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!

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