Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Good Brew News Just Keeps On Coming

When I made the announcement last week about the formation of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society (KPB&TS), I had no idea how much interest it would spark. Based on the calls and emails I've gotten, there are quite a few folks in the local area who think it's high time we had a club like this. If you're one of them, remember, the first meeting will be at 6:30 pm, Wednesday, 3 November, at the Kenai River Brewing Company. Bring a beer to share and I'll see you there.

Given the serendipitous way this whole thing has gone, I shouldn't be surprised that I just learned today that a brand-new homebrew store will be opening up here in Soldotna, just off K-Beach Road. The Copper Kettle Brewing Supply Company will be located behind Save-U-More and is owned by Shane & Melanie Noblin. They are still finishing up some construction and getting their stock in, but they hope to be open on Monday, 1 November! Based on their Facebook page, they're going to have lots of great stuff, which will mean I will no longer have to plan my brewing around trips to Arctic Brewing Supply in Anchorage. They will be at the KPB&TS meeting on November 3rd, so that will be a great chance to meet them.

Out at Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop, the expansion continues. Here's the latest update from them: "The gable end butting up to the existing building is finally enclosed, now to paper and ice shield the roof until the roofers get here. Tyvek and flashing on the outside this week. Roll up door should be here end of next week. Hopefully we can start standing walls on our new tasting room end of the week." Let's all cross our fingers that the weather continues to cooperate and they can get all the exterior work done before the snow flies.

Kenai River Brewing will be releasing the next beer in their series of Single Hop IPAs this Friday, October 22nd. This one is hopped with UK Northdowns, another hop that I am totally unfamiliar with. After doing a little research, I've learned that it's similar to the Northern Brewer variety (which I am familiar with) but with better flavor and aroma than that classic bittering hop. Fullers uses Northdown hops in their classic ESB, so that suggest they should make a pretty fine beer. I'm looking forward to picking up a liter and better educating my palate on this variety. I've said this before, but once again I want to compliment Doug, Joe, & Wendell on their willingness to experiment with this series. At least for a beer geek like me, having the opportunity to experience the impact of the different hop varieties in isolation is incredibly cool.

I've heard that the Mighty Matanuska Brewfest last weekend was a great success, with Denali Brewing Company being chosen to brew the official beer for next year's Alaska State Fair. Congratulations to you guys and when are we going to see some of your beers down here on the Peninsula? The beer tasting dinner on Sunday at the Fire Tap Alehouse in Anchorage also got rave reviews from its attendees. Sounds like that would also be an idea worth transplanting down here.

Speaking of beers on the Peninsula, I found some of Bridgeport's Czar Hop (reviewed last week) for sale at the Grog Shop in Homer. Haven't seem it anywhere else down here yet, but I'm keeping an eye out. I did see new a Bridgeport beer at Fred Meyer in Soldotna: Hop Harvest Imperial IPA. This is part of their Big Beers Series, first brewed in 2008. It's a fresh hop ale, meaning it's brewed with fresh or "green" hops, rather than the standard dried hops. Drying, besides stabilizing the hop cones so that they can be stored, also greatly reduces their weight, as most of the water is removed. That mean that when hops are used fresh, a great deal more by weight must be used to achieve the same level of hoppiness in the final product. In the case of Hop Harvest, Bridgeport states that they use over 750 lbs of hops per batch. That's a lot of hops, especially when you consider that the hops have to make it from the field to the brewery in the matter of a few hours, or they will spoil.

So what's the beer like after they take all this trouble to make it? It poured a deep golden color (rather than the copper that's more typical of IPAs) with a very nice white head. The aroma was full of nice, clean floral hops, just as you'd expect from a fresh hop ale. On the palate, the hop bitterness was restrained, with emphasis instead on the flavor and aroma of the hops. This isn't as "big" a beer as, say, Hop Czar. It's only 6.5% ABV and it's malt flavors are much lighter. The finish is clean, dry, and fairly long, with hop flavor (rather than bitterness) coming to the fore. Tasting Hop Czar side by side with Hop Harvest was very interesting, as it illustrated perfectly how two Imperial IPAs from the very same brewery can go in very different directions.

This is the season for fresh hop ales to be released (since they have to be brewed during the hop harvest), so let's check out another one. Deschutes Brewing Company's Hop Trip Fresh Hop Pale Ale is also available in the Soldotna Fred Meyer. Here again, the emphasis is on hop flavor and aroma, not hop bitterness. At only 38 IBUs and 5.5% ABV, this beer fits well into the pale ale style (rather than the Imperial IPA category of the Bridgeport brews). It pours a lovely copper color, with a rich, thick cream-colored head. Once again, the aroma is loaded with the scent of fresh, floral hops, though with a slight citrus tang from the 5.7 pounds of fresh Crystal hops used per barrel. On the tongue it's very clean, with a great balance between the malt & hop flavors, and a nice, dry finish. As a pale ale, this beer scores higher on the "drinkability" scale than the Imperial IPAs do. You could drink several of these beers in succession without burning out your palate. If you want to savor the flavor of hops without having to wrestle with too much alcohol or bitterness, Hop Trip is a great choice.

I had another interesting beer that I picked up at La Bodega in Anchorage: Odin's Tipple Dark Norse Ale, from HaandBryggeriet Brewery in Norway. I wasn't sure what a "Dark Norse Ale" was, but as soon as I poured it and gave it a sniff, I realized that around here, a beer like this is called a Russian Imperial Stout. And what a stout! At 11% ABV, it poured black as midnight with a thick, dark brown head. The aroma was amazing, with huge dark chocolate, roasted coffee, dark fruit, and even tobacco elements fighting it out like warriors from Valhalla. On the tongue it was thick, viscous with chocolate and roasted coffee still in the foreground. No hops to speak of, and a long, warm finish with a fair bit of heat from the alcohol. This is a real sipping beer, something to enjoy by the fire on a long winter's evening, or perhaps with a rich chocolate dessert. Very, very nice. I see why Odin drinks it.

Speaking of winter beers, a couple of seasonals have been released again from our Alaskan breweries. Midnight Sun has released their CoHoHo Imperial IPA again, and I'm very happy as this is one of my favorite brews. Check out my review from 10/20/2008. Alaskan Brewing has released their Winter Ale, which is an English-style Old Ale brewed with spruce tips. I'll be reviewing it soon.

Finally, don't forget that St. Elias Brewing Company will be celebrating Oktoberfest this Friday, from 7 to 10 PM, with live music and some new beer releases, both on cask and on draft. One of these will be a brand-new Imperial Stout. I've tasted it and this isn't one you want to miss; it's excellent. Not sure what will be on cask, but I'm sure it will be great as well. My lovely wife Elaine and I plan to be there, so come by and say hello.

Remember, 11/3/2010, 6:30 at Kenai River Brewing for the very first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

OK, Peninsula Homebrewers, It's Time to Get Organized

One of the things that I've never been able to figure out is why we don't have a homebrew club here in the central Kenai Peninsula. There's one in Seward (the Malt Marathon Brewers Association) one in Homer (the Q and Q Brewers Guild), and of course the Great Northern Brewers in Anchorage, but there's nothing in the Kenai-Soldotna area. We've got two breweries & a brewpub, but no homebrew club? That doesn't make sense.

In my experience, homebrew clubs are very important to the development of the appreciation and demand for craft beer in an area. They are one of the best ways to recruit and educate folks who have just discovered craft beer. When I first got serious about beer, way back in 1989, it was the guys I met in the Hampton Roads Brewing & Tasting Society who taught me most about what made craft beer special and how to brew it. I haven't lived in that area since 1991, but I still carry the lessons I learned from those fellows around with me today.

So why don't we have a club like that around here? Beats me, but I'm tired of waiting for someone else to start one, so I hereby announce the formation of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society! (If you don't like the name, show up at the first meeting and suggest a better one). The location of the first meeting will be the Kenai River Brewing Company in Soldotna, and the date and time will be the first Wednesday of next month, November 3rd, at 6:30pm. If you are at all interested in craft beer, please show up at this first meeting. Also, spread the word about this meeting to anyone you know who might be interested.Please note, this will not be just a club for homebrewers! Even if you don't brew, but just appreciate good beer (or cider or mead), you are welcome. Bring some homebrew to share if you've got some or just come and drink mine.

I've never organized anything like this before, so I'm sure it will be somewhat chaotic, but the end goal is to have a lively organization that meets once a month to allow people to share their experiences, good and bad, with craft beers and homebrew in a friendly social environment. Everything else is open for negotiation.

Thanks to Doug, Wendell, Joe and the rest of the gang at Kenai River for being willing to let us use their space for this meeting.

Speaking of Kenai River, they will be part of an upcoming beer dinner at Firetap Alehouse in Anchorage, along with Denali and Midnight Sun Brewing Companies on Sunday, October 17, 2010 at 6:00 pm along with a 5 course gourmet dinner. If you're interested, call 561-2337 for reservations. Seating is limited to 50 people and the cost is $50 per person

Judging by their Facebook posts and pictures, the folks at Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop have been making good progress with the better weather. Here's another photo that I lifted which gives you a pretty good view of the sheer scale of their expansion. Trying to run the brewery and coordinate all this work must be like trying to run down the road and put your shoes on at the same time. The good news is that they seem to be managing pretty well. Looking forward to seeing the finished product, guys!

I made it to the Firkin Friday last week at St. Elias Brewing Company, where they tapped a cask of Black Hole CDA that had been dry-hopped with Citra hops. Why I was waiting for the tapping at 6, I had a pint of their regular Black Hole (strictly for purposes of comparison, you understand). The major difference I noted between them, other than the creamier carbonation characteristic of any cask-conditioned as opposed to force-carbonated beer, was in the aroma and the finish. It both places I picked up the citrus/grapefruit notes that this variety of hop is well-known for. However, I though the impact of the dry-hopping was less-pronounced than when I had cask versions of their Williwaw IPA. Perhaps this is because of the roasted flavors in the CDA or perhaps it's a function of the Citra hops. Either way, it still made for a very good pint of cask ale.

Speaking of of IPAs, when I was in Anchorage over the weekend, I stopped by La Bodega to see what was new. Among the beers I grabbed was a bottle of Hop Czar Imperial IPA, from Bridgeport Brewing Company in Portland, Oregon. This is a serious IPA, with 85 IBUs of bitterness from additions of 4 different hop varieties (Nugget, Chinook, Cascade, & Centennial) and 7.5% ABV. It poured a beautiful dark copper, with a decent head that dissipated fairly rapidly to a collar in my snifter. The aroma was very clean, almost nothing but floral hops. On the palate the mouthfeel was good, with a ton of hop bitterness up front. There is a malt backbone underneath all those hops, but it is buried pretty deep. The finish is long and lingering, quite dry. This beer is definitely not for the faint of heart; you really have to love PNW hops, but if you do, you'll love Hop Czar.

Also just in at La Bodega is Rumble Oak-Aged IPA from Great Divide. See my review back on 9/27/2010 from my tasting this beer at the brewery in Denver. Anytime you're in Anchorage, La Bodega is always worth a stop.

Well, that's about it for now. Don't forget the Mighty Matanuska Brewfest happening in Palmer this weekend and Oktoberfest at St. Elias next Friday, October 22nd. And mark your calenders for the first meeting of the KPB&TS on November 3rd at 6:30.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Short Blog But a Merry One

I'm running a bit behind this week, so I don't have time for a full-length blog, but I have a few things that I really need to mention, so here goes.

First, there will be a Beer Tasting on Thursday evening at the Seward Alehouse, at 215 4th Ave, starting at 7 PM. Midnight Sun & Specialty Imports will be offering up some of their special brews for only $25. I've been to some of their tastings in the past at Mykel's in Soldotna and they were great. If you're going to be in Seward tomorrow night, I wouldn't miss this. Call 224-BEER (2337) for more information. Thanks to Paul Tougas of the Malt Marathon Brewers Association for the head's up.

Second, St. Elias Brewing Company will be having another Firkin Friday this week, on October 8th. At 6 PM they will be tapping a cask of their Black Hole Cascadian Dark Ale, which was dry hopped with Citra hops. Citra is a new moderately-high acid (10-12%) US hop variety, first released in 2008. Citra is a cross between several hop varieties including Hallertau Mittelfreuh, U.s. Tettnanger, E.K. Goldings, and other unknown varieties. The aroma is very fruity, citrus fruits especially, hence the name.

They also have another new brew on tap, their imaginatively named Autumn Ale, a Scottish-style, which I had last Friday. In the glass its was a pretty reddish-brown, with a cream-colored head. The aroma was of malt & caramel, with perhaps the slightest hint of smoke. Since I know Zach did not use any smoked malt in the grain bill, I'd attribute that to a little bit of phenol from the strain of yeast he used, White Labs 028, Edinburgh Scottish Ale yeast. On the palate it was nice and smooth, malt forward in keeping with the style, not excessively heavy, with just enough hop bitterness for balance. Very drinkable, and an interesting counter-point to Kenai River's flagship Skilak Scottish Ale.

Speaking of Kenai River Brewing Company, they now have their Winter Warlock Old Ale on tap. Tasting this year's version, I found it to be a little drier than last year's, which I think makes it even better. If you haven't gone by and picked up a liter or growler of this brew, you are seriously missing out. This beer is always very popular, so don't count on it being around for very long. Get over and get it now.

The recent spate of rain and wind storms have not been very kind to the the folks at Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop, with power outages impacting their brewing schedule and the rain delaying the pouring of the slab for their new tasting room. However, judging by this picture I lifted off their Facebook page, they got the slab poured on Monday. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing the finished product. Kassik's beers will also be showcased next weekend at
Fish Tails, the 26th Annual Beer & Wine Experience, a fundraiser for the Kenai Chamber of Commerce. It will be next Saturday, 16 October, at the old Carrs Mall in Kenai. Doors open at 5:30, dinner is at 7 , and the live auction starts at 8. Come in costume and compete for a special prize.

The premiere day and time for the new Discovery channel show Brew Masters has been announced: 10 PM E/P on Sunday 21 November. Check my blog from July 1 of this year for more info about this exciting new show and mark your calenders.

Before we're done, here's another new beer review. A beer has appeared locally from Big Sky Brewing out of Montana, Heavy Horse Scotch Ale. If you've read very many of these blogs, you're probably aware that Scotch Ale (or Wee Heavy) is one of my absolute favorite styles, so I'm always eager to try a new one (thanks to Zach Henry for spotting it and snagging me a six-pack). The beer poured a deep ruby, only slightly translucent, with a big, long-lasting cream-colored head; very appetizing. The nose was full of sweet malt, molasses, and dark fruits like cherries, with a hint of smoke. On the tongue, it's malt & smoke up front, then some of those cherries. Good mouthfeel, and a finish that's drier than many versions of this style. Very drinkable, even at 6.7% ABV. If you like malty, smoky beers, seek this one out.

Last but not least, if you want to see me help the Brew Tap TV guys do a tasting of Midnight Sun's Because, one of their Crew Brews, click here.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Breaking News: Firkin Friday at St. Elias & Winter Warlock

Just found out that today is Firkin Friday at St. Elias. They'll be tapping a cask of Farmer's Friend that's been dry hopped with Crystal hops at 6 PM this evening.

And don't for that that Kenai River releases their Winter Warlock Old Ale today!

Until Next Time, Cheers!