Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Close-Out Blog

We're getting near the end of 2011, dear readers.  Yesterday was the winter solstice, so those of us residing in the Northern Hemisphere can look forward to increasing daylight.  Since sunrise in Soldotna this morning was 10:11 am and sunset will come at 3:52 pm (giving us here on the Kenai Peninsula a whole 5 hours and 41 minutes of daylight), that's a good thing.  Christmas is only three days away, so it's time to stoke up the wood stove, pull the turkey out of the freezer to start thawing, and pour yourself a nice beer to savor on a long winter's night.

And if you're reading this blog someplace warm and sunny, like Hawaii or Key West, you can just keep it to yourself, OK?

Up in the big town of Los Anchorage, Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company has released The Tide and Its Takers Tripel. This brew is made with Sorachi and Styrian Golding hops. It's aged in French oak Chardonnay barrels and weighs in at 9% ABV & 30 IBUs.  I know they have bottles at La Bodega.  Here on the Peninsula, Country Liquors in Kenai carries Gabe's beers, though I don't know whether they have or will manage to get any of this tripel in.  By the way, I stopped in there on Saturday and they had gotten in some more of Deschutes Brewing's The Abyss 2011 Imperial Stout, so if you missed out the first time around, you've got another chance. They also had Sierra Nevada's 2011 Celebration Ale on the shelves.

Also up in Anchorage, the Loft Bar at Midnight Sun has been celebrating the solstice as well.  Until yesterday, all 16 of their taps were dispensing dark beers.  To celebrate the return of the sun, now all their taps will now be dispensing light colored brews.  More importantly, everyone is starting to look forward to Alaska Beer Week, starting on Friday, January 13th and culminating the following weekend with the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival.  See my blog from 1/20/2011 for a run down on 2011's festivities.  If you haven't purchased your festival tickets yet, don't wait too long, as they sell out every year.  To get information on the numerous beer events during Alaska Beer Week, check out the Brewers Guild of Alaska webpage here or a new page at  The new page is not up yet, but should be available by the end of December.

Moving down on to the Peninsula, our local breweries are getting ready for the holidays as well. Kassik's Brewery has their Big Nutz Imperial Brown Ale for sale on draft only right now; expect the bottles in a week or so.  Also on draft: Double  Wood Imperial IPA, 201 Barley Wine, Pale Moon Pale, Caribou Kilt Scotch, Penny Maple Porter, Chocolate Cherry Stout, and their Spiced Cream Ale. Available in Bottles: Spiced Cream Ale, Chocolate Cherry Stout, Penny Maple Porter, Caribou Kilt Scotch Ale, Morning Wood IPA, Beaver tail Blonde, Dolly Varden Nut Brown, & their Moose Point Porter.  They've also got plenty of different clothing items for sale. Beer or logo'd clothing from Alaskan breweries make great Christmas gifts; I sent a bunch to my beer-loving friends Outside this year.

Over at St. Elias Brewing, their new beer engine continues to get a workout.  I stopped there for lunch and they had a cask of their Moose Juice Barley Barley Wine on.  Since I had to go back to work, I passed on having one, but if you haven't tried their Barley Wine on hand pump, you really need to.  I changes the entire complexion of the beer.  I think they're still having some issues with temperature control of the cask, but I believe Zach has a plan to deal with that as well.

At Kenai River Brewing, they'll be tapping  a short keg of Chocolate Nut Crunch at noon tomorrow (Friday, 12/23), for pints only.  So if you haven't had a chance to try this one, you should stop by and give it a taste.  Plus, they have their  new beer, Holla Day Ale, that I mentioned in my last blog.  I finally got by to grab a liter of this to take home and sample.  When I tasted it last Friday evening, I was so impressed I drank the entire liter in one sitting and went back the next day for another one!  This is one of the best beers Doug & the crew have produced, in my opinion.  It pours a very dark ruby color with a cream-colored head, which dissipated fairly quickly to a collar but left nice lacing on the side of the glass. The aroma was primarily malty, but with the earthy, spicy notes that I always associated with Belgian yeasts, and just the slightest touch of smoke.  On the palate the mouthfeel was medium, with a clean, malty flavor leading off, then more of the Belgian elements, moving to a very nice finish with again a touch of smoke.  All elements were in perfect balance, and with an ABV of only 5.5%, this beer has tremendous drinkability.  In some ways, it's almost like a toned-down dubbel, with the same complexities in a lower alcohol package.  You really need to sample this one.  I'm planning to load up on it, as I think it will be an excellent accompaniment to the traditional holiday feast.  A tip of my hat to Doug & company for another exceptional creation.

Moving on, I've got three new beer reviews to share, two good ones and one not so much.  Let's have the bad news first.

Stone Brewing's Vertical Epic Ale 11.11.11.  This is the latest in their Epic Ale series, beers released on the "triple dates" each year, starting with 02.02.02, and meant to be cellared until sometime after 12.12.12, then consumed in a massive vertical tasting.  Some of the past entries have been quite tasty, and I have a bottle from each year from 05.05.05 on aging in my crawlspace.  So when 11.11.11 hit the market, I grabbed two, one to cellar and one to taste.  Last Monday I got around to opening up my immediate bottle.  Checking out the label, I had my first hint of trouble, when I read that it was brewed with Anaheim chilies and cinnamon.  It poured a pretty color, a dark copper with a big off-white head, but the aroma was nothing but chili and spice, which pretty much described the taste.  I took a couple more sips, but could not hack it, so down the drain it went.  I think I could have managed the chilies or the cinnamon, but both together were just way too much.  If you are crazy about chilies and spice (and to be fair, lots of reviewers on-line have liked it), you could give this one a try, but when I do the vertical tasting after 12.12.2012, I think I'll give this one a pass.

Midnight Sun's Moscow Russian Imperial Stout with Rye. The latest in their World Tour series, Moscow weighs in at 11% ABV and 45 IBUs.  It poured an absolutely opaque black with a small dark brown head that rapidly dissipated to a collar.  The aroma was mostly malty sweetness with some slight roasty notes.  There was excellent mouthfeel, with the rye announcing its presence via peppery notes amongst the roasted malt flavors.  There was some heat on the finish from the alcohol.  Another nice brew from Midnight Sun, not a challenging as their London Ale that I reviewed last week, but a great beer for drinking on a cold winter evening by the fire.

My third review is of a beer named, appropriately enough, Third Voyage Double IPA from Boston Brewing Company's Single Batch Series.  The name refers to Captain Cook's third voyage of discovery, which took him from Britain to New Zealand and then the Pacific Northwest.  In honor of the voyage, the beer is hopped using varieties from each of those locales, including Cascades and Simcoes, which dominate its aroma.  It poured a classic copper color with a big off-white head.  Good carbonation with plenty of hop bitterness, aroma, and flavor.  I thought it had a little more malt character than typical for a DIPA, so it seemed slightly more balanced than usual for this style.  ABV was 8 %.  Overall, a fairly middle of the road version of a Double IPA, which is a comment on how far the goal posts have moved in the last few years.  A decade ago, this beer would have been seen as amazingly hoppy.  Today, it's right in the mainstream for it's style.

That's it for this week.  I doubt you'll see a blog next week, but Christmas is a time for miracles, so you never know.  I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to each and every one of you.  I hope you all get to spend the holidays in the bosom of your family, eating lots of good food and drinking lots of great craft beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Long Live the King! (Street Brewery)

Sorry for the lack of blog last week.  It's a been a very busy time for me at work, so busy in fact that my lunch hours (AKA quality blog time) have turned into "lunch ten-minutes", while I wolf down some food before diving back into the fray.  Today I'm taking the entire hour with a shut door so as to remain undisturbed and get this bad boy out on the street.

King Street's Tasting Room
Elaine and I decided the weather wasn't too scary last Saturday, so we risked a shopping trip to Anchorage and back.  Our timing was good, since the weather turned pretty horrible the very next day.  Anyway, as part of our trip, I finally got to stop by the brand new King Street Brewery to check things out. (Photos courtesy of my lovely wife, Elaine.  Thanks, Honey!)

When we rolled in just after 4 PM, David Short and Dana Walukiewicz were working behind the bar.  As you can see from the pictures, they have a very nice Tasting Room in the front of the brewery.  David and I had been exchanging emails for a while, so it was good to finally meet him.  Since this was our last stop before the 150 mile, 3+ hour drive home, I opted for the four sample flight, instead of the seven sample one.
Serving Bar
The four beers I sampled were:

Czech Pilsner (5.3%)
IPA (5.4%)
Wit (5.0%)
Stout (4.9%)

I really enjoyed the Pilsner.  Dana told us that he had lived in Prague for several years and how much he missed the truly fresh Czech pilsner.  Having visited Prague myself, I knew exactly what he meant.  His take on this classic had the crisp, clean taste you'd expect, plus plenty of noble hop flavor and aroma.  Beers like this remind you of why pilsners took the world by storm in the second half of the 19th century.

The IPA was also quite good, with a complex hop profile.  I believe I was told that something like seven different varieties are used, and it has a ton of classic American hop flavors, like grapefruit and pine.  It was refreshingly drinkable, not a complete palate-wrecker like some popular IPAs.

The Wit was quite nice, though my palate wasn't really up for it after the IPA.  Their Stout was served on nitro, so it had a wonderful creamy texture, as well as the expected roasty flavors.

Brand new 10 bbl brewhouse & 20 bbl conicals
I didn't try their Busted Blonde (4.7%), their Amber (5.1%), or their Hefeweizen (5.7%).  That will give me something to look forward to next time.  As I was finishing up my samples, another of the principals, Shane Kingry, walked in.  He was nice enough to give us a quick tour of the brewery itself.  The 10 bbl brewhouse is gorgeous; it's brand-new, with all the latest stuff.  It's obvious that a lot of thought went into the brewery layout, and there's plenty of room for future growth.

In summary, I was really impressed with King Street Brewery.  The beer was excellent, the facilities were first-rate, and the people behind the process were both friendly and obviously know what they're doing when it comes to brewing beer.  I plan to make King Street Brewery one of my regular stops whenever I visit Anchorage, and I'm looking forward to seeing them down here at the Second Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival next summer.

Click to enlarge
Turning to the Anchorage Brewing Company, it looks like The Tide and Its Takers Tripel is still bottle conditioning, as I haven't heard that it's been released yet.  But here's the label for a new beer that Gabe Fletcher will be releasing early next year (hopefully in time for the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival on 20 January): Galaxy White IPA.  Check out the awesome back label, written by yours truly.  This is a beer I'm really looking forward to tasting!

Rob Weller at Specialty Imports notified me by email of several new beers that they will be bringing into the state.  I don't know how many of these will actually make it down onto to the Peninsula, but if you're looking for them locally, you best bet is probably Country Liquors in Kenai.  Here's the list:

Posca Rustica from Brasserie Dupont
Lambrucha, brewed especially for Vanberg & DeWulf
Hop Ruiter, also from Vanberg & DeWulf

And five brews from the Schmaltz Brewing Company:
Genesis Ale
Messiah Bold
Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A
Origin Pomegranate Ale
Jewbelation Fifteen

Keep your eyes open for these brews, as they are all well worth trying.  Hopefully I will be able to snag examples of each to review.

Speaking of Country Liquors, they have plenty of Christmas beers in, especially those from Ridgeway Brewing in the UK (Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf, Lump of Coal, etc).  They did have some of  Deschutes Brewing's 2011 Abyss Imperial Stout in, but I'm afraid the local beer geeks have cleaned them out, at least of their initial batch.  I got my two bottles...

Here's something I thought I might never see:

The very first (to my knowledge) hand pump on the Kenai Peninsula.  Perhaps they had some here a century ago during the Gold Rush days; I suppose they must have.  But if we limit ourselves to "modern" times, this is certainly a first.  Well done to Zach Henry and the rest of the crew at St. Elias for being willing to take the plunge and install a true beer engine.

I was there on Friday, December 2, when Zach started pulling pints from a cask of Mistletoe Porter.  Currently, St. Elias only has 4.5 gallon casks, so they will not last long, even with cask breathers. Wehn you go in, you'll have to ask the bartender if they happen to have one on or not.  Eventually, Zach plans to purchase 9 gallon firkins, which should enable them to have cask available on a more continuous basis.

I was once again reminded of what a difference cask makes last Sunday.  The Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society was holding its Christmas Party at St. Elias and the hand pump was serving their award-winning Moose Juice Barley Wine.  When I had a glass on hand pump, it tasted so different, that I actually got a sample of the draft version to compare side by side, just to be sure my memory wasn't playing tricks.  It wasn't; the cask version was significantly smoother and creamier, with the much more delicate carbonation characteristic of cask-conditioned beers.  Most excellent.

Also on last Sunday, Kassik's Brewery had their Christmas Party, featuring Beer Brats, a Chinese Gift Exchange, and a vertical tasting of their 2007, 2008, 2009, & 2010 Barley Wines.  It sold out and judging by the photos on their Facebook page, it was a great time.  Keep your eye out for future food events to be held at the brewery.  If you're looking to finish up your Christmas shopping, they still have a few Morning Wood ornaments left, and they've got Penny Porter and Big Nutz shirts and hoodies.

Over at Kenai River Brewing, they celebrated the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition on December 5th with $4 growlers of their Hoppin' Salmon Wheat, so I stopped by and broke in my brand new Hydroflask stainless steel growler.  It's a little pricey, but it does a ridiculously good job of keeping beer cold, plus it doesn't sweat and it's unbreakable.  I stopped by again on the following Monday to wish Doug a happy birthday, only to be offered a dark chocolate bacon cupcake.  I know it sounds wrong, but believe me, bacon goes with everything...

They also have a new beer on tap, Holla Day.  It something new for them, a dark beer brewed with both Belgian and American yeasts.  Doug Hogue reports that it's not overly strong, but has some spicy notes from the Belgian yeast and a touch of smoke, thanks to a little smoked malt.  I haven't tried it yet myself, but I'm planning to grab a liter.

Other release news: this year's Celebration Ale from Sierra Nevada has arrived in state.  This is a classic holiday brew, beloved by beer geeks young and old.  I grabbed a six-pack in Anchorage on Saturday.  It will be in our local stores soon, if it's not here already.

On to the beer reviews.  I've got two for this time around.

First, Stone Brewing's Escondidian Imperial Black IPA. This beer was released back on August 15th, to mark Stone's 15th anniversary.  You can always count on Stone to do something interesting for their anniversary beer, and this year is no exception.  At 10.8% ABV, the "Imperial" on the label is no lie.  It poured as black as a moonless night, with a huge tan head.  The nose was pure hops, with absolutely zero roasted malt component, but a touch of alcohol heat.  On the palate, there's some serious hop bitterness with decent carbonation.  The roastiness is again noticeable by its absence, making a belated appearance just at the finish.  The alcohol and massive bitterness make this brew a sipper, with the 22 oz bottle best shared amongst two or three hopheads who don't mind obliterating their tastebuds.  Exactly what it claims to be, a strong, bitter, black brew.

My second beer to review is vastly different than the Stone brew, but just as challenging in its own way. Midnight Sun's London Old Ale is the fifth entry into this year's World Tour series.  It's brewed from the second runnings from their Arctic Devil Barley Wine, and aged in oak barrels with brettanomyces.  Even though it's made from second runnings, it's still 8.8% ABV.  It poured a semi-translucent ruby color, with a nice cream-colored head.  The nose consisted of malt, brett funk, and some woody notes.  Mouthfeel was good, with no hop bitterness to speak of (only 20 IBUs), but plenty of rich, malty flavors, vanilla, other woody notes, and a hearty dose of barnyard funkiness, which became even more pronounced on the finish. The beer was initially at about 50 F, but as it warmed, even more flavor elements made themselves felt.  This is an incredibly complex and rich beer, made for long, slow and deep study.  I have a feeling that this brew is very close to the legendary stock ales of 19th century Britain, strong beers that spent considerable time in the wood and picked up their famously "stale" flavors from brettanomyces.  In fact, brettanomyces is simply Latin for "British Yeast", so named because it was first isolated from wooden British beer casks.  So if you like the funk and what to taste some history, give London Old Ale a try.

That will wrap it up for this time around.  I will do my best to get another blog out before Christmas, but should I not make it, here's wishing you and your a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Until Next Time, cheers!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Here Come the Holidays

Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Not my favorite holiday, but still a nice excuse for a few days off and a big feast with friends.  I don't know about you, but I made it a point to have some really excellent beer along with my turkey.  I broke out one of my last bottles of St. Elias Brewing's  H&H Highland Ale (reviewed on 12/16/2010).  Six months of aging in the bottle has made this beer even more exceptional than when it was on draft.  Not sure when I'll be able to bring myself to drink my very last bottle...

For dessert, I cracked open a bottle of Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary Brewers Reserve Oak-Aged Ale (reviewed on 1/5/2011), which was also delicious after over a year of cellaring.  The perfect accompaniment to an after dinner sweet.

As we move into the holiday season, lots of folks have things to celebrate. Geoff & Marcy Larson, the founders of Alaskan Brewing Company, will be in Anchorage next week to celebrate the company's 25th anniversary.  They will be in town for two days and will be doing two events each day.

Wednesday, 12/7:

3:30 to 5:30 pm  Signing at Brown Jug Warehouse
7 to 9 pm   Perseverance Ale Gathering at Humpy's

Thursday, 12/8:

4 to 6 pm   Signing at Gold Rush Liquors
7 to 9 pm  Perseverance Ale Gathering at the Firetap at Tikahtnu Square

The events at Humpy's and Firetap will have giveaways of 25th Anniversary gear and anniversary glassware to take home, while the signings will be a chance to get your anniversary bottles signed and get your picture taken with Geoff and Marcy.

More good news from Alaskan:  They will be releasing their Barleywine a month earlier this year than in the past. Look for this award-winning brew in local stores in the next week or so.  Also, they are planning to expand into the Texas and New Mexico markets next year.

I finally got around to tasting this year's edition of Alaskan's justly famous Smoked Porter.  This beer has won more medals than any other at the Great American Beer Festival and was responsible for singlehandedly reviving smoked beers in the US.  As usual, the fresh bottle was quite smokey; as a dedicated Islay whisky lover, I enjoyed it, but most folks like to let the bottles age for awhile.  Time tames the smokiness a bit, so if you find it too smokey for your tastes, just stash a few bottles in your cellar.  At Alaskan they've got bottles that are over two decades old, and I hear that they are still excellent when sampled.

I had the chance to talk to Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company last week.  He reports that his next release, The Tide and Its Takers Tripel, is conditioning in the bottle.  Depending on how quickly those little microorganisms work, it should hopefully be released in the early part of December.

December also means it's time to start thinking about the Great Alaska Beer and Barleywine Festival in January.  This year the festival will take place on January 20 & 21st, with plenty of Alaska Beer Week events leading up to it.  Tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster and I've already got mine for the Saturday afternoon Connoisseurs' Session, so don't miss out.  This year's Guest of Honor will be John McDonald of Boulevard Brewing Company.

This time of year is also when the competition for the Wynkoop Brewing Company's 2012 Beerdrinker of the Year gets rolling.  You can find all the details you need to know right here. As a former winner, believe me when I say that until you throw your name in the hat, you have no idea whether you actually have a shot or not.  So get those resumes submitted prior to 31 December!

Not a lot to report from the local breweries, though Kassik's does have some new hats and beanies for sale for Christmas. St. Elias Brewing will be christening their new hand pump with a cask of Mistletoe Porter this Friday.  Everything is supposed to be a "go" by 5 PM, so stop by on your way home from work and have a pint that's been pulled by the very first hand pump on the Kenai Peninsula!

Another reason to stop by would be to try one of the two new beers on tap.  I'm afraid the Oktoberfest has gone the way of all flesh; I was sitting next to Jim "Dr. Fermento" Roberts at the bar when he got the very last pint last week.  Zach Henry has replaced it with his Matushka Imperial Stout and the latest incarnation of his award-winning Moose Juice Barleywine.

The Matushka Imperial Stout poured completely opaque with a small head that dissipated fairly quickly to a collar.  The aroma was initially of the roast malt, then hints of the bourbon barrel aging began creeping in, with some woody, vanilla notes.  On the palate there was good mouthfeel, very rich and complex, lots of the roasty flavors, hints of chocolate, vanilla notes from the wood, and just the slightest hint of bourbon.  This beer illustrates to me the optimum use of a bourbon barrel. The barrel elements compliment the beer without overwhelming it. Another very nice job, and one of the best Imperial Stouts I've had in quite some time.  It's 8.8% ABV, so treat it with respect.

I also tried a new beer from Outside, the Bavarian-style Doppel Weizen from Lagunitas Brewing in California.  It's a wheat beer, but a darn strong one, weighing in at 9.0% ABV and 34 IBUs.  It poured a cloudy, hazy gold with a big, persistent head.  The aroma was classic Bavarian Hefe, with lots of bananas and cloves. Carbonation was excellent, with lots of spiciness, decent hop bitterness, and a touch of alcohol heat on the finish.  All in all, it was a bit of a strange beast, with so much alcohol packed into a hefeweizen, but if they are your thing, you'll probably like this one.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Enjoy your Christmas shopping and be sure to take some time out for a good brew or two.

Until Next Time, Cheers.