Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The old saying is "Two steps forward, one step back." For the last few months, the progress of craft beer on the Peninsula has felt more like "All Ahead Flank!" (That's submarine speak for "Go Real Fast!"). Still, nothing is ever completely smooth sailing.
Personally, I've been busy trying to get ready for my trip to Denver next week for the finals of Wynkoop Brewing Company's Beerdrinker of the Year. I want to thank those of you who have sent me emails in support and especially the local breweries who have been generous enough to donate some swag for the "Bribe the Judges" portion of the contest. Growing up in Louisiana, I picked up a bit of wisdom at an early age: "Why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge?" Seriously, I'm going to do my best to win and bring the trophy to Alaska.
Because of final prep for my trip and whatnot, there likely will be no blog next week. If there is, it'll be a short one.
So let's dive right in to this week's news.
First, I found out the hard way last week that the Bear's Den Restaurant in Soldotna no longer has Kenai River Brewing Company's beers on draft. In fact, they have no beers on draft; only Alaskan Brewing Company's beers in bottles. Now I've got nothing against Alaskan; if you've been reading these blogs you know I love their beers. But I hate to see a local establishment stop pouring a local beer, one that's brewed about a mile from their doorstep. Short of going to the brewery, you aren't going to find beer much fresher, and fresh beer is better beer. As a final indignity, the Alaskan Pale Ale I ended up ordering was served with a frosted mason jar to drink it out of. Ugh! If I'd ordered wine, I don't think it would have been served to me in a mason jar! While OK for tea or soda, beer (just like wine), deserves something a little classier than that. Once again, we see that some establishments just can't grasp the concept of treating beer with respect. Oh well...
Later in the week, I got some more bad news: BJ's Bar in Soldotna is going out of business permanently; they've sold their liquor license to Don Jose's Mexican Restaurant, so whatever takes their place, it won't be a bar. This is a real piece of history going away; Soldotna was founded in 1947 (the last town in the US to be founded as the result of homesteading, by the way) and for many of the early years it was just a post office, a gas station, and BJ's. For many years it's been where Hobo Jim, the official state balladeer of Alaska, performed on Friday and Saturday nights during the summer and occasionally during the winter. While it was never going to be Cafe Amsterdam or Humpy's Alaskan Alehouse, BJ's had some real character and was a good local bar. It will be missed.
Let's talk about happier things. Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop has released their Penny's Maple Porter. A portion of the proceeds from this brew goes to support the Rogues Gallery Kennel, a Kasilof dog-mushing kennel that specializes in taking-in dogs that other kennels have no use for. Penny is the lead dog of their team, so you can see why this beer bears her name. There will be a Meet & Greet event at the brewery on Sunday, February 28th, from 2-5 PM, with sled rides, poster signings, photo ops, and a silent auction. The Kennel will be entering this year's Iditarod, so if you're free on Sunday the 28th, drop by and meet a real, live Iditarod musher.
Whenever you stop by, be sure to try some of the porter. At 8.0% ABV, it's a pretty formidable brew, nearly opaque with a lovely tan head. The use of the maple syrup is nice and subtle, just an underlying hint of sweetness that balances well with the beer's roasted flavors. Very drinkable, it would be a good pairing with a nice roast, or even a leg of lamb. Kassik's next batch of their award-winning Caribou Kilt Strong Scotch Ale will go on sale this Saturday (2/20), and they just finished brewing up another batch of their outstanding Double Wood DIPA, so look for that fairly soon.
Also on Saturday, check out the Second Annual "Are You Smarter Than Our Kids" fundraiser for the Soldotna Boys & Girls Club at 6 PM at the Soldotna Sports Center. Several local leaders have signed up to be intellectually humiliated by some of our smart local youth. There will be appetizers from local restaurants and beer from local breweries for the audience, and it's all for a good cause.
In other local news, Kenai River Brewing Company's Breakfast Beer continues to sell at a rapid pace. As you can see from the photo at right, they were desperate enough to bring in some unskilled labor last Friday to help out with the brewing. The fact that all our local breweries are so busy trying to keep up with demand (and get a little ahead for the crazy days of the summer tourist season) is a very good sign.
St Elias Brewing Company will be having live music at their Third Thirsty Thursday this week. Stop by from 7 to 9 PM to hear 150 Grit.
My wife Elaine and I made one of our up-and-back-in-a-day Anchorage trips on Saturday. Nothing like thirteen hours riding in the car or shopping to really wring you out. However, I did get to stop into La Bodega for a few minutes and grab some interesting brews, like a Rogue XS Imperial Porter, a Buckin' Monk Tripel from Big Sky Brewing, and a Gouden Carolus Classic from Brouwerij Het Anker in Belgium. Haven't opened them yet, but when I do I'll let you know how they are.
On the way out of Anchorage we stopped by Arctic Brewing Supplies for some ingredients for my next homebrew (an American IPA for those of you keeping score at home), then dropped in at Midnight Sun's Loft Bar. It had been a while since my last visit and there were several new brews on that I wanted to try.
I wasn't in the mood to do a real formal tasting, but I did try three beers and here are my quick and dirty impressions. First, I had a sample of both their Second Chance Porter, an American porter with lots of roasty notes and good hoppiness; very well made with excellent drinkability. Then I tasted the Big Fish Porter, a commercial-sized version of the robust porter that won the Best of Show in the Great Northern Brewers' Homebrew Competition back in December. Also good, though I think I preferred the Second Chance.
After those two samples, I bought a glass of what I'd really come for, Midnight Sun's new Mayhem, a Belgian-style Double IPA. I gather that this will be a new year-round beer, available both on draft (currently) and in bottles (as soon as the Feds approve the label). In the glass the beer was lovely; where most of Midnight Sun's previous IPAs (Sockeye Red, CoHoHo, Gluttony) have been deep copper or darker in color, Mayhem is a beautiful deep gold. It had a nice white head, and a great hop aroma. Tasting it, you are immediately smacked by the 100 IBUs of bitterness from loads of American hops. Once your palate gets over the shock, the peppery, spicy elements from the Belgian yeast start to make themselves felt. At 8.2% ABV this beer is much too strong to be a session beer, not to mention there no way your palate could survive a sustained assault from all those IBUs. But if you're a hop head like me, you will absolutely love this beer. I can't wait for it to appear in bottles down here on the Peninsula.
Looking ahead for Midnight Sun, they will be re-releasing Brewtality, their Espresso Black Bier this Friday, 2/19. On the next First Firkin Friday, 3/5, they will be tapping a firkin of Mayhem, and the next Good Mojo Day will be 3/21. And the new food at their Loft Bar looks absolutely fabulous.
Well, that's about it for this time around. Look for a short blog next week, if there's one at all, and wish me luck in Denver. I'll try to get the word of the results out ASAP, though if I somehow manage to win, you'll probably be able to hear me yell all the way from Denver.
Until Next Time, Cheers!