Monday, September 27, 2010

Beer Reviews & Beer News

OK, so maybe I have shorted you folks a bit on beer reviews lately. Guess I've been having so much fun drinking new beers that I haven't had much time to write about them. So this week I'll try to make up for that. Let's review some brews.

Last time out I reviewed one of Midnight Sun's Pop Ten Series, The New Black. This week I tried another in that series, Head Banger, which they are calling a Belgian Malt Liquor, which is a new style for me, I must admit. Poured in the glass, the beer is a light amber or a dark gold, depending on how the light catches it. It had very little in the way of a head, and what there was dissipated quite quickly. There was not much aroma, just light notes of malt/sugar sweetness, with no hops. On the palate the body was fairly light, with some spicy/herbal notes and no detectable hop bitterness. The finish had some alcohol warmth in it from the 8.8% ABV. Obviously quite a bit of sugar was used to get a beer this strong yet so light on the palate. With only 10 IBUs, the hop usage was pretty minimal, so what you get is a strong, fairly sweet beer that's light on the palate. In summary, it's a technically interesting beer, but not one that particularly suits my tastes. Still, it's a lot more more drinkable than Colt 45.

Now let's talk about some beers I got to try down in Denver. I stopped by Great Divide Brewing to take a tour and sampled a couple of brews in the Tasting Room at the brewery. First, I tried their Smoked Baltic Porter. Seeing as we in Alaska have easy access to just about the best smoked porter in the world (Alaskan Brewing won another gold medal in the Smoked Beer category at the GABF this year), I've got a pretty high standard when it comes to smoked beer. The beer poured opaque with a nice tan head that dissipated to a collar fairly quickly. The aroma was of smoke, roast coffee, and a little residual sweetness. On the palate there was good mouthfeel, a nice amount of smoke, and more roasted, coffee flavors. As a Baltic porter, this beer is a lager, brewed with smoked German malts and hop, so in some ways it was very similar to a rauchbier, as it also had the good, clean taste associated with that family of brews. Coming in at 6.2%, this was a very nice beer. I still prefer Alaskan Smoked Porter, but I certainly wouldn't refuse one of these.

Next at Great Divide I had a Rumble Oak-Aged IPA. I knew this beer was going to be something special when it was served to me in a glass containing a whole hop cone as a garnish! In the glass the beer was a lovely golden amber with a nice white head that dissipated to a good collar and left excellent lacing on the glass. The aroma was chock full of hops (helped along by the whole cone, no doubt), as was the first sip. As I worked my way into the beer, the wood notes became more evident, with flavors of vanilla & oak mingling with the strong piney hop flavors. Given the large number of different things going on in this beer, the brewer has done an exceptional job of keeping all the flavors balance. At 7.1%, it's a bit strong to be a session beer, but when you're in the mood for a very classy IPA, Rumble would be an excellent choice.

Both these Great Divide beers are available up in Anchorage at La Bodega, and possibly at some of the other beer stores as well.

On of my favorite places to hang in Denver is the Falling Rock Tap House, which many folks consider to be the best beer bar in America. On this most recent trip, I visited it several times and got to try some amazing brews, almost none of which are available here in Alaska. Here are a couple of the absolute best.

Russian River Brewing Company's Publication. We don't get any of this amazing brewery's beers up in Alaska, so I never pass up a chance to try them, especially one I haven't had before. A farmhouse/saison style, this beer was a cloudy gold in the glass, with a great white head that left plenty of lace. The nose let me know immediately that this was one of Vinnie's sour specials, with maybe a hint of green apple. On the tongue it was astonishingly sour, but clean and refreshing, and with a long dry finish. There is plenty of funk from brettanomyces as well. As much as I enjoyed this beer, between the 8% ABV and the shattering sourness, one is about all I can manage in a sitting.

Feeling the need for a change of pace, next I ordered a Moylan's Barrel-Aged Ryan Sullivan's Imperial Stout from 2008. Moylan's is another California brewery whose product don't make it up here to Alaska. This stout comes in at 65 IBUs and 10% ABV, so it's nothing to sneeze at. Its aroma promised great things, with elements of dark fruit, dark chocolate, and bit of alcohol. On the palate, it was thick and chewy, with tremendous mouthfeel. The dark chocolate was still there, mixing it up with flavors from the wood-aging, moving to a finish that was laced with some heat from all that alcohol. It's an outstanding imperial stout, made to order as an accompaniment for an after dinner cigar or a rich chocolate dessert.

For my last review, I want to talk about Tank #7 Farmhouse Ale, from Boulevard Brewing's Smokestack Series. I didn't drink this beer in Denver, but I bought a bottle of it down there and brought it back to Alaska with me. I had it last weekend, after a hard day cutting and splitting firewood. I'd had a another beer in this series, The Sixth Glass, during my July trip back East, and thought it exceptional, so I was primed for a good beer experience. Tank # 7 did not disappoint.

It poured lovely dark gold, with a thick white head that slowly collapsed to a collar and left excellent lacing on the glass as I worked my way through this beer. The nose was fairly clean, but with some hop aromas and a touch of Belgian yeast earthy, spiciness. Tasting the beer, the spicy yeast flavors were more in evidence, with plenty of nice hop bitterness up front, easing into a long dry finish. As saisons go, I thought this beer was comparable to Saison Dupont, which is pretty high praise, as I consider that to be the benchmark for this style. I only wish I lived in an region where I could obtain this beer consistently; if I did, I have two or three bottles available in my cellar at all times.

the local beer news front, there's been lots of good things happening at our local breweries. Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop has been doing some serious expansion this week, as in pouring the slab for their new Tasting Room, which will not only give folks a nicer place to sample their brews, but also free up space needed for a bigger cooler and eventually a bottling line. Over at St. Elias Brewing, Zach Henry has a line on another conical fermenter and another serving tank. The serving tank will allow him to consistently have 9 beers on tap, while the extra fermenter will give him more room to experiment with beers requiring longer times to finish. Over at Kenai River Brewing, they were putting up some nice new signs, which should make the place that much easier to find. This should come in handy since they are releasing this year's Winter Warlock Old Ale this Friday, 1 October. Do not miss this beer! If you're wondering why, see my review from September 8, 2008.

That's about it for this week. If all of the above wasn't enough of my guff for you, you can hear me pontificate some more right here. I'm the devilishly handsome fellow on the left end of the couch.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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