Monday, November 17, 2008

A Rough Draft Worth Finding

Living in Alaska is not for the faint of heart. Even in the summer, life up here can be challenging, what with the bears and the mosquitoes and the tourists, but the winters are what sets Alaska apart. Even on the Kenai Peninsula where I live -- far south of Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle -- we still get less than six hours of sunlight on the shortest day of the year and routinely have lows of -25F or -35F in the dead of winter. Given these conditions, is it any wonder we love big, strong, brawling beers? We need them just to get by!

Every January we Alaskans celebrate our love for beer at The Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival in Anchorage. On the evening prior to the festival, the Great Northern Homebrewers have their first meeting of the year at the Snow Goose Brewpub in downtown Anchorage. One of the highlights of that meeting is that our local breweries bring some of their more interesting/experimental beers to be sampled. In 2007 & 2008, I had the pleasure to sample Alaskan Brewing Company's Baltic Porter Ale, one of their "Rough Draft" series.

The Rough Drafts are part of Alaskan's innovation process. They brew in small batches, then distribute the kegs in a limited area to get feedback from their customer base. This enables them to perfect a popular beer and avoid the losses associated with brewing too much of an unpopular one. Not to mention it lets them indulge in the sort of experimentation that most brewers love.

Anyway, having tasted their Baltic Porter on draft and been very impressed by it, I was totally jazzed to hear that Alaskan had finally decided to release it in 22 oz. "bomber" bottles. I was even more jazzed when I came across some at my local Fred Meyer's last week. I picked up a bottle and drank it last night after dinner.

It's definitely a sipping beer, coming in at almost 9% ABV. Dark as midnight, smooth and thick on the palate like ice cream, it's brewed with hand-peeled and seeded gourmet Madagascar vanilla beans and over 500 pounds of dark black cherries, then aged on toasted French oak with more vanilla beans added during fermentation. The smooth, deep maltiness is accentuated by raisin and licorice notes as well as chocolate and mild coffee characters. The oak brings hints of bourbon and hot toffee. The higher alcohol content contributes to the warmth of this richly flavorful beer. It's a tremendous beer, good for drinking right away or for laying down in your beer cellar.

It's the sort of beer to drink during an Alaskan winter, playing cards with your wife by the light of an oil lamp, after the electricity has gone out.

Kind of like happened last night...

Until next time, Cheers!

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