Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New

Ready or not, 2012 here we come!  Hope you all had a nice Christmas and New Years celebration.  Elaine and I kept things pretty low key here in Sterling; dodging amateur drunks on icy roads fits neither her nor my idea of a "fun" New Years Eve.

The start of a new year is traditionally a time to look back.  This graphic from the Brewers Association pretty much sums up 2011 from a craft beer perspective. While the U.S. beer industry as a whole was losing volume and barely holding its own on revenue (thanks to raising their prices), craft beer was growing at double digits in both volume sold and revenue earned.  Craft beer is the future and you can bet the big boys see it too.  Watch for more buyouts in 2012, plus more efforts by them to cash in by marketing beers that "look" like craft beers,  despite being made by A-B InBev or Miller-Coors.

In the personal betterment department, I promised myself I would finally get going on earning my Cicerone Certification, from www.cicerone.org.  For those of you not familiar with the Cicerone Certification Program, it is similar to the programs that exist for wine sommeliers, but focuses on beer rather than wine.  There are three levels: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, and Master Cicerone.  I have been meaning to get started for quite some time, but I finally took the plunge and signed up for the exam to earn the Certified Beer Server designation.  You will be happy to hear that I am now Certified Beer Server # 8845.  Stay tuned for updates as I work my way through the higher level certifications.  They will take longer, as they involve face-to-face examinations, none of which are currently scheduled in Alaska...

Looking ahead to Alaska Beer Week, the list of events is now posted on the Brewers Guild of Alaska webpage.  The dedicated AK Beer Week webpage is still under construction, but may be working by the time you read this.  So far I count about SIXTEEN different beer events, not counting the Great Alaskan Beer & Barley Wine Festival itself!  I am already making my reservations to ensure I don't miss out on events such as the Alaskan Brewing's Dark Beer Dinner at Simon & Seafort's, Kenai River Brewing's Dinner at Spenard Roadhouse, or Anchorage Brewing's Belgian Beer Dinner at SubZero.  These are some of the top beer events in Alaska every year, so decide which ones you'll attend and make your reservations now!

In the two weeks since I last took my keyboard in hand to blog, there have been several new beer releases that I need to tell you about.

First up, North Coast Brewing Company has released their Barrel-aged Old Rasputin XIV, to celebrate the 14th anniversary of their founding. Their standard Old Rasputin Imperial Stout is one of the best examples of this style currently available, and best of all, thanks to the folks at Specialty Imports, it's available here on the Kenai, both at the Save-U-More in Soldotna and Country Liquors in Kenai.  The barrel-aged version just takes things up several notches, thanks to the bourbon barrels used.  The previous release was Old Rasputin XII, two years ago.  It has gotten rave reviews from beers geeks, with an A rating on Beer Advocate.com and people tossing around terms like "one of the finest bourbon-barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stouts on the planet."  Old Rasputin XIV promises to be just as good.  It's available at Country Liquors in Kenai right now.  It isn't cheap, at just under $20 a bottle, but if you enjoy bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stouts (and who doesn't), you should grab yourself one before they are gone.

Sticking with the "black is beautiful" trope, on the winter solstice Alaskan Brewing released their new Black IPA in Juneau.  As you can see from the photo, this beer will be in 12 oz six packs.  It hasn't made its way to the Kenai  yet, so I haven't had a chance to sample it, but based on the information I received, it sounds like a lower alcohol version of their excellent Double Black IPA (reviewed on 8/26/2010).  Look for Cascade and Centennials, along with other PNW hops, plus plenty of roasty flavors.  Given how good the DIPA version was, I will definitely be grabbing some of this beer as soon as it's on the shelves locally.

Another beer that's been released but hasn't made it down here yet is Anchorage Brewing Company's The Tide and Its Takers Tripel.  This is the latest beer from Gabe Fletcher and I am very anxious to try it.  Once again, likely the only local place to find it is Country Liquors in Kenai, though if you find yourself in Anchorage, I know La Bodega at the University Center Mall has it as well.

Let's move on to some beer reviews.

Earlier, I mentioned North Coast Brewing, the makers of Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.  For New Years Day, I decided to share one of their other beers with my friend Curt, their Old Stock Ale 2009 Cellar Reserve.  This was another bourbon barrel aged beer, though in this case the base brew was their Old Stock Ale, rather than their Old Rasputin.  This was bottle had rested in my cellar for quite some time, waiting for a special occasion.  It poured a lovely red-copper collar, with a small cream-colored head that rapidly dissipated to a color.  The bourbon made itself immediately apparent on the nose, followed by vanilla and dark fruit notes.  The taste was a continuation of the aroma, with spicy, buttery bourbon flavors intertwined with raisins, molasses, vanilla, and caramel notes. A potent brew at 13.2% ABV, this complex beer is one to sip by the fire, mulling over the year that's been or the one about to start.  An expensive brew, but well worth the price.

I mentioned in an earlier blog that Alaskan Brewing Company was releasing their 2011 Barley Wine on 1 December this year, earlier than in the past.  When I visited out local Fred Meyer shortly after Christmas, I was pleased to see that it had arrived, and I grabbed two bottles, one to cellar and one to drink.  Earlier incarnations of this beer have won several awards, including first place at the Toronado Barley Wine Festival in 2007  and a bronze at the 2008 World Beer Cup.  I had tasted and enjoyed those previous examples, so I was looking forward to this year's effort.  It did not disappoint.  It poured a very pretty dark ruby with a decent cream-colored head.  The aroma was primarily of caramel and sweet malt, with some alcohol heat.  This is an English-style barley wine, so the emphasis is primarily on the malt, not the hops, but there was still enough bitterness for good balance.  It had a long, smooth finish, which left me wanting another sip.  As 10.7% ABV, this is not overly strong for a barley wine; you can't call it sessionable, but I had no problem finishing a 22 oz bottle by myself over the course of a couple of hours.  This is an excellent beer and I'm planning to pick up a couple more bottles, to both drink and cellar, the next time I'm at the store.

Finally, I want to mention another beer that I drank over the holidays and greatly enjoyed.  On New Years Eve, I drank a bottle of Orval, the Trappist Ale from Brasserie d'Orval in Belgium. This would not normally be big news, as Orval is readily available, as are several other Trappists, such as Chimay and Rochfort.  In this case what made the beer so special was that I had been able to cellar it for a couple of years. Unlike the other Trappists, Orval is dosed with brettanomyces, the slow-working yeast that produces some amazing sour or funky flavors.  I love Orval fresh, but with a couple of years aging to bring out its brett character, it is truly sublime.  If you are a fan of brettanomyces in beer, I'd urge you to pick up a couple of bottles of Orval (it's on sale at Country Liquors in Kenai or many place in Anchorage), then stick them someplace dark, with a constant cool temperature, and forget about them for a couple of years.  I promise you won't be unhappy with the results.

Well, that's it for this week.  Hope you all have a wonderful 2012, and get to enjoy many excellent beers in the coming year.  I know I plan to.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

1 comment:

atattooedtale said...

The Tide and Its Takers is a fantastic beer. Maybe the best Tripel that I've ever had, definitely seek it out. I can't wait to try that new Black IPA from Alaskan.