Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Releases and New Reviews

It's a busy time for yours truly.  My day job at Kenai Peninsula College is heating up as we get ready for the start of classes next Monday.  But I've got some news and reviews to pass along, so let's get right to them.

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First, Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company tells me that he delivered his next beer, Bitter Monk Belgian Double IPA to Specialty Imports Tuesday, so it should be on store shelves by the time you read this.  Yippee!  After tasting his first release, Whiteout Wit, I've been clamoring for more.  To refresh your memory, Bitter Monk is brewed using Apollo, Simcoe, and Citra hops, aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels and dry hopped with more Citra.  9% ABV & 100 IBUs.  Don't miss your chance to try this one; it will be at La Bodega for sure, and perhaps at some of the other beer stores.  More good news: Gabe's Love Buzz Saison will be released in just a few weeks.  Even more good news:  Gabe tells me he's purchased 2 63-barrel capacity oak fermentation tanks from Harlan Winery in California, which means in the future all his beers will undergo their primary fermentation in wood (as opposed to the stainless fermenters at Sleeping Lady that he's been using up to now), prior to going into barrels for their secondary fermentation.  All very exciting!

On the local beer front, Kassik's Brewery put their last kegs of their Black IPA and Smoked Barleywine on tap Tuesday.  Get some before it's gone.  Over at Kenai River, Doug Hogue is dealing with separation anxiety, as he starts the school year as a brewer, rather than a teacher for the first time in 17 years.  He's compensating by canning Sunken Isle IPA for the first time, so we should be seeing it for sale real soon.  And judging by the number of cars parked outside of St. Elias, Zach Henry and the gang are still almost as busy as they were during July.

The Kenai Peninsula State Fair took place last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  On Thursday evening, representatives from our three local breweries and I met to judge the homebrew entries.  Besides myself, Zach Henry, Joe Gilman, Frank Kassik, and his son Jason assembled to evaluate some homebrews.  Quite a distinguished beer tasting panel, if I do say so myself.  Unfortunately, at the fairgrounds in Ninilchik we found ourselves confronted with three beers, one cider, and about 15 homemade wines and liquors.  The next two hours were pretty painful, as five beers guys tried to figure out what to say about a whole lot of wine.  After we got over the fact that none of the wines had any carbonation or hoppiness, we were sort of at a loss.  Still, we did our best and hopefully next year we'll have a few more home brews entered (and some judges who know something about wine!).  Kudos to the local brewers for their support, especially their donations of prizes for the winners.  I saw the basket that Kassik's Brewery donated, and it was fantastic.

Looking further afield, on Thursday, September 8th, Jhon Gilroy of Merchant du Vin will be hosting a beer dinner at Ruby's Cafe in Anchorage.  You can check out the menu of beer & food parings here.  I've attended beer tasting dinners hosted by Jhon down here on the Peninsula in the past, and they were always a fine time, so if you'll be in Anchorage in two weeks, you should make reservations and check it out.  Plus don't forget Bodega-Fest on Saturday, 10 September at Kincaid Park.  Follow this link for more details.

Moving on to reviews, I've got three to share.  First, on the recommendation of Pamela at La Bodega, I picked up a bottle of Biere De L'Amitie Collaboration Ale, a joint brew of Brasserie St. Feuillien of Le Roeulx in Belgium and Green Flash Brewing Company of San Diego, CA.  Since these are both outstanding breweries, I was very interested in seeing what they'd managed to produce together.  Reading the label, I saw that it was produced using both rye and wheat malt, and dry hopped with Amarillo hops.  The 750 ml bottle's cork came out with a reassuring pop, and it poured a bright gold with an absolutely huge white head.  The aroma was full of the earthy, spicy notes that I always associate with Belgian yeast, plus some incredibly bright citrus notes, I assume from the Amarillo hops.  On the palate the beer was very light and spritzy, due to the wonderful carbonation.  The complex flavors from the yeast merged extremely well with those from the mixed malts and the American hops, producing a very complex beer, with many different things going on at once.  The beer gradually falls away in a long, pleasant finish, with just a touch of heat from the 9.5% ABV at the end.  An exceptional brew and one I am very happy I got to try.  Thanks, Pam!

In a similar vein, Sierra Nevada has released the second in the Abbey series of beers, Ovila Saison.  See my review on 5/11/2011 of the first beers in this series, their Dubbel, to cover the full backstory behind this series.  I was mildly disappointed in the Dubbel, so I approached the Saison with some trepidation.  I needn't have worried; this time around Sierra Nevada hit the ball out of the park.  The beer had excellent carbonation, shooting the cork to god-knows-where and producing a huge, dense white head on top of deep gold beer with exceptional clarity.  Once again the aroma was dominated by the earthy, spicy notes of a Belgian yeast.  When I tasted it, this saison was delicious, with fruity, spicy yeast flavors to the front, followed by a nice dry finish.  This is as good as saison as any I've has, right up there with Saison Dupont or Ommegang's Hennepin.  An excellent brew that more than compensates for their slightly lackluster Dubbel.

Finally, I needed to make some room in my "deep storage" space for some bottles of Deschutes' Black Butte XXIII Birthday Reserve Beer.  Space was getting a bit tight in there, so I decided to open a bottle of Black Butte XXI to free up some room.  The label recommended drinking it "after 10/17/10", so I was covered there.  The XXI was made with three different chocolate malts, three different hop varieties, cocoa nibs, and Ethiopian coffee, with 20% being aged in bourbon barrels. Once I managed to get the wax off the cap and open it, the beer poured an absolute opaque black with a tan head that dissipated to a collar and left excellent lacing down the glass.  The nose was chock full of roasted aroma (duh!) and plenty of sweetness.  On the palate the flavors were rich and complex, a blend of roast coffee, sweetness from the cocoa, vanilla notes from the wood, all wrapped up in a ridiculously luscious mouthfeel.  This is one exceptional brew, and worth waiting a couple of years for.  If you've got any squirreled away, consider opening it; you won't be disappointed.

Well, that's about it for this week.  As I wrote above, next week is the start of classes here at Kenai Peninsula College, so I may be too slammed to get a blog out. I'll do my best, but it may be a short one.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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