Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Where in the World is Bill Howell?

So there hasn't been a blog posted for three weeks and you're probably wondering what the heck happened to me. Or maybe you've been enjoying the silence...

If it's the former, the picture at the right should give you a bit of a clue. Of course that just begs the next question: What the heck is Bill doing at the USNA in Annapolis, Maryland? I'm not a Boat School grad, after all. In fact, as I never tire of reminding my old ring-knocker friends, I went to college (Tulane University) not the "trade school". Oh, and the drinking age in Louisiana then was 18, so I'm pretty sure I had a lot more fun than the "inmates" at Canoe U did from '80 to '84...

But if I wasn't back at the Academy for old time's sake (actually, this was my first visit ever), what was I doing there?

Well, I could say that I had been called there by my old friend, Captain Bob Clark, 84th Commandant of Midshipmen, to put together a formal beer appreciation program for the Brigade of Midshipmen, in recognition of the inherent futility of trying to separate college students, even if they are midshipmen, from beer.

I could say that, but it would be a complete and utter fabrication, not to mention it could potentially get the 'Dant into deep do-do...

So let's just stick with the prosaic truth: I was at the Academy to get some training as a Blue & Gold Officer, a kind of auxiliary recruiter for the USNA. As part of the same trip, Elaine and I got to visit our old stomping ground in Cool Springs, south of Nashville, TN. Then we spent a couple of days with my Dad in the beer wasteland known as Corinth, Mississippi. We finished up in Atlanta, where I attended a conference on Enrollment Management for my day job. Along the way I did my best to try whatever local brews came to hand. Looking at my notebook, I had at least 17 new beers, and I will spread my reviews of the best of them over the next several blogs. Here's one to start with: Geary's Wee Heavy Scottish Ale from D. L. Geary's Brewing Company in Portland, Maine.

Geary's and I are old friends. When we lived outside of Boston from 1994 to 1996, my wife, our daughter and I used to drive to Maine regularly to visit my in-laws. Part of the ritual was always to stop somewhere in Portland to pick up a six-pack of Geary's Pale Ale for me to drink during the visit, as my father-in-law was a dedicated Bud drinker. Even then, Geary's was almost a decade old, as they had been brewing craft beers since 1986. Unfortunately, their beers aren't distributed in Alaska, and I hadn't had one in years, until this trip.

This Wee Heavy poured absolutely opaque, with a nice tan head that dissipated fairly quickly, leaving good lacing on the glass. The aroma is of malt, laced with some roasted notes and even hints of dark fruit; very inviting. Tasting it, the malt is in the forefront, with just enough hop bitterness for balance. I did not pick up any smoke, though this is optional for the style. The 8% ABV is well-hidden, making this Scotch Ale much more drinkable than some of the hotter versions out there. Good carbonation and a nice finish. I'm a sucker for Scotch Ales, but this was truly a fine one. It's a shame we can't get it (or anything else from Geary's) here in Alaska.

Speaking of Alaska, let's put out some news about what's been going on while I've been away.

Midnight Sun Brewing Company
has a new brew out: Hop Dog, a Double Wheat IPA, the latest in their run of Double IPA seasonals. At 8% ABV and 100 IBUs, this beer packs quite a punch, both in terms of alcohol and hoppiness.It pours a nice amber-gold, with a nice white head. The aroma is full of citrus notes, either from the hops, the wheat, or both. On the palate there is a bit of tartness from the wheat, along with a ton of bitterness from the massive amount of hops used. It finishes nice and dry, very refreshing. This is a nice summer quencher for folks who are crazy about hops.

Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop's Cream Ale has been chosen as the very first Official Beer of the Alaska State Fair. Looks like it will be called Cream of the Coop, and you can go here to vote on the label design.This is a great honor and a real tribute to the great things that the Kassiks have been doing up in Nikiski. Can't wait until they start bottling!

At Kenai River Brewing in Soldotna, their runaway hit Breakfast Beer (an oatmeal & milk stout; see my review on 12/2/2009) is finally going to get a label design of its own. Amy Hogue asked me to spread the word about their call for artwork, so here's their official announcement:

Call for artwork - Kenai River Brewing Company is holding an artwork design contest for our Breakfast Beer. The winning design will receive $200, be credited for the design, which may be reproduced on T-shirts, hats, bottle labels, pins, coasters and/or posters. The winning entrant will work with Kenai River Brewing Company to develop a finished design, which will be professionally printed for our Breakfast Beer line. The winning design will be seen on promotional items around the world.

The design should fit on an 8-by-11 sheet of paper, designs may be full-color, but should be easily modifiable to work in situations with limited color options, design and text requirements: Breakfast Beer.

The deadline is September 15, 20010. Drop designs off at Kenai River Brewing Company, 241 N. Aspen Drive. Submissions become property of Kenai River Brewing Company, with credit given to the artist. For more information, call Amy at 398-4744 or e-mail amy@kenairiverbrewing.com

So if you're aspiring artist, here's a great chance to make some money and get your work very widely distributed.

Finally, I hear that St. Elias Brewing Company has two new brews on tap: Nimbus Tripel, a Belgian tripel brewed using Belgian candi sugar and malts, coming in at a head-knocking 10.75 ABV, and Pandora's Passion, a blackberry kolsch. I haven't had a chance to stop by since my trip, but it's definitely on my to-do list!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Independence Day

Well, here we are, fast coming up on the 4th of July. Independence Day has always been one of my favorite holidays, even as a kid. Sure you don't get presents like Christmas, but the weather's nicer (and my birthday's July 2, so I'm covered on the presents anyway). No turkey, like Thanksgiving, but I like burgers off the grill better anyway. No costumes like Halloween, but there's fireworks, which are way more dangerous (and therefore much cooler).

Most of all, Independence Day is a quintessentially American holiday. The other holidays celebrate things that people all over the world also celebrate, even if they do it on a different day. But only American celebrate the 4th of July (unless you count those snarky Brits who observe it as "British Thanksgiving Day").

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Even today, these words are revolutionary. Our country was born in a revolt against the way things were, by men who dreamed of the way they could be, rebels with a cause, willing to pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to it and to each other. As with many holidays, I think too often we are having so much fun with the celebration that we forget just what it is that we are supposed to be celebrating.

Lest we forget, we are celebrating that fact that our forefathers, traitors to the Crown all, had the balls to declare that whenever any form of government became destructive and hostile to the rights of its citizens, those citizens had the right to alter or abolish it, by any means necessary. Then they proceeded to act on what they had declared. They risked it all, and many of them paid the ultimate price. One of my own ancestors, Captain Benjamin Merrill, was hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor by the royal governor of North Carolina, William Tryon. The freedoms we celebrate were bought and paid for in blood.

If we asked for a show of hands today, how many Americans would concur in this bedrock principle of our nation?

Far too few, I'm afraid...

Speaking of destructive and hostile governments, I have written in the past about HR 4278, a bill in Congress which would cut the excise duties in half for first 60,000 barrels of beer brewed annually by small ( less than 6 million barrells brewed annually) breweries. 83 members of the House have signed on as co-sponsors, but Alaska's lone Representative, Don Young, is not one of them. I've written to Congressman Young about this in the past and gotten the usual form letter responses. If you live in Alaska and would like to contact him regarding this bill, you can email him here. If you're not from Alaska, look here to see if your congresscritter has already signed on to support this worthy bill.

There is now a Senate version as well, S.3339, so feel free to bug your senators about that one as well.

Enough politics, let's talk about beer. Since my last blog, I had the next in Sierra Nevada Brewing Company's 30th Anniversary Collaborative beers. This one is an Imperial Helles Bock, brewed by Charlie Papazian (the founder of the American Homebrewers Association), Fred Eckhart (long-time beer writer), and Ken Grossman (Founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing). The beer poured a beautiful dark gold with a very nice white head. The aroma was of toasty malt with some floral hops as well. Tasting it, there is a nice balance of both malt and hops, with some nice hop bitterness up front, giving way to malty sweetness. It's crisp and light on the palate, with a nice lingering finish. Hard to believe this beer is 8.3% ABV, it is so drinkable. Once again, getting a group of beer pioneers together produces a fantastic beer. The next one is due out in July, and I can hardly wait...

I tried another unusual brew, Birrificio Montegioco 's Demon Hunter, a strong dark ale from Italy. Its paper-wrapped bottle caught my eye at La Bodega in Anchorage and I decided to pick one up, despite knowing absolutely nothing about the brewery. I have read that Italy is one of the fastest growing craft beer countries in Europe, so I was interested in trying a beer from an Italian craft brewery.

When I pried off the cap, I was rewarded with a loud "pop", much like I'd expect from a caged & corked bottle. Examining the cap, I noted it had some sort of a plastic insert that went down into the bottle neck, rather than just a simple, flat crown cap seal. At this point I had to turn my attention back to the bottle, since the beer was about to foam out on to the counter! I quickly began a gentle pour into a large snifter. The beer was a very dark amber, with a truly massive, off-white head. The aroma was primarily of dark fruit and malty sweetness. Style-wise, I'd assuming their target was a Belgian dubbel, but perhaps not. On the palate, it begins with some sweetness, but does not continue into the flavors you'd expect from a dubbel, i.e dark fruit and unfermented sugars. Rather there is a strong hop bitterness, which lingers right through the finish, along with some heat from the 8.5% ABV.

All-in-all, an interesting beer, though not one I'm likely to buy again, given what it cost (around $15 for the bottle, if I recall correctly). I'm not sure exactly what sort of a beer they were aiming for, and I'm not sure how much the beer was impacted by the long, hard road it had to travel from Italy to Anchorage, Alaska. If I ever find myself back in Italy and saw it for sale there, I'd definitely give it another try.

Finally, word on the beer street is that the Discovery Channel is making a new series all about beer called BREWED, starring Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Pat McGovern from the University of Pennsylvania. I've met Sam a couple of times and read some of Pat McGovern's books can think of no one better suited to doing a show like this (excepting yours truly, of course). Here's some stuff from the press release:

Beer is the drink of the masses. If you look into a glass of beer you can see the past, present and future of mankind. Cicero lauded it, Genghis Khan fought for it and now Discovery Channel celebrates it with a world premiere series, BREWED, exploring the culture, history and variety of beer.

Meet Sam Calagione: maverick entrepreneur, family man and owner of Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. As an ambassador to the world of craft beer, Sam travels the world to experience what every culture brings to its own special brew.

In BREWED, Sam shows viewers the other side of the bottle, sharing the stories of beer sub-cultures as well as exploring life inside The Dogfish Head Brewery. BREWED goes behind the scenes at Dogfish Head as Sam’s merry band of creative brewmasters concoct new taste varieties.

“BREWED taps more than just kegs and barrels, it unlocks a fascinating history of beer making, showcasing the ingenuity and passion behind our love affair with those alluring suds and how it played a role in building civilizations,” said Clark Bunting, President and General Manager of Discovery Channel.

Running a successful business also requires inspiration, so BREWED hits the road for the ultimate beer tasting road trip. Along with archaeologist and beer expert Pat McGovern, Sam sets out to recreate “ancient ales” that have been discovered at sites around the world from Egypt to Peru. He travels to Rome to research old world Italian beers as inspiration for a new site in New York with Mario Batali. A visit to New Zealand introduces the idea of making the “first tomato based beer.” And back home, Sam is tasked to come up with a commemorative beer called “Bitches Brew” to celebrate the 40th anniversary release of Miles Davis’ famous recording.

“Beer has always been my passion. It is so much more than what you see in the glass. I’m excited to share the diligence, daring and creativity that we pour into our work,” said Calagione.

The show is being produced by Zero Point Zero Production, the same folks who make Anthony Bourdain No Reservations. Their involvement, along with Sam'sand Pat's, argues for a real quality effort, which is very exciting. It's been over two decades since Michael Jackson's landmark The Beer Hunter series, so it's time we had something new.

Well, that about it for this week, folks. Drink plenty of good craft beer and enjoy your Independence Day celebrations over the long weekend; I know I plan to.

Until Next Time, Cheers.