Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Looking Ahead to Next Year

Well, it's about time to put this blog to bed for the year. It's likely I won't get around to writing anything next week, as I'm going to be way too busy doing a whole lot of nothing for me to take time out and write.

Seriously, I may well be too busy working around the house and whatnot, so don't be surprised if I take to week off between Christmas and New Years.

But before I can take time off, I've got to few things to finish up.

First, Alaskan Brewing Company has released their 2009 Barley Wine. This beer was first brewed in 2003 and first bottled in 2007. Reports are that this year's version comes in at 10.4% ABV and has a wonderful floral aroma from Cascade hops. I haven't had a chance to try this year's vintage yet, but given the excellence of previous years' efforts, I'm sure this one will be great.

By the way, if you're looking to start a beer cellar, laying down two or three bottles of this beer would be a great way to get started.

Second, I had the opportunity to sample the new Snow Angel Imperial Pilsner and Irish Red Ale from St. Elias Brewing Company. Snow Angel is like their Flower Child XPA on steroids. It's bursting with wonderful hop aroma and flavor, thanks to the addition of lots of noble hops, but with a nice clean taste that does a great job of hiding the high alcohol content. Drink this one with care; it could sneak up on you!

The Irish Red Ale is brand new and also very tasty. It's hopped with Fuggles and Goldings, so its hop elements are very true to the style. It has a nice, clean maltiness with a hint of caramel. This is one of the better examples of the style that I've had the chance to sample. Very drinkable and a great choice when you're trying to decide what you should bring a growler of to a holiday party.

Third, I stopped by Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop last week to sample their Smoked Russian Imperial Stout. Frank has made this beer before, but this time around he's pulled out all the stops to really give it a wonderful smokey flavor. This is a great choice, as the stout has enough heft to stand up to the smokiness without being overwhelmed by it. The beer has a wonderful mouthfeel and a tremendous numbers of different flavor elements, all of which come together into a very harmonious whole. I brew a pretty fair imperial stout myself, but I've got to tip my hat on this one. You really nailed it, Frank. I see medals in your future for this one.

Fourth, though it's still a couple of weeks away, I suggest that you all mark you calendars for Friday, January 8th, 6:00 to 9:30 pm. That's when the Beer Tasting and Auction Fundraiser benefiting the Soldotna Community Playground will be taking place at the Challenger Center in Kenai. All three of our local breweries will be taking part, as well as local homebrewers (including yours truly). Tickets are $40 in advance from one of the breweries or $45 at the door, and all the money goes to this worthy cause. There will hors d'oeuvres served as well.

Here's your chance to taste my brews and form your own opinion about my skill as a brewer. If you don't like mine, you can always wash the taste out of your mouth with a brew from our local professionals.

Seriously, this is a chance to have a great evening and support our local community. I hope to see you all there.

Well, that's about it for this time. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to each and everyone of you. Thank you for the support you've shown by reading this blog; I hope 2010 is a good year for us all (or at least better than 2009!) and that we all get to enjoy many good brews in it.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coffee and Beer

I like coffee. That's no surprise, as it's a rare career Navy guy who doesn't end up hooked on it. When I went on active duty, I rarely drank coffee and when I did it was with cream and sugar. By the end of my first sea tour, I was slurping it down by the black-and-bitter bucketful.

Twenty years later, I still crave my morning shot of caffeine to get things rolling along. These days, I drink coffee in the morning, water in the afternoon and beer in the evening; coffee after lunch tends to make me too wired for the academic world in which I work these days. But there are more than a few folks out there who like to have their beer and coffee at the same time.

One of the brews for those folks is Beer Geek Breakfast from the Mikkeller Brewery in Denmark. Founded in 2006, this brewery is one of the growing number of new, upstart European breweries inspired by their American craft brethren. It was founded by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller, two Danish homebrewers; since August, 2007 Mikkel Borg Bjergsø has run Mikkeller by himself. The brewery has garnered numerous awards for its boundary-testing brews of uncompromising quality.

Stylistically, Beer Geek Breakfast is an oatmeal stout with gourmet coffee added. It pours absolutely black, like an espresso, with a nice tan head that lingers and leaves plenty of lace on the glass. The aroma is full of roasted notes, both from the roasted barley and from the coffee. On the palate, it's an excellently balanced beer, with enough malt backbone to support the bitterness from the coffee. The flaked oats helps produce a smooth mouthfeel which also rounds off any rough coffee edges. It's hopped with Centennials and Cascades (good American hops!) and comes in at 7.5% ABV, making it a nice sipping beer. Not sure it's to every one's taste as their morning eye-opener, but it's a darn fine choice for us beer geeks!

Mikkeller is an excellent example of an interesting new trend in European brewing. From the earliest days of the American Beer Renaissance, our home- and micro-brewers looked to the great brewing traditions of Europe as a source of inspiration. Small Belgian farmhouse brewers, British regional brewers, and traditional German lager breweries all provided examples of the styles and quality of beers that American craft brewers strove to emulate. Now, however, the shoe is on the other foot. Young European homebrewers are looking to American craft beers and opening their own breweries to produce similarly "big" brews. BrewDog Brewery in Scotland, Nogne O Brewery in Norway, and on and on; these young brewers are carrying the gospel of craft brewing back to the land of its roots.

Returning to the subject of beers made with coffee, their are a couple of excellent Alaskan examples to check out, if you can't scare up a bottle of Beer Geek Breakfast. The first beer in this year's Crew Brew Series from Midnight Sun, Brewtality, is a black lager, a shwarzbier, with espresso added. Checking my notes, I realized that I mentioned drinking this beer back in my 3/9/2009 blog, but never gave a real review. So here it is:

Pours a lovely black (just like espresso) with a nice creamy tan head. The aroma is strongly of coffee, darkly roasted, with a hint of chocolate sweetness. The taste is strongly of of coffee, but with none of the acidity you sometimes get with coffee beers. Plenty of smooth sweetness beneath the coffee flavors, with hints of vanilla flavors. At 19 IBUs, hops are not a big player here, and the 9.7% ABV command respect. For a beer with so many big flavors, Brewtality does an excellent job of keeping everything in balance. If you like coffee beers, this one is a great one.

In addition to Brewtality, Midnight Sun also offers Arctic Rhino Coffee Porter, one of its year-round brews. I'll try to get around to reviewing it soon.

In local beer news, Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop released their Smoked Imperial Russian Stout five days early, on Dec 8. I plan to head over in the next day or two to pick some up; I'd suggest you do the same.

Zach Henry sent me an email to say that St. Elias Brewing has a new beer on, Snow Angel. This is an Imperial Pilsner that "screams HOPS! from every corner of its light malty body," according to Zach. Made with German malt and hops, this is a German pilsner on steroids. The bad news is that I think this probably means that the Bourbon-barrel Baltic Porter is all gone. A stop here is also on my to-do list for the next couple of days. Also, remember there's live music at St. Elias on Thursdays from 7 to 9 PM; this week 150 Grit will be playing.

Well, that's about it for now. Remember, there are only 10 drinking days left until Christmas.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Gifts for the Discerning Beer Lover

Christmas is a great time of year to be a beer lover.

Well, come to think of it, any time of year is a great time to be a beer lover, but Christmas time is especially good.

Why? Because now you can get lots of cool beer stuff and not have to pay for it. You just have to let the people in your life know what would make a wonderful gift for them to get you. Believe me, they'll thank you for it.

Take a look at the item above. This is a Sears Craftsman Model #44500 Cap Wrench Bottle Opener. Yep, you heard that right: a bottle opener made by Craftsman, just like your socket and box-end wrenches. This is a gift any manly beer drinker will love, and it's only $14.99. I received one as a gift from a good friend and I love using it. It also doubles as a club during bar fights...

It''s hard to go wrong with a good beer cookbook. I've mentioned a couple of good ones over the life of this blog, but there's a brand-new one on the street which any Alaska beer drinker needs to grab. Cooking with Alaskan Beer was just released a few weeks ago by Alaskan Brewing. It contains 101 recipes using different beers from Alaskan; each recipe seems more delicious than the last. We're talking things like Extreme ESB Enchiladas, Beer-Battered Coconut Shrimp, Mom's Smoked Porter Pot Roast, Alaskan Smoked Porter Banana Bread with Smoked Porter Butter, and on and on. My lovely wife and I plan to spend a good portion of the holidays trying and enjoying these great new recipes.

If your taste runs more toward books for reading rather than cooking, there are a couple of interesting new ones out. George Wendt, famous for his portrayal of Norm on the TV show Cheers has written Drinking with George: A Barstool Professional's Guide to Beer, while Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune have produced The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer. I haven't had a chance to read either of these yet, but they should be of interest to any beer lover.

I have read Peter Brown's latest book, Hops and Glory, in which he looks at the myth and legend surrounding one of the most romantic styles of beer, India Pale Ale. The book is a recounting of his attempt to recreate the 19th century sea voyage from Britain to India, transporting a cask of real ale. It makes for a fascinating tale, and the book is even better than his two previous works, A Man Walks Into a Pub and Three Sheets to the Wind. Unfortunately it has only been released in Britain, so if you want a copy, I recommend going to

I can hear you thinking: "Bill, I've waded through all these gift ideas, but where's the beer?" Well, I can't even begin to scratch the surface of listing all the wonderful Christmas beers, specialty beers, beer gift packs, beer & glass combo packs, and just plain excellent beer out there to choose from for Christmas gifts. It's hard to go wrong when you buy craft beer for a beer lover.

But there is one beer that I want to mention. Last Friday, Midnight Sun released their long (and I do mean LONG) awaited Jupiter, one of the beers from 2008's Planet Series. This is a Belgian style tripel, but made using the traditional methode champenoise. This involves brewing, then bottling the beer with a standard crown cap to allow it to carbonate, then turning the bottle upside down and rotating it by hand at regular intervals for well over a year to coax the yeast to settle down into the neck of the bottle (a process called "riddling"). Once all the yeast has settled, the plug of yeast is frozen, then the cap is removed and the neck slowly warmed, to cause the yeast plug to be disgorged (without the beer losing it carbonation), then the bottle is dosed with a similar clear beer, if required, then corked and wire-caged. At long last, the beer is ready to be sold.

As you can see from the above description, this is a uniquely time- and labor-intensive process, one which very, very few breweries in the world would undertake. I tip my hat to the folks at Midnight Sun for going down this road; you guys got some serious beer cojones...

A bottle of Jupiter will set you back $30, but it makes a wonderful and truly unique gift for the serious beer lover.

How does it taste? Well, I haven't opened my bottle yet; I'm saving it for New Years. But back on 1/26/2009 I did get to enjoy the base beer, on draft. The brewery released it under the name of Zeus, and I found it awesome, as I wrote in my review at the time. I can hardly wait to see how much better it has become after a year undergoing the process described above. When I do, I'll be sure to let you know what I think.

Well, there are some ideas for Christmas. Don't wait to late too do your shopping; you don't want to be the guy in the beer store on Christmas Eve, stuck choosing between Bud, Miller, and Coors. Remember, there are only 17 drinking days left until Christmas...

Until Next Time, Cheers...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's Time to Celebrate!

Well, Thanksgiving is over, the tree is up and decorated, and December is already here. Christmas and New Years are right around the corner, and there are plenty of new (and some not so new) beers being released.

One of the not so new beers is Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale. Released each year about this time, this brew is an American classic. For over two decades, craft beer lovers have been able to look forward to the release of this ale to signal the start of the holiday season.

I snagged a six pack from the Fred Meyer in Soldotna over the weekend and sampled a couple. Poured out into a large snifter, the beer is a dark copper color, with excellent clarity. The head is massive and rocky, with a wonderful amount of thick lacing along the side of the glass. Nose is charged with citric and resiny hop notes, with a little roasted malt in the background. A nice full body of the palate, with plenty of crispness. The sharp hop bitterness cuts through the maltiness, for an excellent balance. The finish hints at the significant alcohol (6.8% ABV), warming and leaving you looking for more. Celebration Ale remains the classic American Winter Warmer; if you haven't tried this beer yet, you are really missing out!

On Black Friday, my lovely wife and I did a little shopping, just like everyone else in the known world, judging by the crowds. As part of driving all over the Kenai-Soldotna area, I made it a point to stop in at the local breweries.

Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop released their Double Wood Imperial IPA back on 11/17, but this was my first chance to swing by and sample it. The beer pours a dark gold, with a rocky, cream-colored head, long-lasting and producing extensive lacing. The aroma is of hops, hops, and more hops, as you'd expect in a 95 IBU beer. On the tongue, there is a long, deep hop flavor, extraordinarily well-balanced for the degree of bitterness. I've had beers that were actually hopped much less than this one which had a much harsher hop taste. When Frank selected the exact blend of hop varieties to use on this beer, I think he may have achieved perfection, or something damn near. The finish is long and more-ish, not withstanding the 9+% ABV. Wow! This is an amazing beer, and if you are a fan of IPAs, seek it out quickly before it's all gone. I hope this will become a semi-regular part of the Brew Stop line-up.

On the near horizon is a Smoked Russian Imperial Stout; look for it to be released on 12/12.

At Kenai River Brewing, I'm saddened to report that the limited amount of Wee Heavy Scotch Ale that was on tap has been exhausted. However, Doug has replaced it with his aptly named Breakfast Beer, an oatmeal-milk stout. (Just don't let him talk you into the strip of bacon swizzle stick...) The beer is a hybrid of two classic stout styles; oatmeal stouts, which have oats added to the mash to increase the body and mouthfeel of the brew and sweet or "milk" stouts, which have unfermentable lactose AKA milk sugar added. Putting the two ideas together, Kenai River has produced a stout that to look at is absolutely opaque, with a tan head. The aroma speaks strongly of roasted grains, as you would expect from a stout, while on the tongue the beer has tremendous body. There is a decided silkiness on the palate from the oats, combined with a sweetness from the lactose and roasted flavors from the grains. Hops are there strictly for balance, with no noticeable presence. An unusual but excellent beer, and one which I think might prove especially excellent to cook with, given its sweetness and low bitterness. I could see this beer making a fabulous steak and ale pie, or being used to de-glaze a pan to make a lovely sauce.

Finally, at St. Elias Brewing Company, there was nothing new on tap last Friday, but Zach Henry expects to have his new Imperial Pilsner on by this coming weekend. And don't forget about Thirsty Thursday at St. Elias, with live music by Mike Morgan from 7 to 9 PM, on 12/3.

I'll be heading up to Anchor-Town this Friday, so hopefully I'll have some more interesting brews to write about upon my return. Also, be sure to check out my monthly column in this week's Redoubt Reporter.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Drinking with the Fishes

Every fan of The Godfather knows what it means to "sleep with the fishes". Most folks are also familiar with the expression "drink like a fish" (which always seemed silly to me, given that fish don't actually drink). However, now there's a new saying on the Kenai: Drink with the fishes.

Last Friday at the Sea-Life Center in Seward, a large group of folks got together to taste food and drink from some of the best local (and a couple of not so local) establishments, all to raise money for the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance. Surrounded by tanks holding residents of the Center, we enjoyed samples from seven different breweries, meadery, a winery and a homebrew club, along with food from eleven different chefs.

Present were Alaskan Brewing Company, Denali Brewing Company, Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop, Kenai River Brewing Company, Midnight Sun Brewing Company, Moose's Tooth Brewing Company, and St. Elias Brewing Company. Add in the Bear Creek Winery and Ring of Fire Meadery from Homer and the local Malt Marathon Home Brew Club, and you can see there was no shortage of alcoholic beverages to sample.

Some of the beer highlights:

Alaskan was pouring their Xxtra Tuf Imperial IPA, the latest brew in their Rough Draft series. We don't get to taste Rough Drafts on the Peninsula very often, so I was happy to dive into this one. Made with fresh or "wet" hops, this beer was redolent of the citrus character that screams Pacific Northwest. At 9.3% ABV and 63 IBUs, it's definitely a beer to be enjoyed in smaller glasses! Very nice.

Denali Brewing wins the award for farthest distance traveled, having come all the way from Talkeetna. I believe this is the first time they've been down to the Peninsula, and given the quality of their beers, I hope they will return frequently. They were pouring their Chuli Stout, but I had already tasted that beer, so I sampled both of the others available. The Twisted Creek IPA was excellent, mixing British and American hops to produce an very pleasing bitterness (71 IBUs). The brew also had a nice malt backbone to hang all that hoppiness on, coming in at 6.7% ABV. Also on tap was their Single Engine Red Ale. Tasting this, I was transported back to my salad days, when my buddies and I used to drink George Killian's Irish Red Ale by the pitcher. Except that Single Engine Red is a much better beer. The emphasis is on the malt, rather than the hops, though it still achieves a quite respectable 46 IBUs. At 5.9% ABV, it's a little strong for a session beer, but still remarkably drinkable for its strength.

One beer I really wanted to try but missed was Moose's Tooth Brewing Company's Williwaw Winter Warmer. I'll have to swing by on my next Anchorage run. And I have to mention the outstanding sausages that they were grilling up at the Midnight Sun booth. For my money, they were some of the best food I had all night!

All of our local breweries did a great job of putting their best foot forward, and I tip my hat to each of them for being willing to contribute to such a worthy local cause. I look forward to doing it again next year.

On the new beer front, I opened a bottle of Midnight Sun's Specialty Import's 30th Anniversary OAK-AGED Black Double IPA. I tasted the earlier, non-oak-aged version of this beer back on 26 January. This time around, the hops seemed a bit more muted, as would be expected from an aged beer, and the wood notes blend well with the hop bitterness. At 8.5% ABV and 87 IBUs, this is definitely not your run of the mill brew.

Well, that's it for now. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and plenty of good craft beer to go with your turkey.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, November 20, 2009

More Breaking Beer News

I got a tip from Gene Diamond of Specialty Imports that there would be some new beers showing up today at SAV-U-MOR on Kalifornsky Beach Road here in Soldotna. Since it's about five minutes from my job, I zipped over there on my lunch break to see what was what.

Wow! Now they have a whole new beer rack by the door, loaded with things like Rochefort (the 6, 8 & 10), Orval, Westmalle (Dubbel & Tripel), Traquair House, Duvel, and various Sam Smith's ales. In the coolers there were gems like Deschutes Black Butte XXI Porter and Midnight Sun's Specialty Import's 30th Anniversary OAK-AGED Black Double IPA. This is just a quick overview, not a comprehensive list; there were plenty of other great brews that I didn't happen to scribble down.

If you're interested in good beer, I'd really encourage you to swing by SAV-U-MOR in the near future and pick up a couple (or more). This is our chance to demonstrate to all concerned that there's a real market for these sorts of beers in the Soldotna-Kenai area. Let's not blow it.

Don't forget the shindig at the Seward Sea-Life Center tonight at 7 PM.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Two, Four, Six, Eight, Now Let's All Collaborate!

One of the coolest things about the craft brewing community, both in the US and in other countries, is the real sense of camaraderie. The big boys, InBud & MillerCoors may be locked in a death grapple, which each trying to grow his market share at the expense of the rival conglomerate, but craft brewers look at the world differently. For the most part, they're not interested in taking market share or shelf space away from another craft brewery; rather they want to spread the gospel of good beer to those heathen masses still drinking industrially-produced lagers. Whenever a new person starts drinking craft-brewed beer, ALL craft brewers win, regardless of whose beer he or she happens to buy. It's a "rising tide lifts all boats" way of doing business.

Likely because of this real sense of shared mission, one of the hottest trends in craft brewing right now is the collaborative beer. Two (or more) craft brewers come together to create a joint effort brew. Sometimes it's the same beer, brewed in two different breweries, sometimes it's a guest brewer producing something special in someone else's brewery, sometimes it's even two different beers, each brewed at "home", brought together and blended to make the final product. Whatever it is, the mere fact that craft brewers are willing to do such things, shows the light years of distance that separates them from their "corporate" counterparts.

Midnight Sun Brewing Company made their first foray into this area over two years ago, in April, 2007 with the release of Conspiracy, a Belgian-style black beer, brewed with Pelican Pub of Pacific City, Oregon. Now, they have collaborated again, this time with Ballast Point Brewing Company of San Diego, to produce 3767, a Belgian-style IPA brewed with Brettanomyces yeast and aged in French oak cabernet sauvignon barrels. The number in the name is the distance in miles between the two breweries.

So what's 3767 like? Well, it pours a light amber color, with a beautiful and massive head of pin-point carbonation, very Belgian in appearance. The aroma spoke very strongly of Brett funk, at least to my nose. On the palate, it was a melange of interesting flavors, including horseblanket funkiness, earthy/spicy notes from the Belgian yeast, woody notes from the oak aging, all wrapped up in pervasive yet balanced hop bitterness. The release notes from Midnight Sun state that six different hop varieties were used: Magnum, Warrior, Columbus, Crystal, Centennial, & Simcoe. This blend works well, with each variety contributing its strength, while covering for each others weaknesses. The finish is long and dry, making the beer remarkably drinkable, despite having 8% ABV and 70 IBUs. Bottom line: You have to like Brettanomyces funk, but if like me you do, this is a magnificent beer and a credit to both Gabe Fletcher of Midnight Sun and Colby Chandler of Ballast Point Brewing. Keep up the great work, guys!

As I mentioned in my breaking news blog, Kenai River Brewing has released another of their Single Hop IPA series, this time using Galena hops. I've played with Galena hops a bit myself in my homebrewing, using them a a bittering hop, due to their high alpha acids (typically 12-14%). I had never considered using them as flavor or aroma hops, but after drinking this beer, I may need to rethink that. The beer poured a nice honey color, with a full, white head that was relatively long-lived. The aroma was laced with the citric hoppiness characteristic of Galenas. On the palate the bitterness was pronounced but not harsh, as it can be with certain hop varieties. Mouthfeel was good, with enough carbonation to lift the beer and keep the bitterness from becoming too much. Drinkability was not bad, considering the hop-forwardness of the beer. All-in-all, another very interesting brew and an excellent showcase for the properties of the Galena hop.

Looking ahead, Kassik's Kenai Brewstop will be releasing their Double Wood DIPA this week, and showcasing it at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage from 4:30 to 7 PM on Thursday, at the Third Thursday First Taste Event. On Friday at the Alaska Sea Life Center, there will be a Beer, Wine, & Food Tasting event from 7-10 PM. See my earlier blog post for details.

Finally, Christmas beers are starting to hit the shelves. I noticed at Fred Meyer that Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale is on sale, and during my last Anchorage trip, I saw Anchor Brewing's 35th Christmas Ale on sale as well. So get out there and try some of these special beers that only come but once a year.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Breaking Beer News!

A couple of news notes that can't wait until next week.

First, Kenai River Brewing has a couple of new beers on as of Saturday. The latest in their Single Hop IPA Series, using Galena hops, is now on tap. Doug has also put on a 5 gallon keg of last year's Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. It won't last long, so be sure a stop by to grab some, like I did. Doug also reports that his Breakfast Beer, an oatmeal milk stout, will be on next weekend. He gave gave me a preview taste, and all I can say is wow!

Finally, on Friday, November 2oth, the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance will be having their 3rd Annual Beer, Wine, and Food Tasting event from 7-10 pm at the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward. This is a great chance to sample some of the best food and drink this part of Alaska has to offer. All our local breweries will be there, so if you can make it, I'll see you in Seward!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It Was Bound to Happen...

Certain things in this world are just inevitable. Given enough time, they will come to pass.

It's like snow in Alaska. This year, the snow has come pretty late, holding off until we're well into November, but as I look out the window right now, it's coming down like there's no tomorrow.

So given the subjective nature of beer appreciation and the large number of extreme and challenging brews that the folks at Midnight Sun Brewing Company make, it was inevitable that they would eventually come up with one that left me personally a bit cold.

It's taken quite a while, but I'm afraid that Cosmic, the latest of the Crew Brews, is that beer.

This isn't to say that this is a bad beer; far from it. It's a wonderfully crafted brew, very imaginative in its make-up. But that make-up just doesn't click with me, so take the review that follows with a grain of salt, as your mileage may vary.

Right off the bat, we know we're sailing into uncharted waters, since it's a "black witbier". Since witbier means "white beer", this is a bit of an oxymoron. The beer poured completely opaque, with ruby highlights and a good tan head that lasted quite a long time. The aroma was not strong, but I made out some hints of the spices used and some fruity esters from the yeast. Tasting it, there is no roastiness at all, which creates a little cognitive dissonance, as the brain is looking for it. The witbier notes are there, and the spices linger a bit on the palate, with a dry finish. 6.2% ABV and 17 IBUs are the stats for Cosmic.

As I said, not a badly made beer, just one that didn't agree with my palate.

Midnight Sun released another beer which very much does agree with my palate, Obliteration VI, another in their series of hop-centric, Double IPAs. This one comes in at 8.7% ABV and 95 IBUs and is hopped exclusively with Summit hops. I've used this variety of hops myself in some of my homebrews (when I can get them) and am very partial to them. Summit is a high alpha hop, which means they are good for use as a bittering hop, plus they have a good aroma, which means they can be used effectively in "single-hop" IPAs & DIPAs, like the Obliteration series. The also have strong citrus or tangerine notes in their flavor profile, making them ideal for American-style IPAs.

Obliteration VI pours a lovely copper color, with a nice cream-colored head that is very persistent with good lacing. The aroma is all Summit hop and more Summit hops, strong enough to clear your sinuses! On the palate, there is smashing hop bitterness, that gradually declines in a long finish. Drinkability is limited to by the over-the-top bitterness, but if you're a dyed-in-the-wool hophead like me, you'll love this beer.

Looking out into the near future, Doug Hogue at Kenai River tells me that when they run out of Winter Warmer Old Ale, he may be putting a small (5 gallon) keg of the Wee Heavy Strong Scotch he brewed last year on. Look for a breaking news blog if this happens, and stay out of my way, 'cause I'm going to be racing over there to grab a jug of that fantastic brew before it's gone. I'm also waiting with baited breath for Doug's upcoming dark mild and his "Breakfast in a Glass" oatmeal-milk stout.

At Kassik's Kenai Brewstop, they'll be releasing their new Double Wood DIPA next Tuesday at the brewery. If you're an Anchorage dweller, don't forget their Third Thursday event on the 19th at the Millenium Hotel on Spenard from 4:30 to 7 PM. On their drawing board is a Holiday Spiced Cream Ale, a smoked Russian Imperial Stout, and a Maple Porter.

Zach Henry of St Elias told me last Friday that he thought his bourbon-barrel-aged Baltic Porter would likely last another couple of weeks, and then he expects to replace it with a beer that I'd call a faux Imperial Pilsner. It's brewed pretty much exactly like an Imperial Pilsner, except with an ale yeast, like his Flower Child XPA. Should be interesting. And don't forget, there's live music at St Elias every Thursday night from 7 to 9 PM.

Finally, mark your calendars for the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival, January 15th & 16th, at the Egan Center in Anchorage. If you're going to make it, the session to attend is the Connoisseurs Session, from 2-5 PM, Saturday. Guests of Honor will be Jason & Todd Alstrom, founders of The Beer Advocate website & magazine. Make your plans now, and hopefully I'll see you there!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cheap Beer? No, Good Beer at a Great Price

There was a time in my life, about two and a half decades ago, when I evaluated the desirability of a beer strictly on its price. Whatever was cheapest (or better yet, free!), that was the beer for me. Like so many things we do when we're young and stupid, I eventually outgrew the infantile notion that beer is merely an alcohol delivery system and came to recognize it for the wonderful art that it can be.

However, just because I have come to appreciate quality craft brews and fine imported beer and am now willing and able (sometimes) to pay what such brews cost, that does not mean that I am not always on the lookout for a chance to pick up good beer at a reasonable price (or even free). I try to hit all the local beer stores on a regular basis, both to see if anything new has appeared and to keep an eye out for sale/specials. If your beer budget is limited (and whose isn't these days), doing that just means you can stretch your dollar that much further.

A couple of local places which will help you make your money last are Three Bears Warehouse in Kenai and Save-U-More in Soldotna. Their selections are not always the greatest, but if they have what you're after, their prices are about the best around. Save-U-More usually has a pretty good selection of Midnight Sun's core beer line; in fact, they're the only place which seems to consistently have both Panty Peeler and Monk's Mistress on the shelf. They also usually have Samuel Smith's Ales. When I'm looking to restock on Sockeye Red IPA, this is where I head to load up.

Three Beers seems to be the only place in town to carry Unibroue, a fantastic brewery from Quebec and Ommegang Brewery out of Cooperstown, New York. I've blogged about Ommengang's beers before, but if you haven't tried anything from Unibroue, you're really missing out on some great beers, like Maudite, La Fin Du Monde, Blanche De Chambly, or Trois Pistoles. Best of all, you can get them, in a 750 ml (25.4 oz) corked bottle for $8-9. I've seen them on sale for as little as $5.99. This is not cheap beer; it's good beer at a great price.

Speaking of good beer at a great price, I opened a bottle of The Pike Brewing Company's Monk's Uncle Tripel that Gene Diamond of Specialty Imports gave me. Based in Seattle, this brewery was opened in 1989 by Charles Finkel, owner of Merchant Du Vin, and has been on the cutting edge of craft brewing ever since.

Monk's Uncle Tripel was first released in 2006 at the Brouwers Cafe and is available in 22 oz bombers here in Alaska, and occasionally on draft up in Anchorage. I poured it into a large snifter for my tasting. It had a light gold color, with a relatively thin head of foam that dissipated fairly quickly. The aroma had some floral, noble hop notes, plus the fruity esters that are characteristic of beers made in this style using a Belgian yeast. The body was light and fairly well-attenuated, thanks to the addition of Belgian candi sugar,once again with plenty of the fruity earthy flavors produced by this strain of yeast. It finished dry, with a nice, smooth bitterness. Monk's Uncle weighs in at 9% ABV and 34 IBUs of bitterness from Nugget hops, with Saaz hops used at the finish to add to the aroma. Overall, it was a nice tripel, very true to the style. Personally, I think that if I was reaching for an American-brewed tripel, I'd prefer Midnight Sun's Panty Peeler, but Monk's Uncle is a good one, too.

Another beer that I picked up over the weekend was Full Sail Brewing Company's Grandsun of Spot IPA. This beer is part of their Brewmaster's Reserve 2009 series; about every 10 weeks, the brewery releases another beer in this series. This particular brew is an India Pale Ale, 6% ABV and an impressive 80 IBUs. In the glass, this beer was an orange-amber color, with a nice head of pin-point carbonation that was long lasting. Plenty of floral hops in the aroma, Columbus and Zeus varieties. The body was medium, speaking to Munich and Honey malts, with plenty of carbonation. The finish was nice and bright, with a pleasing hop bitterness. A nice IPA, very crisp and enjoyable. I plan to keep an eye out for other beers in this series, as well.

That's about it for this week. Check out my new column in The Redoubt Reporter. Look for it on the first Wednesday of each month.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hoppy Halloween

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you've probably figured out that I really like hops. Not that I don't like a good malty brew, mind you, but like most homebrewers, I do have a "thing" for the flowers of the Humulus lupulus plant.

Yes, I'm a hophead.

The brewers up at Midnight Sun are clearly hopheads also, for if they weren't, why would they have created their Obliteration series of beers?

Here's what they have to say about the series:

"With passion and purpose, we present this series of hop-centric beers. Using different hop varieties and brewing techniques, we aim to capture bold, distinct hop characteristics in aroma, flavor and finish. While we explore the world of hops, we invite you to learn along with us: these beers offer an incredible opportunity to experience the diversity of hops while engaging the palate and obliterating the senses. "

The beers range from 8 to 10% ABV and anywhere from 80 to 100 (!) IBUs. Now that's hoppy, my friends.

Thanks to my friend Gene Diamond from Specialty Imports, I was able to sample both Obliteration IV and Obliteration V.

Obliteration IV is unusual, in that it's made from 50% malted wheat; most IPAs do not use wheat in their grain bill. It weighs in at 8.7% ABV and a staggering 100 IBUs, so calling it a Double IPA is no lie. It poured a clear, golden amber into the glass, with a massive, rocky head. The aroma let's you know that there are hops a plenty in this one, with the citrus/grapefruit notes characteristic of the Amarillo hops used for dry hopping. Simcoe and Chinook hops were also used in this brew.

The taste is resiny/citrusy from the massive hop bitterness, interacting interestingly with the wheat malt, which provides some earthy, cereal notes. The mouthfeel is lively, do the carbonation, but with some chewiness that finishes smoothly. The finish is dry and leaves you ready for another sip.

Overall, a very interesting beer, particularly in the use of wheat in an IPA.

Obliteration V is a little more conventional, in that it's an all-barley IPA, 8.2% ABV and "only" 95 IBUs. Given that some experts say the human taste buds max out at about 80 IBUs, I'm not sure that those 5 IBUs matter very much...

The hops being showcased this time are Nugget, Warrior, and our old friend Amarillo, with the first two being used as bittering hops and all three being used for dry hopping.

The beer pours an orange amber, with another good, rocky head of foam. The aroma again lets you know that you're entering a world of hop here, with lemon-citrus and piney-resin elements battling it out for possession of your nostrils. The taste is a little less bitter than I expected (maybe those 5 IBUs do matter), with a good solid malty sweetness to contrast with the hoppy bitterness. I get some fruit notes as well, maybe something exotic, like mango? Plenty of mouthfeel from the maltiness, and a nice long finish. I don't think I could have more than one of these, given how intense the flavors are, but it was a very interesting beer.

If you're reading this in the Kenai-Soldotna area, be sure to check out this week's Redoubt Reporter, our local free newspaper. It contains a very nice article by Jenny Neyman on some of the seasonal brews at the local breweries. You will also see a tease for a column written by yours truly, with the same name as this blog. It will be appearing monthly for as long as Jenny decides to put up with it. The Reporter is available online at for those of you who don't live around here.

Rest assured that I intend to continue writing this blog and that it and the column will have quite significant differences. I'll be writing the column for a much more general audience, while this blog will continue to be what it's always been, a place for me to display my hardcore beer geekiness.

So that's a wrap for this week. Next week I will report of some of the other very interesting beers that I got from Gene of Specialty Imports, plus some other local developments.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Monday, October 19, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want...

We live in a world of ease and near-instant gratification. I can remember the days when things we take for granted today (the Internet, PCs, VCRs, cable TV, etc) didn't exist, and I know my father can remember a world where things I have always known (TV, nuclear weapons, jet aircraft, computers of any kind, etc) didn't exist.

For example, I remember how hard it used to be to find particular books on semi-obscure topics (like SF or fantasy). Now, with and a host of on-line used bookstores (not to mention E-Bay), finding almost any publication, buying it, and having it shipped right to your door is almost effortless (though it may not be cheap).

Thanks to its "special status" under the laws of the federal and state governments of this country of ours, beer is one of the few products out there which is not easily purchased and shipped right to your door.

Yep, there are certain beers out there that are just about impossible for certain people to legally get, no matter how hard they try or how much money they're willing to spend.

Obviously I'm not talking about beers which just aren't packaged in bottles or cans (like those of all four of our local micros here on the Kenai). That sort of "fresh" beer isn't going to be available at any distance, just like I can't order a sandwich from Mother's Po Boys in New Orleans and have it delivered to my house in Sterling.

However, I could pay to have a 50 lb sack of live crawfish Fedexed up here from Louisiana overnight. It's expensive, but I can give you the website if you're interested.

But I can't buy certain beers from certain other areas of the country and have it sent to me here; it's illegal.

Anyone remember the premise of the first Smokey and the Bandit movie? A pretty dumb movie, but the premise was even dumber, though it was true. At that time (1977), Coors was only sold west of the Mississippi. It was considered bootlegging to transport it east for sale. That particular limitation is long behind us (and who would want to go out of their way to drink a Coors, anyway?), but the same sort of ridiculous rules continue to hamper the ability of beer lovers like me to taste beers from across this country.

But your dedicated beer geek isn't about to let a little thing like the law stand in the way of good beer. So now we have the wonderful world of "Beer Trading".

It works like this: You go to any one of several websites out there (or likely more than one) and post your list of "Wants" and your list of "Gots". Some sites match them automatically, others you have to do a manual search, but the goal is the same as on E-Harmony: put compatible folks into contact with each other. The only difference is that instead of exchanging bodily fluids, these people hope to be swapping brews.

To avoid legal hassles, the sites just list the information; any deals are made privately via email or phone, not via the site itself.

I'm not on any of the sites, as I've never gotten into beer trading, but I was contacted a few weeks ago by a gentleman from Rhode Island who had read some of my reviews and was desperate to try Midnight Sun's new Berserker. On a whim, I decided to help him out and sent him a few bottles, asking for some "East Coast Only" brews in return.

Among the beers I received in return were New England Brewing Company's Wet Willy Scotch Ale and Weyebacher Brewing Company's Old Heathen Imperial Stout. Having previously read about both beers on-line and in various beer magazines, I was anxious to give them a try.

Wet Willy is 10% ABV, aged on oak chips and bottle-conditioned for a year before being released. It poured rich caramel in color, with a light tan head and an amazing aroma. When I took a sip, the flavors were intense and wonderful. Caramel, toffee, herbal, all wrapped up with an exceptional mouthfeel, ending with a little alcohol warmth. I'm a sucker for a good Scotch Ale and this one was one of the best I've ever had!

The Old Heathen (love that name!) is only 8% ABV, but it was remarkably complex. It was brewed from seven different types of malt and uses two different varieties of hops. It poured absolutely black with a coffee-colored head. The aroma was of espresso and dark fruits like raisins and figs. It was incredibly complex on the tongue, mixing espresso, chocolate, earthy, plums, raisins, you-name-it, all into one lovely package. The finish is clean and a touch dry. I've brewed plenty of imperial stouts myself and I tip my hat to this one.

So if you're reading this on the East Coast, I'd look for these brews or others from the New England or Weyerbacher Brewing Companies. I sure wish I could find them on my local shelves.

Speaking of local brews, Midnight Sun has re-released their winter seasonal CoHoHo Imperial IPA. See my blog of 10/20/2008 for a detailed review, but I've had a bottle of this year's batch and it's still great.

On Thursday, 22 October, St. Elias Brewing Company will have live music from 150 Grit from 7 to 9 PM. Stop by, have a brew, and check them out.

Last, but certainly not least, Kassik's Dunkel Weizen took the People's Choice Award at the Mighty Matanuska Brewfest over the weekend. Congrats to Frank & Debbie! Look for their Double Wood DIPA to be released on November 17th. For you Anchorage folks, it'll be featured at the Third Thursday First Taste Event at the Millennium Hotel on November 19th, from 4:30 to 7 PM.

Well, that's about it for this week. I'll try to get this puppy finished earlier next time around. I should have some interesting new stuff to talk about then.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oktoberfest Behind, Halloween Ahead

I had planned to start this blog off with a long rant about how lousy the beer scene in Mississippi was. Now, given how much good Alaskan beer stuff I have to write about, I figure, what's the point? So, I'll just say that if you're unfortunate enough to have to spend any length of time in The Magnolia State (especially the parts of it far from its Gulf Coast), Bring Your Own Beer. 'Nuff said.

Now, let's talk about what going on around here.

First, I got to dive into some of Kenai River Brewing Company's Winter Warlock Strong Ale. This year's batch is just as good as last year's, so you can check out what I wrote about it back on September 8, 2008. This time around, I'll just say that it's a superb beer and just the sort to sip on a cold night in front of the fire. Get some before it's gone for another year.

Second, my lovely wife Elaine and I made it to St. Elias Brewing Company's 2nd Annual Oktoberfest last Saturday. We were in and out before the traditional German band started playing at 7, but I did get to try a glass of Zach Henry's latest creation, a Baltic Porter, brewed with vanilla and sour cherries and aged in a Heaven Hill bourbon cask. Baltic Porter is a style that lends itself to this sort of thing, having enough basic solidity to stand up to all of the additions, and this latest batch is excellent. It's absolutely opaque in the glass, very rich and thick on the tongue, and bursting with different flavor notes from the wood, the vanilla, and the cherries. It reminds me of Midnight Sun's Lust, the last of their Seven Deadly Sins beers. It's by the glass only, and deservedly so

Also just on tap is their Harvest Brown Ale. I only had a very small sample (since I'd spent so much time nursing my glass of Baltic Porter), but the bit I tasted struck me as being very drinkable, with no tremendous highs, lows, or sharp elbows to put anyone off. This would be a great beer to offer to someone as their first experience with craft beer, or if you are planning to drink several in a session and don't want to fry your palate. Like most brown ales, the emphasis is on the malt, not the hops, and on ease of drinking . It's a real session beer. Those are my first impressions, based on a small sample; I might decide to revise them when I get a chance to work my way through a pint!

More news: on the way into the pub, I bumped into Doug Hogue of Kenai River on his way out. We chatted for a few moments and he gave me a head's up on a couple of new brews he's planning. No details, but Doug says he's planning a milk stout and a -- wait for it-- mild ale! Since I've been after him to brew a mild ale for months, this is obviously music to my ears. I'm also looking forward to tasting his take on a milk stout, another relatively rare style. Next time I can catch Doug when I've got a paper and pen in hand (as opposed to a hungry spouse in tow), I'll try to get more details on his plans.

On Monday and Tuesday I was scheduled to staff my college's table at the Anchorage College and Career Fair, so on Sunday afternoon my wife and I traveled up to the big city. In the course of two days, in between fair sessions, we hit several beer spots, including Glacier Brewhouse, Sleeping Lady, Midnight Sun, and Humpy's. Here are some highlights:

At Glacier, I got to enjoy a glass of their cask-conditioned India Pale Ale, delivered via handpump. Cask-conditioned ale is a truly unique experience; if you haven't been lucky enough to try it in Britain or from one of the small (but growing) number of American establishments who offer it, you are really missing out on one of the great beer-drinking experiences out there. Glacier's version was a little cloudy (it didn't appear to have "dropped bright" as the Brits say), but the flavor and aroma were exceptional. Lovely, fresh, with the loads of hop aroma. In fact, when I followed it up with a glass of their Double IPA, I thought the Double on draft had less of a hop presence than the plain IPA on cask! Not that it wasn't a good beer, but that IPA on cask was just so wonderfully hoppy!

We hit Humpy's for dinner Monday night, after a long day of talking to prospective students. I needed an immediate attitude adjustment, so I started with a glass of Delerium Tremens Tripel from Brewery Huyghe in Belgium. Most beer geeks are familiar with Delerium Tremens and their pink elephant label, but this was the first time I'd seen their Tripel on draft. It was a lovely looking beer in the glass and very tasty, with plenty of alcohol to get my evening relaxation going. It was perhaps a little too phenolic to be a truly great tripel, but it was certainly a good one, and I enjoyed it.

Next, I wanted something a bit lower in alcohol to enjoy with the pizza I had on the way, so I ordered a pint of Denali Brewing Company's Chuli Stout, on nitro. This beer was delicious, with the full body and roasted notes you'd expect from a classic American Stout, and the smooth creaminess that nitrogen produces. Given my experience with their Mother Ale a few weeks ago, I'm happy to report that this beer was in excellent shape and a real pleasure to drink. I hope that Denali Brewing can continue to expand; I'd like to have the opportunity to taste more of their brews, or even see them on tap down here on the Peninsula.

Tuesday, on our way out of town, we made quick stop at Midnight Sun Brewing's Loft Bar. I was interested in picking up a couple of their new "Chub" style beer glasses, as well as giving some of their newest brews a taste. My wife ordered a glass of their Autumnfest Lager, while I had a glass of Trickster, a Belgian-style Pumpkin Ale.

The Autumnfest is a classic Oktoberfest-style lager, with a nice clean taste that emphasizes a touch of malty sweetness. Spot-on for the style and quite appropriate to the season. Not sure if this one will show up in bottles or not, but if you're up in Anchorage, check it out on draft.

When I first tasted Trickster, I initially thought that they had given me glass of Panty Peeler by mistake. Then the differences started to kick in, with subtle, nuanced flavors of pumpkin, cardamom, nutmeg, and coriander. At 7%, Alcohol By Volume is down, compared to Panty Peeler, while bitterness is up slightly at 22 IBUs. It still has that great Belgian flavor we've all come to expect, and it will make a great accompaniment to your Halloween party.

Last, but hardly least, Midnight Sun has released another of their Crew Brews. This one is Rumbah, a doppelbock aged in used rum casks, and I drank a bottle last week. I've always liked doppelbocks as a style; their strong malt backbone, coupled with the high alcohol makes for an excellent dessert or after dinner beer. And while I'm not much of a rum drinker, I do use it in cooking fairly frequently, as I appreciate the strong, sweet flavors it tends to impart to dishes. Pair these two flavors together and you've got Rumbah, at 10% ABV and 30 IBUs. It's well-balanced and flavorful, with the rum notes and malty-sweetness playing well together. It's another wonderful creation from the the Brew Crew. Note: If you're looking for Crew Brews in the Central Peninsula, the only place I've seen them is at Country Liquors in Kenai. If you're down in Homer, try The Grog Shop.

That's about it for this week. Next week I'll be reporting on my latest homebrewing effort, an IPA made with Simcoe hops (because I couldn't find any Summit hops!) and what else is cooking on the local beer scene.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Breaking Beer News

Hello, folks. I survived my sojourn in Mississippi, which I believe is a Native American word meaning "Land of Crappy Beer Choices". More on that next week, in my regular blog. However, as I was slogging through my hundreds of emails, I came across a couple of pieces of beer news that won't wait until then.

First, this Saturday, 10 October, St. Elias will be celebrating their 2nd Annual Oktoberfest from 6 to 10 PM. Sounds like they're going all out, with live German music from the Kenai Peninsula Blaskapelle (starting at 7), servers dressed in traditional German attire, and the release of one of Zach Henry's Baltic Porters, aged in a Heaven Hill Bourbon barrel with Vanilla beans and Montgomery cherries. So if you'll be in Soldotna on Saturday night (and who wouldn't want to be?), stop by St. Elias and raise a glass or two. This Baltic Porter is By-The-Glass only, so no growlers.

Second, Kassik's Kenai Brewstop will be holding a Third Thursday First Taste Event next Thursday, October 15th, at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage. The event will feature their medal-winning Caribou Kilt Strong Scotch and their Imperial Spiced Honey Wheat (which will be released on 10/13), plus a couple of other favorites. If you're an Anchorage dweller who doesn't have many opportunities to try Kassik's brews, here's your chance. The event is from 4:30 to 7 PM and is pay as you go.

Finally, a reminder that the Winter Warlock went on sale last Thursday at Kenai River Brewing. Haven't had a chance to grab any yet, what with Mississippi and all, but it's on my list for the weekend.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Good Time Was Had By All

Well, if you didn't make the Beer Tasting at Mykel's in Soldotna, you missed a very enjoyable evening. The food was excellent, the live music was good, and the beer was plentiful. I didn't get an exact headcount, but I'd estimate that there were between 40 and 50 folks in attendance.

Gene Diamond of Specialty Imports and Jhon Gilroy of Merchant du Vin were the "beer hosts" for the evening, with Jhon doing most of the talking while Gene did most of the pouring (and the rest of us did most of the drinking).

For those of you not familiar with the history of good beer in the US, allow me to tell you that Merchant du Vin is a name to conjure with. The company was founded in 1978, when Charles Finkel, a very successful wine merchant, decided that it was time to offer Americans the opportunity to drink beers from the classic styles from around the world. Prior to this, importers focused on the country of origin, rather than the style. Finkel identified a couple of dozen styles (courtesy of Michael Jackson's seminal World Guide to Beer) and set out to find definitive examples of each to import into the US.

Over the years, Merchant du Vin has focused on beers that they regard as "authentic". By that they mean they come from a historical or regional brewing tradition, are an outstanding representation of the style, and are produced by a brewery of superb reputation, either family- or abbey-owned. They are currently importing some of the absolutely finest brews in the world, from Trappist brews like Orval, Rochefort, and Westmalle, to British ales from Samuel Smith, to German beers from Ayinger and Pinkus. On a personal note, back in December 2008, I wrote about one of my first craft beer loves, MacAndrews Scotch Ale from Caledonian Brewery. This beer was bottled exclusively for Merchant du Vin to import into the US.

While Merchant du Vin has been bringing all these wonderful beers into the US, Specialty Imports has been bringing them (as well as great American craft beers) to Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula for the last thirty years. So Jhon and Gene make a natural team to host a beer tasting.

With all this history behind it, you would expect the beer tasting to be pretty special, and it was. We started out with Pinkus Organic Hefe-weizen, which was much more restrained than the Bavarian hefes that most folks are used to. Very crisp and dry, it made a great starter.

Next, we tried a Zatec Lager from the Czech Republic. A classic Bohemian Pilsner (even if it is labeled a "bright lager" rather than using the name of the rival brewing center), it had the fantastic aroma and hop finish that everyone associates with the noble Saaz hops.

For the third beer, we went back to Germany for the Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen, the traditional style of beer for Oktoberfest. Marzen means March in German; in the days before refrigeration, this beer was brewed in the spring, before the weather became too hot for brewing, then left to age in cold caves until the festival held at the end of the harvest. This long, cold-fermentation, or lagering, produces a golden amber beer, with a fruity nose and a soft dryness. It made a great pairing with the bratwursts cooked in beer that Mykel's included in the buffet.

For our next experience, we left Germany for Belgium and perhaps the most interesting beer of the evening.Green's Endeavour Dubbel is brewed for Merchant du Vin in Belgium and it is gluten free. This important for that significant portion of folks out there who suffer from Celiac Disease, for whom consuming any food containing gluten (such as a beer brewed from barley or wheat) can lead to death. Endeavour Dubbel is brewed from millet, rice, buckwheat, and sorghum, rather than the traditional brewing grains. It had a lovely appearance in the glass, and a phenomenal aroma, like a fine Scotch Ale. Unfortunately, the taste showed me why folks have been brewing with barley and wheat for the last five thousand years, rather than millet, rice, buckwheat, and sorghum. While the taste was not bad, it lacked the mouthfeel and richness you normally associate with a dubbel. I'm sure if I had Celiac Disease, I'd be glad to be able to drink beer at all, so perhaps I shouldn't expect too much from the Endeavour Dubbel. If you know someone with this condition who misses drinking beer, I'd point them toward this beer, plus the gluten-free Amber and Tripel which Green's also brews.

After that new type of beer, we went across the channel to have a very old favorite, The Famous Taddy Porter from Samuel Smith's Brewery from Yorkshire in the north of England. This is a classic porter, a lovely deep brown, with a rich, creamy head. Brewed using the unique Yorkshire Square fermenters, giant two-story vessels made from huge slabs of slate, this beer is another classic of its style. I've always had a weakness for a good porter, and Taddy Porter is one of the best.

Then it was back across the channel to my favorite beer of the night: Orval, a Trappist beer that is unique even amongst that elite group. Brewed by monks in their abbey brewery "For the Greater Glory of God," Orval is a rich amber-gold, incredibly dry and ridiculously complex, due to extensive dry-hopping and the use of a mixed strains of yeast, including the infamous brettanomyces. One famous beer writer referred to it as "God's own homebrew", and I heartily agree. It's the sort of beer I could drink everyday for the rest of my life and never get bored with. Yeah, it's that complex. If you haven't tried it, you are really missing out on one of the unique beer-drinking experiences out there.

The final beer of the evening was a Pomme Lambic from Lindemans. I've had many spontaneously fermented lambics before (I'm particularly partial to gueuzes, which are made without adding fruit), but this was my first encounter with a Pomme (Apple) Lambic. All lambics tend to refreshing with a nice, tart finish, and this one was no exception. The apple flavors married very well with the other elements. It's not something I would drink every day, but it went extremely well with the sweet dessert that it was served with.

All-in-all, it was a fantastic evening. Thanks again to Jhon Gilroy and Gene Diamond for doing such a stellar job. When's the next one?

Some other random thoughts:

I received an email telling me that some folks found my attempt at humor in last week's blog offensive, which certainly wasn't my intention. I had intended it to be taken as a good-natured jest, but humor is very subjective, so if you are a resident of Nikiski and found my words ill-chosen or insulting, please accept my humblest apologies.

On a side note, I think I may have had the comments feature on this blog improperly set. If you have tried to post a comment in the past and have been unable to do so, please give it another try. I am always eager to hear what any of you have to say about my writing, be it good or bad. I believe the blog will now allow you to comment anonymously, if you wish to.

Speaking of Nikiski, Kassik's Kenai Brewstop will release the next batch of their award-winning Caribou Kilt Scotch Ale on Tuesday, 29 September. If you've had it, you already know how good it is. If you haven't, get up to Nikiski and see what all the fuss is about.

Up in Anchorage, La Bodega now has some Victory Ales on offer. Located in Dowingtown, PA, Victory has a great reputation in craft beer circles, with beers like Hopdevil, Storm King Stout, Hop Wallop, and Baltic Thunder. I have had a chance to try these brews on occasion in the past, and they are great. So if you can get up to La Bodega, pick some up to try yourself.

Speaking of hoppy beers, Sierra Nevada's Torpedo Extra IPA is back on sale. I blogged about it back on March 16 of this year. Now that the hop harvest is in, SN has been able to make more of this wonderful beer and I've seen it on sale at both the Soldotna Fred Meyer and at Country Liquors in Kenai. If you love hoppy ales, you have to try this one!

There's live music most Thirsty Thursday nights at St. Elias Brewing Company in Soldotna, from 7 to 9 PM. This week, drop by to hear local artist Chris Towne.

And don't forget that Kenai River Brewing will be releasing their Winter Warlock Strong Ale on Thursday, 1 October.

Looking ahead, I will not be posting next week, as I will be heading south to visit my father in the beer-desert that is Mississippi, where beers over 5% ABW are still illegal and half the counties are dry. Look for the blog to return in about two weeks.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Beer News You Can Use. And Lots of It!

Some weeks, it seems like there isn't much happening in the world of beer. Other weeks, it seems like I've got more to say than time and words to say it. This week being one of the latter, let's get to it!

First, see my breaking report from last week about the Beer Tasting that Merchant du Vin & Specialty Imports are hosting at Mykel's Restaurant in Soldotna this Friday, 25 September. It should be a great time, so don't miss it.

Next, Kenai River Brewing has their newest Single Hop IPA on tap. I've written before about what a cool idea this series of beers is, as they allow the traits of a specific hop variety to be showcased. This time around the guest of honor is the Chinook hop. Chinooks have been around since about 1985 and have long bee a favorite of homebrewers and craft brewers alike. They are a high alpha hop with a wonderful herbal character when used as an aroma hop or for dry-hopping. They're one of the classic Pacific North West hop choices.

This versatility really comes through in the Single Hop IPA. Often, these single hop beers clearly demonstrate why a mix of hops is superior. A given variety has a strong suit, but when it's called upon to sing the entire song by itself, that strong suit becomes monotonous and the end result is not great. Chinooks do not have that problem. To my taste, this Single Hop IPA, while perhaps not as good as a blend, like Kenai River's Sunken Isle, had a wonderful flavor and is eminently drinkable. My thanks to Doug and Joe for re-introducing me to an old friend, and I'm already planning to use some Chinooks in my next home brew.

Also from Kenai River is the news that their Winter Warlock will be released again on Thursday, 1 October. This English-style Strong Ale spends a year aging at the brewery before being released each fall, and it is well worth the wait. So mark you calendars and stop by KRB to get some on the 1st.

I went up to Anchorage on Friday afternoon and spent the weekend up there, as I had meetings for my job on both Saturday and Sunday. This gave me the chance to pay a visit to some of my favorite watering holes up there, as well as check out a new one.

First, my lovely wife Elaine and I stopped by Cafe Amsterdam on both Friday and Saturday evenings. Besides enjoying the floor show provided by Will Miller (Winner of the Best Bartender in Alaska Award for three years running) and soaking up the convivial beer-loving atmosphere, I got to try a couple of great beers.

First up, I had a goblet of the Duchess de Bourgogne, a fantastic Sour Brown Ale from West Flanders, brewed by the Verhaege family on the same site since 1880. At 6.2% ABV, it is smooth and rich, with some flavors of fruit, that eventually moves to a long, dry finish. It's also available in bottles in some of the better beer stores in town, like La Bodega and Brown Jug Warehouse. This brew rarely makes its way up to Alaska, so if you are at all interested in sour beers, grab it while you can.

And if you're not sure if you're interested, go by Cafe A and get a taste.

Next, I had a pint of Alaskan Brewing's Rauchbier, part of their Rough Draft series. In case you don't remember, these Rough Drafts are how Alaskan perfects a recipe and gauges market interest in potential new releases. Some of their previous entries in the series that are now regular beers include their IPA, their White, and their Baltic Porter. In my humble opinion, their Rauchbier is ready for prime time as well. The underlying beer has a wonderfully crisp and clean taste, very lager-like, though I believe they are using an ale yeast. The smokiness on top of this wonderful base gives the beer a very interesting flavor, and would pair extremely well with many foods. This beer is as good as any German rauchbier I have ever had, so I hope Alaskan will be releasing it to the mass-market soon.

Cafe A is also celebrating Oktoberfest (which started 9/19 and runs through the first weekend in October) with great German dishes and fine German beers. Among the offerings they had on were Spaten's Oktoberfest, Ayinger's Oktoberfest, Celebrator & Brau-Weisse, Paulaner's Salvator, Bitburger Pilsner, & Left Hand Brewing's Oktoberfest. Everyone should drop by and raise a glass.

On a less positive note, I also tasted Denali Brewing Company's Mother Ale and did not like it at all. This puts me in a difficult position, since I usually try to emphasize the positive in my beer reviews. I mean, if life's too short to drink bad beer, it's certainly too short to spend time writing about it. Unfortunately, this beer was so bad, I feel compelled to say something, as I don't want to see a brewery in this state go under, and I fear that might happen if many folks have the same experience I did.

To be specific, the beer I tasted had a tremendous amount of diacetyl, which gives beer a "buttery" flavor. In this case, I'm talking movie-theater-popcorn-buttery beer. If I had gotten the beer anywhere else, I might have suspected a contaminated draft line, but not at Cafe A. So I've got to suspect either a stressed or mutated brewing yeast or a keg or batch with bacterial contamination. Either way, it's something the folks up at Denali Brewing need to address, and I mean right now, or their brewing days will likely be sadly shortened.

On Saturday evening, Elaine and I stopped by Midnight Sun's Loft Bar. I wanted to taste their Berserker Imperial Stout carbonated with nitrogen rather than carbon dioxide. I was surprised at how much difference the change in gas made, as the nitrogen gave the beer a much smoother, creamy mouthfeel. Personally, I think the last thing Berserker should be is smooth and creamy, so I think I'll stick with the standard carbonation, but it was interesting to taste the difference.

I also had a glass of their Full Curl Scotch Ale. This used to be one of their regular production beers, but it's been retired and now it's only produced as an occasional seasonal. It's a good beer, a fine scotch ale or Wee Heavy, but I think I prefer their smoked version, the Kilt Burner. It's only available only on draft at the brewery, just like the Berserker on nitrogen.

Then we headed down to South Anchorage to have dinner at the new Firetap Alehouse on Old Seward just south of O'Malley. It boasts an impressive 30+ taps of mostly local Alaskan brews and a lovely high-ceiling modernistic bar/restaurant layout. The food was quite good, plentiful and not overly expensive by Anchorage standards. My only complaint is that for a place that bills itself as an alehouse, the beer side of the operation was somewhat understated. The beer menu did not have any details on any of the beers listed, beyond the name of the brewery. The wait staff did not seem terribly beer savvy, and even the little flip display on the table was about mixed drinks, rather than special beers on tap. All of which is not to say that Firetap is a bad place; it's just that if you are going to call yourself an "alehouse" rather than a "bistro" or a "pub", I'm going to expect a little more from you.

Still, they haven't been open that long, so perhaps the emphasis in the future will shift towards the beers.

And my calzone was very good, as was my wife's Chicken Alfredo.

Well, that wraps it up for this week. Before my next blog I intend to venture out into the wilds of Nikiski to get an up date on the doings at Kassik's Kenai Brewstop. {Edited to remove a silly joke which I'm told some local folks found offensive. If you were one of them, please accept my apologies.}

Until Next Time, Cheers!