Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Results, Not Excuses

Back in a previous life, when I used to go by the name "XO" instead of Bill, I carried around a coffee mug with a motto on it: "Results, Not Excuses."  It's even engraved on my retirement plaque.  So I won't make any excuses as to why my blog production has been so spotty lately; I'll just get get right into it.

The big news at Kenai River Brewing is that their cans arrived last Friday, all 16 pallets of them.  I stopped by to take a look on my way home and my impression was: "Lord, that's an awful lot of cans!"  Canning operations should commence this week, and I believe the first six-packs will be available for sale on Friday, March 4.  Besides taking delivery of their cans, Kenai River has also released the latest in their series of Single Hop IPAs; this one uses Saaz hops, one of the classic European "Noble" hop varieties.  I snagged a liter and drank it over the weekend.

It poured a hazy orange-gold into the glass with a large white head that dissipated fairly rapidly to a collar.  The aroma was of hops, of course, but not tremendously so.  On my palate the beer had a good mouth feel, nice bitterness, and a pretty intense finish.  However, I can't say that this is one of my favorites from among their Single Hop IPAs.  I can't quite put my finger on why, but the Saaz just didn't work for me here.  I find this strange, as I love them in a good Czech pilsner, like Pilsner Urquel.  Still, that's the purpose of brewing these single hop beers: to experience how a hop impacts a beer all by itself, so be sure to stop by and taste it for yourself.

Speaking of new beer releases, Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop released their Big Nutz Imperial Brown Ale on Sunday, 2/13.  I haven't been out there to grab any yet, but I need to hurry up, as I'm sure it will not last long.  Kassik's also sponsored the 2011 Fur Rondy Homebrew Competition up in Anchorage on 5 February.  Frank Bell and Brian Noonan brewed a specialty beer that was selected as the Kassik's Choice Winner; they will get to brew a commercial batch of their beer at the brewery.  I'm told that the work to complete the expansion of the brewery is still on track, with hopes to have their bottling line up and running by late spring, give or take.

Turning to some other beer reviews, I've been working my my through several that I picked up on recent Anchorage trips.

Let's start with Midnight Sun's Rondy Brew 2011 Winterfest Lager.  Each year Midnight Sun brews the official beer for the Fur Rendezvous in Anchorage; this year they went with a classic lager style.  It poured a lovely light honey color with a huge white head.  The nose was of clean malt with a touch of hops, just what you'd expect from a lager.  On the palate, the beer had nice carbonation and enough bitterness from the 30 IBUs from Saaz and Hallertau hops to balance the malt, dropping away to a nice, clean finish.  At 5.6% ABV, this beer is certainly sessionable.  This is just the sort of approachable craft brew that could wean a BudMillerCoors drinker away from macro brews and into the world of craft beer.  Nice job, guys.

Thanks to Pamela at La Bodega, I also got to sample a bottle of Sierra Nevada's new Hoptimum Whole-Cone Imperial IPA.  This beer is one serious hop bomb!  We're talking 100 IBUs from German Magnum hops, aroma hopping with Simcoe and an unnamed proprietary hop variety, dry hopping with Simcoe and the proprietary hops, and the use of Citra & Chinook hops in the "torpedo", the same hop infuser that is used to make their Torpedo Extra IPA. Toss in enough malt to provide something to hang all these hops on and you end up with a 10.4% ABV monster.

It poured a lovely copper color, with a massive, cream-colored head.  The aroma was massive, with plenty of citrus/grapefruit notes from the Simcoes.  On the palate there was a tremendous hop bitterness, though not quite as shattering as some other 100 IBU hopbombs that I have had.  The brewers at SN obviously went to a lot of trouble to try to keep the giant drinkable.  The beer has a decent mouthfeel and a good finish.  You have to really like hops to enjoy this beer at all, and I defy anyone to enjoy more than one glass, as anything more pretty much shreds your palate.  That being said, I found I liked it.  The brewers at Sierra Nevada continue to push the envelope; like everything they do, Hoptimum is a beautifully crafted example of the brewer's art.

Speaking of big beers, I also got to try a couple of barley wines.  The first was 10 Squared Barley Wine Ale from Fish Brewing Company in Olympia, WA.  The 10 x 10 comes from the fact that the brewers used 10 different malts and 10 different hops to brew a 10% ABV, 100 IBU barley wine.  While both 10 Squared and Hoptimum are 100 IBUs

Finally, I had a bottle of North Coast Brewing Company's 2010 Old Stock Ale.  This is a beer that I had heard many good things about, but had never gotten around to trying.  Of course I had also heard that it was a beer that was really designed to be cellared for several years before drinking, so tasting a 2010 bottle right away really doesn't do the beer justice.  However, I like to have a starting data point before aging a beer, so here goes.

The  beer poured a lovely translucent ruby color in the glass.  It produced a small head that dissipated almost immediately.  The aroma was very rich, redolent of plums, figs, or some other dark fruit.  On the palate the beer was equally complex, vinous and full of rich, dark flavors like a good port. At 11.7% ABV and 35 IBUs from classic British hops like Fuggles and East Kent Goldings, this is a wonderful example of an English barley wine.  I plan to cellar several bottles and taste them at one year intervals, to see how it matures.  Should be worth the wait!

Well, that's about it for this time around.  Get out there and try some new brews.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Another "New" Brewery Opens in Alaska

They say it's hard to keep a good man down.  I guess the same is true when it come to a good brewery/restaurant location up in the Mat-Su Valley.

The Last Frontier Brewing Company (hmmm, sounds familiar) and its next door restaurant The Last Frontier Brewhouse are tentatively scheduled to open in Wasilla on February 3.  They are located on the premises of the former Great Bear Brewing Company, which closed a few years ago due to a business dispute among its owners. Veteran Alaska brewer Ray Hodge and his apprentice Robbie Martin will be presenting seven different brews: Heavenly Wheat Ale, Garnet IPA, Black Diamond Dark Lager, 24 Karat Lager, Amber Scottish Ale, Prospector Pale Ale, and Grubstake Stout. I never got the chance to try the beers of the Great Bear before it closed, but I'm looking forward to getting up there and checking these out.  If you're passing through the Valley, you should stop by for a taste.

Speaking of new breweries, I mentioned Gabe Fletcher's soon-to-open Anchorage Brewing Company in my last blog, but there is another new brewery in Anchorage that should be open soon: King St. Brewing Company.  I don't have much info about I yet, but I'll be sure to pass anything I hear along.

Moving on to some new beer reviews, during the GABBF in Anchorage last month I picked up a bottle in the latest beer from Midnight Sun's Pop Ten series, their Barfly, a Smoked Imperial Stout aged in oak .  When I poured it into my nice, new Spiegelau glass (a Christmas present.  Thanks, Elaine!), it was opaque with a small, dark brown head that dissipated pretty rapidly to a collar around the glass.  The aroma was very complex, with smoke, roasted malts, and even some tobacco notes, plus some alcohol from the 12.6% ABV.  On the palate the mouthfeel is good, with the roast coming through first, followed by warmth from the alcohol, then some slight smoke.  The woody notes come in, as the beer drops gradually away to a long warm finish.  The 45 IBUs are there for balance; they can't punch through all the other big flavors in this beer.  All-in-all, very, very nice.  If you like big complex beers with smoke & wood, Barfly is a great one.

On the same trip I picked up a bottle of BrewDog's Hardcore IPABrewDog is probably one of the best known breweries of its size in the world, thanks to their take-no-prisoners attitude to brewing, and some of their more outlandish efforts, like Sink the Bismark IPA or their End of History, bottled inside stuffed roadkill.  We are starting to see some of their beers up here in Alaska, thanks to Specialty Imports, and I was able to grab this one.

It poured a lovely dark copper, with a massive off-white head.  The aroma was packed with floral hops; the brew is hopped and dry hopped with Centennial, Columbus, and Simcoe, to a ridiculous 150 IBUs.  Besides the tremendous hop aroma, the beer smelled very clean, with no off flavors at all.  On the palate the beer was fairly light, with a ton of good, clean hop bitterness and flavor, plus some heat from the 9.2% ABV.  The brew finishes well, and leaves you eager for another sip, which is a real feat for such a hopbomb.  I'm not sure why, but I found the beer strangely reminiscent of Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot Barley Wine.  It's certainly not as strong as the Bigfoot, but something about it tickled my memory, perhaps the hop profile. Regardless, it's a fine Imperial IPA from one of the most eccentric craft brewers in the world today.

Speaking of Bigfoot, the 2011 version was released a couple of weeks ago, though I have yet to see any up here in Alaska.  Personally, I like mine with a year or two of cellaring, and I drank a 2010 over the weekend.  It still poured a lovely copper with a massive head, but now the hop aroma is becoming a little more restrained, with more caramel and malt notes shining through.  Tasting it, the hop bitterness had begun to mellow a bit, producing a more rounded barley wine, though still one with plenty of hoppiness.  Very nice.  When Bigfoot does hit the shelves, I recommend picking up a case and drinking a six-pack over each of the next four years.  You won't be disappointed. 

Turning to the local front, fresh off his second place in the GABBF Barley Wine Competition, Zach Henry at St. Elias Brewing has released a new beer, Colonial Porter.  I've gotten so used to Zach trotting out bourbon-barrel aged, blended, beer-style-category-bending new releases that it's almost a shock for him to release a "straight-ahead" robust porter like this one.  A shock, but a good one; after all, there's only so much of those other ones you can take, before you need to relax with something a little less complex.  Colonial Porter is a great beer for that, opaque with a big light tan head, an aroma of roast malt & some sweet/chocolate notes.  Medium mouthfeel, good carbonation, plenty of roastiness with enough hops for balance, this is an exceptionally well-made robust porter.  No bells or whistles, just a really good beer to enjoy with a meal or after a hard day's work.  And you can have more than one without wrecking your palate.

The future of craft beer packaging...
In other local news, Kenai River has received their canning machine and their new 20 bbl fermenter, Fiona the Fermenter, is currently full of a double batch of Skilak Scottish which is destined for canning.  Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop reports brewing a Smoked Russian Imperial Porter (yum!) and that they will be releasing their Big Nutz Imperial Brown Ale on February 15.  They are also sponsoring the Great Northern Brewers Hombrew Club's homebrew competition at the Fur Rondy.  Entries are due at the Snow Goose in Anchorage between 11 and 6 on Friday, 4 Feb. Best in show gets their beer brewed by Kassik's!

Finally, two pieces of not so good news from the beer world outside Alaska.  First, Gambrinus Company has announced that they are discontinuing brewing Pete's Wicked Ale.  For those of us of a certain age, Pete Slosberg's beer was possibly the first craft beer we ever encountered.  While Pete sold his brand to Gambrinus in 1998 and it subsequently was "dumbed down" pretty badly (at least in my opinion), it's still a sad moment to see it go away.

The second piece of bad news in the death of Don Younger, owner of The Horse Brass Pub in Portland, Oregon, at the age of 69.  I never had the pleasure of meeting Don, but like all lovers of good American beer I knew of him.  He was a pioneering publican in a city that has come to be the craft beer capital of the US, in no small part due to his efforts.  He will be missed.  Here's to you, Don.

Until Next Time, Cheers!