Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Winter Is Coming...

Well, I saw my first car flipped in the ditch today, so that must mean that winter's almost here.  I've never understood why Alaskans (who presumably should know a thing or two about winter driving) celebrate the end of fall by sliding their cars off the road.  It rained hard yesterday and it was below freezing this morning.  You don't have to be Albert Einstein to know that adding those two things together you get icy roads.  Yet people insist on trying to drive like it's summer with dry pavement.  Oh well, the stupid shall be punished...

Doug and his latest creation.

Today's a big day in the Kenai beer scene.  Kenai River Brewing Company has released their second canned beer, their Sunken Isle IPA, in 4-packs.  I stopped by the brewery at lunch time to enjoy a bowl of the free chili they were giving away to celebrate and grab some to take home.  Chatting with Doug Hogue, he reports that they hope to have their new tasting room next door open sometime in December.  With additional space and actual tables, it should be a great place to enjoy a brew. They still have their Magnum Single Hop IPA on tap (see review below), along with a "Mystery" Pale Ale.

Out at Kassik's Brewery, lots of brews are fermenting away: besides the Chocolate Cherry Stout, they're cooking up another batch of their Maple Porter, their Spiced Cream Ale, Caribou Kilt Scotch, and their Double Wood Imperial IPA. Rumor has it that more Smoke Imperial Russian Stout isn't too far behind.

Over at St. Elias Brewing Company, they held their big Oktoberfest party on Saturday night.  I wasn't able to make it there, but I did stop by on Friday, heading home from work.  I managed to get Zach to give me a taste of the special Oktoberfest-style beer he was going to release at the party.  I thought it had a great taste, plenty of good, clean maltiness and a lovely color.  I'm sure it was a fine time, and I'll be there next year for sure.

Click to enlarge
Speaking of up-coming events, on Saturday, November 5th, there will be a Beer & Wine tasting in Seward at the Sea Life Center.  This is the fifth year that the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance has held this event.  I made it to the one in 2009 (see my blog dated 11/24/2009) and had a wonderful time.  This year, the event starts at 7 PM, $38  gets you in the door, a dozen drink tickets, and plenty of great food.  Lots of breweries, wineries, and meaderies will be there.  If you're interested go to for more details.

Moving out into the beer world beyond the Peninsula, two new breweries have opened in Alaska. First, the Arkose Brewery in Palmer started pouring beer on October 11th.  Stephen and June Gertiesen have been working since January to open for business and they've finally made it.  Currently they are making only one beer, Blue Skies Golden Ale, and it's only available at the brewery.  In the future, look for an expanded selection and for them to start supplying beer to local establishments.  If you're passing through Palmer, look them up at 650 E. Steel Loop Road, off of East Inner Springer Loop Road, behind the Alaska State Fairgrounds.

Even more recently, King Street Brewery in Anchorage celebrated their opening for business with an event at Humpy's Alaskan Alehouse on Tuesday, October 25th, at 5:30 p.m.  Dana Walukiewicz and Shane Kingry, the owners of King Street, had two ales on tap there, a blonde and a stout.  As for the brewery itself, currently their hours are a bit "flexible", but the word is "if there's a truck outside and we're here, people can stop in."  Eventually there will be a tasting room on site, but since they're just getting started, things aren't completely up and running yet.  Their address is 7924 King Street, a few blocks north of Dimond Ave.  I stopped by on 9/27/11, but no one was there.  Hopefully, I'll have better luck on my next visit.

At last!
Pam Hatzis at La Bodega has some great new beers in.  I am especially happy that Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale from Boulevard Brewing has finally made it to Alaska.  See my review 9/27/2010 for why this is fantastic news.  Boulevard's The Dark Truth Imperial Stout (reviewed 3/9/2011) is here at last as well.  My advice is to grad these fantastic beers while you can, because I intend to do my bets to drink them all.  Deschutes' The Stoic Belgian-style Quadruple Ale has also arrived.  I haven't tried it yet, but given their reputation, I expect it to be excellent also.

Now for some reviews.

Last week, I tried Kenai River's Magnum Single Hop IPA. This hop was developed in Germany and has alpha acids typically in the 10 to 12.5% range, with some spicy notes in it's flavor profile.  The IPA poured a cloudy honey color with a nice off-white head.  The aroma was what you'd expect from a good IPA, lots of hop notes, some spiciness, with an undertone of malt.  On the palate the mouthfeel was good, plenty of hop bitterness, but not shattering, then some spiciness, falling away to a decent finish, with plenty of lingering hop flavor.  A nice drinking IPA and an interesting hop; I think I may give it a try in one of my home-brewed IPAs.

In my last blog, I mentioned St. Elias Brewing's latest beer, Corkscrew, a Baltic porter aged in red wine barrels. I finally got a glass of this last Friday.  It's served in goblets, since it's 8% ABV.  It poured opaque with a nice tan head head.  To my nose, it smelled very strongly of red wine.  In fact, the last time I nosed a beer with this much wine aroma, I was smelling Midnight Sun's Because, another big beer aged in red wine barrels.  On the palate, the wine was much less pronounced; in fact, there was excellent balance between the wine and porter elements, especially on the finish.  It's definitely a slow-drinking beer, due to its strength and complexity, but I found myself wanting another when I had finished my first one.  Corkscrew will not be to everyone's taste, but it certainly was to mine.

Finally, I tried a bottle of Signature Ale, made in collaboration between Tomme Arthur of Port Brewing in San Diego and Dirk Naudts of  De Proef Brouwerij in Belgium.  Both of these brewmasters have great reputations and I have had outstanding beers from each of them in the past, so I was really expecting something special here.  I was not disappointed.

This beer is a Belgian strong pale ale in style, and it pretty much nails that style.  The hop choice is slightly eclectic, with Amarillos, UK Phoenix, and German Brewers Gold all being used.  It poured a bright copper with a massive white head.  The aroma is of Belgian yeast notes and Amarillos.  The carbonation was excellent, seeming to lift the beer and make it dance along the surface of my tongue.  The hop bitterness was wonderfully bright and fresh, leading me on to the touch of brett funkiness on the finish.  An absolutely outstanding beer, which begs the annoying question: Will it be better now or in the future with some cellaring?  Hard to see how it could get better, but maybe some aging would enhance the brett.  but maybe that would reduce the wonderful hop flavors?  Decisions, decisions.  Guess I'd better buy several more, some to cellar, some to drink right now.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Lots of new beers for us Alaska folks to get out there and try.  Just remember: Winter's right around the corner, so SLOW DOWN and get there a little later but in one piece.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Back in the Blog Saddle Again

OK, I'm back.  For those of you keeping score at home, my daughter's wedding was a great success.  Lots of friends and relatives made the trek to Anchorage, everyone had a great time, the wedding went off without a hitch, and everyone made it safely home again.  I call that a win.

Given all the time I've spent in Anchorage over the last few weeks, I have gotten to try several new brews, so let's go straight to the reviews.

In the lead up to the wedding, I met my good friend Jim "Dr. Fermento" Roberts, the Dean of Alaska Beer Writers, for lunch at Midnight Sun's Loft.  Along side my delicious sandwich, I had a glass of the latest beer in their World Tour series, Kyoto.  This beer is brewed in the pilsner-style, using rice and sake yeast.  It was great on the palate, with plenty of carbonation and a nice, light body.  Very clean tasting and an excellent accompaniment to food.  In fact, I liked it so much a took a growler home with me and served it to the large group of friends and relatives staying at our home.  It was the perfect craft beer to serve to folks who might not necessarily like craft beer.

On the same trip, I stopped by La Bodega to pick up several bottles that Pam Hatzis had been nice enough to put aside for me, with Bitter Monk DIPA and Love Buzz Saison from Anchorage Brewing Company being chief among them,  I'd been looking forward to sampling Gabe Fletcher's Bitter Monk for several weeks and the fact that Love Buzz had also just come out was an added bonus.
Click to enlarge

The Bitter Monk Double IPA poured a clear, bright gold, with a massive white head of pin-point carbonation; very beautiful in the glass.  The aroma has lots of bright, Citra hop notes, likely from its dry-hopping, with the slightest whiff of brettanomyces funk.  On the palate the beer certainly lives up to its name, with the 100 IBUs being immediately apparent.  As the hop shock to my taste buds began to subside, I could pick up the brett, then a little woodiness from the oak aging, all falling away gradually to a nice, funky finish.  This beer has a myriad of very strong flavors, all of which are dominated by its shattering bitterness.  Another masterpiece from Gabe, though like all great art, it may not be to everyone's taste.
Click to enlarge

Moving on to the Love Buzz Saison, this one poured a deep, slightly cloudy gold, with a big, rocky white head. Citra hop aroma was again present in the nose, which is not surprising since this beer was also dry-hopped with that variety.  There were also the earthy, spicy notes that are typical of Belgian yeasts, especially saison yeasts.  The carbonation was excellent, and the flavor profile was complex, with citrus-like hops, rose hips, orange peels, and peppercorns all making their presence felt, as well as the ubiquitous oak and brett barnyard elements. At 8% ABV and 40 IBUs, Love Buzz scores a bit higher on drinkability than the 9%, 100 IBUs Bitter Monk.  Very nice and I've already squirreled a couple of bottles away in the cellar to see what some time will allow the brett to do to the overall flavor profile.  I love saisons and this is a wonderful example of the style.

Our local brewers have also been busy over the last few weeks.  First off, as they do every year, Kenai River Brewing Company released this year's Winter Warlock Old Ale on 1 October, and I made sure to grab some as soon as I got back in town.  For those of you who don't remember, this beer is conditioned for an entire year before being put on tap.  The 2011 Warlock  poured a dark honey-gold with a decent cream-colored head.  The aroma is of malt, with a touch of alcohol.  The taste is spot on for an English-style Old Ale: deep, rich layers of malt flavor, with enough hop bitterness to balance, falling away slowly to a long, long finish.  It's hard to know for sure, but looking at my notes, I'd have to say that the 2011 might be the best Warlock yet.  Get some to try before it's all gone.

Hopefully we'll be seeing Sunken Isle IPA in cans soon as well.  When last Doug Hogue and I spoke, he said they were just working to alleviate a back-log with some of their draft accounts, then they would be moving on to Sunken Isle.  There's a picture on their Facebook page today of finished Sunken Isle cans, so I'm assuming all we're waiting for is for them to condition.  That means we should see Sunken Isle in cans go on sale within the next three weeks or so.

Speaking of conditioning, Kassik's Brewery has bottled their Chocolate Cherry Stout and for this beer they will actually be conditioning it in the bottle.  Since this was their first go at bottle-conditioning, they brought in a consultant: Gabe Fletcher, late of Midnight Sun and now the owner/brewer/one-man-band of Anchorage Brewing Company.  I understand that things went well, so look for this beer to be released around Halloween, give or take.

Finally, over at St. Elias, Zach Henry is back from his two weeks of "research" (yeah, right!) in Belgium and Germany.  Which is a good thing, as they were starting to run short on beer!  Munich Red and Flower Child XPA are both gone, and when I was in there last Friday, Zach was in the process of putting a new beer, Corkscrew, on tap.  This is a Baltic porter that has been aged in red wine barrels.  I had a small, flat sample and the wine influence was very pronounced.  I'm looking forward to trying it with some carbonation.  Since Corkscrew wasn't ready, I had a pint of the Fair Trade Porter.  This coffee-laced brew has really been growing on me.  I usually find coffee-beers to be overly acidic and much too bitter on the palate, but Fair Trade seems to bring the coffee flavor without the tremendous bitterness, probably because the beans were cold-steeped, rather than brewed.  For whatever reason, it's a great drink.  Just don't plan on sleeping in the near-term after drinking it!

After visiting numerous Belgian and German breweries, Zach and his companions finished up at Oktoberfest.  So it will be interesting to see if he brings anything new to St. Elias' celebration of Oktoberfest on Saturday, October 22.  As always there will be great food and live traditional German music.I understand Zach bought an authentic Bavarian costume, which he will be showing off at the celebration.  I only hope he'll be wearing the lederhosen and not the other one...

Well, that's about it for now.  With the wedding hiatus over, I should be getting my blogs out on schedule again (more or less).  More beer reviews next week.

Until Next Time, Cheers!