Saturday, March 18, 2017

Girdwood Brewing Is Open!

It's been years in the making, but Girdwood Brewing is finally open to the public. The new brewery at 2700 Alyeska Highway opened its doors at 4 PM on Thursday. I'm not sure what it's final operating hours will be but it's open noon to 8 PM thru this Sunday if you want to stop by and check things out. I drove up yesterday to see it for myself.

The brewery is in a great location, right off the main road, with a nice view of the ski slopes from the parking lot. The tap room is beautiful, with lovely timber-framing and a gorgeous bar top made from a huge piece of Costa Rican hardwood. It's decorated with plenty of skis and skiing stuff. Here are some photos my wife Elaine took which should give you a feel for the place. Click on each to enlarge.

Brewery exterior
Brewery tap room
The brewhouse

Brite tank and three conical fermenters

When I was there, owners Brett & Rory Marenco and Josh Hegna were behind the counter, so I talked to them for a few minutes. They plan to take things slow at first, getting the feel for their production process and tap room demand. Eventually, they'll likely begin to self-distribute to local bars and restaurants, but they want to be careful not to get ahead of themselves. As Rory told me, "We want to make sure we can meet tap room demand before we start branching out. The worst thing would be to go into an outlet, and then have to pull back because we couldn't meet demand." Currently, Girdwood has three 20-bbl conical fermenters and one 20-bbl brite tank, but the brewery was built and plumbed to make adding up to three more fermenters a relatively easy affair; bravo to them for thinking ahead. But for now, if you want to taste Girdwood's beers, you're going to have to make the trek to the brewery.

And what about those beers? There are currently three on tap (along with Zip Kombucha), and I sampled each yesterday. While I never do a formal review based only on a sample, here are my "first impressions" of each of the three beers on offer.

L to R: AK-IPA, Down the Chute Kolsch, & Hippy Speedball Coffee Stout

Down the Chute Kolsch: An easy-drinking, clean tasting beer, with mild hoppiness. Nothing here that should scare away the Bud drinker, so this is the perfect beer for someone who's unfamiliar with craft beers. 5.3% ABV, 16 IBUs.

AK-IPA: This unfiltered IPA is cloudy in the glass, with plenty of hop aroma in the nose. While it may resemble some of the newest IPAs made with Mosiac and other hip new hop varieties, AK-IPA doesn't have the tropical fruit notes that come from those hops. Instead, it's brewed with Amarillo and other more familiar American hops, giving it a bright citrus aroma and flavor, along with its bracing bitterness. 6.4% ABV, 78 IBUs.

Hippy Speedball Coffee Stout: Black as midnight with a nice mocha-colored head, this beer lives up to its name with plenty of roasted flavors, both from the grain and the cold-steeped coffee. If you like coffee stouts (and I do), this beer is an excellent example of the style. 6.7% ABV, 24 IBUs.

So in conclusion, congratulations to Girdwood Brewing on opening its doors. I'm sure it will do a fantastic amount of business, especially when the tourists return with the warmer weather. Near as I can tell, this brings the brewery count in Alaska to 32, pushing us even higher in the breweries per capita rankings.

Before I wrap up this blog, I want to make sure everyone is aware of the upcoming Talkeetna Beer Trippin' Event. This event is organized each year by the Great Northern Brewers, Anchorage's homebrew club. This year it takes place from 3/31 to 4/2. Here's the schedule of events:

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Here's the menu for the Korean-themed beer dinner that will be held on Friday at the Denali Brewpub:

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The Talkeetna Beer Trippin' is always a great event, so I strongly recommend attending, if you can.

That's it for this blog. I hope everyone had a good St. Patrick's Day and did not drink any green beer. Green beer is a crime against nature, and any brewer who dyes his or her beer green should be beaten silly with a giant shamrock...

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Dreaming of Spring

It's almost the Ides of March here on the Peninsula, and everyone is dreaming of spring. For the first time in a few years, we've had a "real" winter, with consistently cold temperatures and lots of snow, which was great. However, I think now we're all more than ready for the temperatures to start climbing and the snow to start melting away. At least I know I am.

This seems to be the time of the year for breweries to expand their tankage in preparation for the coming summer crunch. Both Denali Brewing Company and 49th State Brewing - Anchorage have posted pictures of new tanks going in.

Photo courtesy of Denali Brewing Company
Photo courtesy of 49th State Brewing Company
Denali Brewing added two 120-barrel conical fermenters, while 49th State - Anchorage added a new 20-barrel tank. 49th State Brewing - Denali has also announced that it will open for business on Friday, April 28th, 2017.

Speaking of Denali Brewing,  award-winning Celestial Meads will close its Anchorage location on March 25th, and all production will be moved to Denali’s Talkeetna location. Michael R.Kiker, who started Celestial in his garage, will be working with Denali to continue producing the numerous popular mead varieties that he has made in the past. With its acquisition of Celestial, Denali Brewing Company becomes the only business entity in Alaska to hold licenses to produce beer, distilled spirits, and wine (mead).

And while we're on the subject of expansions, Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company has announced plans for the construction of an additional building, connected to his current 7,800 square-foot brewery, which opened in March of 2015. The new structure will provide an additional 3,800 square feet for the production of the brewery’s non-brettanomyces beers, as well as space for a canning line for those beers. Fletcher plans to release primarily IPAs in 4-packs of 16-oz. cans, with all sales taking place at the brewery or in select local stores to ensure freshness. The new structure will be joined to the current brewery via a corridor large enough to allow forklift access between them. Hard piping will be installed to connect the current brew kettle to the stainless steel fermenters in the new addition, which will also house the barrels used to age some of Anchorage Brewing’s non-brettanomyces brews, like A Deal with the Devil and The Darkest Hour. The new building will have a rooftop beer garden, accessed via an external stairway. The current small beer garden will be expanded behind the existing brewery to include fire pits and heated walkways and will provide the public access to the stairway to the rooftop. This new beer garden will be planted with about 100 apple and cherry trees, and in their midst will be a small wooden building with louvers to house the brewery’s coolship. Finally, the brewery’s parking lot will be expanded as well. Fletcher hopes to have these new additions completed by this August. Anchorage Brewing has also released its 2017 Rondy Brew (reviewed below), a beer produced each year to celebrate the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous, which has been held annually since 1932. The brewery also released limited editions of its The Darkest Hour Imperial Stout, aged in Spanish Brandy and bourbon barrels, as well as its first off-site bottle release of its Time Waits For No One Imperial Stout, aged in port barrels from Portugal.

Looking ahead, Anchorage Brewing will be releasing a limited number of cans of Lines, a 100% Lupulin Powder Double IPA that was brewed in collaboration with Monkish Brewing in Los Angeles. It will also be releasing a saison hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops. The brewery will be hosting another Orval Day on Saturday, March 25th, just as it did last year. Finally, Gabe has announced the date for this year's The Culmination Festival: Saturday, July 29th. Tickets this year will be $100 and will go on sale in May.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing

Last year Resolution Brewing announced that it was looking to sell the brewery as a turn-key operation. Not the name or recipes, mind, but just the physical brewery. When I talked to owner Brandon Hall about it, he told me he was looking to raise capital to move to a different location which would allow him to expand production. Since then, it appears the brewery has moved in a different direction, with two new partners, Grant Yutrzenka and Morgan Vail, buying into the business. I spoke to Mr. Yutrzenka via phone a couple of weeks ago, and he told me that currently, there are no plans to relocate. Instead, Resolution will be working to maximize output in the current location in Mountain View. He said that for the future, the brewery plans to keep 8 to 10 beers on offer at all times, including its very popular The Neighborhood IPA, brewed with Mosaic hops. So if you haven't been into Resolution Brewing lately, it's probably worth stopping in again to check things out.

Baranof Island Brewing in Sitka is expanding in another way. It is currently selling shares to the public to finance further expansion; the goal is to raise $1 million by selling 10,000 shares at $100 each. Here's its notice:

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Haines Brewing Company is also trying to expand, only it wants to do so via a FedEx grant. In order for them to be in the running, they need votes for the public. You can vote for them via this website, and you can actually vote every 24 hours if you're so inclined. It only takes a moment of your time and it for a great cause!

Bearpaw River Brewing has begun bottling and distributing its Frontiersman IPA and Mat Maid Milk Stout in 22 oz. bottles. Starting on Monday, Specialty Imports should be stocking them on store shelves from Fairbanks to Kenai, so keep an eye out for them. The labels are designed by Jamie Wade, the wife of brewer Jake Wade.

Photo courtesy of Bearpaw River Brewing.

At Girdwood Brewing Company, they are carbonating the first three beers in its lineup - IP-AK (the house IPA), Down the Chute (an easy-drinking Kölsch), and Hippy Speedball (a coffee stout)- and putting the finishing touches on the tasting room. I expect we'll see a soft opening within the week.

Kegs of Down the Chute Kolsch. Photo courtesy of Girdwood Brewing.

I've seen some of the numbers for last month's Frozen River Fest. As a volunteer and an attendee, I can tell you that both the festival itself and the two beer dinners preceding it were great successes. Both the dinner at Kenai River Brewing on Thursday and the dinner at The Falts Bistro on Friday were sellouts. The food was fantastic and the company superb. The Frozen River Fest itself had over 1400 attendees (up from 1050 last year), 800 of whom paid $15 to drink beer (650 last year), plus $3000 in additional beer token sales. This was the first year that the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce took over the running of the festival, and it did a super job. Here are a couple of photos that I snapped early on, before things really filled up:

This festival keeps getting bigger and better every year, so mark your calendars for February 17, 2018!

Winterlong Brewing in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, has just released a new beer: Divine Intervention. It's a Belgian-style tripel aged in whiskey barrels from the Port Chilkoot Distillery in Haines. The brewery describes it as "a miraculously smooth, complex golden ale. The overall sweetness of this beer is complimented by prominent notes of oak and whiskey." 11.5% ABV

Photo courtesy of Winterlong Brewing

Well, that covers the news, more or less, so let's do some reviews.

Baranof Island Brewing's 2016 Barley Wine: This beer poured a deep ruby color, with a small but persistent cream-colored head. The aroma was primarily malty notes, as you'd expect from an English-style barley wine. The carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. On the palate, there were lots of malt notes, tasty and smooth, mixed with some oak and bourbon from the barrel aging. The beer finished well, with a slight alcohol warmth. 11.5% ABV, 60 IBUs. A very tasty barley wine.

St. Elias Brewing's Heller Bock: You can't get much more traditionally spring than a bock, and Zach Henry's latest offering is an excellent example of the style. It poured a deep, clear gold with an off-white head that dissipated to a collar. The nose was loaded with clean, malty notes. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was between light and medium. The flavor profile is what you'd expect from a bock: good, clean maltiness providing a deep, rich flavor, with only a touch of bitterness for balance. An excellent choice for a long-anticipated spring.

Kassik's Brewery's Smoked Porter: I picked up a bottle of this at the brewery; first time I'd seen it for sale anywhere. It poured opaque with a nice mocha-colored head.The aroma was noticeably smoky and roasty, a good sign. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. On the palate, there were good smoke flavors, but I thought the rest of the beer came across as a bit thin, allowing the smoke to dominate rather than compliment. Not a bad beer, but slightly out of balance for my particular taste; your experience may be otherwise. 6.6.% ABV.

Anchorage Brewing's 2017 Rondy Brew: After a couple of years of saisons, this time around Gabe Fletcher has brewed a New England-style IPA, using Nelson Sauvin hops. The beer poured cloudy gold with a nice white head that left good lacing on my glass. The nose was full of tropical fruit notes from the hops. Carbonation was excellent and the mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile was packed with juicy hop flavors, without a lot of bitterness. I believe I read that Gabe used only late addition hops to make this beer, which explains the excellent hop flavor with reasonable hop bitterness. An excellent example of this very popular style of IPA. 6% ABV.

That's about it for this blog. Keep you finger crossed that spring comes soon, but stay warm in the meantime and keep drinking good, local craft beers.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Breaking News: Special Beer Release at Anchorage Brewing Company TODAY

At 2 PM today, Anchorage Brewing Company will be releasing a limited amount of its The Darkest Hour Imperial Stout that has been aged for 1 year in Spanish Brandy barrels. You can buy individual bottles to go or enjoy a glass at the brewery. Delicious Daves will also be at the brewery, serving up his excellent ramen. As they say on TV, supplies are definitely limited, so don't miss out on this special release.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company.

Monday, February 13, 2017

If the Moon Under Water Held a Beer Festival...

We've got a beer festival taking place here on the Peninsula this weekend. The 3rd Annual Frozen River Fest will be held from 4 to 8 PM Saturday, February 18th, in Soldotna Creek Park. I'll have some more info on it below, but it got me thinking about beer festivals.

On February 9, 1946, an essay by the great George Orwell, entitled “The Moon Under Water,” was published in the Evening Standard of London. Orwell is better known today for his classic dystopian novel 1984, but he was also an accomplished essayist, and this particular essay provided a detailed description of his favorite London pub, named The Moon Under Water. Every beer drinker should read this essay, so if for some reason you haven't yet dones so, take five minutes, click on the link above, and read it. Trust me, it's worth the short amount of time it will take. For those of you familiar with the essay, you will recall that the twist at the essay’s end is Orwell's admission that The Moon Under Water doesn’t actually exist; it represents his idealized version of the public house. In the spirit of Orwell, let’s consider the following thought experiment: If The Moon Under Water, the perfect pub, ever held the perfect beer festival, what would it be like?

Orwell's essay from 1946

First and foremost, there would have to be good beers on offer. The ideal festival would offer beers not readily available, either because they come from breweries whose beers aren’t normally distributed in the area where the festival is located, or because the beers are limited releases that are typically only available at the brewery itself, or best of all, beers that were brewed specially for the festival. Given its size and the remoteness of some of its breweries, Alaska makes being able to sample multiple breweries in a single location a powerful attraction.

Second, the festival goers would have to be there for the right reasons, i.e. to enjoy and experience the beer, not just to get drunk. This can be a problem with some of the bigger festivals out there (Yes, I’m looking at you, Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival). Festivals should be cheerful and pleasant events, without a lot of heavily intoxicated individuals wandering around and causing disruptions. One way to address this is through the pricing structure. You can either charge a lot of money and limit the number of attendees (the model used by The Culmination Festival in Anchorage) or you can have a “pay for your drinks as you go” festival (popular in Europe and the model used by the Frozen River Fest in Soldotna). It seems that having to pay for each individual beer (as opposed to being handed a fistful of sample tickets upon entry) encourages people to slow down and enjoy what they are drinking, instead of trying to “drink their money’s worth.”

Third, there should be plenty of good food available. Good beer is enhanced by good food, and vice versa. A festival with vendors offering a variety of tasty and reasonably-priced foods to accompany its beers will always be much more pleasant than one offering either no food or over-priced, tasteless fare.

Fourth, the best festivals have something to offer the non-drinker as well. Whether it’s by offering good live entertainment or games for the kids, the best festivals recognize that not everyone can or wants to consume alcohol. Designated driver tickets are also an excellent idea; allowing non-drinkers to attend for free or at greatly reduced prices makes it that much easier for drinkers to get home safely. And if the festival is doing a good job with priority #2 above, there should be no problem with having children in attendance. The consumption of alcohol is a normal human activity; it shouldn't need to be hidden away behind walls and barriers.

Fifth, the festival should have a great location, ideally outdoors in good weather. While this isn’t always possible, especially here in Alaska, it’s still something worth striving for. There’s a reason that a place for consuming beer is called a “beer garden”; beer just naturally goes down well in a pleasant, outdoor setting. It’s a bonus if there are other breweries/beer attractions nearby. After all, some attendees may be coming from quite some distance, so the more beer activities they can partake in, the better.

So that's my list of the attributes of the perfect beer festival. We've got a lot of good ones here in Alaska, and a couple of them come pretty close to this platonic ideal, but none of them check all the blocks, just as no pub in London actually fulfilled all of Orwell's criteria. Still, we can keep trying to get there.

As I mentioned above, the 3rd Annual Frozen River Fest will be happening this Saturday. As a lead-in to it, there will be two beer dinners in the local area. On Thursday, 2/16, at 6 PM, Kenai River Brewing will be hosting its first ever KRBC Frozen River Fest Dinner. Here's the menu:

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As you can see, tickets will be $70, and I'm told that attendance will be limited to 40 people, so you should call and reserve your seats ASAP. I've got my ticket and am looking forward to it.

On Friday night, 2/17, The Flats Bistro in Kenai will be reprising its successful beer dinner from last year. If you were lucky enough to attend this one in 2016, you know what a wonderful time it was for everyone there. I acted as master of ceremonies last year, and I've been asked to do so again so I will be introducing each meal course and the beer accompanying it. Here's what you can expect at this dinner:

Hoodoo Brewing's German Kolsch & Kenai River Brewing's Honeymoon Hefe. Those two will be served with a trio of appetizers.

Denali Brewing's Twin Engine Red. Served with beer/cheese soup

Midnight Sun Brewing's Havoc Belgian Double IPA. Served with an IPA-braised cauliflower steak.

Kenai River Brewing's Rauch Bier. Served with beer-braised bratwurst, sauerkraut, and mustard.

Broken Tooth Brewing's Para Bellum Baltic Porter. Served with a cherry Bread pudding.

I don't have any price information yet, but if you are interested in attending, I'd call The Flats at 335-1010 and make a reservation. Last year the event sold out rather quickly.

After the dinners on Thursday and Friday evenings, Saturday will be the main event, from 4 to 8 PM, at Soldotna Creek Park in downtown Soldotna. Admission for non-drinkers is free, and children are welcome, so long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian. Drinkers will pay $15 for a wristband, a 16 oz. mug, and two drink tokens. Each token gets you an 8 oz. pour, and more tokens are available at $3 each. There will be live music by Todd Grebe and Cold Country and Big Fat Buddha. There will also be games for kids like archery and kick sleds. Plus several food vendors. Last but certainly not least, there will be some fifteen breweries in attendance. If you want to purchase tickets in advance, you can do so on the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce's website.

In other news, Girdwood Brewing has finally received the last of its brewing equipment from Premier Stainless. It's looking good for them to be open to the public by the end of March.

Brett & Rory Marenco look over their latest delivery. Photo courtesy of Girdwood Brewing.

Cooper Landing Brewing Company continues to make progress towards being licensed. You can read about its latest developments in the Turnagain Times.

Photo courtesy of Cooper Landing Brewing

Let's do some beer reviews. With my renewed emphasis on revisiting old favorites lately, I haven't sampled that many new beers, but I do have three to offer you.

St. Elias Brewing's Pre-Prohibition Lager: This latest offering from Zach Henry poured a clear gold with a nice white head that slowly dissipated to a collar. The aroma was clean, malty notes with little to no hops presence. Carbonation was good, and the mouthfeel was light. On the palate, there was again lots of clean malt flavors, with just enough hop bitterness to balance things. A smooth and refreshing beer, much more malt forward than St. Elias Brewing's flagship Czech Pilsner. If malt is your thing, this is the brew for you.

Samuel Smith's Organic Perry: Full disclosure: I received this bottle as a free sample from the importer. I'm not much of a cider expert and even less of a perry one, but I thought I'd take a stab at reviewing this. Perry or pear cider is growing in popularity on the heels of the explosive growth of apple ciders. It poured a light and sparkling gold color, similar to a champagne. The nose had faint but definite notes of pears. The carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. On the palate is was crisp, slightly tart, and very refreshing, with lots of pear flavor. Overall, I say it was most like a fruity white wine. While beer still remains far and away my tipple of choice, the perry made for a tasty change of pace.

HooDoo Brewing's 2017 Tusk Barley Wine: I was able to score a couple of bottles of this at La Bodega in Anchorage. One went straight into the beer cellar, but I decided to sample the other one. First off, the bottles are numbered; the total run size was only 1150. Second, the beer is a blend of three different batches of English-style Barley Wines:

81% 2016 Barley Wine, aged 1 year if Dry Fly Distilling Wheat Whiskey Barrels
12% 2017 Barley Wine, brewed just a few months ago in the fall of 2016
7% 2013 Barley Wine, aged for 4 years in stainless

It poured a translucent honey color with a small, cream-colored head that dissipated quickly to a collar. The aroma of the wheat whiskey was strongly present in the nose. Carbonation was acceptable and the mouthfeel was medium.The flavor profile was of smooth malt notes, plus a significant contribution from the whiskey barrels, moving to a large amount of alcohol warmth on the finish. It will be interesting to see how the flavor profile shifts with time in the cellar; fresh, it's a big and boozy barley wine. 9.2% ABV.

That's it for this time around. Hope to see you at the Frozen River Fest this Saturday.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Search For the Next Big Thing

Lately, I've been giving some thought to what seems to be the growing desire for novelty among a certain segment of craft beer drinkers. In many ways, it seems that the most active craft beer aficionados out there are the ones who are always eagerly looking for the next hot new brewery, the next new beer made with some great experimental hop, exotic ingredient, or wild barrel-aging program. In short, they are always searching for "the next big thing".

First off, it seems to me that this is primarily an American phenomenon. In Europe, the vast majority of beer drinkers don't seem to be driven by this constant urge for the new and different. I've visited cafes in Prague that had a grand total of one beer on offer. Granted, it was the classic Pilsner Urquell, deliciously fresh from the brewery, but how many American pubs could survive serving only one craft beer, no matter how delicious? When I lived in Britain from 1998 to 2001, I frequented many a pub that had only three beers on offer: an ordinary bitter, a best bitter, and a seasonal, all from the same brewery (since they were tied houses). No one seemed to be bothered by being offered the same three beers, day in and day out. Just serve me a well-kept pint of Young's Special, and I'm perfectly happy.

It doesn't get any better than a proper pint of this...

But that's not the American way, it seems. We're always looking for the "new & improved" version. While the macro beers on offer from BudMillerCoors could certainly stand to be improved, the sales of many excellent established craft beers also seem to be suffering these days. Beers like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale are still fantastic, even if they don't seem as "cutting edge" as the latest hazy IPA, hopped to 100 IBUs with some brand-new hop variety. While I'm still willing to try most any new brew once, lately I've been making a conscious effort to throw some of my limited beer budget toward some "old favorites"; in revisiting beers that I first feel in love with 30 years ago, I feel like I'm reconnecting with what got me interested in craft beer in the first place.

This is still a wonderful beer. When did you last drink it?

While I'm on the subject, let me say a quick word about the new plethora of beer apps, of which Untappd is probably the most popular. I will admit to having it on my phone and using it, but I'm beginning to think that such apps might be detrimental to truly experiencing and enjoying craft beer. If the drinker's focus is on drinking a beer to earn another badge, rather than drinking the beer just to enjoy it, things may be headed in the wrong direction. It reminds me a bit of the "tickers" I saw in Britain. These people strove to taste and "tick off" as many new beers as possible. As hobbies go, I suppose it's no worse than collecting stamps, coins, or butterflies, but it always seemed to me to miss the point of drinking a beer in the first place. These new apps seem to be turning us into a nation of tickers, rather than folks just enjoying beers for their own sake, be they old classics or new creations. So let's put the phones down and just have a beer, shall we?

Stepping down off my soapbox and moving on to some news item, I first have to congratulate Kassik's Brewery on its impressive double gold at the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival last weekend. Its 2016 Buffalo Head Barley Wine took First Place in the Barley Wine Competition, while its Statny Statny Barrel Aged Stout took the prize in the Winter Beer Category. Ballast Point's Three Sheets Barley Wine took second, while 49th State Brewing's Outlander Barley Wine took third. So a very impressive showing by Alaska brewers in general and Kassik's in particular. If you weren't at the Festival and would like to sample the winners, there will be an Awards Celebration at Kassik's Brewery in Nikiski tomorrow, Saturday, from 2 to 6 PM. I'd get there early, as there are only 5 gallons of the  Statny Statny Barrel Aged Stout available. Kassik's has also begun releasing its beers in 12 oz. six packs, starting with Morning Wood IPA and Beaver Tail Blonde Ale.

Photo courtesy of Kassik's Brewery
Also in the news was the announcement that Matthew Tomter, the owner of Eagle River Ale House & the Palmer City Ale House, has purchased the former Mat Maid Dairy building from the state to house the Matanuska Brewing Company. Here is the video of the KTVA Channel 11's report on the purchase.


Tomter has ambitious plans. He said: “On day one we’ll be able to produce more beer than anybody, other than Alaskan Brewing Company, is producing right now. Our primary focus with this brewery is going to be 100 percent wholesale. We are going to produce beer, put it in cans and kegs, and send it straight to a distributor.” Currently, the brewery hopes to be open for business in November of this year.

Speaking of opening for business, Girdwood Brewing is expecting to receive its final shipment of brewing equipment soon and expects to be open by the end of March. Initial beers on offer will be IP-AK (the house IPA), Down the Chute (an easy-drinking Kölsch), and Hippy Speedball (a coffee stout). 

I stopped in for lunch last week at Kenai River Brewing in Soldotna; the food from its new kitchen continues to be exceptional. I had the French Onion Soup (pictured below) which was perfect for such a cold day, then followed it up with that day's special, a hearty meatloaf sandwich. If you haven't eaten there yet, you are really missing out.

Finally, we are only three weeks away from the Frozen River Fest here in Soldotna, so it's time to start making your plans. In advance of the Fest this year there will be not one but two beer dinners. The Flats Bistro will be again be holding its dinner on Friday night before the Fest; check out my 2/26/2016 blog if you'd like to see just how fantastic last year's dinner was. In addition to The Flats' dinner on Friday, Kenai River Brewing will be hosting a dinner at the brewery on Thursday night. This is something Doug Hogue has wanted to be able to do for several years, so I fully expect it will be exceptional. Here's the poster for the Fest itself; keep an eye on its Facebook page for more details about the dinners.

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Enough news. Let's do some beer reviews. I have three new brews to offer you this time round.

Cascade Lakes Brewing's Salted Caramel Porter: This brewery is located in Redmond, Oregon. The beer poured dark with ruby highlights and a big, cream-colored head. The aroma was of caramel and roasted malt. Carbonation was good, but I thought it was a bit thin on the palate. The flavor profile was of caramel, coffee, & cocoa; good but falling off rapidly, so that there was little finish. Not a bad beer, but one that needs more "bottom" as the Brits would say. 5.8% ABV, 37 IBUs.

Ninkasi Brewing's Noir Milk Stout: I've always been partial to this style, to the point of always keeping my home-brewed version on hand for my wife to cook with. Ninkasi's version pours dark with semi-translucent ruby highlights and a nice mocha-colored head. The nose is mainly sweet notes from the malt and lactose. The carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light to medium. The flavor profile was a mix of the sweet malt notes and the coffee flavors, in a very smooth blend. Overall, a delicious beer and a worthy take on the style. 7% ABV, 60 IBUs.

Alaskan Brewing's Husky IPA: This is Alaskan's latest seasonal release and its entry into the popular "tropical IPA" field, as it's hopped with the popular Mosaic variety. It poured a clear gold with a nice white head. The aroma had lots of tropical fruit notes from the Mosaic hops. The carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. There was good up-front bitterness, then plenty of hop flavor and aroma. Overall, a nicely balanced, highly drinkable IPA; definitely not a palate-wrecker. 7% ABV, 58 IBUs.

That's about it for this blog. Remember, get out there and try some old favorites; don't always be chasing the next big thing...

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Monday, January 9, 2017

2017: Through a Crystal Ball, Darkly...

Hello, and welcome to 2017 everyone. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Years, but now it's time to buckle down and face the next twelve months. This seems to be the time when folks make lots of predictions for the upcoming year, so I thought I'd take a stab at a few.

First up, the Alaska State Legislature. The circus will be opening in Juneau soon, and there are a couple of alcohol/beer related issues before it. First, look for our tax-hungry governor to try again to cram through his plan to double the tax on alcohol. I don't know how much chance this has this year; last year it didn't go anywhere. That's good when you remember that Alaska already has the second highest alcohol excise taxes in the country, so doubling them is absurd. Many in Juneau will be scrambling to come up with new taxes to feed the insatiable maw of the state government so I wouldn't be surprised to see them try to put lipstick on this pig again.

The other big issue before the legislature which might impact beer is the re-write of the state's alcohol licensing laws. This has been in the works for years, and was introduced last session, but didn't really go anywhere, due to the session spending all its time spinning its wheels over the budget. Will it go anywhere this session? Beats me, but it definitely bears watching. If done right, this could be a real boon to current and future craft breweries in Alaska; if done wrong, it could pretty much keep any new breweries from being able to open in a lot of places. I'm going to do my best to stay on top of this one, and I'll sound the trumpet if we need to mobilize folks to testify for or against.

Moving from the world of beer politics to just beer, we should see several more new breweries open this year. Girdwood Brewing plans to be open for business before the snow goes, and Cooper Landing Brewing hopes to be selling beer this summer. Add to that the perennially "just about to open" Quake Brewing, and you've got three new 2017 breweries already, plus more possible, like Devil's Club Brewing in Juneau. We could easily see another 10% growth in the number of breweries in Alaska this year.

Speaking of new breweries opening, I finally made it to Cynosure Brewing just before Christmas. Owner/Brewer Clarke Pelz is taking a different tack from most other breweries by forgoing the IPA cash cow. Instead, he focusing on Belgian-style ales and classic lagers. When I stopped in on December 23rd, he had six beers on tap, three from each category.

Tap room of Cynosure Brewing

Clarke Pelz of Cynosure Brewing

L to R: Schwarzbier, Hoppy Lager, Dubbel, & Wit

L to R: Oktoberfest & Saison

Tap list at Cynosure on 12/23/2016
I tried samples of all six and found them uniformly excellent. My favorite was the saison, with the schwarzbier a close second. The tap room at Cynosure is nice and comfortable; sofas and padded chairs give it a very relaxed and homey feel, the perfect place to stop for a drink and few minutes of relaxation before braving the horror that is Anchorage rush hour traffic. If you haven't stopped in, make it a point to do so immediately; I regret that it took me three months for my first visit.

Alaska Beer Week starts this Friday, January 13th, and runs through Sunday, January 22nd. In past years, I'd have pointed you toward the events calendar of the AK Beer Week website. However, this year that calendar isn't being done, due to a lack of a sponsor. (If you're looking to sponsor something which will have super visibility with beer lovers in and around Anchorage, I'd suggest looking into this for 2018.) So you're going to have to check with your favorite brewery/restaurant/beer bar to see what they might be doing during AK Beer Week. I'm doing my best to share or post about any events I learn of on my Beer on the Last Frontier Facebook page, so you can also check there to see if you missed anything. I've already seen tons of great events that will be happening next week.

Let's move on to beer reviews. Since it's been over three weeks since my last blog and the holidays are a great time to drink, I've got seven new beer reviews for you.

Anchorage Brewing's Loveand the Death of Damnation IPA: It poured a cloudy hazy orange-gold color, with a nice white head that left good lace. The aroma was full of bright, citrusy American hops. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. The initial bitter attack was good but not overwhelming, followed by lots of American hop flavor and aroma. A fine entry into the popular "hazy" sub-style of IPAs. 6.5% ABV, 60 IBUs.

Black Raven Brewing's Grandfather Raven Imperial Stout: This Washington-based brewery continues to produce highly interesting beers and we seem to be getting more and more of them here in Alaska, which is a good thing. It poured opaque with a huge tan head. The nose had notes of chocolate and coffee, classic RIS elements. Carbonation was excellent, and the mouthfeel was medium. On the palate, it was smooth, with chocolate, dark caramel, and coffee elements blending together into a delicious whole, before falling away to a long, slow finish. An outstanding brew. 9.5% ABV.

Bearpaw River Brewing's Anniversary Ale: I missed the celebration on 12/17, but I was lucky enough to get two bottles of this beer, the first one that Bearpaw River has bottled. One bottle went into my cellar, and the other was opened on New Year's Eve. It poured opaque with a nice mocha-colored head. The aroma was of chocolate and roasted malt. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium to heavy. On the palate the classic RIS flavor components of coffee and chocolate were there in abundance, making a very rich melange. The alcohol made it presence known with a slight warmth on the long, lingering finish. And excellent beer to drink now, and one I'm curious to see evolve in the cellar. Congratulations again to Bearpaw River Brewing on its first anniversary; please keep making beers like this one! 10% ABV.

Anchor Brewing's 2016 Christmas Ale: This year's version of "Our Special Ale" from Anchor, the beer poured a deep, semi-translucent ruby with a nice, cream-colored head. The aroma was of malts and spices. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light to medium. The flavor profile was nice, smooth, rich malt notes, with the spices becoming more pronounced on the finish. Another fine entry into this classic old ale/winter warmer series of beers. 6.5% ABV.

Deschutes Brewing's The Abyss Aged in Cognac Barrels (2015): I pulled this beauty out of my cellar on New Year's Day; it had a "best after" date of 12/18/2016. It poured opaque with a tan head. The nose was a pleasing blend of cognac and coffee notes. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium to heavy. There were strong notes of chocolate, coffee, molasses, plus well-incorporated cognac notes. The finish was long and warming. This beer demonstrates that aging in used cognac barrels suits big imperial stouts and barley wines very well; I'm disappointed that I was only able to score one bottle. 12% ABV.

Oskar Blues Brewing's Barrel-aged Ten Fiddy Imperial Stout: The holidays are the perfect time for big beers, so let's keep those barrel-aged imperial stouts rolling. This is a bourbon-barrel-aged version of Oskar Blues' classic beer, packaged in a 16 oz. tall boy can. It poured opaque with a big tan head. The aroma had both roasted notes from the stout and bourbon and oak notes from the barrel. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was heavy and chewy. The bourbon came on strong up front, then the chocolate and coffee notes from the stout stepped in. The finish was long, with some alcohol warmth. Excellent job of adding another element to an already classic beer. 12.9% ABV, 98 IBUs.

Boulevard Brewing's & Firestone-Walker Brewing's Collaboration #6: A blend of several beers from each of the two collaborators, the beer poured a deep, semi-translucent ruby color, with a nice, cream-colored head. The nose had notes of tart cherry and bourbon. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium to heavy. The flavor profile was rich and complex, with the various beers contributing elements ranging from tart cherries to oak. A very nice and enjoyable brew. 12.5% ABV.

Well, that's about it for this time. Be sure to attend as many Alaska Beer Week events as you can; it's the best time of the year to experience our fantastic local beers.

Until Next Time, Cheers!