Thursday, February 2, 2012

Recovery Mode

Alaska Breweries section of the GABBF
Yes, I'm in recovery mode.  No, it's not because of Alaska Beer Week and the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival, good as they were.  It's because of a really nasty bug I picked up somewhere along the way, which has really had me under the weather for the last week or so.  Add that to all the work at my day job that piled up while I was up in Anchorage plus the deadline for my newspaper column, plus a last minute request from the Rare Beer Club, and something had to give.  That something was this blog, naturally, so here it is, three weeks from my last posting.

Steven Pauwels
This year's  Guest of Honor for the GABBF was Steven Pauwels, Brewmaster of the Boulevard Brewing Company.  Given that I've been admiring his beers for a couple of years, it was great to meet him in the flesh and chat about beer and brewing.  His speech to the GNB Club meeting was especially good.  Besides being exceptionally funny in a dead-pan European way, it was interesting to hear his perspective, as a Belgian, on how homebrewing has influenced and continues to influence the American craft brewing industry.  He was a real gentleman and someone I hope we see up this way again.

Alaska Beer Week as a whole was an absolutely fabulous time.  Last year's dozen or so events grew to more than sixty this time around.  Beer dinners, meet the brewer events, the Great Northern Brewers club meeting, and the GABBF itself-- they were all great.

To my knowledge, there was only one dark spot on a great week. Joe Gilman, assistant brewer at Kenai River Brewery, was injured in a freak curling accident late on the evening of Wednesday, January 18.  And before you ask, yes, I said curling. Yes, the Olympic sport with the ice and the rocks and the brooms.  He slipped and fell and sheered his humerus at the elbow, requiring surgery the next day to install a metal plate.  I know we all wish Joe a speedy and painless recovery.

In better news, Galaxy White IPA, the new release from Gabe Fletcher's Anchorage Brewing Company, will be the February offering of Rare Beer Club, one of the Beer of the Month Clubs. I know this because I was contacted by the Club to contribute some copy regarding Gabe and his brewery.  Galaxy White IPA is available locally here on the Peninsula at Country Liquors in Kenai for $9.99 for a 750ml bottle.  Gabe has also produced the beer for this year's Fur Rendezvous, the Running of the Reindeer Saison.  It should be available next week at Country Liquors as well.

Besides breaking Joe, while they were in Anchorage the crew at Kenai River released a bit of their brand-new Russian Imperial Stout at the Connoisseurs' Session of the GABBF, then put the leftover 7 gallons on tap last Friday. It lasted all of 3 and a half hours.  Fortunately, I was able to get some at the GABBF.  I thought it tasted pretty good, but that it could use a few months more conditioning.  Not sure when it will be released for real, but it will certainly be one to watch for!  The new taproom at the brewery is also nearing completion.  Doug gave me a quick tour a few days ago and I can tell you that's it's going to look very, very nice.

Over at St. Elias Brewing, there should be a new beer on the hand pump this Friday.  Not sure what it will be, so we'll just have to stop by to find out! (Late addition: It will be Zach's famous Vanilla Bean Porter, both on cask and draft!)

If you've been looking to try the new Alaskan Black IPA, it has finally made it to the Peninsula.  Look for it at Fred Meyer and other local stores.  I just picked some up today, so I should have a review for next week's blog.

I had the opportunity to try several new beers while I was in Anchorage.  Here are a few reviews:

I stopped by Cafe Amsterdam soon after arriving in town and had a beers with Ken Pajak. From his extensive draft list, the one I picked was Conflux #2, a Belgian IPA collaboration brew between Deschutes & Boulevard Brewing.  It poured a slightly hazy gold, with a nice white head that left excellent lacing on the glass.  The aroma was bright with spices; I could certainly pick out orange peel and lemon grass.  It had an excellent mouthfeel, with plenty of good carbonation and plenty of additional spiciness.  The hoppiness did not overwhelm the spiciness, as sometimes happens in White or Belgian IPAs.  Very nice and refreshing.

Friday night, after a wonderful sushi dinner, my wife and I stopped by SubZero Longue for an after dinner drink.  I ordered a  glass of Flemish Primitive #3, a De Proef/Surly Bird collaboration.  This beer was a lovely clear gold with a small white head that dissipated to a collar but left nice lacing down the side of the glass.  The aroma was classic Belgian, with the earthy, spicy notes that I always associate with a Belgian yeast, plus some citrus elements.  The beer itself was fairly dry, with good bitterness; in the respect it reminded me a bit of Saison Dupont.  Unlike that beer, there was a touch of sourness on the finish, likely from whatever wild yeast made it primitive.  Very enjoyable and complex, it made the perfect nightcap.

I also got to try another new release from Anchorage Brewing Company, their Anchorage IPA.  This is a draft-only brew, so do not look for it outside the Anchorage area.  It poured a slightly cloudy gold with a white head and an aroma that screamed Citra hops!  Excellent carbonation helps to keep the bitterness from overwhelming the palate, and I thought I could pick up a slight fruitiness, perhaps from the yeast strain used.  Talking to Gabe Fletcher, he told me that he decided to brew this beer "because he missed brewing an IPA".  As usual, if Gabe does something, he does it right.  This is a very nice, straight-forward American IPA, as good as anyone makes anywhere.  If you find yourself in Anchorage, be sure to hunt it up.

I picked up a bottle of the latest from BrewDog Brewery in Scotland, Bitch Please, another collaboration brew, this time with Three Floyds Brewery. This is a strong (11.5% ABV) ale, aged in Islay whisky casks.  It poured a very dark copper color, with a massive off-white head.  The aroma was of smoky Islay whisky, and that was pretty much the dominant flavor profile.  As much as I love Islay whisky, I thought it a bit overdone.  Whenever I'm dealing with any kind of spirits barrel aging, be it bourbon, scotch, rum, or whatever, I want the spirit in question to complement the beer, not overpower it.  An example of a beer which does something similar but does it right would be J.W. Lees Harvest Ale, aged in Lagavulin Casks.  Here, there's just too much Scotch, not enough ale...

Finally, I tried a bottle on Midnight Sun's Anchorage Ice Bock, the last in their World Tour series.  As you'd expect from an ice bock, this is a hefty brew at 10.9% ABV.  True to style, it;s malt forward, with only 14 IBUs of bitterness.  Ir poured a dark ruby color, with a slight cream-colored head.  The nose was of caramel and malt, with a touch of alcohol heat.  On the palate it had a smooth clean taste, plenty of malt body and a hint of caramel.  No discernible bitterness, and some alcohol heat on the finish.  A very nice take on the classic style.

Now that the World Tour has finished, I guess I should give you my own personal ranking of performances, from best to not-so-best.  Here they are, from the top:

Macchu Picchu

As always, your mileage may vary.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Sorry for the big gap, but to quote Forrest Gump: "S**t happens."  I'll be back next week with more beer new and reviews.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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