Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yardwork + Teamwork = Good Times

Happy American Craft Beer Week! I'm celebrating by drinking good beer all week; what are you doing?

Summer comes on apace here in the Great Land. Seems everyone is busy cleaning up from winter and getting things fired up for summer. Elaine and I spent the weekend working around our yard, buying new plants then potting and planting them. If all goes well, that hard work should translate into plenty of potatoes, onions, carrots, strawberries, not to mention flowers and kitchen herbs, between now and when the snow flies again.

Yard work can really bring on a thirst, which gave me a good excuse to try three new beers, two of which represent collaborations between multiple brewers/breweries. But before I opened either of them, I opened a bottle Schlafly Oak-Aged Barlywine (2007 Vintage), produced by the St. Louis Brewery. I'd never had a Schlafly beer before and they don't distribute to Alaska. I only had this one because I'd traded some Midnight Sun brews to another beer lover in Rhode Island, and this was one of the beers he'd sent me in return.

I poured the beer out into a large 20 oz snifter; it's color was a very dark amber with a fair off-white head, which dissipated relatively quickly. The aroma was of vanilla, oak, caramel, perhaps a little chocolate. On the palate the wood became even more evident, even dominate. Finish was long and dry. The label listed the beer's stats at 10% ABV and 75 IBUs. Without the extensive wood-aging, I think this would be a fairly run-of-the-mill barleywine; the tremendous amount of wood-derived flavor components make it something else entirely. Sitting next to a roaring fire pit on my patio, looking out over the fruits of my yard work on a cool May evening, this woody brew was excellent. It's too bad I loathe cigars...

My next beer was one I've been anticipating for several months: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company's 30th Anniversary Fritz & Ken's Ale. This beer was released back in mid-March, as the first in a series of four beers being brewed in collaboration between Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman and other pioneers of the craft brewing movement to celebrate SN's 30 years in business.

This particular beer was a collaboration between Ken and Fritz Maytag, the man behind Anchor Brewing in San Francisco and the godfather of American craft brewing (see my blog on is on 4/26/2010 for more on Fritz). Style-wise, it's an Imperial Stout, corked and caged into a 750ml bottle with a magnificent label.

Pouring this beer (again into a 20 oz snifter), I'm greeted with an absolutely opaque liquid, with a luscious-looking tan head. The aroma is superb, chock full of roasted coffee and dark chocolate, very inviting. The beer is just as good on the palate, rich and full bodied, with roasted malt/coffee and smooth chocolate flavors fighting it out for supremacy. The finish is quite dry, long-lasting and moreish. Hard to believe this beer is 9.2% ABV, it is so phenomenally drinkable. My only regret is that I didn't get my hands on a couple more to cellar for a few months to a few years; I suspect this beer would aged wonderfully. You probably won't be able to get your hands on any of this beer, but if you do, grab it! I know I'll be waiting for the next three beers in the series with great anticipation.

The final beer in this trio is Juxtaposition Black Pilsner, a collaboration brew between Stone Brewing Company of San Diego, CA, Cambridge Brewing Company of Cambridge, MA, and BrewDog Brewery of Fraserburgh, Scotland. Stone is justly famous for it's flagship brew, Arrogant Bastard Ale, while BrewDog is one of the new crop of European breweries inspired by the example of American craft brewers. They are earned themselves quite a bit of press notice on account of their extreme strength beers and their take-no-prisoners ad campaigns. Here's an example:

Cambridge is somewhat less well known, but during the two years I spent living outside Boston and attending MIT, they were one of my favorite haunts, with outstanding beer and food. (I especially remember how good their paella was). So when these three got together, they were bound to produce something unusual.

Juxtaposition claims to be a Black Pilsner, which is another name for schwarzbiers, a regional specialty of northern Franconia in Germany. I poured my 12 oz. bottle into another 20 oz snifter; the large, tan head produced mostly filled the glass. The aroma was an equal fight between coffee, licorice, honey, and cocoa, with some hints of alcohol (10% ABV). When I tasted it, the flavor profile was not at all like the schwarzbiers I've had in the past; it was much closer to a stout that to the black lagers I'd tasted. Roasted flavors predominated, with some hop bitterness and alcohol heat. The finish was good, with lots of lingering notes. All-in-all, it was a very unique brew, from three pretty unique breweries. There was a tremendous amount going on, and I'm still trying to decide if it was a symphony or a shambles. Guess I'll need to drink a few more to make up my mind...

In other news, the 18th Annual Great Alaska Craft and Home Brew Festival in Haines, AK will be happening on Memorial Day Weekend. I have yet to be able to make it there, but I hear it's a great time, so be there if you can. Maybe next year...

Well, that's the beer news from the Last Frontier. I hope you all enjoy American Craft Beer Week and drink lots of good craft beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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