Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Looking Ahead to Next Year

Well, it's about time to put this blog to bed for the year. It's likely I won't get around to writing anything next week, as I'm going to be way too busy doing a whole lot of nothing for me to take time out and write.

Seriously, I may well be too busy working around the house and whatnot, so don't be surprised if I take to week off between Christmas and New Years.

But before I can take time off, I've got to few things to finish up.

First, Alaskan Brewing Company has released their 2009 Barley Wine. This beer was first brewed in 2003 and first bottled in 2007. Reports are that this year's version comes in at 10.4% ABV and has a wonderful floral aroma from Cascade hops. I haven't had a chance to try this year's vintage yet, but given the excellence of previous years' efforts, I'm sure this one will be great.

By the way, if you're looking to start a beer cellar, laying down two or three bottles of this beer would be a great way to get started.

Second, I had the opportunity to sample the new Snow Angel Imperial Pilsner and Irish Red Ale from St. Elias Brewing Company. Snow Angel is like their Flower Child XPA on steroids. It's bursting with wonderful hop aroma and flavor, thanks to the addition of lots of noble hops, but with a nice clean taste that does a great job of hiding the high alcohol content. Drink this one with care; it could sneak up on you!

The Irish Red Ale is brand new and also very tasty. It's hopped with Fuggles and Goldings, so its hop elements are very true to the style. It has a nice, clean maltiness with a hint of caramel. This is one of the better examples of the style that I've had the chance to sample. Very drinkable and a great choice when you're trying to decide what you should bring a growler of to a holiday party.

Third, I stopped by Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop last week to sample their Smoked Russian Imperial Stout. Frank has made this beer before, but this time around he's pulled out all the stops to really give it a wonderful smokey flavor. This is a great choice, as the stout has enough heft to stand up to the smokiness without being overwhelmed by it. The beer has a wonderful mouthfeel and a tremendous numbers of different flavor elements, all of which come together into a very harmonious whole. I brew a pretty fair imperial stout myself, but I've got to tip my hat on this one. You really nailed it, Frank. I see medals in your future for this one.

Fourth, though it's still a couple of weeks away, I suggest that you all mark you calendars for Friday, January 8th, 6:00 to 9:30 pm. That's when the Beer Tasting and Auction Fundraiser benefiting the Soldotna Community Playground will be taking place at the Challenger Center in Kenai. All three of our local breweries will be taking part, as well as local homebrewers (including yours truly). Tickets are $40 in advance from one of the breweries or $45 at the door, and all the money goes to this worthy cause. There will hors d'oeuvres served as well.

Here's your chance to taste my brews and form your own opinion about my skill as a brewer. If you don't like mine, you can always wash the taste out of your mouth with a brew from our local professionals.

Seriously, this is a chance to have a great evening and support our local community. I hope to see you all there.

Well, that's about it for this time. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to each and everyone of you. Thank you for the support you've shown by reading this blog; I hope 2010 is a good year for us all (or at least better than 2009!) and that we all get to enjoy many good brews in it.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Coffee and Beer

I like coffee. That's no surprise, as it's a rare career Navy guy who doesn't end up hooked on it. When I went on active duty, I rarely drank coffee and when I did it was with cream and sugar. By the end of my first sea tour, I was slurping it down by the black-and-bitter bucketful.

Twenty years later, I still crave my morning shot of caffeine to get things rolling along. These days, I drink coffee in the morning, water in the afternoon and beer in the evening; coffee after lunch tends to make me too wired for the academic world in which I work these days. But there are more than a few folks out there who like to have their beer and coffee at the same time.

One of the brews for those folks is Beer Geek Breakfast from the Mikkeller Brewery in Denmark. Founded in 2006, this brewery is one of the growing number of new, upstart European breweries inspired by their American craft brethren. It was founded by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø and Kristian Klarup Keller, two Danish homebrewers; since August, 2007 Mikkel Borg Bjergsø has run Mikkeller by himself. The brewery has garnered numerous awards for its boundary-testing brews of uncompromising quality.

Stylistically, Beer Geek Breakfast is an oatmeal stout with gourmet coffee added. It pours absolutely black, like an espresso, with a nice tan head that lingers and leaves plenty of lace on the glass. The aroma is full of roasted notes, both from the roasted barley and from the coffee. On the palate, it's an excellently balanced beer, with enough malt backbone to support the bitterness from the coffee. The flaked oats helps produce a smooth mouthfeel which also rounds off any rough coffee edges. It's hopped with Centennials and Cascades (good American hops!) and comes in at 7.5% ABV, making it a nice sipping beer. Not sure it's to every one's taste as their morning eye-opener, but it's a darn fine choice for us beer geeks!

Mikkeller is an excellent example of an interesting new trend in European brewing. From the earliest days of the American Beer Renaissance, our home- and micro-brewers looked to the great brewing traditions of Europe as a source of inspiration. Small Belgian farmhouse brewers, British regional brewers, and traditional German lager breweries all provided examples of the styles and quality of beers that American craft brewers strove to emulate. Now, however, the shoe is on the other foot. Young European homebrewers are looking to American craft beers and opening their own breweries to produce similarly "big" brews. BrewDog Brewery in Scotland, Nogne O Brewery in Norway, and on and on; these young brewers are carrying the gospel of craft brewing back to the land of its roots.

Returning to the subject of beers made with coffee, their are a couple of excellent Alaskan examples to check out, if you can't scare up a bottle of Beer Geek Breakfast. The first beer in this year's Crew Brew Series from Midnight Sun, Brewtality, is a black lager, a shwarzbier, with espresso added. Checking my notes, I realized that I mentioned drinking this beer back in my 3/9/2009 blog, but never gave a real review. So here it is:

Pours a lovely black (just like espresso) with a nice creamy tan head. The aroma is strongly of coffee, darkly roasted, with a hint of chocolate sweetness. The taste is strongly of of coffee, but with none of the acidity you sometimes get with coffee beers. Plenty of smooth sweetness beneath the coffee flavors, with hints of vanilla flavors. At 19 IBUs, hops are not a big player here, and the 9.7% ABV command respect. For a beer with so many big flavors, Brewtality does an excellent job of keeping everything in balance. If you like coffee beers, this one is a great one.

In addition to Brewtality, Midnight Sun also offers Arctic Rhino Coffee Porter, one of its year-round brews. I'll try to get around to reviewing it soon.

In local beer news, Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop released their Smoked Imperial Russian Stout five days early, on Dec 8. I plan to head over in the next day or two to pick some up; I'd suggest you do the same.

Zach Henry sent me an email to say that St. Elias Brewing has a new beer on, Snow Angel. This is an Imperial Pilsner that "screams HOPS! from every corner of its light malty body," according to Zach. Made with German malt and hops, this is a German pilsner on steroids. The bad news is that I think this probably means that the Bourbon-barrel Baltic Porter is all gone. A stop here is also on my to-do list for the next couple of days. Also, remember there's live music at St. Elias on Thursdays from 7 to 9 PM; this week 150 Grit will be playing.

Well, that's about it for now. Remember, there are only 10 drinking days left until Christmas.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Gifts for the Discerning Beer Lover

Christmas is a great time of year to be a beer lover.

Well, come to think of it, any time of year is a great time to be a beer lover, but Christmas time is especially good.

Why? Because now you can get lots of cool beer stuff and not have to pay for it. You just have to let the people in your life know what would make a wonderful gift for them to get you. Believe me, they'll thank you for it.

Take a look at the item above. This is a Sears Craftsman Model #44500 Cap Wrench Bottle Opener. Yep, you heard that right: a bottle opener made by Craftsman, just like your socket and box-end wrenches. This is a gift any manly beer drinker will love, and it's only $14.99. I received one as a gift from a good friend and I love using it. It also doubles as a club during bar fights...

It''s hard to go wrong with a good beer cookbook. I've mentioned a couple of good ones over the life of this blog, but there's a brand-new one on the street which any Alaska beer drinker needs to grab. Cooking with Alaskan Beer was just released a few weeks ago by Alaskan Brewing. It contains 101 recipes using different beers from Alaskan; each recipe seems more delicious than the last. We're talking things like Extreme ESB Enchiladas, Beer-Battered Coconut Shrimp, Mom's Smoked Porter Pot Roast, Alaskan Smoked Porter Banana Bread with Smoked Porter Butter, and on and on. My lovely wife and I plan to spend a good portion of the holidays trying and enjoying these great new recipes.

If your taste runs more toward books for reading rather than cooking, there are a couple of interesting new ones out. George Wendt, famous for his portrayal of Norm on the TV show Cheers has written Drinking with George: A Barstool Professional's Guide to Beer, while Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune have produced The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer. I haven't had a chance to read either of these yet, but they should be of interest to any beer lover.

I have read Peter Brown's latest book, Hops and Glory, in which he looks at the myth and legend surrounding one of the most romantic styles of beer, India Pale Ale. The book is a recounting of his attempt to recreate the 19th century sea voyage from Britain to India, transporting a cask of real ale. It makes for a fascinating tale, and the book is even better than his two previous works, A Man Walks Into a Pub and Three Sheets to the Wind. Unfortunately it has only been released in Britain, so if you want a copy, I recommend going to

I can hear you thinking: "Bill, I've waded through all these gift ideas, but where's the beer?" Well, I can't even begin to scratch the surface of listing all the wonderful Christmas beers, specialty beers, beer gift packs, beer & glass combo packs, and just plain excellent beer out there to choose from for Christmas gifts. It's hard to go wrong when you buy craft beer for a beer lover.

But there is one beer that I want to mention. Last Friday, Midnight Sun released their long (and I do mean LONG) awaited Jupiter, one of the beers from 2008's Planet Series. This is a Belgian style tripel, but made using the traditional methode champenoise. This involves brewing, then bottling the beer with a standard crown cap to allow it to carbonate, then turning the bottle upside down and rotating it by hand at regular intervals for well over a year to coax the yeast to settle down into the neck of the bottle (a process called "riddling"). Once all the yeast has settled, the plug of yeast is frozen, then the cap is removed and the neck slowly warmed, to cause the yeast plug to be disgorged (without the beer losing it carbonation), then the bottle is dosed with a similar clear beer, if required, then corked and wire-caged. At long last, the beer is ready to be sold.

As you can see from the above description, this is a uniquely time- and labor-intensive process, one which very, very few breweries in the world would undertake. I tip my hat to the folks at Midnight Sun for going down this road; you guys got some serious beer cojones...

A bottle of Jupiter will set you back $30, but it makes a wonderful and truly unique gift for the serious beer lover.

How does it taste? Well, I haven't opened my bottle yet; I'm saving it for New Years. But back on 1/26/2009 I did get to enjoy the base beer, on draft. The brewery released it under the name of Zeus, and I found it awesome, as I wrote in my review at the time. I can hardly wait to see how much better it has become after a year undergoing the process described above. When I do, I'll be sure to let you know what I think.

Well, there are some ideas for Christmas. Don't wait to late too do your shopping; you don't want to be the guy in the beer store on Christmas Eve, stuck choosing between Bud, Miller, and Coors. Remember, there are only 17 drinking days left until Christmas...

Until Next Time, Cheers...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's Time to Celebrate!

Well, Thanksgiving is over, the tree is up and decorated, and December is already here. Christmas and New Years are right around the corner, and there are plenty of new (and some not so new) beers being released.

One of the not so new beers is Sierra Nevada's Celebration Ale. Released each year about this time, this brew is an American classic. For over two decades, craft beer lovers have been able to look forward to the release of this ale to signal the start of the holiday season.

I snagged a six pack from the Fred Meyer in Soldotna over the weekend and sampled a couple. Poured out into a large snifter, the beer is a dark copper color, with excellent clarity. The head is massive and rocky, with a wonderful amount of thick lacing along the side of the glass. Nose is charged with citric and resiny hop notes, with a little roasted malt in the background. A nice full body of the palate, with plenty of crispness. The sharp hop bitterness cuts through the maltiness, for an excellent balance. The finish hints at the significant alcohol (6.8% ABV), warming and leaving you looking for more. Celebration Ale remains the classic American Winter Warmer; if you haven't tried this beer yet, you are really missing out!

On Black Friday, my lovely wife and I did a little shopping, just like everyone else in the known world, judging by the crowds. As part of driving all over the Kenai-Soldotna area, I made it a point to stop in at the local breweries.

Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop released their Double Wood Imperial IPA back on 11/17, but this was my first chance to swing by and sample it. The beer pours a dark gold, with a rocky, cream-colored head, long-lasting and producing extensive lacing. The aroma is of hops, hops, and more hops, as you'd expect in a 95 IBU beer. On the tongue, there is a long, deep hop flavor, extraordinarily well-balanced for the degree of bitterness. I've had beers that were actually hopped much less than this one which had a much harsher hop taste. When Frank selected the exact blend of hop varieties to use on this beer, I think he may have achieved perfection, or something damn near. The finish is long and more-ish, not withstanding the 9+% ABV. Wow! This is an amazing beer, and if you are a fan of IPAs, seek it out quickly before it's all gone. I hope this will become a semi-regular part of the Brew Stop line-up.

On the near horizon is a Smoked Russian Imperial Stout; look for it to be released on 12/12.

At Kenai River Brewing, I'm saddened to report that the limited amount of Wee Heavy Scotch Ale that was on tap has been exhausted. However, Doug has replaced it with his aptly named Breakfast Beer, an oatmeal-milk stout. (Just don't let him talk you into the strip of bacon swizzle stick...) The beer is a hybrid of two classic stout styles; oatmeal stouts, which have oats added to the mash to increase the body and mouthfeel of the brew and sweet or "milk" stouts, which have unfermentable lactose AKA milk sugar added. Putting the two ideas together, Kenai River has produced a stout that to look at is absolutely opaque, with a tan head. The aroma speaks strongly of roasted grains, as you would expect from a stout, while on the tongue the beer has tremendous body. There is a decided silkiness on the palate from the oats, combined with a sweetness from the lactose and roasted flavors from the grains. Hops are there strictly for balance, with no noticeable presence. An unusual but excellent beer, and one which I think might prove especially excellent to cook with, given its sweetness and low bitterness. I could see this beer making a fabulous steak and ale pie, or being used to de-glaze a pan to make a lovely sauce.

Finally, at St. Elias Brewing Company, there was nothing new on tap last Friday, but Zach Henry expects to have his new Imperial Pilsner on by this coming weekend. And don't forget about Thirsty Thursday at St. Elias, with live music by Mike Morgan from 7 to 9 PM, on 12/3.

I'll be heading up to Anchor-Town this Friday, so hopefully I'll have some more interesting brews to write about upon my return. Also, be sure to check out my monthly column in this week's Redoubt Reporter.

Until Next Time, Cheers!