Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Close-Out Blog

We're getting near the end of 2011, dear readers.  Yesterday was the winter solstice, so those of us residing in the Northern Hemisphere can look forward to increasing daylight.  Since sunrise in Soldotna this morning was 10:11 am and sunset will come at 3:52 pm (giving us here on the Kenai Peninsula a whole 5 hours and 41 minutes of daylight), that's a good thing.  Christmas is only three days away, so it's time to stoke up the wood stove, pull the turkey out of the freezer to start thawing, and pour yourself a nice beer to savor on a long winter's night.

And if you're reading this blog someplace warm and sunny, like Hawaii or Key West, you can just keep it to yourself, OK?

Up in the big town of Los Anchorage, Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company has released The Tide and Its Takers Tripel. This brew is made with Sorachi and Styrian Golding hops. It's aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels and weighs in at 9% ABV & 30 IBUs.  I know they have bottles at La Bodega.  Here on the Peninsula, Country Liquors in Kenai carries Gabe's beers, though I don't know whether they have or will manage to get any of this tripel in.  By the way, I stopped in there on Saturday and they had gotten in some more of Deschutes Brewing's The Abyss 2011 Imperial Stout, so if you missed out the first time around, you've got another chance. They also had Sierra Nevada's 2011 Celebration Ale on the shelves.

Also up in Anchorage, the Loft Bar at Midnight Sun has been celebrating the solstice as well.  Until yesterday, all 16 of their taps were dispensing dark beers.  To celebrate the return of the sun, now all their taps will now be dispensing light colored brews.  More importantly, everyone is starting to look forward to Alaska Beer Week, starting on Friday, January 13th and culminating the following weekend with the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival.  See my blog from 1/20/2011 for a run down on 2011's festivities.  If you haven't purchased your festival tickets yet, don't wait too long, as they sell out every year.  To get information on the numerous beer events during Alaska Beer Week, check out the Brewers Guild of Alaska webpage here or a new page at  The new page is not up yet, but should be available by the end of December.

Moving down on to the Peninsula, our local breweries are getting ready for the holidays as well. Kassik's Brewery has their Big Nutz Imperial Brown Ale for sale on draft only right now; expect the bottles in a week or so.  Also on draft: Double  Wood Imperial IPA, 201 Barley Wine, Pale Moon Pale, Caribou Kilt Scotch, Penny Maple Porter, Chocolate Cherry Stout, and their Spiced Cream Ale. Available in Bottles: Spiced Cream Ale, Chocolate Cherry Stout, Penny Maple Porter, Caribou Kilt Scotch Ale, Morning Wood IPA, Beaver tail Blonde, Dolly Varden Nut Brown, & their Moose Point Porter.  They've also got plenty of different clothing items for sale. Beer or logo'd clothing from Alaskan breweries make great Christmas gifts; I sent a bunch to my beer-loving friends Outside this year.

Over at St. Elias Brewing, their new beer engine continues to get a workout.  I stopped there for lunch and they had a cask of their Moose Juice Barley Barley Wine on.  Since I had to go back to work, I passed on having one, but if you haven't tried their Barley Wine on hand pump, you really need to.  I changes the entire complexion of the beer.  I think they're still having some issues with temperature control of the cask, but I believe Zach has a plan to deal with that as well.

At Kenai River Brewing, they'll be tapping  a short keg of Chocolate Nut Crunch at noon tomorrow (Friday, 12/23), for pints only.  So if you haven't had a chance to try this one, you should stop by and give it a taste.  Plus, they have their  new beer, Holla Day Ale, that I mentioned in my last blog.  I finally got by to grab a liter of this to take home and sample.  When I tasted it last Friday evening, I was so impressed I drank the entire liter in one sitting and went back the next day for another one!  This is one of the best beers Doug & the crew have produced, in my opinion.  It pours a very dark ruby color with a cream-colored head, which dissipated fairly quickly to a collar but left nice lacing on the side of the glass. The aroma was primarily malty, but with the earthy, spicy notes that I always associated with Belgian yeasts, and just the slightest touch of smoke.  On the palate the mouthfeel was medium, with a clean, malty flavor leading off, then more of the Belgian elements, moving to a very nice finish with again a touch of smoke.  All elements were in perfect balance, and with an ABV of only 5.5%, this beer has tremendous drinkability.  In some ways, it's almost like a toned-down dubbel, with the same complexities in a lower alcohol package.  You really need to sample this one.  I'm planning to load up on it, as I think it will be an excellent accompaniment to the traditional holiday feast.  A tip of my hat to Doug & company for another exceptional creation.

Moving on, I've got three new beer reviews to share, two good ones and one not so much.  Let's have the bad news first.

Stone Brewing's Vertical Epic Ale 11.11.11.  This is the latest in their Epic Ale series, beers released on the "triple dates" each year, starting with 02.02.02, and meant to be cellared until sometime after 12.12.12, then consumed in a massive vertical tasting.  Some of the past entries have been quite tasty, and I have a bottle from each year from 05.05.05 on aging in my crawlspace.  So when 11.11.11 hit the market, I grabbed two, one to cellar and one to taste.  Last Monday I got around to opening up my immediate bottle.  Checking out the label, I had my first hint of trouble, when I read that it was brewed with Anaheim chilies and cinnamon.  It poured a pretty color, a dark copper with a big off-white head, but the aroma was nothing but chili and spice, which pretty much described the taste.  I took a couple more sips, but could not hack it, so down the drain it went.  I think I could have managed the chilies or the cinnamon, but both together were just way too much.  If you are crazy about chilies and spice (and to be fair, lots of reviewers on-line have liked it), you could give this one a try, but when I do the vertical tasting after 12.12.2012, I think I'll give this one a pass.

Midnight Sun's Moscow Russian Imperial Stout with Rye. The latest in their World Tour series, Moscow weighs in at 11% ABV and 45 IBUs.  It poured an absolutely opaque black with a small dark brown head that rapidly dissipated to a collar.  The aroma was mostly malty sweetness with some slight roasty notes.  There was excellent mouthfeel, with the rye announcing its presence via peppery notes amongst the roasted malt flavors.  There was some heat on the finish from the alcohol.  Another nice brew from Midnight Sun, not a challenging as their London Ale that I reviewed last week, but a great beer for drinking on a cold winter evening by the fire.

My third review is of a beer named, appropriately enough, Third Voyage Double IPA from Boston Brewing Company's Single Batch Series.  The name refers to Captain Cook's third voyage of discovery, which took him from Britain to New Zealand and then the Pacific Northwest.  In honor of the voyage, the beer is hopped using varieties from each of those locales, including Cascades and Simcoes, which dominate its aroma.  It poured a classic copper color with a big off-white head.  Good carbonation with plenty of hop bitterness, aroma, and flavor.  I thought it had a little more malt character than typical for a DIPA, so it seemed slightly more balanced than usual for this style.  ABV was 8 %.  Overall, a fairly middle of the road version of a Double IPA, which is a comment on how far the goal posts have moved in the last few years.  A decade ago, this beer would have been seen as amazingly hoppy.  Today, it's right in the mainstream for it's style.

That's it for this week.  I doubt you'll see a blog next week, but Christmas is a time for miracles, so you never know.  I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to each and every one of you.  I hope you all get to spend the holidays in the bosom of your family, eating lots of good food and drinking lots of great craft beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Long Live the King! (Street Brewery)

Sorry for the lack of blog last week.  It's a been a very busy time for me at work, so busy in fact that my lunch hours (AKA quality blog time) have turned into "lunch ten-minutes", while I wolf down some food before diving back into the fray.  Today I'm taking the entire hour with a shut door so as to remain undisturbed and get this bad boy out on the street.

King Street's Tasting Room
Elaine and I decided the weather wasn't too scary last Saturday, so we risked a shopping trip to Anchorage and back.  Our timing was good, since the weather turned pretty horrible the very next day.  Anyway, as part of our trip, I finally got to stop by the brand new King Street Brewery to check things out. (Photos courtesy of my lovely wife, Elaine.  Thanks, Honey!)

When we rolled in just after 4 PM, David Short and Dana Walukiewicz were working behind the bar.  As you can see from the pictures, they have a very nice Tasting Room in the front of the brewery.  David and I had been exchanging emails for a while, so it was good to finally meet him.  Since this was our last stop before the 150 mile, 3+ hour drive home, I opted for the four sample flight, instead of the seven sample one.
Serving Bar
The four beers I sampled were:

Czech Pilsner (5.3%)
IPA (5.4%)
Wit (5.0%)
Stout (4.9%)

I really enjoyed the Pilsner.  Dana told us that he had lived in Prague for several years and how much he missed the truly fresh Czech pilsner.  Having visited Prague myself, I knew exactly what he meant.  His take on this classic had the crisp, clean taste you'd expect, plus plenty of noble hop flavor and aroma.  Beers like this remind you of why pilsners took the world by storm in the second half of the 19th century.

The IPA was also quite good, with a complex hop profile.  I believe I was told that something like seven different varieties are used, and it has a ton of classic American hop flavors, like grapefruit and pine.  It was refreshingly drinkable, not a complete palate-wrecker like some popular IPAs.

The Wit was quite nice, though my palate wasn't really up for it after the IPA.  Their Stout was served on nitro, so it had a wonderful creamy texture, as well as the expected roasty flavors.

Brand new 10 bbl brewhouse & 20 bbl conicals
I didn't try their Busted Blonde (4.7%), their Amber (5.1%), or their Hefeweizen (5.7%).  That will give me something to look forward to next time.  As I was finishing up my samples, another of the principals, Shane Kingry, walked in.  He was nice enough to give us a quick tour of the brewery itself.  The 10 bbl brewhouse is gorgeous; it's brand-new, with all the latest stuff.  It's obvious that a lot of thought went into the brewery layout, and there's plenty of room for future growth.

In summary, I was really impressed with King Street Brewery.  The beer was excellent, the facilities were first-rate, and the people behind the process were both friendly and obviously know what they're doing when it comes to brewing beer.  I plan to make King Street Brewery one of my regular stops whenever I visit Anchorage, and I'm looking forward to seeing them down here at the Second Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival next summer.

Click to enlarge
Turning to the Anchorage Brewing Company, it looks like The Tide and Its Takers Tripel is still bottle conditioning, as I haven't heard that it's been released yet.  But here's the label for a new beer that Gabe Fletcher will be releasing early next year (hopefully in time for the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival on 20 January): Galaxy White IPA.  Check out the awesome back label, written by yours truly.  This is a beer I'm really looking forward to tasting!

Rob Weller at Specialty Imports notified me by email of several new beers that they will be bringing into the state.  I don't know how many of these will actually make it down onto to the Peninsula, but if you're looking for them locally, you best bet is probably Country Liquors in Kenai.  Here's the list:

Posca Rustica from Brasserie Dupont
Lambrucha, brewed especially for Vanberg & DeWulf
Hop Ruiter, also from Vanberg & DeWulf

And five brews from the Schmaltz Brewing Company:
Genesis Ale
Messiah Bold
Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A
Origin Pomegranate Ale
Jewbelation Fifteen

Keep your eyes open for these brews, as they are all well worth trying.  Hopefully I will be able to snag examples of each to review.

Speaking of Country Liquors, they have plenty of Christmas beers in, especially those from Ridgeway Brewing in the UK (Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Lump of Coal, etc).  They did have some of  Deschutes Brewing's 2011 Abyss Imperial Stout in, but I'm afraid the local beer geeks have cleaned them out, at least of their initial batch.  I got my two bottles...

Here's something I thought I might never see:

The very first (to my knowledge) hand pump on the Kenai Peninsula.  Perhaps they had some here a century ago during the Gold Rush days; I suppose they must have.  But if we limit ourselves to "modern" times, this is certainly a first.  Well done to Zach Henry and the rest of the crew at St. Elias for being willing to take the plunge and install a true beer engine.

I was there on Friday, December 2, when Zach started pulling pints from a cask of Mistletoe Porter.  Currently, St. Elias only has 4.5 gallon casks, so they will not last long, even with cask breathers. Wehn you go in, you'll have to ask the bartender if they happen to have one on or not.  Eventually, Zach plans to purchase 9 gallon firkins, which should enable them to have cask available on a more continuous basis.

I was once again reminded of what a difference cask makes last Sunday.  The Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society was holding its Christmas Party at St. Elias and the hand pump was serving their award-winning Moose Juice Barley Wine.  When I had a glass on hand pump, it tasted so different, that I actually got a sample of the draft version to compare side by side, just to be sure my memory wasn't playing tricks.  It wasn't; the cask version was significantly smoother and creamier, with the much more delicate carbonation characteristic of cask-conditioned beers.  Most excellent.

Also on last Sunday, Kassik's Brewery had their Christmas Party, featuring Beer Brats, a Chinese Gift Exchange, and a vertical tasting of their 2007, 2008, 2009, & 2010 Barley Wines.  It sold out and judging by the photos on their Facebook page, it was a great time.  Keep your eye out for future food events to be held at the brewery.  If you're looking to finish up your Christmas shopping, they still have a few Morning Wood ornaments left, and they've got Penny Porter and Big Nutz shirts and hoodies.

Over at Kenai River Brewing, they celebrated the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition on December 5th with $4 growlers of their Hoppin' Salmon Wheat, so I stopped by and broke in my brand new Hydroflask stainless steel growler.  It's a little pricey, but it does a ridiculously good job of keeping beer cold, plus it doesn't sweat and it's unbreakable.  I stopped by again on the following Monday to wish Doug a happy birthday, only to be offered a dark chocolate bacon cupcake.  I know it sounds wrong, but believe me, bacon goes with everything...

They also have a new beer on tap, Holla Day.  It something new for them, a dark beer brewed with both Belgian and American yeasts.  Doug Hogue reports that it's not overly strong, but has some spicy notes from the Belgian yeast and a touch of smoke, thanks to a little smoked malt.  I haven't tried it yet myself, but I'm planning to grab a liter.

Other release news: this year's Celebration Ale from Sierra Nevada has arrived in state.  This is a classic holiday brew, beloved by beer geeks young and old.  I grabbed a six-pack in Anchorage on Saturday.  It will be in our local stores soon, if it's not here already.

On to the beer reviews.  I've got two for this time around.

First, Stone Brewing's Escondidian Imperial Black IPA. This beer was released back on August 15th, to mark Stone's 15th anniversary.  You can always count on Stone to do something interesting for their anniversary beer, and this year is no exception.  At 10.8% ABV, the "Imperial" on the label is no lie.  It poured as black as a moonless night, with a huge tan head.  The nose was pure hops, with absolutely zero roasted malt component, but a touch of alcohol heat.  On the palate, there's some serious hop bitterness with decent carbonation.  The roastiness is again noticeable by its absence, making a belated appearance just at the finish.  The alcohol and massive bitterness make this brew a sipper, with the 22 oz bottle best shared amongst two or three hopheads who don't mind obliterating their tastebuds.  Exactly what it claims to be, a strong, bitter, black brew.

My second beer to review is vastly different than the Stone brew, but just as challenging in its own way. Midnight Sun's London Old Ale is the fifth entry into this year's World Tour series.  It's brewed from the second runnings from their Arctic Devil Barley Wine, and aged in oak barrels with brettanomyces.  Even though it's made from second runnings, it's still 8.8% ABV.  It poured a semi-translucent ruby color, with a nice cream-colored head.  The nose consisted of malt, brett funk, and some woody notes.  Mouthfeel was good, with no hop bitterness to speak of (only 20 IBUs), but plenty of rich, malty flavors, vanilla, other woody notes, and a hearty dose of barnyard funkiness, which became even more pronounced on the finish. The beer was initially at about 50 F, but as it warmed, even more flavor elements made themselves felt.  This is an incredibly complex and rich beer, made for long, slow and deep study.  I have a feeling that this brew is very close to the legendary stock ales of 19th century Britain, strong beers that spent considerable time in the wood and picked up their famously "stale" flavors from brettanomyces.  In fact, brettanomyces is simply Latin for "British Yeast", so named because it was first isolated from wooden British beer casks.  So if you like the funk and what to taste some history, give London Old Ale a try.

That will wrap it up for this time around.  I will do my best to get another blog out before Christmas, but should I not make it, here's wishing you and your a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Until Next Time, cheers!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Here Come the Holidays

Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Not my favorite holiday, but still a nice excuse for a few days off and a big feast with friends.  I don't know about you, but I made it a point to have some really excellent beer along with my turkey.  I broke out one of my last bottles of St. Elias Brewing's  H&H Highland Ale (reviewed on 12/16/2010).  Six months of aging in the bottle has made this beer even more exceptional than when it was on draft.  Not sure when I'll be able to bring myself to drink my very last bottle...

For dessert, I cracked open a bottle of Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary Brewers Reserve Oak-Aged Ale (reviewed on 1/5/2011), which was also delicious after over a year of cellaring.  The perfect accompaniment to an after dinner sweet.

As we move into the holiday season, lots of folks have things to celebrate. Geoff & Marcy Larson, the founders of Alaskan Brewing Company, will be in Anchorage next week to celebrate the company's 25th anniversary.  They will be in town for two days and will be doing two events each day.

Wednesday, 12/7:

3:30 to 5:30 pm  Signing at Brown Jug Warehouse
7 to 9 pm   Perseverance Ale Gathering at Humpy's

Thursday, 12/8:

4 to 6 pm   Signing at Gold Rush Liquors
7 to 9 pm  Perseverance Ale Gathering at the Firetap at Tikahtnu Square

The events at Humpy's and Firetap will have giveaways of 25th Anniversary gear and anniversary glassware to take home, while the signings will be a chance to get your anniversary bottles signed and get your picture taken with Geoff and Marcy.

More good news from Alaskan:  They will be releasing their Barleywine a month earlier this year than in the past. Look for this award-winning brew in local stores in the next week or so.  Also, they are planning to expand into the Texas and New Mexico markets next year.

I finally got around to tasting this year's edition of Alaskan's justly famous Smoked Porter.  This beer has won more medals than any other at the Great American Beer Festival and was responsible for singlehandedly reviving smoked beers in the US.  As usual, the fresh bottle was quite smokey; as a dedicated Islay whisky lover, I enjoyed it, but most folks like to let the bottles age for awhile.  Time tames the smokiness a bit, so if you find it too smokey for your tastes, just stash a few bottles in your cellar.  At Alaskan they've got bottles that are over two decades old, and I hear that they are still excellent when sampled.

I had the chance to talk to Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company last week.  He reports that his next release, The Tide and Its Takers Tripel, is conditioning in the bottle.  Depending on how quickly those little microorganisms work, it should hopefully be released in the early part of December.

December also means it's time to start thinking about the Great Alaska Beer and Barleywine Festival in January.  This year the festival will take place on January 20 & 21st, with plenty of Alaska Beer Week events leading up to it.  Tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster and I've already got mine for the Saturday afternoon Connoisseurs' Session, so don't miss out.  This year's Guest of Honor will be John McDonald of Boulevard Brewing Company.

This time of year is also when the competition for the Wynkoop Brewing Company's 2012 Beerdrinker of the Year gets rolling.  You can find all the details you need to know right here. As a former winner, believe me when I say that until you throw your name in the hat, you have no idea whether you actually have a shot or not.  So get those resumes submitted prior to 31 December!

Not a lot to report from the local breweries, though Kassik's does have some new hats and beanies for sale for Christmas. St. Elias Brewing will be christening their new hand pump with a cask of Mistletoe Porter this Friday.  Everything is supposed to be a "go" by 5 PM, so stop by on your way home from work and have a pint that's been pulled by the very first hand pump on the Kenai Peninsula!

Another reason to stop by would be to try one of the two new beers on tap.  I'm afraid the Oktoberfest has gone the way of all flesh; I was sitting next to Jim "Dr. Fermento" Roberts at the bar when he got the very last pint last week.  Zach Henry has replaced it with his Matushka Imperial Stout and the latest incarnation of his award-winning Moose Juice Barleywine.

The Matushka Imperial Stout poured completely opaque with a small head that dissipated fairly quickly to a collar.  The aroma was initially of the roast malt, then hints of the bourbon barrel aging began creeping in, with some woody, vanilla notes.  On the palate there was good mouthfeel, very rich and complex, lots of the roasty flavors, hints of chocolate, vanilla notes from the wood, and just the slightest hint of bourbon.  This beer illustrates to me the optimum use of a bourbon barrel. The barrel elements compliment the beer without overwhelming it. Another very nice job, and one of the best Imperial Stouts I've had in quite some time.  It's 8.8% ABV, so treat it with respect.

I also tried a new beer from Outside, the Bavarian-style Doppel Weizen from Lagunitas Brewing in California.  It's a wheat beer, but a darn strong one, weighing in at 9.0% ABV and 34 IBUs.  It poured a cloudy, hazy gold with a big, persistent head.  The aroma was classic Bavarian Hefe, with lots of bananas and cloves. Carbonation was excellent, with lots of spiciness, decent hop bitterness, and a touch of alcohol heat on the finish.  All in all, it was a bit of a strange beast, with so much alcohol packed into a hefeweizen, but if they are your thing, you'll probably like this one.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Enjoy your Christmas shopping and be sure to take some time out for a good brew or two.

Until Next Time, Cheers.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Quick Notes Before Turkey Day

I wasn't planning on putting a blog out this week, so naturally I've been flooded by news that really can't wait.  So I'm giving it to you short and sweet.

The King Street Brewery in Anchorage will be opening their new Tap Room at 1 PM on Wednesday. They'll be open 1 to 8 pm on Wednesday, Friday, & Saturday.  They're hoping to have seven beers on tap: an Amber, a Blonde, an IPA, a Stout, a Wit, a Czech Pilsner, and a Bavarian Hefeweizen.  If you're in Anchorage, you should certainly check them out.

St. Elias has a new beer on tap: Mistletoe Porter.  It's lightly spiced with cinnamon, ginger, curacao orange peels, & nutmeg.  Also new at St. Elias is a  lovely beer engine mounted on the bar.  On December 2, for First Firkin Friday, they will be putting it to use.  Cask ale on handpump in Soldotna, Alaska: What a wonderful world we live in! 

Kassik's Brewery is giving away three snowboards.  The boards are on display at Kassik's Brewery, the Brown Jug on Old Seward just north of Tudor Road in Anchorage, and The Sitzmark in Girdwood.  You can enter to win at the brewery, The Sitzmark or any Brown Jug location between 1 December and 28 February.  Based on the picture, they are pretty cool looking.

By the way, I thought I was doing my friends at Kassik's a favor by asking you not to bug them on their day off, but apparently I was wrong.  For those of you who might have missed the comment on last week's post, here's what Debbie Kassik had to say on the subject:

"Kassik's is always willing to serve any day of the week as long as we're here and it's between legal serving hours." 

So belay my last and feel free to take your chances on getting your growlers filled on Mondays at Kassik's Brewery

Finally, for those of you in the greater Kenai-Soldotna area, keep your eyes peeled for a tall, handsome gent.  I have it on good authority that the esteemed James "Dr. Fermento" Roberts, dean of Alaskan beer writers, is gracing our area with his distinguished presence for the next couple of days...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Good Thing You Don't Need Electricity to Drink Beer...

As the above title indicates, electrical power's been a bit sketchy in these parts for the last couple of days.  High winds dropping trees on power lines has kept most of the Kenai Peninsula guessing as to whether the lights will be on from one minute to the next.  The good news is that though you need power to brew beer, it drinks just fine in the dark...

The Beer Tasting at Mykel's Restaurant on Saturday evening was a great success.  The food was outstanding as always and Joe Gilman from Kenai River did a fine job of walking us through several of their brews, culminating in a glass of Chocolate Pecan Crunch that had been cellared for almost a year.  I've had it fresh and I think the aging process has done a nice job in toning down the sweetness and giving in a much more mellow and rounded flavor.  My only complaint (and I heard this from many other folks) was that the musician was just too darn loud.  He was pretty good, but no matter how good you are, I hate having to shout to be heard when I'm trying to talk to my dinner companions.  Music at a beer tasting should be strictly background; we were there for the beer, the food, and the company, not to hear someone belt out lyrics...
To the victor go the spoils...

Speaking of Kenai River, based on his Facebook posts, Doug Hogue is having a great time Outside, both at CANFEST in Reno, NV and at the various breweries he's hit before and since.  Things started off with a bang: Skilak Scottish took the silver in the Scottish/Red/Brown Ales category, right behind Oskar Blue's G'Knight Imperial Red Ale.  Good job, Doug!  However, I'm still trying to figure out how Coors Light won gold in the Lagers Category, beating out Oskar Blue's Mama's Little Yellow Pils. Coors Light?  Really?

In spite of being located in  part of the Peninsula which seems to always lose power whenever the wind blows stronger than a stiff breeze, Kassik's Brewery continues to soldier on.  Indeed, even when they had no power, they were still filling growlers; that's dedication.  By the way, folks, they're closed on Mondays in the winter.  That means it's really bad form to show up on Mondays and expect them to sell you beer.  They're open six days a weeks as it is, so show a little respect, OK?

Anyway, there's a new brew on tap as of today, Penny Porter.  I believe I had last year's version of this maple porter and really liked it, so I hope to get out there soon to pick some up.  It's for a great cause, so if you like porter or dog mushing, be sure to pick some up. Their excellent Double Wood Imperial IPA is also on tap, along with several other choices.

If you're interested in possibly winning a free trip for two to Seattle, Henry Weinhard's is running a contest.  Ten finalists will be selected in March to fly to Seattle in May (along with a companion) to catch fish at the famous Pike's Place Market.  If you can catch all six fish tossed you, you will win a year's supply of their beer.  The contest opened on 1 November and you can enter once a day through February 29th, either by texting "CATCH" to 90464 or entering through Henry Weinhard's Facebook page.  I'm not much of a fish tosser, but I wouldn't mind a free trip for two to Seattle...

Over at St. Elias Brewing Company, Zach Henry has another new beer on, Birdseed Blonde Ale.  I stopped in last Friday and had a glass.  It was a pretty gold in the glass with a fairly small head.  The aroma was crisp and clean, with some hop aroma from the Goldings and Sterling hops used.  Zach told me he used seven different grains in the malt bill, including two different types of wheat malt.  On the palate it was fairly light, with enough hop bitterness to balance the malt, but not so as to push the beer out of the mainstream.  To me, this beer is a nice, straight-ahead blonde ale.  It won't really challenge the experienced craft beer drinker, but it won't scare off the novice either.  I predict it will sell like hotcakes, as it will go great with pizza.

Finally, I managed to snag a bottle of Midnight Sun's Mammoth Extra Stout at Country Liquors in Kenai this weekend. Back on 4/14/2011, I mentioned that it was being released and that I was looking forward to getting some to review.  It's taken me seven months, but better late than never.  Here are its stats: 7.8% ABV, 50 IBUs.  Malts used: Pale Two-row, Special B, Biscuit, Black, & Roasted Barley.  It's hopped with Magnum and Fuggles.

The beer poured completely opaque with a nice tan head, just like a good extra stout should.  The aroma was primarily roasty malt, but with some slight sweet chocolate notes.  The head left nice lacing on the side of the glass.  On the palate the mouthfeel was medium, not as thick and chewy as some heavy stouts. Malt flavors forward, both roasty and some sweetness, balanced with some citrus notes from the hops.  Toward the end the hops get a bit more earthy (the Fuggles, I'd think) and the beer finishes nicely.  Quite drinkable for its strength and style, I could see myself enjoying several of these in a row.  I'm glad I finally got to give this one a try.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Not sure if I'll get a blog out next week, what with Thanksgiving and all.  Hope you get to spend Thanksgiving with family and drink plenty of good craft beer with your turkey feast.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

Date: Fall, 1987 Location: Classified
 Well, it's Veterans Day.  As a veteran, it's always a little weird for me when people come up out of the blue and thank me for my service.  I try to just be gracious and accept it, but it still makes me feel funny.  After all, it's not like I ever went into combat.  I did some semi-risky things (submarines are not inherently safe), but the guys who fish the Bering Sea to put crab on your table are a lot closer to death than I ever was.  I'll add one thing: If you really want to thank our veterans, vote for politicians who will end these idiotic wars (and not start anymore) and bring them home safe and sound to their families.

Meantime, here's a toast to all the men and women I served with, both living and dead:

"He either fears his fate too much,
or his desserts are small,
Who dares not put it to the touch,
To win or lose it all."
Here's to us, shipmates.

Moving on to beer, Midnight Sun Brewing in Anchorage has brewed a beer in honor of Veterans Day. The Warrior is an Imperial Brown Ale, weighing in at 40 IBUs and 8% ABV.  The hops uses were the Warrior variety (what else) and were added throughout the kettle boil.  This one will only be available on draft, so when you head over to The Loft Bar (maybe to snag some Good Mojo Sour Brown today) be sure to give it a try. $1 from each growler sold goes to the annual Seward Combat Fishing Tournament.  Look for the next beer in their World Tour series, Moscow Rye Russian Imperial Stout, to be released on Black Friday, 11/25/11.

Alaskan Brewing  has two new medals to celebrate. At the 2011 European Beer Star Awards, part of the Brau Beviale, Europe's larget beer festival, held in Nuremberg Germany.  According to the competition website, the European Beer Star's panel of tasters sampled 1,113 beers from 38  countries to award gold, silver, and bronze in 49 beer-style categories using purely sensory criteria to identify "authentic, distinctive beers of impressive taste and quality."  This was a record number of entries for the eighth year and a nearly 30% increase in entries from outside Germany.  Alaskan's flagship Amber took the gold medal in the Red and Amber Lager category, while their Stout took the silver medal in the Sweet Stout category.  Congratulations to everyone at Alaskan and keep up the good work!

Closer to home, Kassik's Brewery has their award-winning Caribou Kilt Scotch Ale back on tap, so go by and grab some.  I missed out on the cask of dry-hopped Puddle Jumper Pale that St. Elias Brewing tapped last Friday. I was competing in Triviapalooza in Kenai, and it ran so late that I couldn't make it to St. Elias before closing time.  On the bright side, Zach told me last week that he has ordered a no kidding handpump for the bar, so eventually we should be able to enjoy these cask beers all the time, or close to it, rather than just on special occasions. As a beer lover, that's pretty exciting news for me.  Finally, at Kenai River Brewing, Doug Hogue is Outside, attending the 3rd Annual Canfest in Reno, Nevada.  This means that the Beer Tasting taking place this Saturday evening at Mykel's Restaurant in Soldotna will be hosted by none other than Joe Gilman.  Mykel's Beer Tastings are always great, with plenty of delicious food (cooked in beer) and lots of brews to sample.  It starts at 6:30 pm and costs $38 (which includes food, beer, and tip).  It should be a lot of fun.

On the beer reviews front, I really haven't tried very many new brews in the last week.  I've mainly been drinking my own homebrew and some leftovers of other beers that I've already reviewed.  I did have one new beer: Broederlijke Liefde Saison, a Brewmaster's Collaboration beer between Sly Fox Brewing's Brian O'Reily and De Proef Brouwerij's Dirk Naudis.  Broederlijke Liefde (Brotherly Love) celebrates two great brewing cities, Philadelphia and Ghent.  It uses two yeasts, a classic saison strain and brettanomyces.  It poured a beautiful clear gold with a huge white head that displayed exceptional lacing.  The aroma was, spicy, spritzy and bright, full of excellent hop aroma from the Target and Styrian Golding hops used.  Excellent carbonation gave the beer an effervescent quality on the tongue. It was nice and dry, the way I prefer my saisons, with hints of brett funk, especially on the long, dry finish.  At 8% ABV and 37 IBUs, it's a little stronger that typical for a saison, but still extremely drinkable.  A wonderful brew and another exceptional collaboration.  If you see it, buy it, as it will not be brewed again.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Weather reports are for a storm blowing through tonight and tomorrow morning.  Sounds like it will be a good evening to sit by the fire and drink a barleywine, at least until it's time to go to the Beer Tasting at Mykel's tomorrow night. 

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

...Winter is Here!

If last week's flipped car was the harbinger of winter, we've got the real deal now.  There's an inch of snow on the ground at my house, I've got the snow plow on my faithful steed, and Tuesday's wind storm knocked out power all over the area (including Kassik's Brewery up in Nikiski).  Time to fort up with plenty of wood for the stove, a big glass of strong ale, and listen to the wind howl outside.

Speaking of strong beer, Midnight Sun has released the next beer in their 2011 World Tour series, London Old Ale.  I haven't been able to get my hands on a bottle of it yet, but I hear it's made from the second runnings from brewing their justly-famous Arctic Devil Barley-wine.  Even using the second runnings, you get an 8.8% ABV beer!  It's aged in bourbon oak casks that have been dosed with brett.  I'm really looking forward to getting hold of some of this one.  The last two brews in the series, Moscow Rye Russian Imperial Stout and Anchorage Bock both sound pretty darn good, too.

If you're going to be in Anchorage on Veterans Day (11/11/11), be sure to swing by the Midnight Sun Loft Bar for the very last Good Mojo Day.  These are the days when their 13th Anniversary Good Mojo Sour Brown Ale is on tap. This beer is now over 10 years old, and this is the very last keg of it.  When it was first offered for sale in May, 2008, I was lucky enough to get a growler of it (this was before I started writing this blog) and it was phenomenal.  Everyone else who tasted it thought so too, so the good folks at Midnight Sun saved the last 45 gallons and they've been doling them out every so often over the last three years.  But they've just about hit the bottom of the barrel, so next Friday will be your absolute last chance.  If you happen to be in Anchorage on Veterans Day, don't miss out.

A couple of beloved winter seasonals are back on the local shelves.  Alaskan Brewing's 2011 Smoked Porter is out, as well as Midnight Sun's CoHoHo Imperial IPA.  I had a bottle of the latter Monday night, and it was as delicious as ever (see my review from 10/20/2008).

In other Anchorage brewery news, Bitter Monk Double IPA from Gabe Fletcher's Anchorage Brewing Company was picked as one of Draft Magazine's Top 25 Beers of 2011.  Read all about it here.  Next up from Gabe should be The Tide and Its Takers Tripel, made with Sorachi and Styrian Golding hops and aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels. 9% ABV & 30 IBUs.

In spite of the power troubles mentioned above, Kassik's Brewery now has their Chocolate Cherry Stout on tap at the brewery.  Look for 22 oz bottles soon.  They also have some very cute pewter Christmas ornaments, based on the label for their Morning Wood IPA.  You can get them at the brewery or through the online store on their website, for $20 plus shipping.

Over at St. Elias Brewing Company, the special Oktoberfest beer that they released on 10/22 for their Oktoberfest celebration is still on tap.  I stopped by last Friday and had a glass.  Visually, it's perfect for the style, being a reddish color with an off-white head and crystal clear.  The aroma was of nice, clean malt, which pretty much describes the taste as well.  Zach fermented this beer at such cold temperatures that it tastes more like a lager than an ale.  It's very refreshing and extremely drinkable; I found it hard to stop with only one glass.  Spot-on for the style, I suspect this one will sell out fast, so get by and try it while you can.

And good time to try it would be this Friday, which happens to be First Firkin Friday!  Zach will be tapping a cask of Puddle Jumper Pale Ale, dry-hopped with Amarillo hops.  There's nothing quite so special as a pint of cask-conditioned beer, just like you could get in an English pub.  So be sure not to miss it.  The tapping usually happens about 6 o'clock, but you can get there early and drink pints of the Oktoberfest beer until it's time.

Just one new beer from Outside this time around: Anchor Brewing Company's Brekle's Brown Ale.  The beer is named for the Gottlieb Brekle, who purchased a San Francisco saloon in 1871 and converted it into the brewery which would eventually become Anchor Brewing in 1896. I had some on draft a few weeks ago at Humpy's in Anchorage, but this review is based on a 22 oz. bottle I picked up at La Bodega last week.It poured a translucent ruby-brown, with a big khaki-colored head.  The aroma was mostly of bready malt, with hints of citrus, probably from the Citra hops.  On the palate there was medium body with good carbonation.  The flavor profile is fairly subtle, with some toastiness from the malt balancing the touch of grapefruit from the hops.  Very drinkable and a nice take on the fairly nebulous Brown Ale style. 

Well, that's about it for this week.  Stay safe on these winter roads and stay warm.  Remember: alcohol will keep you blood from freezing, so be careful not to run out!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Winter Is Coming...

Well, I saw my first car flipped in the ditch today, so that must mean that winter's almost here.  I've never understood why Alaskans (who presumably should know a thing or two about winter driving) celebrate the end of fall by sliding their cars off the road.  It rained hard yesterday and it was below freezing this morning.  You don't have to be Albert Einstein to know that adding those two things together you get icy roads.  Yet people insist on trying to drive like it's summer with dry pavement.  Oh well, the stupid shall be punished...

Doug and his latest creation.

Today's a big day in the Kenai beer scene.  Kenai River Brewing Company has released their second canned beer, their Sunken Isle IPA, in 4-packs.  I stopped by the brewery at lunch time to enjoy a bowl of the free chili they were giving away to celebrate and grab some to take home.  Chatting with Doug Hogue, he reports that they hope to have their new tasting room next door open sometime in December.  With additional space and actual tables, it should be a great place to enjoy a brew. They still have their Magnum Single Hop IPA on tap (see review below), along with a "Mystery" Pale Ale.

Out at Kassik's Brewery, lots of brews are fermenting away: besides the Chocolate Cherry Stout, they're cooking up another batch of their Maple Porter, their Spiced Cream Ale, Caribou Kilt Scotch, and their Double Wood Imperial IPA. Rumor has it that more Smoke Imperial Russian Stout isn't too far behind.

Over at St. Elias Brewing Company, they held their big Oktoberfest party on Saturday night.  I wasn't able to make it there, but I did stop by on Friday, heading home from work.  I managed to get Zach to give me a taste of the special Oktoberfest-style beer he was going to release at the party.  I thought it had a great taste, plenty of good, clean maltiness and a lovely color.  I'm sure it was a fine time, and I'll be there next year for sure.

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Speaking of up-coming events, on Saturday, November 5th, there will be a Beer & Wine tasting in Seward at the Sea Life Center.  This is the fifth year that the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance has held this event.  I made it to the one in 2009 (see my blog dated 11/24/2009) and had a wonderful time.  This year, the event starts at 7 PM, $38  gets you in the door, a dozen drink tickets, and plenty of great food.  Lots of breweries, wineries, and meaderies will be there.  If you're interested go to for more details.

Moving out into the beer world beyond the Peninsula, two new breweries have opened in Alaska. First, the Arkose Brewery in Palmer started pouring beer on October 11th.  Stephen and June Gertiesen have been working since January to open for business and they've finally made it.  Currently they are making only one beer, Blue Skies Golden Ale, and it's only available at the brewery.  In the future, look for an expanded selection and for them to start supplying beer to local establishments.  If you're passing through Palmer, look them up at 650 E. Steel Loop Road, off of East Inner Springer Loop Road, behind the Alaska State Fairgrounds.

Even more recently, King Street Brewery in Anchorage celebrated their opening for business with an event at Humpy's Alaskan Alehouse on Tuesday, October 25th, at 5:30 p.m.  Dana Walukiewicz and Shane Kingry, the owners of King Street, had two ales on tap there, a blonde and a stout.  As for the brewery itself, currently their hours are a bit "flexible", but the word is "if there's a truck outside and we're here, people can stop in."  Eventually there will be a tasting room on site, but since they're just getting started, things aren't completely up and running yet.  Their address is 7924 King Street, a few blocks north of Dimond Ave.  I stopped by on 9/27/11, but no one was there.  Hopefully, I'll have better luck on my next visit.

At last!
Pam Hatzis at La Bodega has some great new beers in.  I am especially happy that Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale from Boulevard Brewing has finally made it to Alaska.  See my review 9/27/2010 for why this is fantastic news.  Boulevard's The Dark Truth Imperial Stout (reviewed 3/9/2011) is here at last as well.  My advice is to grad these fantastic beers while you can, because I intend to do my bets to drink them all.  Deschutes' The Stoic Belgian-style Quadruple Ale has also arrived.  I haven't tried it yet, but given their reputation, I expect it to be excellent also.

Now for some reviews.

Last week, I tried Kenai River's Magnum Single Hop IPA. This hop was developed in Germany and has alpha acids typically in the 10 to 12.5% range, with some spicy notes in it's flavor profile.  The IPA poured a cloudy honey color with a nice off-white head.  The aroma was what you'd expect from a good IPA, lots of hop notes, some spiciness, with an undertone of malt.  On the palate the mouthfeel was good, plenty of hop bitterness, but not shattering, then some spiciness, falling away to a decent finish, with plenty of lingering hop flavor.  A nice drinking IPA and an interesting hop; I think I may give it a try in one of my home-brewed IPAs.

In my last blog, I mentioned St. Elias Brewing's latest beer, Corkscrew, a Baltic porter aged in red wine barrels. I finally got a glass of this last Friday.  It's served in goblets, since it's 8% ABV.  It poured opaque with a nice tan head head.  To my nose, it smelled very strongly of red wine.  In fact, the last time I nosed a beer with this much wine aroma, I was smelling Midnight Sun's Because, another big beer aged in red wine barrels.  On the palate, the wine was much less pronounced; in fact, there was excellent balance between the wine and porter elements, especially on the finish.  It's definitely a slow-drinking beer, due to its strength and complexity, but I found myself wanting another when I had finished my first one.  Corkscrew will not be to everyone's taste, but it certainly was to mine.

Finally, I tried a bottle of Signature Ale, made in collaboration between Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing in San Diego and Dirk Naudts of  De Proef Brouwerij in Belgium.  Both of these brewmasters have great reputations and I have had outstanding beers from each of them in the past, so I was really expecting something special here.  I was not disappointed.

This beer is a Belgian strong pale ale in style, and it pretty much nails that style.  The hop choice is slightly eclectic, with Amarillos, UK Phoenix, and German Brewers Gold all being used.  It poured a bright copper with a massive white head.  The aroma is of Belgian yeast notes and Amarillos.  The carbonation was excellent, seeming to lift the beer and make it dance along the surface of my tongue.  The hop bitterness was wonderfully bright and fresh, leading me on to the touch of brett funkiness on the finish.  An absolutely outstanding beer, which begs the annoying question: Will it be better now or in the future with some cellaring?  Hard to see how it could get better, but maybe some aging would enhance the brett.  but maybe that would reduce the wonderful hop flavors?  Decisions, decisions.  Guess I'd better buy several more, some to cellar, some to drink right now.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Lots of new beers for us Alaska folks to get out there and try.  Just remember: Winter's right around the corner, so SLOW DOWN and get there a little later but in one piece.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Back in the Blog Saddle Again

OK, I'm back.  For those of you keeping score at home, my daughter's wedding was a great success.  Lots of friends and relatives made the trek to Anchorage, everyone had a great time, the wedding went off without a hitch, and everyone made it safely home again.  I call that a win.

Given all the time I've spent in Anchorage over the last few weeks, I have gotten to try several new brews, so let's go straight to the reviews.

In the lead up to the wedding, I met my good friend Jim "Dr. Fermento" Roberts, the Dean of Alaska Beer Writers, for lunch at Midnight Sun's Loft.  Along side my delicious sandwich, I had a glass of the latest beer in their World Tour series, Kyoto.  This beer is brewed in the pilsner-style, using rice and sake yeast.  It was great on the palate, with plenty of carbonation and a nice, light body.  Very clean tasting and an excellent accompaniment to food.  In fact, I liked it so much a took a growler home with me and served it to the large group of friends and relatives staying at our home.  It was the perfect craft beer to serve to folks who might not necessarily like craft beer.

On the same trip, I stopped by La Bodega to pick up several bottles that Pam Hatzis had been nice enough to put aside for me, with Bitter Monk DIPA and Love Buzz Saison from Anchorage Brewing Company being chief among them,  I'd been looking forward to sampling Gabe Fletcher's Bitter Monk for several weeks and the fact that Love Buzz had also just come out was an added bonus.
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The Bitter Monk Double IPA poured a clear, bright gold, with a massive white head of pin-point carbonation; very beautiful in the glass.  The aroma has lots of bright, Citra hop notes, likely from its dry-hopping, with the slightest whiff of brettanomyces funk.  On the palate the beer certainly lives up to its name, with the 100 IBUs being immediately apparent.  As the hop shock to my taste buds began to subside, I could pick up the brett, then a little woodiness from the oak aging, all falling away gradually to a nice, funky finish.  This beer has a myriad of very strong flavors, all of which are dominated by its shattering bitterness.  Another masterpiece from Gabe, though like all great art, it may not be to everyone's taste.
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Moving on to the Love Buzz Saison, this one poured a deep, slightly cloudy gold, with a big, rocky white head. Citra hop aroma was again present in the nose, which is not surprising since this beer was also dry-hopped with that variety.  There were also the earthy, spicy notes that are typical of Belgian yeasts, especially saison yeasts.  The carbonation was excellent, and the flavor profile was complex, with citrus-like hops, rose hips, orange peels, and peppercorns all making their presence felt, as well as the ubiquitous oak and brett barnyard elements. At 8% ABV and 40 IBUs, Love Buzz scores a bit higher on drinkability than the 9%, 100 IBUs Bitter Monk.  Very nice and I've already squirreled a couple of bottles away in the cellar to see what some time will allow the brett to do to the overall flavor profile.  I love saisons and this is a wonderful example of the style.

Our local brewers have also been busy over the last few weeks.  First off, as they do every year, Kenai River Brewing Company released this year's Winter Warlock Old Ale on 1 October, and I made sure to grab some as soon as I got back in town.  For those of you who don't remember, this beer is conditioned for an entire year before being put on tap.  The 2011 Warlock  poured a dark honey-gold with a decent cream-colored head.  The aroma is of malt, with a touch of alcohol.  The taste is spot on for an English-style Old Ale: deep, rich layers of malt flavor, with enough hop bitterness to balance, falling away slowly to a long, long finish.  It's hard to know for sure, but looking at my notes, I'd have to say that the 2011 might be the best Warlock yet.  Get some to try before it's all gone.

Hopefully we'll be seeing Sunken Isle IPA in cans soon as well.  When last Doug Hogue and I spoke, he said they were just working to alleviate a back-log with some of their draft accounts, then they would be moving on to Sunken Isle.  There's a picture on their Facebook page today of finished Sunken Isle cans, so I'm assuming all we're waiting for is for them to condition.  That means we should see Sunken Isle in cans go on sale within the next three weeks or so.

Speaking of conditioning, Kassik's Brewery has bottled their Chocolate Cherry Stout and for this beer they will actually be conditioning it in the bottle.  Since this was their first go at bottle-conditioning, they brought in a consultant: Gabe Fletcher, late of Midnight Sun and now the owner/brewer/one-man-band of Anchorage Brewing Company.  I understand that things went well, so look for this beer to be released around Halloween, give or take.

Finally, over at St. Elias, Zach Henry is back from his two weeks of "research" (yeah, right!) in Belgium and Germany.  Which is a good thing, as they were starting to run short on beer!  Munich Red and Flower Child XPA are both gone, and when I was in there last Friday, Zach was in the process of putting a new beer, Corkscrew, on tap.  This is a Baltic porter that has been aged in red wine barrels.  I had a small, flat sample and the wine influence was very pronounced.  I'm looking forward to trying it with some carbonation.  Since Corkscrew wasn't ready, I had a pint of the Fair Trade Porter.  This coffee-laced brew has really been growing on me.  I usually find coffee-beers to be overly acidic and much too bitter on the palate, but Fair Trade seems to bring the coffee flavor without the tremendous bitterness, probably because the beans were cold-steeped, rather than brewed.  For whatever reason, it's a great drink.  Just don't plan on sleeping in the near-term after drinking it!

After visiting numerous Belgian and German breweries, Zach and his companions finished up at Oktoberfest.  So it will be interesting to see if he brings anything new to St. Elias' celebration of Oktoberfest on Saturday, October 22.  As always there will be great food and live traditional German music.I understand Zach bought an authentic Bavarian costume, which he will be showing off at the celebration.  I only hope he'll be wearing the lederhosen and not the other one...

Well, that's about it for now.  With the wedding hiatus over, I should be getting my blogs out on schedule again (more or less).  More beer reviews next week.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Further on Up the Road

Okay, I'm over my sickness and ready to talk about beer again.  In fact, since my last blog I had the opportunity to check out not one but two new breweries AND a new beer bar, so I've got lots to report.

My lovely wife Elaine was lucky enough to score a Denali lottery ticket this year, for Monday, September 19th.  For you non-Alaskans out there, most of the 92 mile-long road into Denali National Park is closed to private vehicles most of the time.  However, on the last four days of the season in September, a lottery is held for vehicle passes.  Four hundred passes are awarded each day, and if you are lucky enough to win one, from 6 AM you can drive your car all the way to Kantishna at the end of the road, so long as you're back out again by midnight.  For a professional photographer like my wife, it's a dream come true.  I went along to drive and watch her back with a can of bear spray.

We left on Sunday on the 400 mile drive up to Denali; we wanted to be able to get an early start on Monday.  Passing through Wasilla, we stopped for lunch at The Last Frontier Brewing Company.  The place was pretty empty (not surprising at noon on a Sunday), but it looked great.  Here are a few interior shots:

Checking out the beer menu, I was impressed by the fact that it lead off with three lagers; not a common occurrence in many brewpubs.  Elaine zeroed in on the Black Diamond Dark Lager, a schwarzbier.  This is one of her favorite styles and not easy to find at all.  I went for the Gold Digger Maibock.  The rest of the line-up: 
24 Karat Gold Lager
Heavenly Wheat Ale
Spiced Peach Cream Ale
Prospector Pale Ale
Imperial Topaz Amber Ale
Garnet IPA
Grubstake Stout
Dusty behind the bar delivered our pints and also told me that all their beers (except the Maibock) were currently available in bottles at the brewery.  That made me feel a little better about not being able to try more of them.  We ordered some lunch and then dove into the beers in front of us.

My wife's schwarzbier, as you can see from the photo, looked beautiful in the glass. (Too bad it was a stupid shaker pint!  Oh well...) It had a nice nose, clean and not too roasty.  Tasting it, I was really impressed with how clean the flavors were, good maltiness up front, excellent balance, and falling away to a nice finish.  Elaine pronounced it better than the Duck-Rabbit Brewery's Schwarzbier that she had sampled at the last year's Great American Beer Festival, which was her previous gold standard for the style.  At 4.2% ABV and 30 IBUs, it was so very nice we took two bottles away with us.

Next was my selection, the Gold Digger Maibock.  At 7.5% ABV, this beer was brewed to appropriate bock strength. As you can see from the photo, it was a lovely deep gold in color with a small but persistent head.  It had the big, clean malt aroma that a bock should.  On the palate, it was a classic bock, with big, clean malt flavors predominating, and hops there just for balance, though it did tasty hoppier to me that the listed 26 IBUs. A really wonderful brew, and it made an excellent pair to the sandwich I had for lunch.  Speaking of lunch, both my sandwich and my wife's Fettuccine Alfredo were excellent.

To sum things up, I was greatly impressed with The Last Frontier Brewing Company.  Their beers are outstanding, their food is great, the location in nice, and everyone I spoke to was friendly.  It's too bad that I live 200 miles away; otherwise, I could see myself spending lots of time there. As it is, I know where I'll be stopping anytime my travels take my through Wasilla.

After enjoying our lunch and collecting our bottles of beer to take with us, we headed north up the Parks Highway toward Denali.  Two hundred miles later, after we checked into our hotel, we pushed on to Healy, 10  miles north of the park entrance, in search of 49th State Brewing Company.  I wrote about this brand-new brewpub in my last Redoubt Reporter column, but everything I knew was second-hand, so I was eager to try their wares for myself.

As we walked in, we were immediately impressed with the "Alaskan vibe" of the place:

Since they currently only have a 1/3 barrel brewing system, I wasn't surprised to find only one of their brews on tap, the Summer Stout.  Trying to keep up with demand using what amounts to a jumped-up homebrewing outfit much be a real nightmare!  I understand they are looking at getting at least a five-barrel system in the near future. 

Of course, I ordered a Summer Stout to go with my order of fish & chips, while Elaine went for their caesar salad.  We both opted for cups of their Baked Blonde Ale & Smoked Gouda Cheese Soup.  When the beer arrived, it was opaque with a small tan head, just as you'd expect from an oatmeal stout.  The aroma was nice and roasty, but with some sweetness.  On the palate it was smooth and creamy, with excellent silkiness from the oats.  There was a nice balance between the sweet and roasty elements, leading me to wonder if perhaps there wasn't some lactose in the recipe.  Over all, it was very good, and I'm looking forward to their being able to expand production.  I'd love to see some of their brews on tap down this way, or perhaps  we might see 49th Street Brewing at the 2nd Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival?

By the way, the soup was freakin' awesome!  Both Elaine and I ended up wishing we'd ordered a bowl instead of a cup.  Good beer and good food: what more can your ask for after a long day on the road?

We spent the next day driving in Denali, getting some awesome pictures, having a wonderful time, and working up a real appetite.  By the time we got back to the hotel, it was pushing 7 PM, so we thought we'd hit the famous Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse, with their 26 specialty pizzas and 40+ beers on tap.  Unfortunately, it seems everyone else in town had the same idea; when we walked up, the hostess told us it would be a two hour wait!  Since we were already starving, this was a non-starter.  Many other eating places in town were closed for the season, so we ended up at the King Salmon Restaurant at the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge.

My beer expectations being pretty low at this point, I was pleasantly surprised to find Denali Brewing Company's Single Engine Red Ale on the menu.  I was less pleasantly surprised when the waiter returned to tell me that they were out of that beer and to offer me Alaskan's Summer Ale as a substitute.  Given the other choices on their menu (Alaskan Amber, Alaskan White, or Heineken), I was OK with that.  However, when the woman at the table next to me asked the same waiter "What do you have that's like an IPA" and he recommended an Alaskan Summer, I damn near choked.  Alaskan's Summer Ale is a fine beer, but like an IPA?  Yeah, in that they are both brewed with ale yeasts.  Other than that, kolschs and IPAs are about as different as they come.  I'm assuming this waiter was just ignorant and not under orders to push the Summer Ale for some reason, but even that doesn't reflect too highly on the training level of the staff.  Once again, we see that beer gets no respect.

Moral of the story: Make a reservation for dinner at Prospectors Pizzeria.

The next day we were on the road at dawn, rolling south on our way back to the Kenai.  We needed to make a stop at Best Buy, so it seemed as good a chance as any to check out one of the newest additions to the Anchorage beer scene, the Firetap Alehouse & Restaurant at the Tikahtnu Square Shopping Center on North Muldoon Ave.

Since we arrived right at noon, it was of course packed, mostly with service people from nearby Elmendorf-Richardson.  Looking over the beer menu, I was gratified to see that there were 28 craft taps versus 3 taps dedicated to macro-brews.  Amongst the craft choices were beers from Kassik's and Kenai River Breweries here on the Peninsula, plus a nice selection of other breweries here in the state, including among others Alaskan, Midnight Sun, and Silver Gulch.  The even had a house beer, Red Hot Mama Red Ale, brewed for them by Glacier Brewhouse.  Overall the ambiance was much closer to that of a sports bar, as opposed to the more restaurant feel of their original location, but then they are obviously targeting the military demographic of the huge base right next door, so that's to be expected.

Eventually I decided to have a Firestone-Walker Double Barrel Pale Ale, a beer I'd had before and really enjoyed.  I was happy to see that a 10 oz glass (along with 16 & 22 oz) was an option on the menu.  If you want to be able to try a couple of different beers over lunch, or just don't want to drink an whole pint, an 8 or 10 oz. option is nice to have.  Our only complaint was the time it took to get our meals.  It took almost 45 minutes for my wife's Mac & Cheese and my Penne Pesce to emerge from the kitchen.  That being said, when they did arrive they were excellent, particularly my dish, which was chock-full of delicious scallops and shrimp.  Bottom line: this new Firetap is continuing the successful legacy of the original.

On the local beer news front, in support of Prostate Cancer Awareness, Kassik's Brewery will be donating a portion of all their Morning Wood sales in September to the 3rd Annual Beer for the Boys campaign.  Over at Kenai River Brewing they are fermenting a new Single Hop IPA; this time around they're using Magnum hops.  They also have a new glasses on sale which mimic their Skilak Scottish cans.  They look extremely cool, so stop by and check them out.  I don't think there's much new to report at St. Elias, other than that Zach, his sister Jessie, and assistant brewer John are all currently in Europe, touring breweries in Belgium and Germany, with a plan to finish up at Oktoberfest next weekend.  I wonder what sort of wild ideas for beers they'll bring back with them?

Well, that's about it for now.  It's likely there will be no blog next week, as my daughter will be getting married on Sunday, October 2, and I'll likely be too busy with pre-wedding mania to bang out a blog.  But don't worry, when I get back at it I'll have lots of new beers to review for you.

Until Next Time, Cheers!