Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New Beers From Near and Far

After a busy American Craft Beer Week, I once again find myself behind the power curve on blogging.  So let's jump right in.

During my last Anchorage run, I picked up three beers at La Bodega from Shipyard Brewing in Portland, Oregon.  I'd had some of their brews during sojourns on the East Coast, and they have a great reputation, so when I saw three different 22 oz. bombers, I snapped them up.  Two were from "Pugley's Signature series", an Imperial Porter and XXXX IPA, while the third was a Strong Ale/Barley Wine, Double Old Thumper.  Let's start with the porter.

The porter poured very dark, with the slightest ruby highlights when held up to the light.  A big, tan head was in evidence, with an excellent aroma of chocolate, sweet malt and roasted coffee.  On the palate there was a very full body with good carbonation.  This brew is very much the robust porter, with some residual sweetness, balanced by the roastiness and the addition of classic English hops like Fuggles and East Kent Goldings.  Weighing in at 7.1% ABV, it reminded my a lot of Flying Dog's Gonzo Imperial Porter, though not quite as "big", either in alcohol or mouthfeel.  A very nice beer and a great accompaniment to the grilled rib-eye I had for dinner that night.

The next beer was the XXX IPA.  It poured out a bright, clear copper color with a big off-white head, classic IPA appearance.  The aroma was packed with the citrus hop notes that scream Cascades, and the beer also uses Warrior, Summit, & Glacier hops in its recipe, for a total of 70 IBUs.  On the palate, the body is fairly light, with good carbonation and excellent up-front bitterness and hop flavor.  Everything is so well-balanced that it hides the 9.25% ABV extremely well; it's a nice, hoppy IPA that doesn't stray into the 100+ IBU hop-bomb territory.  Too high in alcohol to be a session beer, but it's not a palate-wrecker either.

Finally, the most unique beer of the three, Double Old Thumper Ale.  Anyone who lived in Britain and likes beer has likely heard of Ringwood Brewery's Old Thumper, which it past years has won the title of Grand Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer FestivalRingwood and Shipyard Breweries have always had a close and special relationship, with Shipyard actually brewing Old Thumper under license in the US.  Now they have produced Double Old Thumper.  True it its name, it weighs in at 11.2% ABV, twice Old Thumper's 5.6%.  It poured a dark honey color, with a big, cream-colored head, very impressive for a beer with so much alcohol.  The aroma began off with some hops, including the classic grapefruit notes of Simcoes, moved to some malt sweetness, and then ended with a touch of alcoholic heat.  On the palate it was a classic English-style barley wine, albeit one that used American hops. Malty sweetness in front, with a fair amount of alcohol heat on the long finish.  Very nicely crafted.

All three of these beers were excellent, and I'd happily grab more at the earliest opportunity.  My only quibble was with the fact that the 22 oz. bottles they came in had twist off caps.  Huh?  Big beers like these do not need to have twist off caps, especially a beer as big as Double Old Thumper, which might get cellared for several months.  Anyone who can afford to drink these big brews should be able to afford a church key to open them.

Another beer I acquired in Anchorage was Gnomegang.  This is a bit of a tongue in cheek collaboration between Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, NY and the Belgian farmhouse brewery of Brasserie D'Achouffe.  The Belgians traveled to Cooperstown last summer to brew this Strong Belgian Golden Ale style beer, using their yeast in the primary fermentation  and Ommegang's house yeast in the secondary fermentation in the bottle.  Since both breweries produce excellent beers, I was anxious try taste their collaboration.

It poured a bright gold with a huge white head, exactly as you'd expect for a beer of the style.  The nose had a spiciness to it, like cloves, plus the earthiness characteristic of a Belgian yeast.  The beer was very light on the palate, with a dancing carbonation and flavors of clove, a touch of caramel sweetness, and good hop bitterness.  The finish is long, dry, and warming.  At 9.5%, this is no session beer, but it's so effervescent that it hides its alcoholic strength very well.  Another quality beer from two great breweries.

Now, let's talk beer news from Alaska.  Gabe Fletcher up at Anchorage Brewing Company has finally received his bottles and bottling machine, so  he's now got some revised release dates:

Whiteout Wit Bier - Released June 18th - Brewed with Sorachi Ace Hops. Spiced with lemon peel, coriander, and black peppercorn. Aged in French Oak Chardonnay barrels with Brettanomyces. Triple fermented. 6.5% ABV & 20 IBUs.

Bitter Monk Belgian Double IPA - Released July - Brewed with Apollo and Citra hops. Dry hopped in the barrel with Citra Hops. Aged in French Oak Chardonnay Barrels with Brettanomyces. Triple Fermented. 9% ABV & 100 IBUs.

Love Buzz Belgian Saison - Released August - Brewed with Amarillo and Simcoe hops. Spiced with fresh Alaskan rosehips, fresh orange peel and black peppercorns. Dry hopped in the barrel with Citra hops. Aged in French Oak Pinot Noir barrels with brettanomyces. Triple fermented. 8% ABV & 40 IBUs.

Tide and it's Takers Triple - Released September - Brewed with Sorachi Ace and Styrian Golding Hops. Aged in French Oak Chardonnay barrels with brettanomyces. Triple Fermented. 9% ABV & 30 IBUs.

Anadromous Belgian Black Bier - Released November - Brewed with Summit Hops. Aged in French Oak Pinot Noir barrels with Kodiak Salmon Berries and brettanomyces. Triple Fermented. 8.5% ABV & 30 IBUs.

Darkest Hour Belgian Imperial Stout - Released December - Brewed with Summit Hops, molasses, dark brown sugar and Italian black licorice. Aged in Rye Whiskey and Pinot Noir barrels with Brettanomyces. Triple fermented. 13% ABV & 33 IBUs.

Not sure where they'll be on sale on the Peninsula, but they'll definitely be available in Anchorage. 

Kassik's Brewery has finished their first bottling run of their award-winning Caribou Kilt Wee Heavy Scotch Ale (note the slight name change to placate the government).  The beers are bottle-conditioning as I write this and should go on sale next Wednesday, 1 June. Late Addition: I forgot to mention that Kassik's will be celebrating their 5th Anniversary with a benefit for the Food Bank.  It's from Noon to 5 PM on Saturday, June 4th at the Brewery.  There will be live music by The Cousins, food, raffles, and special samples of aged beers.  It's for a great cause, so make it if you can.

Over at Kenai River Brewing, they are continuing their good deal from last week, offering pints of Honeymoon Hefe for $2.50 and growlers for $8.  Don't think they've gotten their Sunken Isle IPA cans delivered yet, but it shouldn't be too much longer.

St. Elias Brewing has finally run out of H&H Highland Ale, much to my sadness, but they've replaced it on tap with this year's version of Island Girl Ale, a raspberry kolsch.  I reviewed the original version back on 6/15/2010.  This year's is a bit drier, with the raspberry making the beer seem slightly tart, rather than overly sweet.  Very clean tasting it's a nice summer beer, which will be very popular and refreshing as the weather gets really warm.

Looking ahead, the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society will be having their June meeting at 6:30 next Wednesday, 1 June.  We'll be meeting at Kenai River Brewery in Soldotna and talking about our July party and the Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival, taking place on August 13th. June 2 will be a First Thursday, so I expect St. Elias will be rolling out another cask of something, along with their live music.

Enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend, and keep drinking good beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Vanishing Posts & Breaking News

Well, for some strange reason my last post from Wednesday seems to have disappeared from my blog!  Hope you had a chance to read it before the Blogspot gremlins decided to eat it. (Now it's back again; go figure.)

In it I talked about American Craft Beer Week, which is Monday, May 16th, through Sunday, May 22nd.  I also mentioned that I hadn't heard what our local brewers were doing to celebrate, but now I have.

Kenai River Brewing will be offering pints for $2.50 all week long.  They have also picked a name for their new hoppy American Wheat beer.  They're going with Hoppin' Salmon Wheat.  Stop by and give it a try.  They also just took delivery of another 20 bbl fermenter, which will be used to produce Sunken Isle IPA for canning.

Kassik's Brewery will have several specials posted on the board in the Tasting Room at the brewery during the course of the week, including a sneak peak of their new Black IPA.  They will also be holding a special drawing on Sunday, May 22nd.  Stop by the brewery for more details.

As for St. Elias Brewing, I spoke with Zach Henry on Wednesday evening and he still wasn't sure what they'd be doing, but I'm sure they'll be doing something.  By the way, he tells me that their amazing H&H Highland Ale is getting close to gone, so get some while you can.

Don't forget that you can always hold an event on your own.  Pick up some good beers, invite some friends over (especially ones who don't like craft beer YET), and have you very own beer tasting event.  For example, you could get a growler of IPA from each of our local breweries and then taste them side by side, note the differences and decide which you like best and why.  Or pick up some good cheeses and try pairing them with various beers.  There are plenty of options, so pick one and go for it.  If you can introduce someone to the joys good craft beer, so much the better.  That's the best way to celebrate American Craft Beer Week.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spring's Here; Summer's Coming

Spring has finally made it to the Kenai.  The days are long (over 17 hours today) and the overnight temps are staying above freezing.  The college where I work has held its commencement and my lovely wife Elaine and I spent a good part of the weekend planting things in our garden.  Swans and geese have been flying by on their way north, and RVs have reappeared on our roads, marking the start of annual summer migration of tourists from wherever they all come from to here.

As we get ready for summer, it's also time to celebrate American Craft Beer Week, which runs from next Monday, May 16th, through Sunday, May 22.  This week is dedicated to America's small and independent craft brewers and the successes they have garnered by being integral parts of their local community and reshaping how beer is seen in the US today. To date I haven't heard of any special events our local breweries have planned, but that shouldn't stop you from celebrating by buying and drinking plenty of delicious craft beer.

One event that is coming up is St. Elias Brewing's tapping of another firkin of cask-conditioned ale this Thursday at 7 PM.  They will be tapping a cask of their Williwaw IPA that has been dry-hopped with Falconer's Flight, a new proprietary blend of hop varieties.  I was really looking forward to trying this one, but currently it looks like I will be tied up elsewhere.  Which is too bad, as it sounds like it should be a great beer.

As if our local brewers weren't busy enough, with their new packaging regimes and ramping up production to meet the demand from all our coming summer visitors, they have decided to hold the First Annual Peninsula Beer Festival this summer, in conjunction with the local Rotary Club.  Details are extremely tentative right now, but the event will take place on Saturday, August 13th, at the former Glacier Pontiac dealership on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna.  There will be live music, food, and brewers from across the Peninsula and (hopefully) from all over the state.  As more info becomes available, I will pass it on, but for now, mark your calendars!

I've been promising more beer reviews for weeks, so let's get right into them.

During my trip to Denver back in February, I picked up several bottles (of course), which I am just now getting around to tasting.  One of them was Duvel's Triple Hop AleDuvel's flagship Strong Golden Ale is such a world classic that I was more than a little doubtful that it could be improved on in any way.  After having tried Triple Hop Ale, I still do not consider it an improvement, though it is different enough and well-made enough to be considered a good beer in its own right.  Bottled on 18 May 2010 and weighing in at 9.5% ABV, it was even more formidable than regular Duvel.  Pouring a bright gold with the characteristic massive white head, the aroma was full of classic Styrian Goldings and nothing else.  On the palate there was the characteristic Belgian yeast elements and nice hop flavors.  It's quite dry and light, and hides the extra alcohol exceptionally well.  All-in-all, and interesting brew, but not really a quantum leap above the classic Duvel.

Another beer I brought back was Boulevard Brewery's Long Strange Tripel.  We are finally starting to see some of their beers make it up here to Alaska, which I think is wonderful, as I've been uniformly impressed by them, especially their Smokestack Series, of which this beer is a part.  It poured a dark gold, with another lovely, huge white head of foam.  The aroma was classic Belgian, with the spicy, peppery, earthy notes I always associate with a Belgian yeast.  There was great carbonation, with the light-bodied beer almost dancing across my palate.  The spicy, peppery flavors continue, along with some good hp bitterness, finishing up with a touch of alcohol from the 9% ABV.  An excellent interpretation of a Belgian tripel, and one which I hope we see up for sale here soon.

Speaking of beers from excellent breweries, I finally got my hands on a bottle of Anchor Brewing's Bock.  As a style, I think bocks are terribly under-represented amongst American craft beers, probably because they are traditionally lagers rather than ales.  Anchor's take on the style poured a very dark, barely translucent ruby in the glass with a big tan head.  The aroma was all sweet malt and caramel.  On the palate the malt was certainly in front, followed by some hop bitterness for balance.  The mouthfeel is quite good, and is on the heavy side.  Overall, I found it very interesting and enjoyable, even if it strayed pretty far from the traditional bock.  It was just the thing after a long day of planting potatoes.

Finally, I got to try a beer that I have been anticipating for quite some time: Sierra Nevada's Ovila Dubbel Abbey Ale.  The beer is being brewed in collaboration with the monks at the Abbey of New Clairveux in Vina, California. A portion of the proceeds from the sale will go toward the restoration of the historic Ovila chapterhouse on the grounds of the Abbey. Begun in 1190 AD, it was inhabited by monks for over 800 years.  The ruins of the historic monastery were dismantled and shipped to California in the 1930s.  In 1994 the monks regained ownership and began the task of reconstruction.  So this is indeed an "Abbey" ale.

I obtained the 750ml, corked bottle through La Bodega in Anchorage (Thanks, Pamela!).  It poured a deep, translucent ruby with a big, off white head.  The aroma had elements of figs, raisins, and other dark fruit, very typical for the style.  On the palate, the dark fruit flavors were there, along with the typical malty elements, but the overall flavor profile was not exceptional.  It was a moderately complex beer, with a decent finish, but certainly not the best dubbel I've ever had.  Forget comparing it to Trappists like Westmalle, Rochefort, or Chimay, and I'd rather have a Midnight Sun Monk's Mistress than an Ovila Dubbel.  Hopefully the Saison and Quadruple to be released later this year will be a bit more spectacular.  To be clear, this isn't a bad beer; it's just not a good as I had hoped/expected it would be.

Well, that's about it for now.  If I hear of any American Craft Beer Week events, I'll let you know.  Or you can go out and plan your own.  Don't forget about the firkin tapping at St. Elias tomorrow night; they will be having live music as well.  Don't be too late after 7 PM, as the cask won't last!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Beer: A Bright Light in a Dark World

Here's an essay I submitted to a British beer-writing contest a few weeks ago.  It didn't win the 2000 pound prize, but I still think it's worth a read. Hope you think so as well.

Beer: A Bright Light in a Dark World

            The world we live in today is, in many ways, a pretty grim place.  Wars and rumors of wars, natural disasters, social upheaval, ethnic and religious violence, economic collapse – the list goes on and on.  One asks about the latest news out of a sense of dread these days, rather than curiosity.  We live in tough times.
            But then again, when has it ever been different?  Looking back through the thousands of years of recorded history, and I’m sure through the thousands of years of prehistory before that, it seems things have always been pretty tough for the human race.  Building the first cities in Sumeria was certainly no picnic, and they probably didn’t get a lot of cheerful volunteers to haul stone blocks under the Egyptian sun to build the pyramids.  Standing guard on Hadrian’s Wall, waiting for the Picts to pay you a visit was no bed of roses, nor was making it through the Black Death or the Hundred Years War.  Later generations got to experience the joys of the Napoleonic Wars and the wrenching dislocations of the Industrial Revolution, followed up by the crowning achievements of the 20th Century, two World Wars sandwiching a Great Depression.  Yes, bad as things are today, it seems that’s just the natural state of affairs.  All that doesn’t bode well for the future, but what else is new?
            Still, through all the dark days and hardships of the past, present, and future, mankind has always had a few good things upon which we could rely for solace and good cheer.  Chief among these few good things for at least the last ten thousand years or so has been beer.  Let’s face it, after a tough day’s work for the pharaoh (whoever your particular pharaoh happens to be), there’s nothing a man wants more than to sit down and enjoy a nice pint of fermented grain with his mates.  Plus, that pint was a pretty special thing; for much of history it was about the only thing you could safely drink.  Even today, it’s a healthy choice, with vitamins and minerals your body needs, along with just enough alcohol to keep your heart healthy and your soul happy.  Yes, beer has been one of the few good things that the working man has had to look forward to through the ages.
Just as important as drinking beer has been doing so in a social setting, as a communal activity.  From the carved reliefs of the Sumerians, we see men and women, sitting around a communal jug of beer, drinking through their individual reed straws and no doubt discussing the issues of their day.  Ever since we humans figured out how to brew it, we’ve been inviting our friends and family to share beer with us.
            This emphasis on imbibing in a communal fashion seems to be something almost unique to beer.  Sure, the Ancient Greeks had the occasional symposium with wine, but beer seems to almost always be consumed in a group setting.  Much of the pleasure of beer seems to reside in this social aspect.  Hard liquor and even wine contains too much alcohol to be consumed in quantity over a long time span without negatively impacting the drinker’s ability to converse and behave in a polite fashion.  Beer seems uniquely suitable as the tipple of choice for a long session at a party or the pub, talking and laughing with friends.
 Even today, in our much more atomistic society, beer drinkers have created spontaneous social communities on the internet.  On websites like BeerAdvocate and RateBeer and in thousands and thousands of blogs, beer drinkers reach out for the same communal experience that our ancestors enjoyed: drinking beer and talking about it with friends.  Wherever and whenever beer is consumed, social relationships are created.  It’s the soil in which friendships take root and grow.
            The enjoyment of beer in a social setting is at the heart of the centuries old cultural icon that is the British pub.  While it may have some analogues in other cultures (the cafĂ© in Belgium, the German biergarten, or even the neighborhood bar in America), none of them are such an important component of their respective cultures.  Despite the numerous body blows that it has taken over the last several decades from foolish governmental policies and changing public tastes, the pub still rests at the heart of what it means to be British.
            Furthermore, a fine, well-kept pub still remains the best setting in which to experience the joy that is an excellent beer.  Walking through the door into an attractive public bar, looking over the beers on offer, making a selection based on personal taste and mood, having it expertly pulled and served to you in a lovely, clean glass, inhaling the wonderful aroma, feasting your eyes on its beautiful color and clarity, then at last taking that first, wonderful sip – well, I’m not a religious person, but I think I can grasp the concept of religious ecstasy!
            Once you are past the sheer enjoyment of the beer itself, there is still the entire social dimension of the pub to enjoy.  Whether you are a stranger in town or dropping in to your local for a pint after work, you are almost guaranteed to strike up an interesting conversation.  The atmosphere of the truly fine pubs, the ones that eschew televisions and loud music, encourages this sort of interaction.  Good beer and good conversation go hand in hand; they always have and they always will.  In many ways the pub has been and remains the social glue that holds communities together.  It provides an individual the chance to meet and interact with the other members of their community, in a setting that promotes equality and conversation, lubricated with the moderate amount of alcohol provided by the responsible consumption of beer.  What could be better than that?
            In good beer mankind has found a healthy drink for the body, a stimulant to the intellect, and a solace for the soul.  It’s the common factor that promotes communication between both strangers and long-time friends.  It breaks down barriers and builds communities.  Its production embodies centuries of history, yet utilizes the most modern of technologies. It’s a luxury that the rich man cannot monopolize, as it remains one the average man can afford.
            Over three thousand years ago in Egypt, someone carved the following inscription: “The mouth of the perfectly contented man is filled with beer.”
            Some things never change.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Graduation Week

As you may or may not have noticed, there was no blog last week.  This week's blog will be very short, as it is Graduation Week at the college where I work and I am extremely busy, having to work late and be on the road quite a bit this week.  Which is too bad, as I had several interesting brews as part of last weekend's Open It Event, but hopefully I'll get to write about them next week.  However, there is some beer news that just won't keep.

Kassik's at Three Bears
First, three Kassik's Brewery beers are now available in 22 oz bombers.  Here's the proof, in a photo snapped by my lovely wife at the Three Bears Warehouse store in Kenai on Sunday.  If you're interested in seeing their new bottling line, a great time to check it out would be this Wednesday evening (May 4) at 6:30 PM, as the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society will be holding our monthly meeting at the brewery and getting a tour.  Meanwhile, be sure to pick up some of their bottles and keep an eye out  for the bottle version of  their medal-winning Caribou Kilt Strong Scotch Ale, due out next month.

Gabe and his new toy
Also on the bottling front, I touched base with Gabe Fletcher at the Anchorage Brewing Company to get an update on his status.  His first beer, Whiteout Wit, is finished and ready to be bottled; Gabe reports that he is just waiting for his bottler to arrive.  Look for a release in mid to late May.  Besides his 160 standard barrels of beery goodness, Gabe now has a new 660 gallon oak barrel that he's going to use to produce sour ales.  I have blogged about the various beers he has planned in the past, but as a reminder, here are the specifications for the Whiteout Wit:

Whiteout Wit Beer. Made with Sorachi hops and spiced with fresh lemon peel, Indian coriander, and black peppercorns. Aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels. 6% ABV & 20 IBUs.

I got to taste a sample in early February, and I can't wait to grab a few bottles of the finished product.

Speaking of new releases, Kenai River Brewing Company has created a new American Wheat Ale with lots of hop flavor, and they need your help to name it!  Just stop by the brewery for a taste and then give them a name; you have to do this in person, no electronic submissions.  The deadline is Friday, May 6th, so don't miss out on your shot at beer immortality.

Finally, St. Elias Brewing Company will be having another shindig on Thursday evening, May 5, to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.  There will be live music and a new cask-conditioned beer released, a special kolsch, that was primed with agave syrup and dry-hopped with Pearle hops.  Sounds like it should make an excellent chaser for tequila shots.  Look for another new release next Thursday, May 12th, as well.  They'll be tapping a cask of  Williwaw IPA that's been dry-hopped with HopUnion's proprietary  hop blend, Falconer's Flight.  These cask-conditioned offerings only last a single night, so don't miss them.

Well, that's all I have time for this week.  Look for more reviews next week for several new and exciting brews.

Until Next Time, Cheers!