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!

No comments: