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!


Melanie said...

Some great news there, seems like the craft brew art is really growing by leaps and bounds in this area. Love it!

Neil said...

As I type this, I'm drinking a glass of the Skilak Scottish Ale that I got at the Brown Jug growler bar. Man it's good (both the beer, and the bar)! Looking forward to having a can in the new year...