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 http://redoubtreporter.wordpress.com/ 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 Amazon.com 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!