Wednesday, August 17, 2011

2nd Annual Here We Come!

Well, the First Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival was a rousing success!  A sell-out crowd of 1000 beer lovers spent six hours last Saturday enjoying good music, delicious food, and, of course, exceptional beer.  All credit to Matt Pyhala and his Rotary companions, the numerous sponsors, and of course the brewers and distributors who made this wonderful event a success.  While this certainly isn't the biggest beer fest in Alaska, in many ways it can already lay claim to being one of the best.

Here are some photos, taken by my lovely wife Elaine, to give you an idea of what you missed if you weren't lucky enough to attend:

The Calm Before the Storm: Waiting for the Doors to Open.
First customers at the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society Booth!

The Beer Lot outside starts to fill.
Inside starts getting pretty crowded as well.
Midnight Sun & Denali are popular.

Is that the famous Dr. Fermento, down from Anchorage?

Damn good food, too!

 I didn't have a ton of time to walk around and sample brews, as I spent the majority of my time helping out at the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society booth.  We poured a lot of excellent beer, both from keg and bottles, that our members had made and donated.  I really think we impressed some folks and we certainly raised the visibility of our club in this area.  But with all that serving going on, I only got away from the booth a couple of times to walk around and try some other stuff myself.

I didn't have to walk far to Kenai River Brewing booth, as they were right next to us. Doug and the boys decided to offer a sneak peak of their 2010 Winter Warlock Old Ale.  They brew this beer every fall and let it age for an entire year before putting it on tap on 1 October.  I've reviewed it before and it's truly exceptional, so I jumped at the chance for a preview.  Based on the sample I had, it's going to be another great batch, so mark your calendars for Saturday, 1 October, and be at the brewery for the release!

Just on the other side of Kenai River, Sean Rodriguez was manning the Alaskan Brewing Company booth and pouring, among other brews, one of their Rough Drafts, an American Pale  Ale.  I snagged a glass once I finished off my Warlock sample and I thought it was very clean and refreshing tasting, full of classic Pacific Northwest hop flavor and aroma, but not so bitter as to stray into IPA territory.  Very nice.

By the time I got around to visiting Denali Brewing, they were already out of their Chuli Stout, so I settled for a glass of their Twister Creek IPA.  It's 6.7% ABV and 71 IBUs.  I didn't have time to write up a formal review, but it had a wonderful floral hop nose and was bracingly bitter; just the pick-me-up I needed before I went back to pouring beers for patrons.  Given the distance from Soldotna to Talkeetna, I doubt many folks in attendance had had an opportunity to try many Denali brews before now.  Their table was mobbed most of the night and I think they were the first (but not the last!) brewery to run out.  I also got to sample a couple more brews, including a new version of Flower Child XPA from St. Elias (see below).

However, the best part of the evening is that I'm told there were zero DUIs associated with it, thanks to smart drinking and Alaska Cab Company offering free rides home.  When you hold a beer festival and the AK State Troopers compliment you on the job you've done, you know you've done something right.  Aurora Productions (the folks who put on the Great Alaska Beer & Barleywine Festival) please take note!

A winner of the People's Choice Award was also chosen at the fest.  Each attendee got to vote for one beer as the "Best in Show".  Hometown favorite Farmer's Friend from St. Elias Brewing Company took the prize this time around, and Zach Henry & company claimed their lovely custom-made gold pan.

What's he looking at?

St Elias has also released a couple of new brews since my last blog.  Flower Child XPA has returned, albeit in a slightly different form than when I reviewed it back on 3/9/2009.  This time around, instead of using noble German hops, Zach used the new Galaxy Australian hops.  In my last blog I wrote about trying a barleywine from Widmer Brothers that had been hopped using Galaxy hops, with their distinctive passion fruit notes.  These notes play very well with the crisp, clean taste of Flower Child.

Zach has also released another of his bourbon barrel-aged monsters:  Off the Hook, a Belgian dubbel aged for six months in the wood.  This beer poured a chocolate brown color, with a small, fast-dissipating tan head.  The beer was initially served a little too cold and had a significant chill-haze, which cleared as it warmed.  This beer definitely needs to warm up to the 45 to 50F range, whereupon it expresses its flavors and aromas much better.  Once it warms, the aroma is loaded with malts, dark fruits, woody notes and some bourbon.  All these are present on the palate as well, followed by a nice, long finish.  At 9.6%, it's another big brew deserving of respect, but it's delicious.  Just wait a few minutes and let it warm up a bit before you try it.

Cody & Joycelyn Christman
On August 6 & 7, Elaine and I hosted Cody & Joycelyn Christman at our place for the weekend.  Cody was the 2009 Beerdrinker of the Year, so he was one of the judges on the panel that selected me as the 2010 winner, and we both served as judges to select the 2011 winner, Phil Farrell.  So when he let me know that they'd be visiting relatives in Alaska, we grabbed the opportunity to get together again.  We did our best to show them the local sights, including our three breweries, and Cody was nice enough to bring me a bottle of  Odell Brewing's Woodcut #5, an oaked Belgian Quadruple.  We were so busy drinking local brews and my homebrews while they were here that I didn't get to open his gift until last Friday, so here's my review.

Woodcut #5 poured a translucent ruby-brown with a cream-colored head that dissipated fairly rapidly to a nice collar. The aroma was of plums, figs, vanilla, and some alcohol heat from the 11.3% ABV.  On the palate the woody, vanilla notes become even more apparent, perhaps with hints of cherry added to the plums and figs.  The finish is long and warming.  This is a very rich and deeply complex beer, one for slow savoring on a cold winter's evening.  Thanks, Cody!  Hope you like the Midnight Sun brews I sent home with you.

I was also up in Anchorage for meetings last week, and while I did not have time to visit any of the bars to have anything on tap, I did swing by La Bodega to pick up some beers they were holding for me.  Besides picking up those brews (to be reviewed later), I picked up some other that looked interesting.  First among these was Midnight Sun's Macchu Picchu Strong Brown Ale.  This is the second brew in their 2011 World Tour series, and features additions of coffee, cocoa, and maize.  It poured a dark ruby-brown, with a nice tan head.  The coffee was immediately apparent in the aroma, with the cocoa following on behind.  The beer was quite light on the palate, probably from the use of maize in the mash, and there was a touch of an alcohol bite from the 9.1% ABV.  At only 20 IBUs, most of the bitterness in this beer is from the coffee roast, not hops.  There's a luxurious feel to it, that's belied slightly by that alcohol bite I mentioned.  Another nice addition to the Midnight Sun stable and one to definitely seek out if you're an aficionado of their previous coffee-infused brews, such as Brewtality and Arctic Rhino Porter.

I also picked up a bottle of Avery Brewing's 18th Anniversary Beer, a rye saison.  I'm not sure how much longer we'll be seeing Avery brews up here, as I understand that they've announced they're pulling out of the Alaska market, but until they're gone, I'll keep trying them, as they make some amazing beers.  I've had rye saison before, and they make for an interesting combination, with the peppery notes from the rye malt playing off the spicy, peppery flavors produced by the Belgian yeasts.  In this particular beer, Avery used a blend of five different Belgian yeasts, as well as dry hopping with German Tettnang hops.  In the glass it was the color of honey, with a massive cream-colored head.  The aroma was packed with the spicy, peppery, earthy notes you expect from Belgian yeasts, along with some nice hop aroma from the Tettnangs.  On the palate there was excellent carbonation, lifting the spicy, peppery notes from both the yeast and the rye, moving to a nice long, dry finish.  A classic saison with an added twist, I liked Avery's 18 very much.

Well, that's about it for this week.  I just want to emphasize again what a great time was had by all at the First Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival, thanks to the hard work of a great number of folks.  Given how well it went, I'm sure next year's will be even bigger and better!

Until Next Time, Cheers!


Anonymous said...

Bill, congrats on a successful beer festival. By the way, how does one get selected as beer drinker of the year? It sounds like a great title to aspire to!

I just recently moved to Anchorage and tried my first beer from the Kenai -- Kassick's Morning Wood IPA. Picked up a bottle from La Bodega. Very fresh and delicious. It ranks up there as one of my favorite IPAs.


I'm Bill Howell. said...

The Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver sponsors the contest every year. Basically, you need to submit a three page resume/philosophy of beer to them by 31 December. They will review the entrants and select three finalist who travel to Denver for a face-to-face competition in front of a panel of judges. Check out for more info and good luck!