Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Starting 2011 Off Right

Goodbye 2010, Hello 2011!  Only 1 more year 'til Doomsday, if you believe the Mayans and crappy disaster movies.  January is always the "ultimate beer month" here in Alaska, so let's get rolling.

First, the three local breweries here on the Central Peninsula are having a great event in honor of Alaska Beer Week.  Complete the Peninsula Brewery Tour by visiting all three breweries (Kassik's, Kenai River, & St. Elias) by January 15th and you'll be entered to win a basket of goodies (t-shirts, glassware, & gift certificates).  Pick up an entry postcard at any of the three breweries and get the back signed off when you visit each one.  Just drop off the completed postcard at the last one you visit for your chance to win!

There's a lot more to Alaska Beer Week than just this local contest, though.  Most of the events will be taking place over the next ten days or so up in Anchorage.  For a complete listing of events, check out the Brewers Guild of Alaska Events webpage, but here are some events to be aware during the run up to the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival on 14-15 Jan.

Wednesday, Jan 12:

6:00 PM Spenard Roadhouse presents a beer dinner, featuring beers from Kenai River Brewing Company. Guest speaker is KRBC owner/brewer Doug Hogue. See website for details.

6:00 PM Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop Beer Dinner at Suite 100 Restaurant, 1000 E. Dimond Blvd, $65.00 per person. Please call 341-1000 for reservations.

Thursday, Jan 13:

7:00 PM Great Northern Brewers Club meets at the Snowgoose Restaurant. In conjunction with the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Fest, fest guest Ken Grossman from Sierra Nevada Brewing–along with other visiting brewers–will speak to this crowd.

 The GABBF itself has three sessions, Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, and Saturday evening at the Egan Center.  As I have written before, the Saturday afternoon session is far and away the best one to attend.  It is THE big beer event held here in Alaska each year, so you need to be there if at all possible.

Besides the run up to the GABBF, there's plenty of other news.  As you can see from the picture, Kenai River has taken delivery of their new 20 bbl fermenter, which will be dedicated to producing the Skilak Scottish Ale required for their new canning operation.  They have also approved the final artwork for the cans, which should be manufactured by the end of this week.  On January 11th, they will be releasing a new version of their popular Breakfast Beer; this one is made with chocolate from Madagascar and roasted pecans, hence the name: Chocolate Nut Crunch.  Can't wait to try it!

This Friday, 7 January, is another Firkin Friday at St. Elias Brewing Company.  They're tapping a cask of "Black RyePA" at 6 PM. This is a Black IPA brewed with lots of rye malts and dry hopped with Citra and Crystal hops.  Sounds delicious, so stop by on the way home and get some before it's gone.

Out at Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop, things were continuing to advance at last report: " We are making progress: the new refrigeration will be finished today, warehouse is insulated and sheetrock is about 1/3 of the way, efficiency room is ready to be taped and painted, and wiring for the tasting room is about done thanks to Rick and the boys."

On the bad news front, there was a fire in late December at the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint-Remy in Belgium, the brewers of the world-renowned Rochefort Trappist Ale.  While the brewery itself was undamaged, over 27,000 liters of beer being stored on the abbey grounds were destroyed.  I'm not sure what this may mean in the way of future shortages, but I intend to stop by Save-U-More in Soldotna and load up on some Rochfort, just in case...

Turning to beer reviews, I sampled 14 new beers over the Holidays.  I don't have time to review them all right now, but here are three that really stood out.

First, I picked up a six pack of Sierra Nevada's 2010 Celebration Ale.  This is a perennial Christmas classic, released ever year in time for the Holidays.  I reviewed last year's edition on 12/2/2009.  Looking over what I wrote then, I wouldn't change a thing.  Celebration Ale is still a classic American Winter Warmer, chock full of Pacific Northwest Hops, yet remarkably drinkable, considering it's 6.8% ABV.  As I said then: if you haven't tried this beer yet, you are really missing out!  Get some before it's gone, as Sierra Nevada reports it's selling out even faster this year than it did last time around.

I also opened a bottle of Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary Our Brewers Reserve Oak-Aged Ale.  This is the fourth beer in their 30th Anniversary Series, and while the three previous beers were collaborations with brewing pioneers, this brew is a blend of oak-aged Bigfoot Barley Wine, Celebration Ale, and fresh Pale Ale, then generously dry-hopped and sold in 750ml corked bottles.  The first three brews were exceptional, so I was expecting something pretty special and this beer did not disappoint.

It poured a beautiful deep copper color with a massive off-white head.  The nose was packed with a clean hop aroma, very much like the nose on Celebration, and promised plenty of pineyhoppiness; very complex.  The finish is long and dry, with subtle hints from the wood aging.  The 9.2% ABV is well concealed and the beer is very drinkable for its strength.  This beer is a fitting wrap up to the series, a real showcase for the brewing skill of the folks at Sierra Nevada.  This is another beer that won't be around long, so if you can find it, buy two.  One to drink now, and one to cellar.

Another new beer I tried over the Holidays was a Christmas Bock from Mahr's Brau in Germany, imported by the Shelton Brothers.  Bock is a style of beer seen all to infrequently in the US; since it's a lager, and most craft brewers favor ales, not too many get produced.  This is too bad, as it's a wonderful style, rich and malty, but with the clean flavor profile of a lager yeast.  The Christmas Bock was a little darker and hoppier than is typical for the style, unfiltered and unpasteurized,with 6.0% ABV, a deep golden color and a large white head.  The aroma was of malty sweetness, with no off notes.  On the palate the beer had a nice, medium body, good balance, and an exceptionally clean taste.  This is my first beer from Mahr's, but their reputation as an artisanal brewery in Bamberg proceeds them.  If this beer is any indication, it's a reputation that's richly deserved.  Not much of this beer gets imported into the US, only a few hundred cases, so you may have to search it out.  It's worth the effort.

Well, that's about it for this week.  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and drank much good beer.  If you're able to attend the GABBF or any of the events surrounding it and see me, be sure to say hello.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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