Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Open IT! Weekend & Humpy's Big Fish Results

So this weekend just past (Friday, Saturday, & Sunday) was Open IT! WeekendOpen IT! was the brainchild of UK beer writer Mark Dredge, who writes at Pencil and Spoon.   He designated the first weekend in December — the 3rd through the 5th — as “Open It!” weekend. What that means is that it’s time for beer lovers to open some of those special bottles we’ve been saving for that special occasion that never seems to come around.

As my contribution to this noble endeavor, I reached waaaaaay back into the bowels of my beer cellar and pulled two bottles out into the light of day.  The first was a 750ml corked bottle of Ommegang Brewery's Ommegeddon Ale from April, 2008.  The second was a 22 oz bomber of Midnight Sun's The Viking, released in the fall of 2008. When I first tasted these beers, over two years ago, I had surmised that they might be interesting with some cellar time, especially the Ommegeddon, as it was dosed with the notoriously slow-working Brettanomyces yeast. My lovely wife Elaine and I took them both with us when we headed over to our good friends Curt & Kathy's house for dinner.

We popped the cork on the Ommegeddon first, and there was no mistaking the funky, "barnyard" aroma that comes from Brettanomyces at work.  When I first reviewed this beer on 10/20/2008, the funkiness was there, but it was somewhat subtle; not anymore!  It poured a lovely golden color, with a massive, long-lasting white head.  After over 2.5 years in the bottle, the beer was tremendously dry, with the same semi-sour, horse blanket funkiness that cellaring Orval  for a year or two used to produce (beer the monks started dumbing it down).  The dry hopping that was so evident in the fresher version was not nearly so prominent. The beer made an excellent aperitif, and a great accompaniment to the stuffed mushroom appetizers we were munching on.  While this beer was excellent back in 2008, now it was simply amazing.  I wish I had cellared a case, rather than just a bottle...

As we sat down to dinner, we popped the cork on Curt's contribution, a 750ml bottle of Odell Brewing Company's Bourbon  Barrel Stout, a 10.5% ABV Imperial Stout that's aged for four months in used Kentucky bourbon barrels.  Bourbon-barrel aged beers like this one are all the rage these days, but Odell's version is rightly considered one of the best examples out there.  It poured thick and rich, dark as midnight with a big tan head.  The nose promised great things: dark chocolate, espresso, molasses, caramel, along with wood and whiskey notes.  On the palate, the beer was pleasingly think and chewy, with the hints of vanilla and even toasted marshmallow added to the flavors listed above.  It's one serious beer, and made a fine accompaniment to the very hearty chicken and potato stew we were dining on.

Finally, we moved on to the dessert course, some delicious Belgian chocolates paired with glasses of Midnight Sun Brewing's The Viking Belgian Dark Strong Ale.  I first reviewed this beer on draft back on 9/22/2008, then drank a bottle of it with friends in the summer of 2009; this bottle was my last.  Unfortunately, time had not improved this brew.  Perhaps it was the fact that it only had 23 IBUs, or perhaps the bottle in question hadn't had the best treatment prior to my obtaining it in Fairbanks in July, 2009.  For whatever reason, I found the dark, rich flavors to be subdued, at least compared to how I remembered it.  It was still good, and made a fine pairing with the rich Belgian chocolate, but it seemed a pale shadow of its remembered glory.  The moral:  Beers are made to be drunk.  While some may profit from cellaring, time wins in the end, so be sure not to hold on too long.

Last weekend in Anchorage was also the Humpy's Big Fish Homebrew Competition, the Great Northern Brewers' end-of-the-year blowout.  As a special prize, a batch of the Best-of-Show beer is brewed commercially by Midnight Sun and sold at Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse.  I entered three beers last year and won  gold, silver, and bronze medals .  This year I entered four beers and won a gold, two silvers, and a bronze, so I was very happy about that.  Still haven't come close to Best-of-Show, but maybe next year.

My Howell's Highland Ale, in the Strong Scotch style, has now won gold two years in a row.  This is the recipe that Zach Henry & I used as the basis for the beer we brewed back on Labor Day.  As I mentioned on 11/18, this beer is still maturing (50 % in whiskey barrels and 50% in stainless), waiting for us to blend it back together and serve it up.  Zach and I are convinced it will be ready before Christmas, so as soon as we set a hard and fast date, I'll be spreading the word.  We both believe that H&H's Highland Ale will be something special, and hope you all judge it to be so as well.

Besides the beers extracted from my cellar, I have had a couple of other interesting ones since my last blog.  Thanks to Rob Weller and Gene Diamond of Specialty Imports, I got to try a bottle of Nogne O Brewery's Red Horizon Norwegian Ale.  This is a very unusual brew, as it was made using the No. 7 Sake Yeast provide by Matsumi Sake, from Nagaro, Japan.  Weighing in at 17% ABV and 75 IBUs, this beer is obviously deserving of being treated with great respect!  The brewery recommends serving it chilled, so I tried my sample at lager temperatures, around 35F.  It poured a cloudy amber into the snifter glass, with a small head that quickly dissipated.  The  aroma was slightly suppressed by the colder serving temperature, but I picked up malt sweetness, backed up by some alcohol heat.  On the tongue it displayed medium body, with plenty of residual sweetness, giving way to a good deal of alcohol heat on the finish.  Some fruit esters were evident (this particular yeast is famous for producing them), and they became more prominent as the beer warmed.  As for hops, I know they had to be in there somewhere, but this beer is so big and sweet they are totally overwhelmed.  Another interesting and unusual beer from Nogne O, but much too "big" for anything except sipping after dinner.

At La Bodega in Anchorage I picked up a bottle of Black Albert Royal Stout, brewed by the De Struise Brouwers of Oostvleteren, Belgium.  This is a special beer, brewed by them for the 3rd Annual Belgian Beer Festival held by Ebenezer's Pub of Lovell, Maine.  Most folks in the beer world have heard of this place, as is has been named the #1 beer bar in America and the world by Beer Advocate for five years in a row, though I've never personally visited it.  De Struise decided to create something new with this beer, a Belgian Imperial Stout.  Of course Belgium has a king (King Albert), rather than an emperor, so it had to be a Belgian Royal Stout.  It poured an absolute midnight black with a creamy tan head.  The aroma was rich and redolent of chocolate, roast, perhaps some licorice or dark fruit. Mouthfeel was medium, perhaps a little lighter than is typical for an imperial stout.  Flavors were more chocolate and roasted notes, with some spiciness from the Belgian yeast around the edges.  Remarkably drinkable for a beer with 13% ABV and 100IBUs; the elements are so well-balanced and complimentary I would have guessed it was 8-9%, rather than 13.  A fantastic beer; get it while it lasts.

In other beer news from around the Peninsula, The Copper Kettle is finally open for business!  Stop by, say hello to Shane and Melanie and check it out for all your homebrew supply needs. St. Elias Brewing had a another Firkin Friday last week, tapping a cask of Tin Hat that had been dry hopped with raisins.  I didn't make it there, but I have it on good authority that it was "wonderful".  Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop will be releasing a batch of their Imperial IPA, Double Wood, on Thursday, December 9; I reviewed a previous batch back on 12/2/2009.  It likely won't be around long, so don't miss it.  The new coolers are in operation at Kenai River Brewing, full of pigs ready for customers to grab on the way to their holiday parties.  Finally, the Guest of Honor for next month's Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival has been announced.  It will be --drum roll, please-- Ken Grossman, Founder and President of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company!  As I mentioned last week, tickets are on sale now; they sell out each year, so don't wait too long or you'll be stuck dealing with the scalpers.

Well, that about it for this week.  Stay safe out there, and enjoy the Holidays.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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