Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Every now and then it's good to take a step back and reflect.  Last evening in my beer class, we were talking about Belgian beer styles.  As I worked my way through the long list of the many different kinds of exceptional Belgian beers out there, I also made a point to tell the class which ones were available locally here in Soldotna.

Later, as I was driving home, a thought came to me.  Isn't it amazing that here on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, I can find in local beer stores such classic beers as Saison Dupont and Duvel?  That I can find not one or two but four different Trappist breweries represented on local shelves?  Never mind all the great and interesting beers brewed locally on the Peninsula, around Alaska, or even down in the lower 48.  I'm talking about beers brewed 5000 miles away by monks for goodness sake, and I can pick up a corked, 750 ml bottle in my local grocery for $10?  Unbelievable.

Whatever the other issues we have to deal with, there is certainly no doubt that THESE are the Good Old Days when it comes to drinking good beer.

Speaking of drinking good beer, here are some beer reviews that I didn't have space for last week.

Boulevard Brewery's The Dark Truth Imperial Stout.  I've been very impressed with every beer I've had from Boulevard in the past (Tank # 7 and The Sixth Glass), so I ordered a bottle of their imperial stout to have with dinner one night at Freshcraft when Elaine and I were down in Denver.  It poured opaque with a nice tan head like most imperial stouts do.  The aroma had some sweet, dark fruit elements, suggesting chocolate and raisins, probably from the Belgian yeast used.  There's plenty of roasted malt character on the palate, as you'd expect, plus some balancing sweet, chocolate-like notes.  Mouthfeel was excellent, like velvet on the tongue, and it faded to a dry, slightly smoky finish. At 9.7% ABV and 60 IBUs, this is a fine example of the growing trend to make imperial stouts using Belgian yeast, rather than English or American strains, and another excellent beer from Boulevard.  You won't find it for sale in Alaska, but it's worth looking for when you're Outside.

Another bottled beer that I tried while in Denver was the Highway 78 Scotch Ale, a collaboration brew between the Green Flash, Pizza Port Carlsbad, and Stone Brewing Companies.  As pretty much anyone who's read more than a few of these blogs knows, I'm a sucker for a good Scotch Ale, so naturally I wanted to give this one a try.  Named after the highway that links the three breweries, this was an interesting choice stylistically, as collaboration brews tend to run to the exotic or the extreme, rather than a straight-ahead Scotch ale.  The beer poured a pretty, translucent brown with hints of ruby highlights and a small head that left nice lacing on the glass.  The aroma was what you would look for in a Scotch ale: thick malt, ripe fruit, maybe a touch of smoke, and a hint of the 8.8% ABV.  On the palate there is plenty more sweet malt, with a hint of hops and alcohol to balance the sweetness.  It doesn't taste like it's almost 9%, but stays remarkably drinkable.  A nice Scotch ale, and I tip my cap to the breweries for trying their hand at making a malt-forward style, rather than another hop bomb.

The final bottled beer I want to review this week is Redemption Blonde Ale, from Russian River Brewing Company. The label on the bottle refers to this beer as a Belgian-style "Single", the semi-mythical brew ostensibly made by Trappist monks for their own consumption, as compared to the dubbels and tripels made for sale to the outside world.  Since there is no "standard" for this style, each brewer who chooses to make one pretty much gets to make it up as they go along.  Midnight Sun did their take on this style back in June, 2007 with one of their 7 Deadly Sins series, Greed.

Russian River's incarnation is bottle-conditioned and weighs in at 5.15% ABV.  It poured a slightly hazy gold with rocky white head that dissipated fairly quickly.  The nose was loaded with the spicy, peppery esters that scream Belgian yeast.  On the tongue there was good carbonation and a light mouthfeel, with a nice amount of hoppiness and a very dry finish.  This is a beer that's made to be drunk in quantity; it would be the perfect session beer.

Russian River Brewing Company June 2009
It's too bad we don't get this or any other of Russian River's fine brews up here in Alaska.  When I visited Russian River Brewery in 2009, I asked owner/head brewer Vinnie Cilurzo when he thought he would start distributing his beers in Alaska.

His answer? "Never."

I really hope it won't be that long.

Looking around the state, I just got  my first email reminder about the 19th Annual Great Alaska Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival, held at the Southeast Alaska State Fairgrounds in Haines, on May 27th & 28th, 2011.  I haven't been to this festival yet, but folks who have tell me it's a good one, with over 900 people and 13 Alaskan breweries in attendance last year.  Don't know if I'll make it this year, but it's on my list for someday.

You should also be on the look-out for the latest release in Alaskan Brewing Company's Pilot Series, their Imperial IPA

On the local beer front, I hear that Kenai River Brewing's can release party last Friday was a big success.  I didn't make it by there myself, but my lovely wife Elaine did and reported that six-packs and brats were flying out the door. Kassik's is continuing their expansion work, with an eye towards having their bottling line up and running in April.  St. Elias had their Mardi Gras Party on March 8, which I also missed (due to teaching my class).  Zach and his crew are already gearing up for their next shindig, on St. Patrick's Day.  In honor of that holiday, they will be selling pints of their Mother's Milk Irish Stout for $3 each all week long (13-20 March).  I'd pass on the green beer though, if I were you...

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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