonation. Flavors were rich and thick, with intense notes of caramel, chocolate, and coffee. A big sipper, and one that would make an excellent ingredient in dishes calling for a big stout. 10% ABV.

49th State Brewing's Foxcatcher Saison: I picked this up in a crowler during my first visit to the new Anchorage location. It poured a slightly cloudy gold with a nice white head that left good lace on the glass. The nose had the peppery, earthy notes I associate with a Belgian yeast. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. Good upfront bitterness, followed by earthy, farmhouse notes. An excellent saison in the style of the classic from Dupont. 6.2% ABV.

Midnight Sun Brewing's Feast Doppelbock: This beer was released several weeks ago, but I finally managed to score a bottle. It poured a deep, semi-translucent ruby color, with a nice, cream-colored head. The aroma was rich and malty, with no noticeable hops. Carbonation was good, and the mouthfeel was rich and heavy. The flavor profile was all strong, smooth malt flavors, with hints of oak and alcohol from the barrel-aging. A delicious doppelbock. 7.4% ANB, 15 IBUs.

Boon's Oude Geuze (2011-2012): From the famous Belgian brewery, this beer poured a clear, slightly reddish gold color with a big white head. The nose was full of tart and oaky notes. Carbonation was intense, and the mouthfeel was effervescent. On the palate it was tart and refreshing. A superb geuze, very dry and oaky. 7% ABV

Stone Brewing's Who You Callin' Wussie Pilsner: I found this in a six-pack of 16 oz. cans at Country Liquors in Kenai. It poured a clear gold with a nice white head that left good lace. The aroma had plenty of noble hops. Carbonation was good, and the mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile was clean and crisp, and reminded me strongly of German pilsners. A very nice and enjoyable beer.

That's it for this blog. I hope to see you at one or more of the upcoming festivals. Look for me at The Culmination this Saturday for sure.

Until Next Time, Cheers!