Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer Time?

It's the 1st of June and it's raining here on the Kenai; I really hope this isn't indicative of how this summer is going to go.  Sunny and dry is what we're looking for, not rainy and cool.

Our local breweries continue to make progress.  Kassik's Brewery now has their award-winning Caribou Kilt Wee Heavy Scotch Ale on tap.  They've also got a bunch bottled, but they are still waiting on the labels to come in.  Hopefully they'll be heading out the door early next week to Anchorage and other points around the state.  Kassik's also has their 5th Anniversary Party this Saturday from noon to 5 pm.  There will be beer, food, and live music, with all proceeds going to benefit the Food Bank, so cross your fingers for good weather and stop by if you can.  I'll see you there.

Thanks to continued expansion, Doug Hogue at Kenai River Brewing has taken an official leave of absence from his "regular" job as a teacher to become a full-time brewer.  Now their brewhouse can be operated two shifts a day, rather than one, which should help out with production.  There's another 20 bbl tank on the way, which will be dedicated to producing Sunken Isle IPA for canning, following up the big success of Skilak Scottish in cans.  Best estimate now is for the canned IPA to be available in July.  The only fly in the ointment is that because they're so busy meeting demand, Doug and the boys haven't had a chance to brew any more of their one-off beers, like a new Single Hop IPA. They do have their new Hoppin' Salmon Wheat (review below), and they're running a special all week on their Pillars Pale Ale, $8 growlers and $2.50 pints.

At St. Elias Brewing, tomorrow is another First Thursday.  I haven't heard any details, but there should be  the tapping of another cask-conditioned beer at 7 PM.  I've missed the last couple for various reasons, so I'm really hoping to be able to stop by. Late Addition: The cask beer will by Puddle Jumper Pale Ale, dry-hopped with East Kent Goldings.  Mother's Milk Irish Stout is back on tap, along with Lucid, a 100% barrel-aged Belgian Pale Ale.

Looking further afield, Midnight Sun Brewing up in Anchorage just celebrated their 16th anniversary.  They too are expanding, picking up warehouse space around the corner to house their barrels for wood-aging.   it shouldn't be much longer before we see the first of their canned beers, Sockeye Red IPA and Kodiak Brown, show up on local shelves.

Meanwhile, down in Juneau, Alaskan is re-releasing their Raspberry Wheat Beer (reviewed 6/22/2010), the summer entry to their Pilot Series.  This mean their Imperial IPA won't be on the shelves much longer, so if you want to try it, you'd better grab it now.

Turning to beer reviews, thanks to the generosity of folks coming up here to visit, I got to try beers from two different Michigan breweries that don't distribute to Alaska.  The first beer was an Oberon Ale from Bell's BreweryBell's is a very highly regarded brewery located in Kalamzoo, Michigan, and has a pretty limited distribution.  Oberon Ale is their summer beer, in the American Wheat style, and comes in at 5.8% ABV.  It poured a cloudy gold with a nice, white head.  The aroma was bright, with mild citrus notes.  The carbonation was excellent, with a nice smooth mouthfeel.  Hops are restrained, just there for balance, making for a refreshing and thirst-quenching brew. An outstanding summer beer, perfect when you're looking to cool off.

I was even more excited to try the other beer, a Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale from Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  As a huge fan of the Strong Scotch or Wee Heavy style, I couldn't help but hear tales of this excellent example of that style, but this was my first ever chance to actually taste it myself.  It poured a deep ruby-brown in color, with a big cream-colored head.  The aroma was rich with sweet malt, caramel, and hints of peat smoke.  On the palate the beer was equally big and complex, tons of sweet malt, but also a significant hop presence (50 IBUs) and just enough smoky peat.  The finish is long and complex, with a touch of alcohol heat from the 8.5% ABV.  This is an absolutely outstanding Strong Scotch and I am so happy that I finally got to taste it.  My only regret is that I can't get anymore of it or any of the other great beers Founders Brewing Company makes.  Well, maybe someday...

Finally, let's talk about Kenai River Brewing's new Hoppin' Salmon Wheat.  This is another American Wheat Ale in style, but as you can guess from the name, it's for folks who like hops.  However, it's actually not a very bitter beer; instead, the focus is on hop flavor and aroma.  It pours a cloudy honey color, with a big off-white head.  The nose is heavy with the citrus/grapefruit notes that scream American hops.  It's very light on the tongue, with plenty of good carbonation and a tremendous amount of hop flavor, but, as I said above, not a ton of bitterness.  The relatively low level of hop bitterness greatly improves the "sessionablity" of this beer, i.e. you can drink plenty of it without wrecking your palate.  I finished a liter of it by myself in the course of watching the Mariners beat the Yankees, and found the last glass just as easy-drinking as the first, which would not have been the case with a 60 or 70 IBU IPA.  This is the summer beer for you hopheads out there; light and refreshing, but loaded with hop flavor and aroma. Very nice.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Let's all hope for some better weather in the coming days, so we can get out in the sun and work up a thrist for some good, local craft beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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