Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer's Racing Past

Hard to believe it's already the last week in July.  Man, where has this summer gone?  Time flies when you're busy, I guess, and this has certainly been a busy summer so far.

We're counting down to the First Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival.  The big news since last week is that Glacier Brew House has confirmed, so their beers will be pouring at the Fest along with all the other breweries I listed in last week's blog.  The Festival is August 13th, from 4 to 10 pm, and tickets are on sale at all the local breweries for $20 each.

On Wednesday, August 17th, Kinley's Restaurant in Anchorage will be hosting a 5 course gourmet dinner, accompanied by 6 beers from the Peninsula's own Kassik's Brewery.  It's $65 per person and you can check out the menu here. It sounds delicious!  Kassik's also has their Imperial Spiced Honey Wheat back on tap and their Cream Ale should be on tap at Buckets in Soldotna again by this weekend.

Speaking of festivals, La Bodega has thrown their hat into the ring with Bodega-Fest, a beer, mead, & cider tasting at Anchorage's Kincaid Park on Saturday, September 10.  Tickets go on sale on Monday, but I don't have any more details yet.  Pamela Hatzis and her crew at La Bodega are a great bunch, so this should be a real good time. I need to get back up to La Bodega soon; a certain mad doctor has started eying the beers they're holding for me behind the counter...

Over at Kenai River, Doug and the boys have gotten their new 20 barrel fermenter on-line.  Named "Daphne", she's dedicated to the production of their Sunken Isle IPA for canning.  As for when the first IPA cans will roll off the production line, a little bearded gnome told me that Kenai River has given final approval to the can artwork, so Ball should be manufacturing and shipping them anytime.  I'm hoping for canned Sunken Isle before Labor Day.  Their Beer of the Week is Honeymoon Hefe, with $8 growlers and $2.50 pints.

Speaking of coming IPAs, Gabe Fletcher at Anchorage Brewing Company reports that his Bitter Monk Double IPA is bottle-conditioning and should be ready to release "in about two weeks".  The date's not certain, since it depends on how quickly the yeast works.  He plans to bottle his third release, Love Buzz Saison, next week, so we can expect that one around Labor Day, give or take.  Given how good his Whiteout Wit was, I can hardly wait.

Over at St. Elias Brewing, it's been ridiculously busy, judging by the number of vehicles I see parked there as I go past on my way home. Yes, I do sometimes pass by without stopping for a beer...

Anyway, if you didn't get to try the Gunpowder Brown Ale that I reviewed two weeks ago, you've missed your chance, at least until they brew up another batch.  It was replaced last Friday by a new beer, their Cocoa Brown Ale.  This is another English-style brown ale that was brewed with unsweetened cocoa and hopped with Centennial and Willamette hops.  When I stopped in on Sunday to pick up a liter of it, Zach told me that it was a real b***h to filter, due to the cocoa.  In the glass it was a slightly translucent ruby-brown, with a tan head.  The aroma was of malt & caramel, no roasted or hop notes.  On the palate there was good carbonation and medium mouthfeel, with malty flavors pretty dominant.  The cocoa gradually becomes apparent, and is strongest on the finish.  It's an interesting take on a brown ale, but I think I preferred the straight Gunpowder Brown.  Perhaps I'm just not enough of a chocoholic to go for this one.

Also on tap as of Tuesday is an old favorite, Jabberwocky ESB.  I reviewed an earlier version of this beer back on 11/18/2010.  It was delicious then, so I'm very much looking forward to drinking it again.

That's the news for this week.  Let's enjoy summer while it lasts and drink some good beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Things Are Different in Alaska

Hello, neighbor!
I think that sometimes folks up here forget just how different it is living in Alaska.  Then something happens to remind you, like looking out of your window and seeing a rather large brown bear in your front yard.  Or you read a newspaper story like this one in the Anchorage Daily News: Rural Police Target Possession of Home-brew IngredientsYes, you can get arrested in certain dry villages in Alaska for the mere possession of yeast and sugar.  Most folks probably don't realize that Prohibition still lives on in some places in these United States.

I found the timing of this article particularly interesting, as I had just watched a preview on the local PBS station for the next documentary from Ken Burns, Prohibition, which will begin on Sunday, October 2, of this year.  It's based on Daniel Okrent's excellent book Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (see my review on April 5, 2011).  If there's one thing we should have learned from that "Noble Experiment", it's the futility of government trying to keep people from getting something they really, really want, be it alcohol, drugs, or whatever.  But obviously plenty of folks still haven't learned that lesson, hence the reality that you can be arrested in certain places in this state for owning too many baking supplies, while criminals are making fistfuls of money bootlegging $20 bottles of vodka into dry villages and selling them for $500, and the State Troopers demand more tax dollars from the rest of us to try to stop them.  So if you like to imbibe alcohol in any form (and I assume you do if you're bothering to read a beer blog), I suggest you make plans to watch that documentary.  "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."-- George Santayana.

On a more pleasant note, plans for the First Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival continue to advance.  I attended another planning meeting last Thursday, and everything looks to be on track for an absolutely fabulous time.  Here's a partial list of the bands who will be playing:

Ever Ready
Bull Don and the Moose Nuggets
Curtis Hahn
Robert Pepper
Robb Justice and Diggin Roots

In addition to the breweries (Alaskan, Denali,  Kassik's, Kenai River, Midnight Sun, Moose's Tooth, Sleeping Lady, & St. Elias), Bear Creek Winery, and Celestial Meads who will all be there pouring their individual products, Specialty Imports will also be offering several great beers from outside Alaska in bottles.  Not to mention that I and my friends will be manning the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society table, offering samples of home brew from our members.  This is looking to be a super exciting event, so pick your tickets up in advance at any of our local breweries and mark your calendar for Saturday, August 13, from 4 to 10 PM.

On the local beer scene, the reds are in, which means we're overrun with dipnetters from Anchorage and points north.  As annoying as this is for those of us trying to get from Point A to Point B around here, it's good news for our local establishments.  Every time I drive by St. Elias, their parking lot is full to overflowing, and I suspect Kenai River and Kassik's have probably seen their business spike as well.  

Speaking of business spikes, Kenai River is looking to hire a Saturday employee.  If you'd like to pick up some weekend work and you're at least 21 years of age, stop by and fill out an application.  You can grab some Naptown Nut Brown while you're there; it's the beer of the week, with $8 growlers and $2.50 pints.

Kassik's Brewery shipped out another 1800 bottles of their Morning Wood IPA to Anchorage yesterday, so if you live in the big town and wants some, it should be hitting the shelves anytime.

A-B InBev just announced another round of 3% to 5% across the board price increases, after a 3.4% drop in shipments last quarter.  This is the third such increase in the last year.  Every time their sales volume drops, they increase prices by about the same amount.  See, kids, that's how you keep profits up even as fewer and fewer folks buy your product.  Just another reason to drink local craft beer...

Alaskan Brewing has announced a new upcoming release to celebrate their 25th anniversary: Perseverance Ale, a Russian Imperial Stout, brewed with fireweed honey and birch syrup, coming in at 9% ABV.  I think it's way cool they're making this one with some unique Alaskan ingredients. Sounds delicious, and it should be released in September, so watch for it.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Sorry that I don't have any new beer reviews, but I guess I've spent the last week finishing off some six packs, growlers, and what not of brews that I had already reviewed.  I will say that it's been great to have Midnight Sun's Sockeye Red IPA on hand in 12 oz cans.  Sometimes a 22 oz. bomber is just a little more beer than you want in one session, so having the 12 oz. option is very nice.  Hopefully I'll have a new beer or two for next week.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summer Time, and the Livin' Is Easy...

 It's been a busy couple of weeks since I last sat down to write something for this blog, both for me personally and for the Alaska beer scene.  As I mentioned in my last blog, my daughter Liana and her fiance Jim came up for a visit, plus Independence Day and other events, so all that has kept me hopping.  So let's see if I can get caught up here.

Since Jim & Liana were due in to Anchorage at 5 AM on Thursday, Elaine and I drove up there Wednesday afternoon and spent the night.  I realize it's a bit of a departure from my usual subject matter, but it's my darn blog so I'm going to take the liberty to talk about where we went for dinner that night: Jimmy's New York-Style Sushi Restaurant at 301 E. Dimond Blvd.  I had seen the sign on previous Anchorage trips and --like just about everyone else-- wondered what "New York-style" sushi could be.  Then I read a very positive review of the place in The Anchorage Press, one which mentioned that they actually had an "all-you-can-eat" sushi deal for $35.  Given how much I love sushi and how expensive it is, I had to give that a try.

When Elaine and I walked in, the place was empty, and it stayed that way the entire time we were there.  On the plus side, this meant we got exquisite service, both from our waiter and from the owner, Jimmy Zhou, behind the sushi bar.  I negelected to snap pictures of most of the beautiful and delcious platters we enjoyed, until a couple at the very end.
Lightly grilled white tuna with sauce

A pickled seafood salad

Everything, including Elaine's chicken teriyaki, was outstanding.  It's amazing to me that this place isn't absolutely packed with folks.  If you're in Anchorage and you like sushi, head to Jimmy's, give them your 35 bones, and prepare to be stuffed with amazing dishes.

After dinner we headed over to Cafe Amsterdam.  It was also almost empty (due to good weather and the parking lot repaving going on right outside their door, I guess), so we settled on a couple of stools.  Looking over the chalkboard, I noticed they had a beer listed called Green Devil, from Midnight Sun.  Not having heard of it before, I asked the bartender about it.  He told me that it was a collaboration between Green Flash Brewing Company of San Diego, CA and our own Midnight Sun.  It's Midnight Sun's Arctic Devil Barleywine that's been hopped using the hop schedule for Green Flash's Barleywine.  Intrigued, I had a glass.  It's Arctic Devil heritage is immediately apparent, with the big maltiness, strong alcohol, and plentiful wood-aged notes that I associate with that superb barleywine.  However, it had a much more assertive hop character, with the citrus and piney notes that I've picked up in other Green Flash beers.  It was a very interesting hybrid, though personally I think I prefer the original Arctic Devil.  I don't know how long it will last, so swing by Cafe A and form your own opinion.

Gabe's new space
The next day my future son-in-law Jim and I dropped in on Gabe Fletcher at the Anchorage Brewing Company.  Things were in a bit of disarray, as Gabe was getting ready to expand into a newly completed space.  I forgot to ask the square footage, but it looked to me like it will be about the same size as Gabe's current work area, i.e. the area not filled with barrels.  He said he plans to use it to bottle condition his brews and for storage.  We also got to look at his amazing $150k Italian bottling machine; it does just about everything except drink the beer for you.

German Vat
While he's got the rest of the year already planned out pretty well, Gabe's also thinking about the future.  He plans to start experimenting with sour beers and has purchased a huge German wood vat to use in the effort.  However, the most important ingredient in making sour beer is the bacterial cultures used, and Gabe has imported the finest "critters" available.  He's obtained a sample from Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River Brewing Company, the undisputed "King of Critters".  I snapped photos of both the vat and the keg full of Vinnie's pets that will soon be making their home there.  Besides sour beers, Gabe is also thinking about releasing some "draft-only" brews next years as well.

On the way out of town, we stopped by Midnight Sun to pick up a couple of growlers.  The place was busy as always, this time with Marines in dress blues loading up on cases of Sockeye Red IPA in cans. That was June 30th and they had just finished their first canning run.  As of today, it's made its way down to various stores here on the Kenai (Country Liquors, Three Bears, maybe more). So now we all have another choice for beer in cans.

Speaking of IPAs in cans, Kenai River continues their slow and steady march toward canning their Sunken Isle IPA.  On Tuesday, July 5th, their new 20 barrel fermenter arrived at the brewery.  They're still waiting on the cans to arrive, but in another few weeks we should have one more canned IPA to choose from.  They also have their Breakfast Beer and Naptown Brown back on tap, and this week's special is Hoppin' Salmon Wheat, with $8 growlers and $2.50 pints.

Another reason to stop by our local Peninsula breweries is to pick up tickets for the First Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival, which are now on sale.  The Soldotna Rotary is organizing this event on Saturday, August 13th, from 4 to 10 PM, at 37661 Kenai Spur Hwy (the old Glacier Pontiac Dealership).  Tickets are $20 and get you in the door, plus a commemorative glass and three 8 oz. samples.  Additional sample tickets will be on sale for $3 each.  There will be two stages with live music for the entire time, plus food for sale.  Attendance is limited, so get your tickets before they sell out!  As I said, they're on sale at all our local breweries, and posters should be here soon.

St. Elias Brewing Company has a new beer on, Gunpowder Brown Ale. It's in the style of a Northern English Brown Ale, rather than the sweeter (and much rarer) Southern English Browns.  It pours  a semi-translucent brown with a nice cream-colored head. The aroma is primarily of malt and caramel, without any discernible hop aroma. Carbonation is good, with excellent mouthfeel.  The beer leads off with malt, then a slight amount of roastiness makes itself apparent.  Hops are just here for balance, so we're not looking at an overly hoppy brown.  Alcohol is about 5.6%ABV, so this beer is quite drinkable.  In fact, it reminds me of a stronger version of their much-loved (by me, at least) Marathon Mild from summer 2009.  Another delicious brew from Zach Henry & company at St. Elias.

Tapping the IPA
The usual suspects

St. Elias was also kind enough to host the July party for the Kenai Peninsula Brewing  & Tasting Society on Sunday, 10 July.  Since the weather gods cooperated for once, we were able to party on their outside patio.  Zach was generous enough to donate some pizza and a cask of his Williwaw IPA that had been dry hopped with Falconer's Flight, a proprietary blend of hops from HopUnion.  As usual, both the pizza and beer were excellent.  Several members also brought in excellent homebrews and ciders; at this rate, I am looking forward to seeing several of our members winning medals in upcoming homebrew competitions.  If you live around here and are interested in brewing or just drinking good beer, the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society is probably worth your looking into.  And I'm not just saying that because I'm the President of it.

Interspersed with all this, I did get the chance to try a couple of new beers.  I wrote in my last blog about Midnight Sun releasing their new Bangalore Double IPA, part of their 2011 World Tour series.  This beer is now out in 22 oz. bombers, as well as on draft, so I snagged some when I was in Anchorage.  As you can see in the accompanying picture, it poured a lovely clear copper, with a big off-white head and nice lacing.  The aroma was full of hops, as you'd expect from an 85 IBU DIPA, but there was also the notes of the Indian spices used.  On the palate, it initially presents as a classic Double IPA, with massive hop bitterness up front, but then the spice elements begin to creep in, especially toward the finish.  There's a touch of alcohol heat from the 9.5% ABV as well.  The spices are used with restraint and subtlety, but they are definitely there.  All-in-all, this beer really wasn't to my taste, but I once again applaud Midnight Sun for their willingness to push the envelope and try something new.  If you're a hophead who  really loves Indian food, this might be the perfect brew for you.

While in Anchorage I also picked up another beer from Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City.  I've been impressed with there other brews, so anytime we get a new one up here in Alaska, I'm eager to try it.  This time around the beer was their Two Jokers Double Wit.  Given that wit beers are traditionally fairly low strength beers, meant to be refreshing thirst quenchers, a double wit is almost an oxymoron, like an imperial mild.  Still, the guys at Boulevard generally know what they're about.  It poured a cloudy gold with an absolutely huge head that dissipated fairly quickly (a Duvel-style tulip is a good glass choice for this beer).  The aroma was of spices and citrus, with perhaps a touch of wild sourness?  On the palate, the beer was surprisingly light for its 8% ABV.  The spices and citrus were still there, along with the hint of wildness.  Very refreshing and a wonderful pairing for a salad or some halibut cooked simply with herbs and butter.  Very nice and a perfect summer beer.

Well, that's about it for now.  Look for a blog next week, as I'm back in the groove now.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

P.S.  I just realized that Sunday, 10 July marked the third anniversary of my starting this blog.  Sure doesn't seem like it's been three years.  Thanks again to everyone for your interest, and I hope we'll all be here next year.