Thursday, August 20, 2009

Down at the End of the Road...

On the Kenai Peninsula, down at the end of the Sterling Highway, lies the town of Homer. The folks of Homer like to pride themselves on being a "cosmic hamlet by the sea" and an artist community, which is a far cry from the hard-drinking fishing village it was several decades ago. A few remnants of those days remain, like the Salty Dawg Saloon, but they're fading fast.

For quite a while Homer was the cutting edge of craft brewing on the Peninsula. Since it was opened by a some local homebrewers in 1996, Homer Brewing Company has been producing "Fresh Traditional Country Ales to Go", filling growlers and 20 oz re-purposed Sobe bottles, as well as supplying kegs to local restaurants and bars. In 2001 they moved to their current location of 1411 Lake Shore Dr. and in 2005 they installed their current 7-bbl brewhouse.

When I moved to Alaska in 2004, Homer Brewing Company was the one and only craft brewery on the Peninsula. There had been a couple of other abortive attempts, like Chinooks in Seward and Alice's Champagne Palace, also in Homer, but none of them had made a go of it. (As a side note, the brewhouse from Alice's was purchased by a certain Frank Kassik of Nikiski and is now being used to make award-winning beers at Kassik's Kenai Brewstop. You can't keep a piece of good brewery equipment down...) So you know I made it a point to load up whenever my travels took me to the end of the road.

However, now that we have two breweries and a brewpub 75 miles closer to my home and job than Homer, I haven't been so diligent in trying to get down there. So when my work took me to Homer last Monday, I made a point of heading over to the brewery again. They had four of their regular beers on, along with two specialties. The regulars were Old Inlet Pale Ale (5.4% ABV), Broken Birch Bitter (5.3% ABV), Red Knot Scottish Ale (5.6% ABV), and China Poot Porter (5.3% ABV). The specials were Celestiale Belgian Spiced Ale and Odyssey Oatmeal Stout, both at 6.6% ABV.

I have had plenty of their regulars in the past and spiced ales tend to leave me cold, so I picked up a 20 oz of the oatmeal stout. When I drank it at home it had a nice malt backbone with a restrained amount of roasted flavors. The 12% oatmeal in the mash gave the beer a nice oily silkiness on the palate. Very drinkable and if I lived in Homer, I'm sure it would be one of my favorites.

I also picked up another interesting beer on my last Anchorage trip: Sierra Nevada's 2009 Southern Hemisphere Harvest Fresh Hop Ale. It comes in at a respectable 6.7% ABV and an impressive 66 IBUs. Couple that with a 26(!) oz bottle, and you've got the recipe for a nice long evening of good beer drinking. It's made with pale and caramel malts and New Zealand hops, harvested in our spring (their fall) and then flown all the way to Chico, CA, to arrive and be used only about a week after being picked. That may sound like an awful lot of trouble, but it's the only way to get a fresh hop ale made in the Northern Hemisphere's spring. And the results are well worth it. Like everything else Sierra Nevada brews, this is a beer of outstanding quality, with a crisp, clean hop bitterness and a massive hop aroma practically jumping out of the glass. This one is definitely worth giving a try, if only to whet your palate for the much larger number of fresh hop ales we'll be seeing in a month or two.

Well, that's it for now.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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