Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Just a Small One, Then I Have to Get Home...

It's a phrase I've heard a million times and said myself more than once while standing at the bar in a pub.  So here's a short blog before I depart and go home for my Christmas stand-down.

There's not a tremendous amount going on at the local breweries this week.  Like most of us, they are trying to enjoy the Holidays.  However, here's a photo I lifted off Facebook, showing a new 15 barrel tank arriving at Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop two weeks ago.  If you're delinquent like me and haven't been out there to see the expansion, the next week or two might be a good time to check things out.

On the new beer front, I have tried a couple since my last blog. The first was from AleSmith Brewing Company in San Diego.  This is a well-regarded and award-winning brewery that unfortunately does not distribute their beers in Alaska.  I managed to obtain a bottle of their Wee Heavy Scotch Ale through trading.  I sent some bombers of Midnight Sun and Alaskan to the East Coast and this was one of the beers I received in return.  Being a fool for Scotch Ales, I was delighted.

Checking out the label, I read that AleSmith recommends cellaring the beer for anywhere between six months and two years, to allow the flavors to continue to develop and mellow. I'm not sure how old my particular bottle was, since it made its way from San Diego to Rhode Island to Alaska, but I cellared it for about two months before opening.  At 10% ABV, it's certainly strong enough to keep for two years or even more.

It poured a very dark mahogany with a slight cream-colored head.  The aroma was of sweet malt and caramel, with some touches of dark fruit and a hint of smoke.  The mouthfeel was medium, with decent carbonation and a slight alcohol heat.  No bitterness to speak of, just enough hops to provide balance to the massive malt assault.  Good finish, with another hint of peat smoke.  One of the best bottled Scotch Ales I've ever had.  I liked it so much that I went on-line to see how much another bottle of it would cost me.  Answer: $10.99 plus $32 shipping.  Oh well...

The second new brew I tried was the Urthel Saisonniere Blond Special Ale, from De Leyerth Brouwerijen, the Belgian brewery better know in the US as Urthel.  This beer was first brewed in November of 2009 and last summer it received the prestigious World Beer Award 2010 as Europe's Best Seasonal Pale Ale.  It is brewed to 6% ABV using 20% wheat in the mash.  The brewery recommends pouring half the beer into the glass, then giving the bottle a swirl to rouse the yeast into suspension before pouring the remaining beer into the glass, similar to the technique used for a German hefeweizen.

Following these instructions and pouring into a large snifter, I was rewarded with a lovely golden ale, slightly clouded by the yeast, and a beautiful white head, thick and rocky.  To my nose there was an enticingly clean and crisp hop aroma, with some spicy/earthy/phenolic notes, which I assume came from the yeast used.  It was light on the palate with excellent carbonation, leading to a nice, dry almost pilsner-like finish.  While it's currently winter here in Alaska, I can see how this beer would make an amazing summer quencher, holding its own against other summer seasonals.  Very, very nice and exactly what you'd expect from a fine brewery like Urthel.

Finally, I receive a press release about the next beer in Alaskan Brewing Company's Pilot Series.  The newest addition to this line of limited edition specialty beers in 22 oz bottles will be their Imperial India Pale Ale.  In its earlier incarnation as part of their Rough Draft Series, this beer was known as Xxtra Tuf Imperial IPA, after the ubiquitous Alaskan footwear.  I reviewed it back on 11/24/2009.  I look forward to sampling the new "final" version.  I assume the name change was in deference to the folks Outside who have no idea what an Xtratuff is...

That's about it for this week's blog.  I'm planning to take next week off to relax and celebrate, so my next one will not be published until 2011.

Don't forget that the next meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society will take place at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, January 5, at Kenai River Brewing.  I'm dipping into my cellar for a vertical tasting of Alaskan Smoked Porters, from 2004 to 2010, so you won't want to miss that.  Dues paying members only, so if you haven't turned in your membership form yet, be sure to bring a check or some cash to the meeting, so you can pay up.

Until Next Time (and Next Year), Cheers and Happy Holidays to you all!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

H&H Highland Ale and Others

The Royal Banner of Scotland!
Well, the deed is done.  H&H Highland Ale, the beer that Zach Henry and I have lavished so much care and effort on is finished and released to the world at large, to sink or swim based on its own merits.

To recap, this beer is a Strong Scotch Ale we brewed back on September 6, using Golden Promise barley, to an O.G. of 1080.  We hopped in with Fuggles to about 35 IBUs and fermented it using White Labs WLP 028 Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast.  Once fermentation was complete, Zach moved half of the batch into bourbon barrels, with 25% going into a fresh barrel that had not been filled with beer before.  Last week, all the ale was blended back together before being carbonated and served.  Final ABV was 7.4%.  So how did it turn out?

I know I'm a somewhat biased judge, but I think it's fabulous!  In the goblet it is a slightly translucent ruby-brown color, with a small cream-colored head.  The whiskey aging is obvious in the nose, backed up with notes of caramel and a hint of peat smoke.  On the tongue there is medium mouthfeel and good carbonation.  The strong malt flavors are in the forefront, as is proper for the style, followed by touches of wood and whiskey, dropping off to a nice, long finish, once again with a hint of smokiness.  The whiskey presence is actually smaller than you would expect from the nose and works very well within the context of the other flavors.  My only regret is that we had to use bourbon barrels, but used Scotch barrels are not easy to obtain in Soldotna, AK.

All thing considered, this has been a very unusual and exciting experience for me.  I've never had a hand ind designing a beer to be brewed on such a scale before, or one that would be offered for sale to the public.  If you've tried H&H at St. Elias, please make a comment and let me know what you think of it.  Don't worry, I'm a big boy and take criticism well.

Also, I want to give my personal thanks to Zach for giving me the chance to indulge my creative brewing side.  I only hope the result sells well enough that he doesn't come to regret it!

I also tasted a couple of other brews over the last week.  The first was an old friend, while the second was something completely new.

The old friend was Samuel Smith's India Ale.  As I've written in previous blogs, Samuel Smith is a very traditional brewery, located in Tadcaster in the north of England.  They are the only brewery in the world still brewing using Yorkshire Squares, open fermenters made from huge slabs of slate.  Their India Ale is traditional in another way, besides its method of production.  It is very representative of what most surviving India Pale Ales in England had become by the late 70's, before American craft brewers began to revitalize the style.  At 5% ABV, it has the same alcohol level as the brewery's Pale Ale, and it's not all that much hoppier, so for someone who is used to today's rip-roaring American IPAs, this beer will seem remarkably tame.  On the plus side, it uses the wonderful Samuel Smith's house yeast and is hopped with Fuggles and Goldings, classic British hops.

It pours a lovely copper color with a nice cream head.  The nose announces the presence of those classic hops, along with the unique "butterscotch" aroma of the Samuel Smith's house yeast.  On the palate, the mouthfeel and carbonation are good, as is the balance between the hops and the good malt backbone.  The beer finishes well, and scores high on drinkability, since it is so restrained and balanced.  A very nice beer, even if it is no longer representative of the typical IPA.

After revisiting India Ale, I thought it was time for something new, so I opened up a bottle of Nogne O Brewery's Sweet Horizon, a Norwegian Ale made with coffee.  It poured opaque into the snifter, with a very slight head.  The aroma is of coffee, malt, brown sugar, perhaps some dark fruits, along with a bit of alcohol from the 14% ABV.  Tasting, they're all there again: malts, licorice, coffee, sugar, and alcohol.  More drinkable than you would think, this is certainly a dessert beer, or as the label proclaims, a dessert in and of itself.  Like the Red Horizon I reviewed last week, Sweet Horizon is a bit of a tour de force.  I get the impression that Nogne O brewed it just to prove they could.

In local beer news, the folks at Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop have brewed an Imperial Nut Brown Ale, Big Nutz.  They also report some damage to the Tyvek on their new addition from the recent high winds around here.  Over at Kenai River Brewing, the can plans continue apace; Doug Hogue told me last week that their canning machine and new fermenter had both been shipped.  At St. Elias, Zach and his crew have had to wrestle with some equipment problems, first with his glycol chiller and then with his steam boiler, but I'm sure they will beat both fire and ice in the end.  Everyone is looking forward to some time off around Christmas, followed by the big ramp up to Alaska Beer Week and the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival in the second week of the new year.

Well, that's about it for this week.  It's time for everyone to get their Christmas shopping done and buy some nice holiday brews to sip by the fire.  My lovely wife Elaine and I are heading up to Anchorage on Saturday to finish up the former and load up on the latter.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Breaking News: H&H Highland Ale to be Released This Friday!

Just got off the phone with Zach Henry at St. Elias Brewing Company.  He is having an equipment issue, which is forcing him to juggle his release schedule a little bit.  Due to a problem with a chiller pump,  he needs to move to the 50% of our collaborative brew, H&H Highland Ale, out of the fermenter that it has been resting in.  So he's in the process of blending the 50% of that beer that's been barrel-aging in whiskey casks back together with the beer in the fermenter, and then he will be moving the entire batch over to a brite tank.

Bottom line: H&H Highland Ale will be released this Friday, December 10th!

See my blogs on 9/7/2010 and on 11/18/2010 for more details on this brew.  It's based on my two-time gold medal winning homebrew recipe and represents our homage to the wonderful Wee Heavy Ales of Scotland.

Please give it a try and let Zach and me know what you think of it.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Open IT! Weekend & Humpy's Big Fish Results

So this weekend just past (Friday, Saturday, & Sunday) was Open IT! WeekendOpen IT! was the brainchild of UK beer writer Mark Dredge, who writes at Pencil and Spoon.   He designated the first weekend in December — the 3rd through the 5th — as “Open It!” weekend. What that means is that it’s time for beer lovers to open some of those special bottles we’ve been saving for that special occasion that never seems to come around.

As my contribution to this noble endeavor, I reached waaaaaay back into the bowels of my beer cellar and pulled two bottles out into the light of day.  The first was a 750ml corked bottle of Ommegang Brewery's Ommegeddon Ale from April, 2008.  The second was a 22 oz bomber of Midnight Sun's The Viking, released in the fall of 2008. When I first tasted these beers, over two years ago, I had surmised that they might be interesting with some cellar time, especially the Ommegeddon, as it was dosed with the notoriously slow-working Brettanomyces yeast. My lovely wife Elaine and I took them both with us when we headed over to our good friends Curt & Kathy's house for dinner.

We popped the cork on the Ommegeddon first, and there was no mistaking the funky, "barnyard" aroma that comes from Brettanomyces at work.  When I first reviewed this beer on 10/20/2008, the funkiness was there, but it was somewhat subtle; not anymore!  It poured a lovely golden color, with a massive, long-lasting white head.  After over 2.5 years in the bottle, the beer was tremendously dry, with the same semi-sour, horse blanket funkiness that cellaring Orval  for a year or two used to produce (beer the monks started dumbing it down).  The dry hopping that was so evident in the fresher version was not nearly so prominent. The beer made an excellent aperitif, and a great accompaniment to the stuffed mushroom appetizers we were munching on.  While this beer was excellent back in 2008, now it was simply amazing.  I wish I had cellared a case, rather than just a bottle...

As we sat down to dinner, we popped the cork on Curt's contribution, a 750ml bottle of Odell Brewing Company's Bourbon  Barrel Stout, a 10.5% ABV Imperial Stout that's aged for four months in used Kentucky bourbon barrels.  Bourbon-barrel aged beers like this one are all the rage these days, but Odell's version is rightly considered one of the best examples out there.  It poured thick and rich, dark as midnight with a big tan head.  The nose promised great things: dark chocolate, espresso, molasses, caramel, along with wood and whiskey notes.  On the palate, the beer was pleasingly think and chewy, with the hints of vanilla and even toasted marshmallow added to the flavors listed above.  It's one serious beer, and made a fine accompaniment to the very hearty chicken and potato stew we were dining on.

Finally, we moved on to the dessert course, some delicious Belgian chocolates paired with glasses of Midnight Sun Brewing's The Viking Belgian Dark Strong Ale.  I first reviewed this beer on draft back on 9/22/2008, then drank a bottle of it with friends in the summer of 2009; this bottle was my last.  Unfortunately, time had not improved this brew.  Perhaps it was the fact that it only had 23 IBUs, or perhaps the bottle in question hadn't had the best treatment prior to my obtaining it in Fairbanks in July, 2009.  For whatever reason, I found the dark, rich flavors to be subdued, at least compared to how I remembered it.  It was still good, and made a fine pairing with the rich Belgian chocolate, but it seemed a pale shadow of its remembered glory.  The moral:  Beers are made to be drunk.  While some may profit from cellaring, time wins in the end, so be sure not to hold on too long.

Last weekend in Anchorage was also the Humpy's Big Fish Homebrew Competition, the Great Northern Brewers' end-of-the-year blowout.  As a special prize, a batch of the Best-of-Show beer is brewed commercially by Midnight Sun and sold at Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse.  I entered three beers last year and won  gold, silver, and bronze medals .  This year I entered four beers and won a gold, two silvers, and a bronze, so I was very happy about that.  Still haven't come close to Best-of-Show, but maybe next year.

My Howell's Highland Ale, in the Strong Scotch style, has now won gold two years in a row.  This is the recipe that Zach Henry & I used as the basis for the beer we brewed back on Labor Day.  As I mentioned on 11/18, this beer is still maturing (50 % in whiskey barrels and 50% in stainless), waiting for us to blend it back together and serve it up.  Zach and I are convinced it will be ready before Christmas, so as soon as we set a hard and fast date, I'll be spreading the word.  We both believe that H&H's Highland Ale will be something special, and hope you all judge it to be so as well.

Besides the beers extracted from my cellar, I have had a couple of other interesting ones since my last blog.  Thanks to Rob Weller and Gene Diamond of Specialty Imports, I got to try a bottle of Nogne O Brewery's Red Horizon Norwegian Ale.  This is a very unusual brew, as it was made using the No. 7 Sake Yeast provide by Matsumi Sake, from Nagaro, Japan.  Weighing in at 17% ABV and 75 IBUs, this beer is obviously deserving of being treated with great respect!  The brewery recommends serving it chilled, so I tried my sample at lager temperatures, around 35F.  It poured a cloudy amber into the snifter glass, with a small head that quickly dissipated.  The  aroma was slightly suppressed by the colder serving temperature, but I picked up malt sweetness, backed up by some alcohol heat.  On the tongue it displayed medium body, with plenty of residual sweetness, giving way to a good deal of alcohol heat on the finish.  Some fruit esters were evident (this particular yeast is famous for producing them), and they became more prominent as the beer warmed.  As for hops, I know they had to be in there somewhere, but this beer is so big and sweet they are totally overwhelmed.  Another interesting and unusual beer from Nogne O, but much too "big" for anything except sipping after dinner.

At La Bodega in Anchorage I picked up a bottle of Black Albert Royal Stout, brewed by the De Struise Brouwers of Oostvleteren, Belgium.  This is a special beer, brewed by them for the 3rd Annual Belgian Beer Festival held by Ebenezer's Pub of Lovell, Maine.  Most folks in the beer world have heard of this place, as is has been named the #1 beer bar in America and the world by Beer Advocate for five years in a row, though I've never personally visited it.  De Struise decided to create something new with this beer, a Belgian Imperial Stout.  Of course Belgium has a king (King Albert), rather than an emperor, so it had to be a Belgian Royal Stout.  It poured an absolute midnight black with a creamy tan head.  The aroma was rich and redolent of chocolate, roast, perhaps some licorice or dark fruit. Mouthfeel was medium, perhaps a little lighter than is typical for an imperial stout.  Flavors were more chocolate and roasted notes, with some spiciness from the Belgian yeast around the edges.  Remarkably drinkable for a beer with 13% ABV and 100IBUs; the elements are so well-balanced and complimentary I would have guessed it was 8-9%, rather than 13.  A fantastic beer; get it while it lasts.

In other beer news from around the Peninsula, The Copper Kettle is finally open for business!  Stop by, say hello to Shane and Melanie and check it out for all your homebrew supply needs. St. Elias Brewing had a another Firkin Friday last week, tapping a cask of Tin Hat that had been dry hopped with raisins.  I didn't make it there, but I have it on good authority that it was "wonderful".  Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop will be releasing a batch of their Imperial IPA, Double Wood, on Thursday, December 9; I reviewed a previous batch back on 12/2/2009.  It likely won't be around long, so don't miss it.  The new coolers are in operation at Kenai River Brewing, full of pigs ready for customers to grab on the way to their holiday parties.  Finally, the Guest of Honor for next month's Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival has been announced.  It will be --drum roll, please-- Ken Grossman, Founder and President of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company!  As I mentioned last week, tickets are on sale now; they sell out each year, so don't wait too long or you'll be stuck dealing with the scalpers.

Well, that about it for this week.  Stay safe out there, and enjoy the Holidays.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Beer Books for Your Xmas List

Thanksgiving is over, so now it's officially time to start thinking about shopping for Christmas.  If you're like me, then your Christmas wouldn't be complete without a beer book or two under the tree.  Here's a trio of beer books that I've read in the last couple of months, which might make nice gifts for any beer geek on your list.

Amber, Gold, & Black: The History of Britain's Great Beers is the wonderful new book from Martyn Cornell, founding member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and a former British Beer Writer of the Year.  His earlier work Beer: the Story of the Pint is also a great and informative read, by the way.  Amber, Gold, & Black has chapters on 15 different styles of beer with long histories of being brewed in Britain.  Bitter, porter, stout, IPA, barley wine-- they're all here.  What's more, Cornell has really done his research, digging back into old newspapers, advertisements, brewery logbooks, etc.  He takes great pleasure in disproving the "received wisdom" about the origins and natures of these beer styles.  Personally, I found the book extremely informative, chock full of tidbits of information that I will be incorporating into the college class I teach each spring, The Art & History of Brewing.  As beer books go, this is definitely an "advanced" tome, one for the beer lover on your list who is already very familiar with beer styles and their history.  Cornell also has an excellent blog, The Zythophile.

While Cornell's work was for advanced students of beer, either of the next two books would make great introductory works for the novice beer lover.  The Beer Trials by Seamus Campbell and Robin Goldstein contains the results of the blind taste testing of 250 different beers by panels of beer drinkers.  This book is the follow up to a previous book that did the same thing for wine.  Beers are scored from 1 to 10, and the tasters made comments on the flavors they perceived.  Tasting the beers blind eliminated any bias the tasters might have had based on the beer's reputation, which may explain why some beers usually considered "world class" only scored in the 6-7 range. The authors refer to this bias in favor of famous brews as "beer goggles".  For the novice drinker, the ratings do a good job of pointing the way toward some interesting beers, while the experienced drinker will want to see how their favorite beers fared.

The final member of the trio is Andy Crouch's Great American Craft Beer: A Guide to the Nation's Finest Beers and Breweries. This book is something like an updated version of some of the books produced by the late, great Michael Jackson, in that it tries to be a fairly comprehensive overview of the American craft beer scene as it presently stands.  The majority of the book (195 of its 319 pages) is devoted to reviewing/describing various American craft beers, dividing them into their respective styles.  The rest of the book covers some general beer history and plenty of good information about serving beer, pairing beer with food, and cooking with beer (including several recipes from respected beer chefs such as Sean Paxton).  One new idea Andy deploys is to try to guide novice beer drinkers by recommending beers based on other flavors that the drinker likes.  For example, an espresso drinker would be pointed toward Speedway Stout from Alesmith Brewing, while for  someone who likes smoked meats, he suggests Smokestack Heritage Porter by East End Brewing.  This is a simple yet useful way to ease a new craft beer drinker into the world of flavorful beer.  Great American Craft Beer would make a fine Xmas gift for the beer drinker on your list, regardless of their level of expertise.

Moving on to the local beer scene, tickets for the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival on Jan 14th & 15th have gone on sale (via Ticketmaster).  This is THE beer event in our state, so if you can possibly make it to Anchorage during those two days, you should plan to attend. You should go to the Connoisseurs'  Session, from 2 to 5 PM on Saturday, Jan 15th.  It costs a little extra, but the Brewers Guild of Alaska gets the extra money. Admittance is limited to 1500 people, rather than the 2500 for the other two sessions. Each of the brewers brings a special beer, that they only offer during this session. Finally, it's during this session which they announce the winners of the barley wine & winter beer competitions. If you're only going to make one session, it's definitely the session to make.

At Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop, they still have some of their award-winning Caribou Kilt Strong Scotch on, as well as their Imperial Spiced Honey Wheat and Holiday Spiced Cream Ale (spiced with ginger, nutmeg, & cinnamon). Also, as a thank you to all their patrons, Kassik's is offering a 10% discount on all their merchandise (hoodies, shirts, hats, glassware, etc), everything except beer and beer containers.  Stop by and do some Christmas shopping.

Over at Kenai River Brewing, they are re-arranging; this is in preparation for beginning to can their Skilak Scottish next month.  New coolers have appeared in their Tasting Room;these will eventually allow patrons to grab six-packs and pigs themselves.  If you come to the meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society there on Wednesday, December 1, at 6:30, you can see for yourself.

At St. Elias Brewing Company, Zach Henry & company will be having another Firkin Friday,  this Friday, December 3.  At 6 pm they will be tapping a cask of their Tin Hat Belgian Brown Ale that has been "dry hopped" with raisins.  The standard Tin Hat is a pretty amazing brew.  Over a year ago, Zach brewed a brown rye ale, fermented it with his typical clean-fermenting American yeast, then put it into whiskey barrels to age for a year.  Recently, he brewed another brown ale, this one with a Belgian yeast, then blended the resulting beer with the aged brown rye ale.  The result is Tin Hat, a wonderfully complex beer.  It pours a dark brown, with a tan head that dissipated fairly rapidly to a nice collar.  The aroma is of caramel, whiskey, and a touch of Belgian yeast phenolic spiciness. On the palate it's a melange of flavors: wood, whiskey, rye spiciness, Belgian yeast peppery/earthy notes, you name it.  Every sip seems to produce a new and interesting flavor profile.  Once again, Zach Henry has flown in the face of conventional beer styles and produced something unique and delicious.

Well, that's about it for this week.  I should have some new and interesting brews to report on next week, as they're waiting patiently in my cooler at home for me to find the time to taste them.  So take care and if you're reading this in Alaska, stay warm (it was -7F at my house when I left for work this morning).

Until Next Time, Cheers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks Revisited

Exactly two years ago (11/24/2008), I wrote a blog entitled "Giving Thanks".  I just went back and took another look at it.  While a little tongue in cheek, like most of my blogs, I actually had some fairly decent things to say.  Amazing, I know, but there it is.  As my dear old dad likes to say: "Even a blind hog manages to root up an acorn now and then".

Anyway, what with me being two years older and all, I thought perhaps I should again give some thought to what I have to be thankful for. 

Of course I'm thankful for the usual stuff:  my health, the health and happiness of my family and friends, having a job in this lousy economy, etc.  But this is a beer blog, so let's see what there is to be thankful for on that front.

I'm thankful for being fortunate enough to be selected as the 2010 Beer Drinker of the Year.  Besides the honor (and the free beer), being the BDOTY has opened many doors for me over the last year and given me the chance to go places and meet people that have greatly broadened my beer horizon.

Speaking of going places and meeting people, I'm very thankful that I got to go to the Great American Beer Festival this year.  Seeing the GABF again after twenty years, and doing it this time around with press credentials and my family, was something very special.

I'm thankful that craft brewing here on the Kenai Peninsula seems to be going from strength to strength.  A new homebrew supply store, The Copper Kettle, is about to open.  Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop is putting the finishing touches on a big expansion.  Kenai River Brewing plans to start canning come the new year.  Business at St. Elias Brewing is booming and Zach Henry keeps putting out amazing new brews, like his new blended brown ale, Tin Hat.

I'm thankful that the statewide craft beer scene keeps getting better and better. Distributors and store owners keep getting us more and more great beers from Outside.  Alaskan breweries keep expanding their distribution. New breweries keep opening, established breweries keep growing and winning awards, and more and more people Outside are realizing just what exceptional brews are made in Alaska.

I'm thankful that the Kenai Brewing & Tasting Society looks like it's going to get off the ground.  Don't forget the next meeting is Wednesday, December 1st, 6:30 pm at Kenai River Brewing Company.

But most of all, I'm thankful for my lovely wife Elaine, especially for her endless patience with me and my foibles.  You are the rock that everything else rests up, sweetheart, and  I love you with all my heart and soul.

Here's hoping each and every one of you has a safe and happy Thanksgiving, and I'll see you next week.

Until Next Time, Cheers.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cold Weather + Good Beers = Happy Holidays!

I love old brewery adds.  While they sometimes seem a little corny, many of them are quite clever and even elegant.  By and large, they don't seem to insult the intelligence of the consumer as much as the vast majority of today's ads do.  Anyway, for whatever reason, I think they're cool.   I'm not sure if this one is a real ad or one that's been altered, but it's still cool 

And who among us could disagree with what it says?

I've heard that last Saturday's beer tasting by Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop at Mykel's in Soldotna was a big success.  Team Kassik's poured 6 different beers, including their 2008 Barleywine to a full house.  In addition to the great beer, attendees got to enjoy great food and awesome music.  In short, a good time was had by all.

In last week's blog I mentioned a couple of events coming up this weekend, The Taste of the Kenai on Friday and the Beer and Wine Tasting Event on Saturday evening in Seward at the Sea Life Center.  Well, now we've got a Sunday event to round out your weekend.  At 6:00 pm on Sunday, November 21st, Fire Tap Alehouse in Anchorage will be hosting another one of their beer dinners,this one featuring beers from  Sleeping Lady, Silver Gulch, and Kassik's.  See my good buddy Jim "Dr. Fermento" Roberts' column in this week's Anchorage Press for the complete menu.  This is the second in their series of dinners; the first one got rave reviews, so if you're going to be in Anchorage on Sunday, this sounds like the place to be.

Speaking of beer events in Anchorage, on Saturday, 4 December at 4 pm, the Spenard Roadhouse will be holding their 12 Beers of Christmas event.  This is a tasting featuring 12 different holiday beers from around the world; looking over the list, it's obvious that this should be a super time.  The cost is $40, with tickets available at the Roadhouse.  I'd strongly recommend taking a cab or having a designated driver, as all of these beers are above standard ABV.

Also in Anchorage, Ken Pajak at Cafe Amsterdam will be hosting his UBER (Ultra Beer Extravaganza Review) Fest on Sunday, 28 November, from 5 to 8 pm.  Ken will be sharing bunch of his vintage collectible beers, along with plenty of great food.  The tentative price is $60 and attendance is limited to 50 folks, so call Cafe A for reservations if you're interested.  Looking a little further ahead, the Glacier Brewhouse will be kicking off this year's edition of their 12 Days of Barleywine Fest on Friday December 10.  Each day they'll be pouring different barleywines, imperial stouts, and other "big" beers, most aged in wood.  If you'll be in Anchorage anytime between December 10 and 21, you should make it a point to stop by.

As for beer reviews, I've got a couple.  I missed out on Firkin Friday at St. Elias Brewing Company, but I did get to stop there early this week to try their new Jabberwocky ESB.  A beautiful amber beer in the glass, with a nice cream head, it had a great hop aroma from Centennial, Simcoe, & Amarillo hops.  It was lovely on the palate too, with plenty of hop bitterness but still a decent balance.  It was such a nice beer that it reminded me of another of Zach Henry's better efforts, Henry's Best Bitter (see my review on 9/14/2009).  When I asked Zach about it, he confirmed that Jabberwocky is indeed a reformulation of that beer.  It weighs in at around 5% ABV but is an excellent session beer.  I'm just sorry I missed it on cask, as I hear it was outstanding.  I also got to sample the Strong Scotch that Zach and I brewed together back on Labor Day.  Currently half of the batch is aging in whiskey barrels, while the other half waits patiently in stainless steel.  Blended back together, they make a very special beer.  It's not quite ready yet, but Zach and I agree it should be ready by Christmas.  Watch this space for word on when it will be released.

After my glowing review of The Three Musketeers' Doppelbock Grande Cuvee Printemps from a couple of weeks ago, Doug Hogue of Kenai River Brewing was generous enough to snag a bottle of their Serie Signature Rauchbier for me up in Anchorage.  I popped the cork on Saturday and shared it with my good friend Curt.  Pouring it out into snifters, the beer was very dark, practically opaque, with a nice tan head.  The aroma was super rich, full of elements of dark fruit, chocolate, coffee, and the slightest hint of smoke.  On the tongue, the beer was a little thin, but the flavors were excellent.  The smoke was restrained, rather than over the top, working with the other flavors rather than pushing them around.  At only 5.9% ABV, it's not too strong to have a good-sized glass of, nor too smokey.  Bottom line:  I liked it a lot, though not quite as much as their doppelbock.

Next, Curt & I decided to try a new limited release from Ommegang, their Cup O' Kyndness Traditional Belgian-style Scotch Ale.  I'm not exactly sure what a Belgian-style Scotch Ale is; Scotch Ales have been popular in Belgium since at least World War I, when so many Scots fought and died on Belgian soil, but most of them have been identical to British Scotch Ales.  Indeed, some of the very best of them, like Gordon's Highland Ale, are brewed in Scotland exclusively for export to Belgium.  Ommengang seem to have decided to use a Belgian yeast, hence the "traditional Belgian-style" part of the name, I guess.  The beer poured a translucent ruby-brown, very pretty in the snifter, with a nice head.  The aroma had some of the spicy, phenolic notes that I always seem to get from a Belgian yeast, plus a slight floral scent from the heather tips that are also added.  I've had heather beers before, and it imparts a subtle note, almost lavender like, which is easy to overpower.  On the palate, the mouthfeel is medium, with the spicy, peppery notes from the yeast, the sweetness of the malt, the floral heather, and a hint of smoke.  The beer has a nice long finish, and at 6.6% ABV it's quite moreish.  As a long-time aficionado of traditional Scotch Ales, I question the decision to use a Belgian yeast, but I guess that's what the brewers wanted.  Another quality brew from Ommengang. FYI, I'm not sure if this beer is available at all locally; I got my bottle via a friend on the East Coast.

Finally, I picked up a bottle of an old friend, Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale.  Headquartered at The Old Brewery at Tadcaster in North Yorkshire since 1758, Samuel Smith's is one of the great traditional breweries left in Britain.  They are famous for still using stone Yorkshire squares - fermenting vessels made of solid slabs of slate - to produce their beers.  This historic process, and the house yeast that has adapted to it, gives their beers a characteristic flavor and aroma, one which I have gotten to know quite well over many years.  When I poured this year's version of Winter Welcome into a glass, my nose was immediately greeted by this characteristic aroma, a malt forward nutty scent.  There's good mouthfeel on the palate, with enough hop bitterness from the traditional Fuggles and Goldings hops to balance the malt, but this is not a hoppy brew.  At 6%, the alcohol is there but hardly overpowering, and this finish is long and rich.  This beer is made to enjoy by the fire on a cold winter's evening, or at a holiday gathering with friends, along with a good cheese and some nice smoked meat.  It's a classic British ale and it's available locally here on the Kenai, so pick up a bottle or six for the holidays and enjoy.

That about wraps things up for this week.  Remember, the next meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society will be on Wednesday, 1 December, at 6:30 pm at the Kenai River Brewing Company in Soldotna.  Stay stay, stay warm, and drink good beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Winter...

Well, the snow took its own sweet time getting here, but when it arrived, it came with a vengeance. With my lovely wife Elaine's help, I put the plow on my truck Sunday morning, which makes it officially winter. Sunday was none too soon, as there was already about six inches of snow on the ground, and we got another four later that day and into Monday. So now we're moving through the obligatory few days of people sliding into ditches and rear-ending each other as Alaskans learn how to drive on snow again.

While the weather is turning colder, the local beer scene is heating up. The first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society last Wednesday was a big success, with about 20 people making it to the event at Kenai River Brewing Company. The weather was pretty poor, so that may have kept some folks away, and several have contacted me to express interest, even though they missed the first meeting. The next meeting will be on Wednesday, 1 December, again at Kenai River Brewing at 6:30 pm. At that meeting we'll be collecting membership forms, dues, and adopting some by-laws and electing officers. If you're interested, please try to attend. If you absolutely can't make it, please let me know and we'll work something out.

Frank and Jason Kassik of Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop were at the meeting and report that the completion of their expansion goes on apace. Their long-awaited Cherry Chocolate Stout is coming along and should be ready to bottle in a few weeks. The next batch of their award-winning Caribou Kilt Strong Scotch Ale should be released just before Thanksgiving, and they will be releasing another batch of their Spiced Cream Ale on 11/20/2010. Finally, this Saturday (November 13th) at 6:30 pm Kassik's will be having a beer tasting at Mykel's in Soldotna. I've written about these tastings before, most recently on 9/28/2009, and they are always a great time. $35 gets you plenty of great tasting food and lots of excellent beer to try alongside it. Call Mykel's at 262-4305 for more information and reservations, as these events have a habit of selling out.

This Friday (12 November) is another Firkin Friday at St. Elias Brewing Company. They just released a new beer, Jaberwocky ESB. Its tag line is "ESB meets IPA", so it's probably got a few hops in it. This Friday at 6 pm they will be tapping a cask of Jaberwocky that's been hopped with Simcoe and Crystal hops, so that should be some pretty good stuff.

Looking a bit further ahead, there's an event scheduled for Friday, November 19th, at the Challenger Center in Kenai. Taste of the Kenai is a fundraiser gala to benefit the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. Food and drink will be provided by restaurants and breweries and wineries "from across the Kenai". I don't have any more specifics than that, though I believe that both Kenai River and St. Elias Brewing will be there. There will also be a silent auction, door prizes, and raffles. The event runs from 6:30 to 10 pm and tickets cost $50 per person. For more information, call 262-5229.

The very next evening, Saturday 20 November, the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance will be holding their annual fundraiser at the Sea-Life Center in Seward from 7-10 pm. I attended last year's event (see my blog of 11/24/2009) and had a fine time, though I won't make the mistake of showing up hungry this year. The food was excellent, but the amount available left a lot to be desired for someone who hadn't eaten supper. There's entertainment and a silent auction as well. All three of out local breweries will be there again this year, along with Moose's Tooth Brewpub, Midnight Sun, Alaskan, & Denali Brewing. It's $35 per person, and should be a great time. Click on the poster at right for more details.

On the new beer front, I've tried a trio of interesting ones.

First, I had a bottle of Great Divide's Old Ruffian Barleywine that I picked up in Anchorage at La Bodega a few weeks ago. I have written about several of Great Divide's fine brews over the last few weeks, since I toured their brewery in Denver. Old Ruffian continues the roll call of excellent beers. It poured the color of very dark honey, with an outstanding cream-colored head and good lacing on the glass. On the nose there were plenty of hops, and a bit of alcohol heat from the 10.2% ABV. On the palate there was ample hop bitterness (90 IBUs), some malt sweetness, then a long, lingering, warming, finish. It reminded me of a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot that has been cellared long enough for the in-your-face hops to mellow a bit and let the malt shine through more. A great take on the American-style barleywine. It's no wonder that this beer has taken three medals at the Great American Beer Festival, including a gold in 2006.

Next, thanks to the generosity of Zach Henry, I got to try a bottle of Bell's Brewery's Hell Hath No Fury Ale. Bell's Brewery is located in Michigan and does not distribute to Alaska, but Zach was kind enough to bring some back from a visit Outside. I had read a great deal about their beers, both on-line and in my beer magazines, so I was anxious to give one of them a try. Looking at the label, I had no idea what style of beer it was, simply that it had 7.5% ABV. It poured dark, with some ruby highlights and a fast-dissipating light tan head. The aroma was of roasted malt, with some sweetness, then a touch of alcohol heat. By this point I was guessing that the beer was a robust porter in style. On the tongue the beer had a medium mouthfeel, plenty of roasted, coffee-like flavors but a good balance from the hops, gradually moving to a long, fairly dry finish. Looking on their website, I see that the beer was initially conceived as a Belgian dubbel, but then morphed into something more like a roasty stout. While they may have used a Belgian yeast, I'll stick by my initial call: it tasted like a pretty good robust porter to me. Looks like Bell's lived up to its hype; I'm eager to try more, if I ever get the chance.

Finally, with all that snow outside, it was time to go viking again, with an Andhrimnir Barleywine from Nogne O Brewery in Norway. Nogne O is one of those new European breweries who are taking their inspiration from the American Craft Brewing scene, producing outstanding and challenging beers. I've had Nogne O beers before, so when I saw this one at La Bodega, I didn't hesitate.

It poured a dark ruby/red-gold into the snifter, with a nice cream-colored head. The aroma had some roasted notes, along with plenty of malt sweetness and a hint of the 10% ABV. Tasting it, the beer presented a decent mouthfeel, with the malt sweetness of an English-style barleywine, but with extra hop bitterness. There weren't enough hops to push it all the way to being an American style barleywine, but there were more than is usual in an English-style. Overall, I thought it seemed very well balanced between the styles. There was some alcohol heat on the finish. Definitely a sipper, like all barleywines, this is another excellent beer from Nogne O.

That's about it for this week. Let's all be careful on those snowy roads and enjoy plenty of good craft beer. Hope to see you at some of the beer events around the Peninsula and at the next KPB&TS meeting on 1 December.

Until Next Time, Cheers.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Yes, We Can

You've probably been wondering what I've been up to, given that there was no blog last week. Or maybe you've just been enjoying the peace and quiet again. If it's the latter, hold on to your hats, 'cause I'm back and I've got some really big news to share. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here we are:

If it's not clear what Doug Hogue, joint owner and head brewer of Kenai River Brewing Company has in his paw, let's go to a close up:

Yes, fellow beer lovers, that is indeed a mock-up of a six-pack of Kenai River's Skilak Scottish Ale. Kenai River Brewing Company is going to can their beer!

This is some very welcome news, as there has always been a great demand for canned craft beers in Alaska. Cans are lighter, unbreakable, and recyclable, all of which make them very popular with Alaskans, given the amount of time we spend hiking, fishing, and engaging in other outdoor activities. From strictly a beer lover's point of view, cans perfectly protect the beer inside from both light and oxygen, which has made them the delivery vehicle of choice for more and more craft breweries.

According to Doug, canning has been in the Kenai River business plan since before they opened. It's just taken them this long to get everything the needed lined up. Doug has told me that they plan to begin canning around the first of the year, with a goal of working their way up to about 500 cases per month by summer. The bottleneck is not the canning system (which can produce about 25 cases an hour), but rather their brewing capacity. To help out, they are also purchasing a new 20 bbl Uni-tank fermenter, which will be dedicated solely to producing Skilak Scottish for canning. Looking further ahead, the plans are to begin canning their Sunken Isle IPA around the June time frame, which will mean bringing in another 20 bbl Uni-tank to support that. Kenai River has ordered 111,000 cans from the Ball Corporation, and here's the actual label design:

If you'd like to see the canning system in action, check out the company's website here. It's a 2-head manual system, which is what Oskar Blues Brewery started out using and is currently being used by the Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver. There's a pretty nice video of the system in action on the website, if you're curious to see it. Six packs will be on-sale at the brewery and in local stores, as well as being distributed by Specialty Imports.

As a final piece of news from the boys at Kenai River, they have added another member to their brewing team. Meet Forky, their new forklift. I not sure whose aching back precipitated this purchase, but given how much more barley is going to have to go in and how much more beer is going to be heading out, I'm sure it's a wise investment.

Speaking of wise investments, I was chatting with Zach Henry at St. Elias Brewing's Oktoberfest party on the 22nd. Actually, I was complaining to him about the fact that my lovely wife and I had to park all the way over at Fred Meyer and hike through the woods because his parking lot was totally full. That's when he told me that they have purchased the house next door, with an eye to expanding their parking. That's welcome news, as anyone whose tried to stop there for a drink on their way home on a Friday can attest!

The Oktoberfest was a great success, with some fine music and the release of two new and excellent brews. First, we had the long anticipated Big Babushka Imperial Stout. Totally opaque, with a nice tan head, this brew gives off delicious aromas of roasted coffee and dark fruit. On the palate there nice mouthfeel, lots of roasted flavors, and a bit of warmth from the 8.9% ABV. Missing is the bitter, astringent bite you can sometimes get from a beer with so much roasted grain in it. Instead, Big Babushka is smooth, with a lovely nice finish that begs you to have another sip. Dangerously drinkable, for such a strong brew, this is another home run from Zach Henry.

The second new release is another example of Zach's well established disdain for the conventions of beer style guidelines. Plowshare Belgian Pale Ale pours a dark amber with a small head. As soon as you nose it, you realize that Zach's been up to some of his tricks, as the beer is loaded with bourbon aroma. Yes, it's a BPA that's been aged in a whiskey barrel . On the tongue the bourbon is very evident, making the beer seem stronger than it's 7.2% ABV. It's a very unusual choice of style to use for this sort of aging, and you really need to like the bourbon aroma/flavor, since those flavors are much more evident than they'd be on something like a Baltic porter or an imperial stout. But if bourbon aging is your bag, Plowshare BPA puts it front and center.

From Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop, I know they have been very happy that we are still snow free so far this year, as it has let them really make progress on their new expansion. Their long awaited Imperial Cherry Chocolate Stout is fermenting, along with the next batch of Caribou Kilt Strong Scotch.

Besides all the big news from our local breweries, I have also gotten to try a few new beers. First out of the box is a beer I picked up at La Bodega in Anchorage from the Microbrasserie Les Trois Mousquetaires in Quebec, which, if I remember my Cajun French, translates as The Three Musketeers Microbrewery. There were two beers on the shelf, both in 750 ml corked bottles, a Doppelbock Grande Curvee Printemps & a Serie Signature Rauchbier. Flipping a mental coin, I decided to go with the doppelbock.

The beer poured a very dark, almost opaque brown, with a nice tan head and decent lacing. The aroma on the beer was truly phenomenal: dark fruit, chocolate, malt, caramel, a melange of super rich flavors that promised a wonderful experience. The taste was more of the same, sweet, malty and rich, though the mouthfeel was slightly thinner than I was hoping for, and the finish is nice with a little warmth from the 9.5% ABV. A really wonderful beer and one of the best non-German doppelbocks I've ever had. Now I'm anxious to try anything else from this brewery.

I also finally opened a bottle of Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary Jack and Ken's Ale, a black barleywine brewed by Ken Grossman of SN and Jack MacAuliffe, the founder of the legendary and long-defunct New Albion Brewery back in the 1970s. It pours absolutely opaque, with a big, long-lasting tan head and great lacing. The aroma starts with roasted malt, then moves round to dark fruit, then a touch of alcohol, then resiny/earthy hops. The mouthfeel is good, with relatively light carbonation. There's more dark fruit, more roasted, coffee flavors, good hoppiness (but not overwhelming), finishing warm and slow from the 10.2% ABV. Another masterpiece from Sierra Nevada, this is a beer to cellar away and then share with friends on a special occasion.

As I mentioned in a blog a few months ago, there's now a growler bar in the Brown Jug store on Old Seward just north of Tudor Road in Anchorage. On my last visit to the big town, I made it a point to stop by, get a fill-up and have my lovely wife snap some photos. Here's a look at it:If you're in Anchorage and need a growler filled, it's a pretty convenient location. As you can see, they have twelve beers on taps at once.

So what did I get a growler of? Midnight Sun's Obliteration VII, latest in this series of over-the-top hopped beers. The previous six entries in the series have all been some rendition of an IPA, but this time around we're talking an American imperial stout. This is another massive beer from the folks at MS: 8.5% ABV, 100 IBUs from additions of Warrior, Magnum, & Nugget hops, plus a whole lot of roasted malt backbone to hang it all on. As with all the previous examples, hops are what this beer is all about, but making the base style an imperial stout rather than an IPA seems to actually work better; it provides more balance (if balance is actually something you can do with 100 IBUs). While it's certainly no session beer, I thought VII to be much more drinkable than some of the previous ones. In fact, I really liked it

If Obliteration VII sounds like something you'd like to try, I'll be sharing my growler of it at the first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society, at 6:30 pm, Wednesday, November 3, at the Kenai River Brewing Company. Come and try it, along with some of my homebrew. Find more info about the KPB&TS on Facebook or at

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Good Brew News Just Keeps On Coming

When I made the announcement last week about the formation of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society (KPB&TS), I had no idea how much interest it would spark. Based on the calls and emails I've gotten, there are quite a few folks in the local area who think it's high time we had a club like this. If you're one of them, remember, the first meeting will be at 6:30 pm, Wednesday, 3 November, at the Kenai River Brewing Company. Bring a beer to share and I'll see you there.

Given the serendipitous way this whole thing has gone, I shouldn't be surprised that I just learned today that a brand-new homebrew store will be opening up here in Soldotna, just off K-Beach Road. The Copper Kettle Brewing Supply Company will be located behind Save-U-More and is owned by Shane & Melanie Noblin. They are still finishing up some construction and getting their stock in, but they hope to be open on Monday, 1 November! Based on their Facebook page, they're going to have lots of great stuff, which will mean I will no longer have to plan my brewing around trips to Arctic Brewing Supply in Anchorage. They will be at the KPB&TS meeting on November 3rd, so that will be a great chance to meet them.

Out at Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop, the expansion continues. Here's the latest update from them: "The gable end butting up to the existing building is finally enclosed, now to paper and ice shield the roof until the roofers get here. Tyvek and flashing on the outside this week. Roll up door should be here end of next week. Hopefully we can start standing walls on our new tasting room end of the week." Let's all cross our fingers that the weather continues to cooperate and they can get all the exterior work done before the snow flies.

Kenai River Brewing will be releasing the next beer in their series of Single Hop IPAs this Friday, October 22nd. This one is hopped with UK Northdowns, another hop that I am totally unfamiliar with. After doing a little research, I've learned that it's similar to the Northern Brewer variety (which I am familiar with) but with better flavor and aroma than that classic bittering hop. Fullers uses Northdown hops in their classic ESB, so that suggest they should make a pretty fine beer. I'm looking forward to picking up a liter and better educating my palate on this variety. I've said this before, but once again I want to compliment Doug, Joe, & Wendell on their willingness to experiment with this series. At least for a beer geek like me, having the opportunity to experience the impact of the different hop varieties in isolation is incredibly cool.

I've heard that the Mighty Matanuska Brewfest last weekend was a great success, with Denali Brewing Company being chosen to brew the official beer for next year's Alaska State Fair. Congratulations to you guys and when are we going to see some of your beers down here on the Peninsula? The beer tasting dinner on Sunday at the Fire Tap Alehouse in Anchorage also got rave reviews from its attendees. Sounds like that would also be an idea worth transplanting down here.

Speaking of beers on the Peninsula, I found some of Bridgeport's Czar Hop (reviewed last week) for sale at the Grog Shop in Homer. Haven't seem it anywhere else down here yet, but I'm keeping an eye out. I did see new a Bridgeport beer at Fred Meyer in Soldotna: Hop Harvest Imperial IPA. This is part of their Big Beers Series, first brewed in 2008. It's a fresh hop ale, meaning it's brewed with fresh or "green" hops, rather than the standard dried hops. Drying, besides stabilizing the hop cones so that they can be stored, also greatly reduces their weight, as most of the water is removed. That mean that when hops are used fresh, a great deal more by weight must be used to achieve the same level of hoppiness in the final product. In the case of Hop Harvest, Bridgeport states that they use over 750 lbs of hops per batch. That's a lot of hops, especially when you consider that the hops have to make it from the field to the brewery in the matter of a few hours, or they will spoil.

So what's the beer like after they take all this trouble to make it? It poured a deep golden color (rather than the copper that's more typical of IPAs) with a very nice white head. The aroma was full of nice, clean floral hops, just as you'd expect from a fresh hop ale. On the palate, the hop bitterness was restrained, with emphasis instead on the flavor and aroma of the hops. This isn't as "big" a beer as, say, Hop Czar. It's only 6.5% ABV and it's malt flavors are much lighter. The finish is clean, dry, and fairly long, with hop flavor (rather than bitterness) coming to the fore. Tasting Hop Czar side by side with Hop Harvest was very interesting, as it illustrated perfectly how two Imperial IPAs from the very same brewery can go in very different directions.

This is the season for fresh hop ales to be released (since they have to be brewed during the hop harvest), so let's check out another one. Deschutes Brewing Company's Hop Trip Fresh Hop Pale Ale is also available in the Soldotna Fred Meyer. Here again, the emphasis is on hop flavor and aroma, not hop bitterness. At only 38 IBUs and 5.5% ABV, this beer fits well into the pale ale style (rather than the Imperial IPA category of the Bridgeport brews). It pours a lovely copper color, with a rich, thick cream-colored head. Once again, the aroma is loaded with the scent of fresh, floral hops, though with a slight citrus tang from the 5.7 pounds of fresh Crystal hops used per barrel. On the tongue it's very clean, with a great balance between the malt & hop flavors, and a nice, dry finish. As a pale ale, this beer scores higher on the "drinkability" scale than the Imperial IPAs do. You could drink several of these beers in succession without burning out your palate. If you want to savor the flavor of hops without having to wrestle with too much alcohol or bitterness, Hop Trip is a great choice.

I had another interesting beer that I picked up at La Bodega in Anchorage: Odin's Tipple Dark Norse Ale, from HaandBryggeriet Brewery in Norway. I wasn't sure what a "Dark Norse Ale" was, but as soon as I poured it and gave it a sniff, I realized that around here, a beer like this is called a Russian Imperial Stout. And what a stout! At 11% ABV, it poured black as midnight with a thick, dark brown head. The aroma was amazing, with huge dark chocolate, roasted coffee, dark fruit, and even tobacco elements fighting it out like warriors from Valhalla. On the tongue it was thick, viscous with chocolate and roasted coffee still in the foreground. No hops to speak of, and a long, warm finish with a fair bit of heat from the alcohol. This is a real sipping beer, something to enjoy by the fire on a long winter's evening, or perhaps with a rich chocolate dessert. Very, very nice. I see why Odin drinks it.

Speaking of winter beers, a couple of seasonals have been released again from our Alaskan breweries. Midnight Sun has released their CoHoHo Imperial IPA again, and I'm very happy as this is one of my favorite brews. Check out my review from 10/20/2008. Alaskan Brewing has released their Winter Ale, which is an English-style Old Ale brewed with spruce tips. I'll be reviewing it soon.

Finally, don't forget that St. Elias Brewing Company will be celebrating Oktoberfest this Friday, from 7 to 10 PM, with live music and some new beer releases, both on cask and on draft. One of these will be a brand-new Imperial Stout. I've tasted it and this isn't one you want to miss; it's excellent. Not sure what will be on cask, but I'm sure it will be great as well. My lovely wife Elaine and I plan to be there, so come by and say hello.

Remember, 11/3/2010, 6:30 at Kenai River Brewing for the very first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society.

Until Next Time, Cheers!