Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to a Beer...

OK, so I'm in Los Anchorage yesterday to attend some meetings at UAA Goose Lake Campus (aka "The Mothership"). I'm on my lunch hour, heading south to dine at Fire Tap Alehouse, when I decide to make a quick stop at The Brown Jug between 36th & Tudor to pick up a bottle of Midnight Sun's T.R.E.A.T. to send to a friend in Rhode Island. He loves the stuff and is waiting impatiently for this year's release, so when I mentioned that I had seen some of last year's on offer, he begged me to snag him a bottle.

As I'm picking a bottle off the display, I hear some one behind me say something like "Yeah, buy that beer!" I turn around and there is the man of the hours, Gabe Fletcher, the man behind the latest beer venture in town, the Anchorage Brewing Company. After shaking his hand and congratulating him, I immediately began pumping him for information. I didn't get much that hasn't already reported, but I did learn that Gabe "hopes" to have his first beer ready in time for the 2011 Great Alaska Beer & Barleywine Festival next January. So if anyone needed another reason to put that fest on your calendar, here it is.

The reason Gabe happened to be at The Brown Jug on Wednesday was to install a growler bar. As soon as it's finished, you'll be able to get growlers filled there. According to Gabe, the plan is to have beers on tap that are not usually available on draft in Alaska, along with craft brews from around the state. Sounds like a great idea to me, and I'll be eager to check it out next time in in town. Thanks, Gabe!

As I said above, I was on my way to lunch at Fire Tap. I hate to admit it, but this is the first time I've been able to make it back there since my initial visit last September. Back then I gave them a bit of a hard time, as I felt they were not putting sufficient emphasis on the beers. I'm happy to say that those issues no longer exist; I thought the place was spot-on this time around. They offered 35 beers on tap, 28 of which were craft beers by breweries in Alaska. Of the 19 imports offered, 15 were ones I would consider craft brews. Only in the domestic bottle arena did the BudMillerCoors macro brews predominate, and even then just barely, as 10 of the 22 offerings were craft brews. Both inside and out, it's a great-looking place.

I couldn't really indulge, given that I had to go back to work, but I did have a half-pint of Sleeping Lady Imperial Dark Saison, which I chose because it was a beer I hadn't tried yet. The beer was a dark honey color, a reddish-brown, with a nice head that left good lacing on the glass. The aroma had some sweetness and plenty of interesting spicy notes. On the palate, first there is sweet malt, then the spiciness from the yeast, then finally some woody, almost vinous notes. The carbonation is good, and it finishes a little dry. Very nice and a good accompaniment for food.

Speaking of food, that was excellent as well. My wife had a nice pasta dish, while I had a pulled-pork sandwich, but the best of all was the appetizer we split, a delicious freshly-baked pretzel. Slathered with melted cheese or stone-ground mustard, it was simply amazing. All-in-all, Fire Tap has become a truly fine place to eat and enjoy good beer. My wife and I agreed that we have to make sure to go back much more often.

Speaking of good beers, I got to try the Alaskan Double Black IPA that I wrote about last week (thanks, Ashley!). It poured a completely opaque black, with a nice tan head. To all appearances, it looks just like a porter. But the aroma tells you that you're dealing with an IPA, as it is chock full of citrus from the Centennial and Cascade hops, alongside the nice roasted notes. On the palate, there's good carbonation, lots of roasted malt/coffee flavors, all wrapped up in 70 IBUs of hop bitterness. The finish is nice and dry, ending with just a touch of heat from the 8.5% ABV. All this equals one outstanding beer. You can argue about exactly what it should be called, but you can't quibble about how excellent it is. I predict this will another winner for the folks at Alaskan.

Plus, the label design is way cool...

Continuing to speak of good beers, last Friday at 6 PM they tapped another pin of cask-conditioned Williwaw IPA at St. Elias. This one had been dry-hopped with Simcoes and was just bursting with citrus-flavored hoppy goodness. Zach Henry's cellarmanship has also been improving with practice; this beer was much clearer then his first effort, indicating that the finings he's using are doing the trick. It was an excellent pint, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Also on tap was Calypso Irish Red Ale, the latest in the series of fruit beers designed by Zach's sister, Jessie. The beer was a translucent ruby red in the glass, with a nice head that produced good lacing. True to the style, this is a malt-forward beer, with an aroma of sweet malt plus a bit of cherry. The cherry is more evident on the palate, bringing some needed tartness to balance the sweetness of the malt. Not my personal cup of tea, but as an introductory beer or for someone who loves fruit beers, Calypso would be an excellent choice.

I also got a taste of Zach's new Black Hole Cascadian Dark Ale, i.e. another black IPA, which is to be released today. It tasted great, and I'm looking forward to having a pint of it to review in depth.

Finally, some beer news from around the Peninsula. I hear that there are a few bottles of this year's version of Sam Smith's Stingo Yorkshire Ale available at Save-U-Mor in Soldotna and Country Liquors in Kenai. This is a very famous beer, produced in limited quantities and released each year on 1 August. Last year was the first time we in Alaska were lucky enough to get any, and we don't get much,so you might want to pick it up and give it a try. I'll be reviewing it soon.

I've also heard that Three Beers in Kenai has just put in a new cooler and greatly increased their beer selection. I plan to check that out tomorrow, so I'll make a full report next week.

That's about it for this week. More beer news next week, and check of my monthly column in The Redoubt Reporter.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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