Monday, September 22, 2008

A Visit to Cafe A

Now don't get me wrong. I absolutely love living on the Kenai Peninsula. I've got a nice home on six wooded acres in Sterling where I can't even see any of my neighbors. I work at a college in Soldotna, sitting in the middle of over 300 acres, right on the Kenai River, all of 12 miles from my house. My drive home every day takes me past two liquor stores, a microbrewery and a brewpub. Who could ask for anything more?

Still, when business or pleasure take me up to the Big City, aka Anchorage, I like to take advantage of some of the amenities you just can't expect to find in a small town in Alaska. Things like a really good sushi bar, a specialty beer store, or-- case in point-- a specialty beer bar like Cafe Amsterdam.

Cafe Amsterdam is one of places in Anchorage where you can be assured of having unique and interesting beers served with the care and respect which is their due. Obviously the lion share of the credit should go to Ken, the owner, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention his outstanding waitstaff, led by Will Miller, winner of the Best Bartender in Alaska, from the 2007 Northwest Brewing News Reader Survey. These folks know their beer and they're passionate about serving it properly.

Anyway, I had to be in Anchorage for my job first thing Saturday morning, so my wife and I rolled in to Cafe A just before 5 o'clock on Friday afternoon, looking to have a beer or three prior to dining on sushi. The restaurant portion of the cafe hadn't opened for dinner yet, but the bar was lively. We pulled up a couple of stools (thanks again to the gents who moved down one seat so we could be together) and looked over the offerings. Elaine immediately locked in on the Pilsner Urquell on draft; every since we visited Prague, she's always on the look-out for a nice, fresh pilsner. There were plenty of other interesting choices on tap: Chimay Cinq Cents, Grotten Brown, Spaten Octoberfest, Sierra Nevada Celebration, Kodiak Island Wing Nut, Magner's Irish Cider, Unibroue Ephemere Apple, Unibroue Chambly, Unibroue Noire, Kenai River Summer Ale, Paulner Octoberfest, Deschutes Dissident, Pike Brewing XXXXX Stout and Left Hand JuJu Ginger. At least those are the ones I remember; I guess I'll have to start carrying a notepad...

While all of the above are cool and interesting, the beer the caught my eye was Midnight Sun's Viking, which was being served by the glass (along with that brewery's Pluto and Hans Drinker's Triple). The Viking is a special beer, brewed in memory of Dave Yanoshek, a long-time member of the Great Norther Brewers Homebrew Club. I'd figured that I wouldn't get a chance to try it before it was all gone, so I jumped at the opportunity. It's a Belgian-style dark ale, strong (12% abv) with on 23 IBUs (using Simcoe & Amarillo hops) and spiced with star anise. Dark raisins were also added to the brew. How did it taste? Let's just say that when this masterpiece hit my palate, I seriously considered driving across town to the brewery to try to buy some. It's a truly wonderful beer and a fine tribute to a great fellow. God speed, Dave.

After finishing my glass of the Viking, I decided to give Deshutes The Dissident a try. It's an Oud Bruin, a Flanders-style sour brown ale, in the mold of Liefman's Goudenband. Brewed with cherries and with some of it aged for 18 months in used pinot and cabernet wine casks. The sour tang from the wild brett yeast gives the beer a nice balance and a wonderful tartness. It's 11% in alcohol, but still dangerously drinkable. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I started thinking about which beer to have next, but my lovely wife Elaine reminded me that we had decided to eat rather than drink our dinner, so we needed to get going. So I had to call it at just those two. Perhaps it's good thing that Cafe Amsterdam is 150 miles and three hours drive away. If it wasn't, I'm afraid I'd be in there every night, and neither my wallet nor my waistline can afford that!

So until next time, cheers!

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