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!

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