Sunday, March 21, 2010

Seeking Sasquatch (and other good beers)

Once upon a time (the early 90s), when I was living in the beer wasteland which Hawaii once was, March was one of the best times of the year. Why? Because that's when Sierra Nevada Brewing Company released their Bigfoot Barleywine-style Ale each year.

In our current state of craft beer grace, it's easy to forget what a big deal having an American-style barleywine on the shelves was then. Today, finding a barleywine on the shelf, or even on tap at a local brewpub, isn't very tough. But 15 to 20 years ago, Bigfoot was often the only one available. So when it hit the shelves, word would spread around and all the serious beer geeks would load up. We all bought at least a case, often two or three, which would then have to last us through the entire year. Plus we always tried to cellar a bottle or two for a couple of years, just to see how it would change.

Fast forward to today. While Bigfoot might no longer be the only game in town, it's still an absolute classic American barleywine. The 2010 batch (or Expedition, as it's called) has been released and has made it to Alaska. In fact, it has made it all the way to Kenai, with six-packs available at Country Liquors. It may also be available at other stores, but I saw it there last week for sure.

As for what Bigfoot is like, I reviewed the 2009 Expedition back on 3/16/2009. The 2010 Expedition is also excellent. If you're a fan of big, hoppy American barleywines, you've got to pick up a six-pack or two.

While I was at Country Liquors, I also picked up a bottle of Kulmbacher's Eisbock to try. Eisbock is a style of beer rarely produced in the US, due to our arcane liquor laws. It's beer which has been partially frozen and then had the ice removed. Since water freezes before alcohol, this is in effect a form of freeze distillation. Under US law, any form of distillation falls under a different tax/licensing regime, so most US breweries don't attempt this. Fortunately there's no problem with importing such beers from Europe, so we can still experience the style, even if we can't easily make it ourselves.

Eisbocks are strong, malty beers, similar to doppelbocks, but with an even more pronounced alcohol presence. Kulmbacker's Eisbock is very true to the style, weighing in at 9.2% ABV. It is deep ruby in color, and pours with a small but nice-looking head. The aroma is of sweet malt, rich & dark. On the palate it has medium body, with some alcohol warmth and a long, slow, smooth, slightly sweet finish. Wonderfully clean, this would be an excellent beer as a nightcap after a good meal.

I also snagged a bottle of Deschutes Brewery's Hop Henge Experimental IPA, part of their Bond Street Series. This beer has been a seasonal since 2006 and for a hophead like myself, it is an unadulterated pleasure. We're talking pounds and pounds of Cascades & Centennial hops, 8.75% ABV and 95 IBUs, which puts us deep into Double or Imperial IPA territory. Still, for all the hop bitterness, this beer is better balanced than many I've had with 20 or 30 less IBUs claimed on the label. They've used enough, crystal, pale and carastan malt to give the beer sufficient backbone not to collapse under the weight of that massive hop bitterness. If you've had this beer in the past, you should try it again, as the recipe has been tweaked slightly. If you've never had it, but you like hops, you should definitely pick up a bottle.

Over a month ago, I mentioned that I had picked up a bottle of Big Sky Brewing's Buckin' Monk Tripel at La Bodega in Anchorage.. This is a limited edition beer (I got bottle #2292 of 3000), finished in a nice 750 ml corked bottle. I had been itching to try it, but wanted to wait until I had a friend or two around to share it with. Finally, last weekend my friends Curt and Dave dropped by to help me with a couple of home repair projects. Once we were finished, I popped the cork and poured us each a glass. It poured a little hazy, but looked nice in the glass. Aroma was of sweet fruit, with some alcohol (10% ABV). Great mouthfeel, very heavy on the tongue, with the characteristic earthy, spicy notes from the Belgian yeast. Finish could be a little drier, but it's not bad. Very drinkable for such a strong beer, and about the best thing I've had from Big Sky. If you can score one of the other 2999 bottles of this out there and you like tripels, it's worth giving a try.

More good news for barleywines from Alaska: the results from the 2010 Hard Liver Barleywine Fest held at Brouwer's Cafe in Seattle, WA. First place went to Glacier Brewhouse's Old Woody '09 Barleywine. This brew also took first at the Great Alaska Beer & Barleywine Festival back in January. Once again, it's obvious that Alaskan brewers continue to "punch above their weight" in the arena of making good beers, especially barleywines.

Here on the Peninsula, Kassik's Kenai Brewstop released another batch of their excellent Double Wood Imperial IPA on Saturday, 3/20. Check out my review from 12/2/2009. This is a seriously amped up version of their Morning Wood, so if you like monster IPAs, be sure to grab some before it's gone.

St. Elias Brewing Company had quite the shindig last Wednesday for St. Patrick's Day. I slipped in about 4:30 to beat the crowds, but by the time I left at 7:30, the place was packed. I had a great pizza, drank about 3 pints of their Mother's Milk Irish Stout, and won a t-shirt in the trivia contest. I passed on the green-dyed beer, though. Zach should be putting the next batch of his Vanilla Porter on this week. He has tweaked the recipe slightly and gave me a preview sample, which I thought was even better than his last batch. St. Elias is turning into THE place to hang out in Soldotna; the only downside is that it's getting so that I have to leave work early to get a parking spot.

Wait a minute. "Have to leave work early?" That's no downside!

One final thing before I sign off. The Brewers Association has issued a Nationwide Support Your Local Brewery Action Alert regarding H.R. 4278, a bill in House of Representatives which would reduce the federal excise tax on small breweries (those producing less than 6 million barrels a year). Personally, I think this would be an excellent way to stimulate job growth, not to mention encouraging the production of good craft beer. If you would like to learn more, there is a resource page here. I have already contacted my Congressman, Don Young, and urged him to become a co-sponsor of the bill. If you care about craft beer in America, I suggest you contact your representative and make your opinion known.

Well, that's it for this week. Enjoy some good beer to celebrate the fact that spring is just around the corner.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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