Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks Revisited

Exactly two years ago (11/24/2008), I wrote a blog entitled "Giving Thanks".  I just went back and took another look at it.  While a little tongue in cheek, like most of my blogs, I actually had some fairly decent things to say.  Amazing, I know, but there it is.  As my dear old dad likes to say: "Even a blind hog manages to root up an acorn now and then".

Anyway, what with me being two years older and all, I thought perhaps I should again give some thought to what I have to be thankful for. 

Of course I'm thankful for the usual stuff:  my health, the health and happiness of my family and friends, having a job in this lousy economy, etc.  But this is a beer blog, so let's see what there is to be thankful for on that front.

I'm thankful for being fortunate enough to be selected as the 2010 Beer Drinker of the Year.  Besides the honor (and the free beer), being the BDOTY has opened many doors for me over the last year and given me the chance to go places and meet people that have greatly broadened my beer horizon.

Speaking of going places and meeting people, I'm very thankful that I got to go to the Great American Beer Festival this year.  Seeing the GABF again after twenty years, and doing it this time around with press credentials and my family, was something very special.

I'm thankful that craft brewing here on the Kenai Peninsula seems to be going from strength to strength.  A new homebrew supply store, The Copper Kettle, is about to open.  Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop is putting the finishing touches on a big expansion.  Kenai River Brewing plans to start canning come the new year.  Business at St. Elias Brewing is booming and Zach Henry keeps putting out amazing new brews, like his new blended brown ale, Tin Hat.

I'm thankful that the statewide craft beer scene keeps getting better and better. Distributors and store owners keep getting us more and more great beers from Outside.  Alaskan breweries keep expanding their distribution. New breweries keep opening, established breweries keep growing and winning awards, and more and more people Outside are realizing just what exceptional brews are made in Alaska.

I'm thankful that the Kenai Brewing & Tasting Society looks like it's going to get off the ground.  Don't forget the next meeting is Wednesday, December 1st, 6:30 pm at Kenai River Brewing Company.

But most of all, I'm thankful for my lovely wife Elaine, especially for her endless patience with me and my foibles.  You are the rock that everything else rests up, sweetheart, and  I love you with all my heart and soul.

Here's hoping each and every one of you has a safe and happy Thanksgiving, and I'll see you next week.

Until Next Time, Cheers.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cold Weather + Good Beers = Happy Holidays!

I love old brewery adds.  While they sometimes seem a little corny, many of them are quite clever and even elegant.  By and large, they don't seem to insult the intelligence of the consumer as much as the vast majority of today's ads do.  Anyway, for whatever reason, I think they're cool.   I'm not sure if this one is a real ad or one that's been altered, but it's still cool 

And who among us could disagree with what it says?

I've heard that last Saturday's beer tasting by Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop at Mykel's in Soldotna was a big success.  Team Kassik's poured 6 different beers, including their 2008 Barleywine to a full house.  In addition to the great beer, attendees got to enjoy great food and awesome music.  In short, a good time was had by all.

In last week's blog I mentioned a couple of events coming up this weekend, The Taste of the Kenai on Friday and the Beer and Wine Tasting Event on Saturday evening in Seward at the Sea Life Center.  Well, now we've got a Sunday event to round out your weekend.  At 6:00 pm on Sunday, November 21st, Fire Tap Alehouse in Anchorage will be hosting another one of their beer dinners,this one featuring beers from  Sleeping Lady, Silver Gulch, and Kassik's.  See my good buddy Jim "Dr. Fermento" Roberts' column in this week's Anchorage Press for the complete menu.  This is the second in their series of dinners; the first one got rave reviews, so if you're going to be in Anchorage on Sunday, this sounds like the place to be.

Speaking of beer events in Anchorage, on Saturday, 4 December at 4 pm, the Spenard Roadhouse will be holding their 12 Beers of Christmas event.  This is a tasting featuring 12 different holiday beers from around the world; looking over the list, it's obvious that this should be a super time.  The cost is $40, with tickets available at the Roadhouse.  I'd strongly recommend taking a cab or having a designated driver, as all of these beers are above standard ABV.

Also in Anchorage, Ken Pajak at Cafe Amsterdam will be hosting his UBER (Ultra Beer Extravaganza Review) Fest on Sunday, 28 November, from 5 to 8 pm.  Ken will be sharing bunch of his vintage collectible beers, along with plenty of great food.  The tentative price is $60 and attendance is limited to 50 folks, so call Cafe A for reservations if you're interested.  Looking a little further ahead, the Glacier Brewhouse will be kicking off this year's edition of their 12 Days of Barleywine Fest on Friday December 10.  Each day they'll be pouring different barleywines, imperial stouts, and other "big" beers, most aged in wood.  If you'll be in Anchorage anytime between December 10 and 21, you should make it a point to stop by.

As for beer reviews, I've got a couple.  I missed out on Firkin Friday at St. Elias Brewing Company, but I did get to stop there early this week to try their new Jabberwocky ESB.  A beautiful amber beer in the glass, with a nice cream head, it had a great hop aroma from Centennial, Simcoe, & Amarillo hops.  It was lovely on the palate too, with plenty of hop bitterness but still a decent balance.  It was such a nice beer that it reminded me of another of Zach Henry's better efforts, Henry's Best Bitter (see my review on 9/14/2009).  When I asked Zach about it, he confirmed that Jabberwocky is indeed a reformulation of that beer.  It weighs in at around 5% ABV but is an excellent session beer.  I'm just sorry I missed it on cask, as I hear it was outstanding.  I also got to sample the Strong Scotch that Zach and I brewed together back on Labor Day.  Currently half of the batch is aging in whiskey barrels, while the other half waits patiently in stainless steel.  Blended back together, they make a very special beer.  It's not quite ready yet, but Zach and I agree it should be ready by Christmas.  Watch this space for word on when it will be released.

After my glowing review of The Three Musketeers' Doppelbock Grande Cuvee Printemps from a couple of weeks ago, Doug Hogue of Kenai River Brewing was generous enough to snag a bottle of their Serie Signature Rauchbier for me up in Anchorage.  I popped the cork on Saturday and shared it with my good friend Curt.  Pouring it out into snifters, the beer was very dark, practically opaque, with a nice tan head.  The aroma was super rich, full of elements of dark fruit, chocolate, coffee, and the slightest hint of smoke.  On the tongue, the beer was a little thin, but the flavors were excellent.  The smoke was restrained, rather than over the top, working with the other flavors rather than pushing them around.  At only 5.9% ABV, it's not too strong to have a good-sized glass of, nor too smokey.  Bottom line:  I liked it a lot, though not quite as much as their doppelbock.

Next, Curt & I decided to try a new limited release from Ommegang, their Cup O' Kyndness Traditional Belgian-style Scotch Ale.  I'm not exactly sure what a Belgian-style Scotch Ale is; Scotch Ales have been popular in Belgium since at least World War I, when so many Scots fought and died on Belgian soil, but most of them have been identical to British Scotch Ales.  Indeed, some of the very best of them, like Gordon's Highland Ale, are brewed in Scotland exclusively for export to Belgium.  Ommengang seem to have decided to use a Belgian yeast, hence the "traditional Belgian-style" part of the name, I guess.  The beer poured a translucent ruby-brown, very pretty in the snifter, with a nice head.  The aroma had some of the spicy, phenolic notes that I always seem to get from a Belgian yeast, plus a slight floral scent from the heather tips that are also added.  I've had heather beers before, and it imparts a subtle note, almost lavender like, which is easy to overpower.  On the palate, the mouthfeel is medium, with the spicy, peppery notes from the yeast, the sweetness of the malt, the floral heather, and a hint of smoke.  The beer has a nice long finish, and at 6.6% ABV it's quite moreish.  As a long-time aficionado of traditional Scotch Ales, I question the decision to use a Belgian yeast, but I guess that's what the brewers wanted.  Another quality brew from Ommengang. FYI, I'm not sure if this beer is available at all locally; I got my bottle via a friend on the East Coast.

Finally, I picked up a bottle of an old friend, Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome Ale.  Headquartered at The Old Brewery at Tadcaster in North Yorkshire since 1758, Samuel Smith's is one of the great traditional breweries left in Britain.  They are famous for still using stone Yorkshire squares - fermenting vessels made of solid slabs of slate - to produce their beers.  This historic process, and the house yeast that has adapted to it, gives their beers a characteristic flavor and aroma, one which I have gotten to know quite well over many years.  When I poured this year's version of Winter Welcome into a glass, my nose was immediately greeted by this characteristic aroma, a malt forward nutty scent.  There's good mouthfeel on the palate, with enough hop bitterness from the traditional Fuggles and Goldings hops to balance the malt, but this is not a hoppy brew.  At 6%, the alcohol is there but hardly overpowering, and this finish is long and rich.  This beer is made to enjoy by the fire on a cold winter's evening, or at a holiday gathering with friends, along with a good cheese and some nice smoked meat.  It's a classic British ale and it's available locally here on the Kenai, so pick up a bottle or six for the holidays and enjoy.

That about wraps things up for this week.  Remember, the next meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society will be on Wednesday, 1 December, at 6:30 pm at the Kenai River Brewing Company in Soldotna.  Stay stay, stay warm, and drink good beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Winter...

Well, the snow took its own sweet time getting here, but when it arrived, it came with a vengeance. With my lovely wife Elaine's help, I put the plow on my truck Sunday morning, which makes it officially winter. Sunday was none too soon, as there was already about six inches of snow on the ground, and we got another four later that day and into Monday. So now we're moving through the obligatory few days of people sliding into ditches and rear-ending each other as Alaskans learn how to drive on snow again.

While the weather is turning colder, the local beer scene is heating up. The first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society last Wednesday was a big success, with about 20 people making it to the event at Kenai River Brewing Company. The weather was pretty poor, so that may have kept some folks away, and several have contacted me to express interest, even though they missed the first meeting. The next meeting will be on Wednesday, 1 December, again at Kenai River Brewing at 6:30 pm. At that meeting we'll be collecting membership forms, dues, and adopting some by-laws and electing officers. If you're interested, please try to attend. If you absolutely can't make it, please let me know and we'll work something out.

Frank and Jason Kassik of Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop were at the meeting and report that the completion of their expansion goes on apace. Their long-awaited Cherry Chocolate Stout is coming along and should be ready to bottle in a few weeks. The next batch of their award-winning Caribou Kilt Strong Scotch Ale should be released just before Thanksgiving, and they will be releasing another batch of their Spiced Cream Ale on 11/20/2010. Finally, this Saturday (November 13th) at 6:30 pm Kassik's will be having a beer tasting at Mykel's in Soldotna. I've written about these tastings before, most recently on 9/28/2009, and they are always a great time. $35 gets you plenty of great tasting food and lots of excellent beer to try alongside it. Call Mykel's at 262-4305 for more information and reservations, as these events have a habit of selling out.

This Friday (12 November) is another Firkin Friday at St. Elias Brewing Company. They just released a new beer, Jaberwocky ESB. Its tag line is "ESB meets IPA", so it's probably got a few hops in it. This Friday at 6 pm they will be tapping a cask of Jaberwocky that's been hopped with Simcoe and Crystal hops, so that should be some pretty good stuff.

Looking a bit further ahead, there's an event scheduled for Friday, November 19th, at the Challenger Center in Kenai. Taste of the Kenai is a fundraiser gala to benefit the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. Food and drink will be provided by restaurants and breweries and wineries "from across the Kenai". I don't have any more specifics than that, though I believe that both Kenai River and St. Elias Brewing will be there. There will also be a silent auction, door prizes, and raffles. The event runs from 6:30 to 10 pm and tickets cost $50 per person. For more information, call 262-5229.

The very next evening, Saturday 20 November, the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance will be holding their annual fundraiser at the Sea-Life Center in Seward from 7-10 pm. I attended last year's event (see my blog of 11/24/2009) and had a fine time, though I won't make the mistake of showing up hungry this year. The food was excellent, but the amount available left a lot to be desired for someone who hadn't eaten supper. There's entertainment and a silent auction as well. All three of out local breweries will be there again this year, along with Moose's Tooth Brewpub, Midnight Sun, Alaskan, & Denali Brewing. It's $35 per person, and should be a great time. Click on the poster at right for more details.

On the new beer front, I've tried a trio of interesting ones.

First, I had a bottle of Great Divide's Old Ruffian Barleywine that I picked up in Anchorage at La Bodega a few weeks ago. I have written about several of Great Divide's fine brews over the last few weeks, since I toured their brewery in Denver. Old Ruffian continues the roll call of excellent beers. It poured the color of very dark honey, with an outstanding cream-colored head and good lacing on the glass. On the nose there were plenty of hops, and a bit of alcohol heat from the 10.2% ABV. On the palate there was ample hop bitterness (90 IBUs), some malt sweetness, then a long, lingering, warming, finish. It reminded me of a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot that has been cellared long enough for the in-your-face hops to mellow a bit and let the malt shine through more. A great take on the American-style barleywine. It's no wonder that this beer has taken three medals at the Great American Beer Festival, including a gold in 2006.

Next, thanks to the generosity of Zach Henry, I got to try a bottle of Bell's Brewery's Hell Hath No Fury Ale. Bell's Brewery is located in Michigan and does not distribute to Alaska, but Zach was kind enough to bring some back from a visit Outside. I had read a great deal about their beers, both on-line and in my beer magazines, so I was anxious to give one of them a try. Looking at the label, I had no idea what style of beer it was, simply that it had 7.5% ABV. It poured dark, with some ruby highlights and a fast-dissipating light tan head. The aroma was of roasted malt, with some sweetness, then a touch of alcohol heat. By this point I was guessing that the beer was a robust porter in style. On the tongue the beer had a medium mouthfeel, plenty of roasted, coffee-like flavors but a good balance from the hops, gradually moving to a long, fairly dry finish. Looking on their website, I see that the beer was initially conceived as a Belgian dubbel, but then morphed into something more like a roasty stout. While they may have used a Belgian yeast, I'll stick by my initial call: it tasted like a pretty good robust porter to me. Looks like Bell's lived up to its hype; I'm eager to try more, if I ever get the chance.

Finally, with all that snow outside, it was time to go viking again, with an Andhrimnir Barleywine from Nogne O Brewery in Norway. Nogne O is one of those new European breweries who are taking their inspiration from the American Craft Brewing scene, producing outstanding and challenging beers. I've had Nogne O beers before, so when I saw this one at La Bodega, I didn't hesitate.

It poured a dark ruby/red-gold into the snifter, with a nice cream-colored head. The aroma had some roasted notes, along with plenty of malt sweetness and a hint of the 10% ABV. Tasting it, the beer presented a decent mouthfeel, with the malt sweetness of an English-style barleywine, but with extra hop bitterness. There weren't enough hops to push it all the way to being an American style barleywine, but there were more than is usual in an English-style. Overall, I thought it seemed very well balanced between the styles. There was some alcohol heat on the finish. Definitely a sipper, like all barleywines, this is another excellent beer from Nogne O.

That's about it for this week. Let's all be careful on those snowy roads and enjoy plenty of good craft beer. Hope to see you at some of the beer events around the Peninsula and at the next KPB&TS meeting on 1 December.

Until Next Time, Cheers.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Yes, We Can

You've probably been wondering what I've been up to, given that there was no blog last week. Or maybe you've just been enjoying the peace and quiet again. If it's the latter, hold on to your hats, 'cause I'm back and I've got some really big news to share. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here we are:

If it's not clear what Doug Hogue, joint owner and head brewer of Kenai River Brewing Company has in his paw, let's go to a close up:

Yes, fellow beer lovers, that is indeed a mock-up of a six-pack of Kenai River's Skilak Scottish Ale. Kenai River Brewing Company is going to can their beer!

This is some very welcome news, as there has always been a great demand for canned craft beers in Alaska. Cans are lighter, unbreakable, and recyclable, all of which make them very popular with Alaskans, given the amount of time we spend hiking, fishing, and engaging in other outdoor activities. From strictly a beer lover's point of view, cans perfectly protect the beer inside from both light and oxygen, which has made them the delivery vehicle of choice for more and more craft breweries.

According to Doug, canning has been in the Kenai River business plan since before they opened. It's just taken them this long to get everything the needed lined up. Doug has told me that they plan to begin canning around the first of the year, with a goal of working their way up to about 500 cases per month by summer. The bottleneck is not the canning system (which can produce about 25 cases an hour), but rather their brewing capacity. To help out, they are also purchasing a new 20 bbl Uni-tank fermenter, which will be dedicated solely to producing Skilak Scottish for canning. Looking further ahead, the plans are to begin canning their Sunken Isle IPA around the June time frame, which will mean bringing in another 20 bbl Uni-tank to support that. Kenai River has ordered 111,000 cans from the Ball Corporation, and here's the actual label design:

If you'd like to see the canning system in action, check out the company's website here. It's a 2-head manual system, which is what Oskar Blues Brewery started out using and is currently being used by the Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver. There's a pretty nice video of the system in action on the website, if you're curious to see it. Six packs will be on-sale at the brewery and in local stores, as well as being distributed by Specialty Imports.

As a final piece of news from the boys at Kenai River, they have added another member to their brewing team. Meet Forky, their new forklift. I not sure whose aching back precipitated this purchase, but given how much more barley is going to have to go in and how much more beer is going to be heading out, I'm sure it's a wise investment.

Speaking of wise investments, I was chatting with Zach Henry at St. Elias Brewing's Oktoberfest party on the 22nd. Actually, I was complaining to him about the fact that my lovely wife and I had to park all the way over at Fred Meyer and hike through the woods because his parking lot was totally full. That's when he told me that they have purchased the house next door, with an eye to expanding their parking. That's welcome news, as anyone whose tried to stop there for a drink on their way home on a Friday can attest!

The Oktoberfest was a great success, with some fine music and the release of two new and excellent brews. First, we had the long anticipated Big Babushka Imperial Stout. Totally opaque, with a nice tan head, this brew gives off delicious aromas of roasted coffee and dark fruit. On the palate there nice mouthfeel, lots of roasted flavors, and a bit of warmth from the 8.9% ABV. Missing is the bitter, astringent bite you can sometimes get from a beer with so much roasted grain in it. Instead, Big Babushka is smooth, with a lovely nice finish that begs you to have another sip. Dangerously drinkable, for such a strong brew, this is another home run from Zach Henry.

The second new release is another example of Zach's well established disdain for the conventions of beer style guidelines. Plowshare Belgian Pale Ale pours a dark amber with a small head. As soon as you nose it, you realize that Zach's been up to some of his tricks, as the beer is loaded with bourbon aroma. Yes, it's a BPA that's been aged in a whiskey barrel . On the tongue the bourbon is very evident, making the beer seem stronger than it's 7.2% ABV. It's a very unusual choice of style to use for this sort of aging, and you really need to like the bourbon aroma/flavor, since those flavors are much more evident than they'd be on something like a Baltic porter or an imperial stout. But if bourbon aging is your bag, Plowshare BPA puts it front and center.

From Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop, I know they have been very happy that we are still snow free so far this year, as it has let them really make progress on their new expansion. Their long awaited Imperial Cherry Chocolate Stout is fermenting, along with the next batch of Caribou Kilt Strong Scotch.

Besides all the big news from our local breweries, I have also gotten to try a few new beers. First out of the box is a beer I picked up at La Bodega in Anchorage from the Microbrasserie Les Trois Mousquetaires in Quebec, which, if I remember my Cajun French, translates as The Three Musketeers Microbrewery. There were two beers on the shelf, both in 750 ml corked bottles, a Doppelbock Grande Curvee Printemps & a Serie Signature Rauchbier. Flipping a mental coin, I decided to go with the doppelbock.

The beer poured a very dark, almost opaque brown, with a nice tan head and decent lacing. The aroma on the beer was truly phenomenal: dark fruit, chocolate, malt, caramel, a melange of super rich flavors that promised a wonderful experience. The taste was more of the same, sweet, malty and rich, though the mouthfeel was slightly thinner than I was hoping for, and the finish is nice with a little warmth from the 9.5% ABV. A really wonderful beer and one of the best non-German doppelbocks I've ever had. Now I'm anxious to try anything else from this brewery.

I also finally opened a bottle of Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary Jack and Ken's Ale, a black barleywine brewed by Ken Grossman of SN and Jack MacAuliffe, the founder of the legendary and long-defunct New Albion Brewery back in the 1970s. It pours absolutely opaque, with a big, long-lasting tan head and great lacing. The aroma starts with roasted malt, then moves round to dark fruit, then a touch of alcohol, then resiny/earthy hops. The mouthfeel is good, with relatively light carbonation. There's more dark fruit, more roasted, coffee flavors, good hoppiness (but not overwhelming), finishing warm and slow from the 10.2% ABV. Another masterpiece from Sierra Nevada, this is a beer to cellar away and then share with friends on a special occasion.

As I mentioned in a blog a few months ago, there's now a growler bar in the Brown Jug store on Old Seward just north of Tudor Road in Anchorage. On my last visit to the big town, I made it a point to stop by, get a fill-up and have my lovely wife snap some photos. Here's a look at it:If you're in Anchorage and need a growler filled, it's a pretty convenient location. As you can see, they have twelve beers on taps at once.

So what did I get a growler of? Midnight Sun's Obliteration VII, latest in this series of over-the-top hopped beers. The previous six entries in the series have all been some rendition of an IPA, but this time around we're talking an American imperial stout. This is another massive beer from the folks at MS: 8.5% ABV, 100 IBUs from additions of Warrior, Magnum, & Nugget hops, plus a whole lot of roasted malt backbone to hang it all on. As with all the previous examples, hops are what this beer is all about, but making the base style an imperial stout rather than an IPA seems to actually work better; it provides more balance (if balance is actually something you can do with 100 IBUs). While it's certainly no session beer, I thought VII to be much more drinkable than some of the previous ones. In fact, I really liked it

If Obliteration VII sounds like something you'd like to try, I'll be sharing my growler of it at the first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society, at 6:30 pm, Wednesday, November 3, at the Kenai River Brewing Company. Come and try it, along with some of my homebrew. Find more info about the KPB&TS on Facebook or at

Until Next Time, Cheers!