Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cask Ale Comes to the Kenai

Friday, June 18th, will be a banner day in the story of good beer on the Kenai Peninsula. For the first time, at least as far as I know, ale will be served from the cask. Back on 2/8/2010, I waxed rhapsodic about how much I enjoyed good cask ale when I was living in Britain. I mentioned that it was available, at least occasionally, in Anchorage. Well, now folks in the central Kenai will get a chance to try it also.

When I stopped by St. Elias Brewing Company last Friday, Zach Henry called me back into the brewery to show me his latest acquisitions: three firkins, tw0 made of stainless and one of wood. Firkin is derived from the dutch word for a "fourth", as it holds a quarter of a standard barrel, or about 72 pints. Here's a picture:

You can clearly see the bung hole in the side, by which the firkin is filled and vented, while the tap hole on the end is located on the bottom on the cask end, rather than in the center, as on a keg. This is because a cask is set on its side to be tapped, with gravity causing the beer to flow out, rather than being forced out by carbon dioxide as in a conventional keg.

Cask ale is a much more perishable commodity than keg ale, since drawing off ale allows air to enter the cask, which eventually produces oxidized "stale" beer. So no cask can remain on service beyond a few days. However, a fresh cask ale is an absolutely wonderful experience.

According to Zach, he will be tapping the casks during their 2nd Annual Summer Solstice Festival this weekend. He plans to tap a cask of his Williwaw IPA each evening at about 7 PM. I'm not sure what his plan is for the wooden firkin of Farmer's Friend Ale.

Besides oohing and ahing over Zach's new firkins, I also tasted his latest release, Island Girl Ale. This is a "no doubter" raspberry ale, and is a pretty shade of pink, or maybe rose, in color. Coming in at 5.5% ABV, the raspberry flavor is very much in the forefront, with a nice clean finish and not much bitterness. I'm not a great fan of fruit beers myself, but I'm sure that Island Girl will be a very popular summer choice, especially with the ladies.

Zach also told me that as soon as the Brass Monkey ESB is finished, it will be replaced by his new saison, which he's very happy with. Can't wait to try it!

I also stopped in at Kenai River Brewing Company on Friday to sample their Russian River Razz, another take on a raspberry ale.
This is a much more subtle take on a fruit beer. In the glass it's light gold in color, rather than pink. Tasting it, I had to hunt for the raspberries; they are there, but you do have to look for them. In fact, I seemed to perceive them best as part of the finish. At 5% ABV and 20 IBUs, it's a nice summer beer, very drinkable and thirst-quenching.

I also had some more of their latest Single Hop IPA, hopped with Saphir hops, which I reviewed this back on 5/11/2010. If you've never had the chance to taste this hop variety before, I'd suggest you swing by Kenai River and give it a try.

Finally, a couple of international beer stories caught my eye. First, a fellow blogger named Steve Williams, AKA The Beer Justice, was selected as the official London Ale Taster, which sounds pretty similar to being chosen Beerdrinker of the Year, except he gets even more money to spend on beer (1000 British pounds, to be exact). You can read the full story here. Congratulations, Steve, and welcome to the club.

Second, it seems that A-B Inbev can now have you arrested for wearing the color orange, at least in South Africa. If you had any doubt that that company has gotten way too big for its britches and needs to be broken apart, this story should remove all doubt. Remind me never to visit South Africa, either!

Well, that should about wrap things up for this week. Be sure to check out one or both of the cask tappings at St. Elias. I'll be making a quick trip to Anchorage over the weekend, so hopefully I'll be bring back some more interesting beers to review.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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