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!