Thursday, December 16, 2010

H&H Highland Ale and Others

The Royal Banner of Scotland!
Well, the deed is done.  H&H Highland Ale, the beer that Zach Henry and I have lavished so much care and effort on is finished and released to the world at large, to sink or swim based on its own merits.

To recap, this beer is a Strong Scotch Ale we brewed back on September 6, using Golden Promise barley, to an O.G. of 1080.  We hopped in with Fuggles to about 35 IBUs and fermented it using White Labs WLP 028 Edinburgh Scottish Ale Yeast.  Once fermentation was complete, Zach moved half of the batch into bourbon barrels, with 25% going into a fresh barrel that had not been filled with beer before.  Last week, all the ale was blended back together before being carbonated and served.  Final ABV was 7.4%.  So how did it turn out?

I know I'm a somewhat biased judge, but I think it's fabulous!  In the goblet it is a slightly translucent ruby-brown color, with a small cream-colored head.  The whiskey aging is obvious in the nose, backed up with notes of caramel and a hint of peat smoke.  On the tongue there is medium mouthfeel and good carbonation.  The strong malt flavors are in the forefront, as is proper for the style, followed by touches of wood and whiskey, dropping off to a nice, long finish, once again with a hint of smokiness.  The whiskey presence is actually smaller than you would expect from the nose and works very well within the context of the other flavors.  My only regret is that we had to use bourbon barrels, but used Scotch barrels are not easy to obtain in Soldotna, AK.

All thing considered, this has been a very unusual and exciting experience for me.  I've never had a hand ind designing a beer to be brewed on such a scale before, or one that would be offered for sale to the public.  If you've tried H&H at St. Elias, please make a comment and let me know what you think of it.  Don't worry, I'm a big boy and take criticism well.

Also, I want to give my personal thanks to Zach for giving me the chance to indulge my creative brewing side.  I only hope the result sells well enough that he doesn't come to regret it!

I also tasted a couple of other brews over the last week.  The first was an old friend, while the second was something completely new.

The old friend was Samuel Smith's India Ale.  As I've written in previous blogs, Samuel Smith is a very traditional brewery, located in Tadcaster in the north of England.  They are the only brewery in the world still brewing using Yorkshire Squares, open fermenters made from huge slabs of slate.  Their India Ale is traditional in another way, besides its method of production.  It is very representative of what most surviving India Pale Ales in England had become by the late 70's, before American craft brewers began to revitalize the style.  At 5% ABV, it has the same alcohol level as the brewery's Pale Ale, and it's not all that much hoppier, so for someone who is used to today's rip-roaring American IPAs, this beer will seem remarkably tame.  On the plus side, it uses the wonderful Samuel Smith's house yeast and is hopped with Fuggles and Goldings, classic British hops.

It pours a lovely copper color with a nice cream head.  The nose announces the presence of those classic hops, along with the unique "butterscotch" aroma of the Samuel Smith's house yeast.  On the palate, the mouthfeel and carbonation are good, as is the balance between the hops and the good malt backbone.  The beer finishes well, and scores high on drinkability, since it is so restrained and balanced.  A very nice beer, even if it is no longer representative of the typical IPA.

After revisiting India Ale, I thought it was time for something new, so I opened up a bottle of Nogne O Brewery's Sweet Horizon, a Norwegian Ale made with coffee.  It poured opaque into the snifter, with a very slight head.  The aroma is of coffee, malt, brown sugar, perhaps some dark fruits, along with a bit of alcohol from the 14% ABV.  Tasting, they're all there again: malts, licorice, coffee, sugar, and alcohol.  More drinkable than you would think, this is certainly a dessert beer, or as the label proclaims, a dessert in and of itself.  Like the Red Horizon I reviewed last week, Sweet Horizon is a bit of a tour de force.  I get the impression that Nogne O brewed it just to prove they could.

In local beer news, the folks at Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop have brewed an Imperial Nut Brown Ale, Big Nutz.  They also report some damage to the Tyvek on their new addition from the recent high winds around here.  Over at Kenai River Brewing, the can plans continue apace; Doug Hogue told me last week that their canning machine and new fermenter had both been shipped.  At St. Elias, Zach and his crew have had to wrestle with some equipment problems, first with his glycol chiller and then with his steam boiler, but I'm sure they will beat both fire and ice in the end.  Everyone is looking forward to some time off around Christmas, followed by the big ramp up to Alaska Beer Week and the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival in the second week of the new year.

Well, that's about it for this week.  It's time for everyone to get their Christmas shopping done and buy some nice holiday brews to sip by the fire.  My lovely wife Elaine and I are heading up to Anchorage on Saturday to finish up the former and load up on the latter.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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