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!

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