Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Coming of the Anniversary Beer

Anniversaries are usually a source of fear for mankind. That is because forgetting said anniversaries typically gets mankind into very hot water with womankind. So it comes as no surprise that the word "Anniversary" should evoke a visceral stab of dread deep in the bowels of your average beer drinking male. Until recently, that is.

Now, it's possible for that self-same word to evoke feelings of joyous anticipation, IF it is applied to a beer. For a long time, craft brewers celebrated the anniversary of their founding by giving themselves a quick pat on the back and then getting right back to their desperate struggle to survive. But these days, with the growth and health of the craft brewing movement, such occasions can be celebrated more extravagantly, with the release of an anniversary beer. For me, the proliferation of such beers is another sign that craft brewing has come of age and I welcome them as such. Not to mention that some (though not all) are truly kick-ass beers...

Case in point, Stone Brewing's 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout. Stone burst on to the seen a dozen years ago with its iconic Arrogant Bastard and has been a consistent producer of cutting edge beers ever since. I have to admit that I think in recent years they've been rushing their Arrogant Bastard out the door a little too soon, but that's my personal opinion. I still love their IPA, their Ruination Ale, their Double Bastard, their Imperial Russian Stout, their Old Guardian Barleywine, and so on, and so on. The bottom line is that Stone's got plenty to celebrate, so let's talk about the beer.

I tasted the brew in a 21 oz. goblet poured from a 22 oz. bomber purchased in Anchorage, though I've also seen it in the local Safeway, which indicates its got a pretty wide distribution. Weighing in at a hefty 9.2% ABV, it's definitely a sipping beer. It pours a deep black color with a dense tan head. The roasted notes dominate the aroma, but the cocoa flavor comes through strongly on the palate, with a long, lingering finish. The oatmeal gives it a silky mouthfeel that compliments the thickness of the beer very well. All-in-all, a wonderful celebration of Stone Brewing's 12th birthday.

So keep your eyes out for these anniversary beers. Not every one of them is a home run, but every one is usually an example of a craft brewer swinging for the fences...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Support Your Local Brewpub!

We all know that the heightened anticipation that comes from waiting for a long-expected event can add greatly to the pleasure when that event finally occurs. Just observe a child waiting impatiently for Christmas.

For the good people living in and around Soldotna, Christmas finally came in May of this year, with the opening of our very own brewpub, St. Elias Brewing Company. Its owner-operator-brewer, Zach Henry, and his family had been building their beautiful building for a couple of years. It was a long time a-coming, but anyone who has had the pleasure of eating and/or drinking there knows it was well worth the wait. It's a lovely building, decorated in an eclectic style, with a bar, tables and booths.

On the brewing side of the house, Zach is running a nice 7 bbl system and typically has five or six of his brews on tap. During my most recent visit, these included a dry stout, a pale ale, a kolsch, a hefeweizen, a rye beer, and a vanilla porter. You can drink them there or load up a growler to take home, though on occasion Zach has been so overwhelmed by demand that he's had to stop selling growlers of certain brews, just to keep enough on hand for the patrons dining at the brewpub. They also do a sampler, so you can try each of the brews to choose your favorite.

For food, the focus is on rustic pizzas with gourmet toppings, sandwiches, soups, and salads, all uniformly excellent. I'm particularly partial to the Brewhouse, which is topped with Italian sausage, bacon, pepperoni, caramelized onions, and marinated mushrooms. They'll make them to order and you can get them to go as well.

Places like St Elias are true bright spots in the craft beer movement. Craft beers, made fresh and locally, served alongside outstanding food in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Anyone who likes beer and uniquely local places to drink it should support their local brewpubs.

Until next time, cheers!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Beer List

We've all got our pet peeves; the little things that really drive us up the wall. One of mine is sitting down in a nice restaurant and asking to see their beer list, only to be told "Oh, we have everything!"

"Really? There are over 1400 breweries in the US alone, so a conservative estimate would be there are at least 7000+ beers brewed in the US! Not to mention all the cool imports out there. And you've got everything. That's impressive. OK, I'll have a 1988 Thomas Hardy Ale."

At this point the poor server usually realizes they are dealing with a beer geek and my wife sighs as she is again reminded that she was foolish enough to marry a smart-alec beer snob. The server then admits that by "everything" he or she really means "Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Light, Coors, Coors Light, etc.", i.e. the same run-of-the-mill macro-brews that everyone else has. If I'm really lucky, they might have one local brew of some sort on tap or in a bottle. It will probably be served way too cold and may be so old that it does not taste anything like it should, but that's the way it goes, right? Can't expect to get what you're paying good money for, i.e. a quality craft beer.

What bothers me is that no self-respecting restaurant would ever respond to a request for its wine list by saying "we have everything". Nor would they think serving just a run-of-the-mill house white sufficient to satisfy the tastes of all their customers and pair with all their dishes. But they think nothing of treating beer in such a cavalier fashion.

So what's a beer lover to do?

I think the only thing which will cause this situation to change is feedback from customers. If you love beer and don't wish to see it mistreated, speak up! Let the server and/or the manager know if you're not happy with the beer choice or service. If your complaints are ignored, go spend your money someplace else. Conversely, if you find good beer properly served, let the folks doing it know how much you appreciate it. Positive feedback is just as important as negative feedback.

Let's put our money where our mouths are and teach people to Respect Beer!

Friday, August 8, 2008

This Weekend's To-Do List

It's been a bit of a busy week here on The Last Frontier, as you might have surmised from the lack of blog activity. A conference in Anchorage on Monday and Tuesday was followed by the inevitable mad-house Wednesday trying to catch-up after being out of the office. Thursday was spent climbing up and down ladders doing home repair chores. So now it's Friday and I need to get on my horse and blog!

However, sometimes procrastination works to our advantage. Today is 8 August, the day Frank & Debara at Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop release their next batch of Caribou Kilt Strong Scotch Ale. This beer is in the style know as "Scotch" or "Strong Scotch", and should not not be confused with "Scottish" style ales, which are similar but not nearly so strong. Caribou Kilt weighs in at a hefty 8.5% ABV and is an outstanding example of the style, as evidenced by its winning a Bronze Medal at the 2008 World Beer Cup in San Diego. Personally, Strong Scotch is one of my absolute favorite beer styles, and has been for twenty years. {Edited to remove a joke which I'm told some local residents found offensive. If you were one of them, my apologies.}

On a more serious note, the fact that the Kenai Peninsula can boast an award-winning brewery illustrates one of the great things about craft beer. It's totally possible for a small operation to brew beer that not only as good as, but even much better than the best that the biggest brewers out there can produce. And remember, the best beer is typically the freshest beer. So get out there and try your local brews.

Next time maybe we'll talk about some of the brews I brought home from Anchorage. Until then, Cheers!

Friday, August 1, 2008

When in Doubt...

So let's continue the discussion from my last post on the subject of picking a beer to drink. Personally, I think every serious beer drinker needs to have a "go-to" beer. What's a "go-to" beer? It's a little like the go-to guy at work. You know, the one who can be counted on to get the job done, even when you're not quite sure what the job is. It's a steady, reliable choice, one you can depend on, day in and day out.

It's not to be confused with your "favorite" beer. I think it was Miyamoto Mushashi, the greatest of all the Samurai, who said: "A true master has no favorite weapon." Or to put it another way, when I'm asked what my favorite beer is, I usually say: "The one I'm drinking right now." Beer is too broad a subject, too massive an undertaking, to be constrained within the bounds of a single "favorite". I'll leave that to the congenital Bud drinkers out there.

Still, it's good have a "go-to" beer. It lets your non-beer drinking wife know what to pick up for you at the store, in the absence of more specific guidance. It lets your friends know what beer they can stock for a party which won't result in you giving them a lecture on the evils of macro-brewed swill. Such a beer should be widely available in your area, reasonably priced, locally produced, and come in bottles. (Stuff from your local micro or brewpub is great, but unless it's located right next door, bottled beer is damned convenient as compared to going out for a growler refill. Especially during an Alaskan winter...)

So what's my "go-to" beer? Midnight Sun's Sockeye Red IPA. Brewed not too far away, I can almost always count of finding nice, fresh draft kegs or bottles of it here in my little corner of The Last Frontier. With an ABV of 5.7%, it's not too strong to enjoy a couple of with dinner. It's got the big, hoppy bite you'd expect from a West Coast India Pale Ale, which can be too rough for some folks, who may be used to the more refined British or East Coast-style IPAs. You know who you are...

So now that you know what my "go-to" beer is, I should never have to suffer through a bottle of MGD when I come over to your house, right? Remember, friends don't let friends drink crappy beer!