Monday, August 9, 2010

Beers From the Big City

Pretty much full on beer reviews this week.

Saturday marked another successful run to Anchorage and back. We made the round trip in under twelve hours, which is pretty good, considering it's 150 miles each way with about a dozen different stops to make in town.

From a beer perspective, the good news is that three of those stops where pretty brew-centric. First, we rolled into Midnight Sun for a quick pit stop. Besides picking up a growler of their Gold Digger Double American Pilsner (see my review on 5/3/2010), I had a glass of their Tree Hugger Organic Spruce Tip Stout from this year's Pop Ten Series, and bought a bottle of Because, a double dubel and the final beer in 2009's Crew Brew Series.

The Tree Hugger looked like the typical stout in the glass, opaque with a nice tan head. It's aroma was also fairly typical, with plenty of roasted notes, but there was also an interesting element of sweetness. This was replicated on the palate, with a nice blend of the roasted flavors and a sweetness from the tips and residual sugars, along with excellent mouthfeel. Overall, I found the spruce tips worked much better than I'd expected; in the past, I'd only tasted them in paler brews, like Alaskan's Winter Ale. I think they complimented the roasted flavors of the stout exceedingly well.

Later, I tried the bottle of Because, a "double dubel", AKA a quadruple. At 13.2% ABV and 45 IBUs, this is one hefty brew. It poured dark brown and opaque into a snifter, with a small head that dissipated quickly, as you'd expect for such a strong beer. The nose spoke very strongly of the cabernet sauvignon that occupied the barrels before this beer was aged in them. On the palate it presented a real parade of flavors, starting with the malt and dark fruit, then a vinousness from the wood & wine, then finishing with heat, either from the alcohol, the ancho chiles, or both. This is definitely no session beer; it's complex and challenging, something to savor in small glasses at the end of a meal, maybe while smoking a cigar or sitting by the fire. I've always been wary of beers with chilies added, but Because really pulls it off. I've got to lay in a couple more bottles; this beer should get even more interesting as it ages.

The next stop after Midnight Sun was Arctic Brewing Supply; I loaded up on ingredients for my next homebrew. I'm going to try making a sweet or milk stout, a style I've never brewed before.

Then is was on to La Bodega and serious beer shopping. I picked about several treasures, which I will review in the coming weeks, as I work my way through them. For now, let's start with Oskar Blues' Gubna Imperial IPA. It poured from the can with a nice red-gold color and a white head, dense with pinpoint carbonation. The aroma screamed Summit hops; I'd recognize their floral, grassy smell anywhere. They are used with abandon to produce 100 IBUs of bitterness, then the beer is dry-hopped with them for even more hop flavor and aroma. On the palate there was enough malt backbone to hold up under this massive hop onslaught, with some interesting spicy notes from the use of some rye malt in the grain bill. The beer finished with a long and tremendously dry bitterness. The 10% ABV is very well concealed, and the beer has much more drinkability than its bare stats might suggest. If you really love the punch of hops, hops, and more hops, Gubna delivers.

Plus, it's in a can. You gotta love good craft beer in cans...

Last week, before the weekend Anchorage run, I tried a couple of other interesting brews. On one of the rare evenings where it wasn't actually raining, Elaine and I sat on our porch, trying to take advantage of the (intermittent) sunshine, while I enjoyed a Lord Chesterfield Ale from Yuengling. In case you don't know, Yuengling is the oldest American brewery still in existence, founded in 1829 and still in the same family. Headquartered in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, their beers are distributed up and down the East Coast, but not here in Alaska. This bottle was a gift from Doug Hogue at Kenai River Brewing, a little souvenir from his recent trip back east.

It poured a nice golden color, perhaps a few shades darker than your typical American lager. The white head dissipated fairly quickly. The aroma was clean, crisp, and with some light hops. I believe the beer is dry-hopped, which I'm sure does contribute to the hop aroma. On the palate there is a fair amount of hop bitterness, leading to a nice balance with the malt and good thirst quenching properties. While it's no where near as interesting as a good craft pale ale or IPA, Chesterfield Ale is still a well-made brew and several cuts above the typical light lager that makes up 90% of the beer consumed in this country. I might not go out of my way to buy it, but it was certainly good enough that I wouldn't turn my nose up at it. I think it might be especially nice on a really warm day, if we ever get one of those again here in Alaska. Thanks, Doug!

While Yuengling brews have to be hand-imported from back east, I picked up a bottle of Ninkasi Brewing's Total Domination IPA at the Fred Meyer in Soldotna. This brewery is located in Eugene, Oregon and has earned an excellent reputation in craft beer circles, and I think it's great that we're starting to see their beers more widely distributed here in Alaska.

Total Domination poured an orange-gold color, with a very dense white head. The aroma spoke of lots of Pacific Northwest hops, including Summits again, unless my olfactory sensors were overloaded. On the palate, the 65 IBUs of bitterness were well-balanced by the combination of the malt and the excellent carbonation. A nice dry finish rounded out the package. At 6.7% ABV, this is not a beer you'll be drinking in large quantities, but it's a great example of a well-made, "totally dominant" IPA. Very nice.

Turning from reviews to news, I have it on good authority that our local breweries (Kassik's, Kenai River, St. Elias, and possibly Homer Brewing Company) are working on something special for Local Beer Week (20 to 29 August). As soon as they get all the details worked out, I'll be making a "Breaking News" blog post to get the word out.

Also, on a personal note, my press credentials to the Great American Beer Festival have been approved, so I will be attending that event next month in Denver as an official member of the Fourth Estate. My plan (besides having a wonderful time!) is to focus on the experience that brewers from Alaska at the GABF. I haven't been to the festival since 1990, so hopefully I will come back with some great stories to share with you all. If any of you will be there, please look me up and we'll share a beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

No comments: