Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer Solstice 2011

What's the solstice?
It's Summer Solstice time again here in Alaska.  When you live in a place with such extreme changes in its day-night cycle, the solstices, both winter and summer, are truly something to celebrate.  You have to loose something to truly value it, so daylight is something we never take for granted up here on The Last Frontier.  In December, we celebrate that the days will (finally!) start getting longer, while in June we celebrate that they have gotten as long as they can.

For our breweries here on the Kenai, this time of year means all-out production, trying to keep up with the surging demand from the tourists visiting our fair state.  Still, as busy as everyone is, I have a few snippets of news:

Kenai River's Beer of the Week is Skilak Scottish.  $8 growlers and $2.50 pints.

St. Elias Brewing will be releasing their Sunfire Saison again any day now (see my review of last year's version on 6/22/2010).  This was a wonderful beer and I'm looking forward to trying it again.  Zach reports that he'll be replacing his Pipedream Rauchbier with a brown ale (no name yet).  There will be another cask-conditioned beer tapped on First Thursday, 7 July, at 7 PM. LATE ADDITION: The Sunfire Saison is on tap now, along with Medusa, "a monstrous ale fermented with apricots then aged in Oak White Wine Barrels". ABV is about 10%, so watch your step!

Kassik's reports that their Imperial Spice Honey Wheat is about gone, to be replaced by their Big Nutz Imperial Brown.  They are also thinking of bottling their Otter Creek Amber next, though they will likely change its name.

Anchorage Brewing Company, Gabe Fletcher's new brewery, has released its first beer, Whiteout Wit.  I missed the release party at the Snow Goose in Anchorage on 6/19, but managed to score a couple of bottles at La Bodega the day before.  As a reminder, all of these beers will be barrel-aged and triple-fermented (primary, barrel, & bottle-conditioned).  They'll all be released exclusively in 750 ml corked bottles.

Click to enlarge.
Whiteout Wit poured a lovely light gold in color, absolutely crystal clear, and with a massive white head.  This beer is perfect in an over-sized tulip glass (AKA a Duvel-style one), to give room for this huge head.  Most wits are slightly cloudy, due to the wheat in the mash, but not this one.  The aroma was very enticing: Spiciness, both from the yeast used and the actual addition of spices (coriander and peppercorns), and lemon-citrus notes, both from the use of lemon peel and Sorachi Ace hops.  When I tasted it, the first thought that came to mind was "effervescence"; the beer is beautifully carbonated and wonderfully light on the palate.  The flavor notes from the lemon and the spices blend beautifully with the woody notes from aging in French Oak Chardonnay barrels and the touch of tart funkiness from the secondary fermentation with brettanomyces.  The brett notes are extremely well-balanced and totally integrated into the overall flavor profile, really becoming apparent only on the long finish.  In summary, this beer is another masterpiece from Gabe Fletcher.  I don't think I've ever had a beer that would be a better choice for a warm, summer's day, or as an aperitif before a fine dinner, or as an accompaniment to a nice salad.  Run, don't walk to buy this beer.  At less than $9 a bottle, it's ridiculously reasonable, and if you're in to beer trading, this stuff will be worth its weight in gold (or at least in beers from the East Coast).  Once again, I have to tip my hat to Gabe.  Well played, sir, well played.  I can't wait to taste the next beer that emerges from his creative genius.

So long, old friend!
While I was in Anchorage I took the opportunity to snap up all the Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter that I could afford.  I love this beer (see my review on 7/31/2008), but Flying Dog has joined the long list of breweries (Dogfish Head, Great Divide, Avery, Left Hand Brewing, etc) that have decided to pull out of the Alaska market.  I realize we're a small market and pretty far away, but it's sad that we'll be losing access to even more great beers.  Guess we'll just have to drink even more of the wonderful beers that are brewed by Alaskans for Alaskans.

While it's unfortunate that Flying Dog is pulling out, I'm happy to report that other breweries are starting to filter into Alaska.  Case in point, Boulevard Brewing Company from Kansas City.  I've written about their outstanding brews, usually when I was able to taste them on my travels or I picked up a bottle and brought it back to Alaska.  However, we're now starting to see their beers put in an appearance in the stores up here.  I'm still waiting to see some of their Tank 7 Farmhouse Saison (reviewed on 9/27/2010) or their Dark Truth Imperial Stout (3/9/2011) but many of their other brews are available in Anchorage, especially The Sixth Glass (8/2/2010).  This is a really exceptional quadrupel and I'm very happy that Alaskans now have access to it.

I did pick up another beer in Anchorage: Brasserie D'Achouffe's McChouffe Belgian Brown Ale.  I decided to give this a try after tasting their collaboration Ommegang last month, GnomegangMcChouffe is ostensibly their take on a Scotch Ale, which is probably my favorite style of beer, so...

It poured a dark, translucent ruby-brown, with a nice off-white head.  The aroma had the spicy, earthy notes that scream "Belgian yeast" to me, plus some caramel sweetness.  On the tongue it delivered a medium mouthfeel, with good carbonation.  Malt was in the foreground, as you'd expect from the style, but it was backed up with some spiciness from the yeast.  The finish was nice, but not terribly long, and I did not pick up any of the smokiness that I (though not everyone) like in this style.  All-in-all, a good beer, but not one I'd go out of my way to have again.  I'll have to try some of their other brews again and write formal reviews, as I remember them as being more impressive.

Well, that's about it for now.  As we all know, summer in Alaska is always much too short a season.  So let's get outside and enjoy it (with a beer in hand) while it lasts.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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