Friday, May 18, 2012

Summer Is Coming?

I like to think that summer is just around the corner, but the fact that our birdbath keeps freezing every night makes me wonder...

Regardless, Alaskan breweries are gearing up to face the onslaught of tourists that will soon be descending upon our fair state.  Hopefully those tourists will get the chance to experience the exceptional craft brews that Alaska has to offer.  If you have any doubt how special Alaska is, just take a look at this graphic:

As you can see, Alaska is one of the top states in the nation when it comes to breweries per capita.  Having a small population helps, of course, but our 22 (and counting) breweries and brewpubs are quite a respectable number.  So if you're involved in the tourist business, even if it's just carting your relatives from Outside around, please make it a point to expose them to some of our homegrown Alaskan craft beer.

Speaking of Alaskan craft beer, let's talk about Alaskan Brewing Company's craft beer.  Or rather, let's look and listen to them talk about it.  Here's a brand new video they've released:

Nicely done, and I'm happy they emphasize how unique things are in Alaska.

This week is American Craft Beer Week and Kenai River Brewing Company has been celebrating in style, with $6 growler specials on a different one of their beers each day.  They've also got two new brews on tap, Imperial Rye Pale Ale (I.R.P.A.) and Black Water Bend-R Black IPA.  I'll have reviews of both later in the blog.

Over at Kassik's Brewery, Orion's Quest Red Ale is back on tap, along with a small amount of Chocolate Cherry Stout and Big Nutz Imperial Brown.  Get 'em before they're gone!  Kassik's also was one of the sponsors of last week's Trivapalooza fundraiser.  After a three year run as champion, the team I am on came in second by two points, so it was nice to be able to drown my sorrows in a Morning Wood IPA.  Well done to Kassik's for supporting this worthy local cause.

At St. Elias Brewing, Zach Henry & crew are also gearing up for the tourists.  How can you tell?  Because Island Girl Ale is back on the chalkboard!  Yes, the raspberry-flavored brew so popular with the ladies is on offer again; you can read my review of it in my 6/15/2010 blog.  Zach also has a hefeweizen on tap, which is being served in proper 20 oz glasses for $5 each.  As things warm up, either would be a good choice to enjoy while sitting in the sun on their patio.

Now let's move on to some beer reviews:

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I've been uniformly impressed with the beers from Southern Tier Brewing Company, out of upstate  New York.  The latest one I've found to try was their Unearthly Imperial IPA, at 9.5% ABV.  It poured a nice, clear copper color in the glass, with a good-sized white head.  The aroma was of crisp floral hops.  The beer is run through a hopback filled with Styrian Goldings, then dry-hopped with a mixture of Centennial, Cascade, and Chinook hops.  They were all accounted for in the aroma!  Tasting it, the beer presented a very clean bitterness and concealed the high alcohol content quite well, making it more drinkable than your average hop bomb imperial IPA.  Another very nice beer from Southern Tier.

As I mentioned in last week's blog, when I was in Anchorage I stopped by La Bodega in its new location.  While I was there, I picked up a liter of Midnight Sun's Oak-aged T.R.E.A.T. Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin Porter, which was on tap at their growler bar.  I'd had T.R.E.A.T. before, though I not the oak-aged version, but I don't think I've ever written up a review, so here it is.  It poured completely opaque, with a nice tan head.  The aroma lead off with roasted coffee & dark chocolate notes, followed by the wood and then the pumpkin spices.  On the palate there was excellent mouthfeel, with just the proper degree of chewiness.  The flavor profile was very rich and complex; I picked up dark chocolate, roasted coffee, raisins, spices again, and a touch of alcohol from the 7.8% ABV.  Not everyone is crazy for pumpkin beers, but if you like the spice profile, you'll love T.R.E.A.T., especially with the added layer of complexity from the oak aging.

Rye can be a tricky ingredient for a brewer, both from a process standpoint and from its impact on the flavor profile.  Doug Hogue demonstrated his complete mastery of both areas with his latest offering, Imperial Rye Pale Ale, or I.R.P.A. for short.  (Don't ask me what's up with all these "initial" beers.  Is it the latest fad among brewers?)  It poured a beautiful dark copper with a big, cream-colored head.  The aroma announced the distinctive presence of Summit hops, which I believe Doug said was the only variety he used in the beer.  On the palate there was good carbonation, excellent bitterness as well as good hop flavor, plus the peppery notes that I always associate with rye, ending with a fair amount of alcohol heat from the 10% ABV.  This is a really big beer, but deceptively drinkable.

Joe & Bender: Separated at Birth?
Knowing Joe Gilman as I do, it would not surprise me to learn that he's a fan of the animated series FUTURAMA.  After all, he seems to have modeled his personality on that of Bender the robot (or maybe it was the other way round?).  So I can't help but wonder if the "Bend-R" in Black Water Bend-R  Black IPA is a subtle tribute to this cartoon character.  This is the first recipe that Joe has created, and he has really set a very high bar for himself.  Unusually, he chose to use a lot of roasted barley in his recipe, something you'd expect more in a stout than in a Black IPA.  The result is a completely black brew with a dark tan, almost coffee-colored head.  The characteristic aroma of Citra hops comes booming out of the glass.  The color is so dark that you expect it to be heavy or chewy on the palate, but it is actually quite light.  There is a ton of bitterness and plenty of roasty notes, all tied together with good carbonation.  All-in-all, this is one of the best Black IPAs I've ever had; it may be his first time at the plate, but as far as I'm concerned, Joe hit this one out of the park.  If you like hoppy beers, you really need to give Black Water Bend-R Black IPA a try.

Well, that's about it for now.  I hope you enjoy what's left of American Craft Beer Week.  Keep your fingers crossed that summer does come to the Kenai eventually; it would be nice if things could stay above freezing at night...

Until Next time, Cheers!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

More Excuses

 Damn, seems like every time I go to write this blog, I have to start out with making excuses as to why it's either late or was missing all together the previous week.  Too many irons in the fire, not enough hours in the day, etc., etc. So pick whatever excuse seems best to you and consider it to be the one I'm using for not getting a blog out last week.  Now let's move on.

I don't usually bother with news about overseas breweries, but this one is just too amazing to pass up.  Click here to read how the huge conglomerate Diageo (owner of Guinness, Heineken, and numerous other brands) threw its weight around to deny BrewDog an award and got caught red-handed.  It doesn't surprise me that this sort of stuff goes on, but it does surprise me that anyone would think they could be so brazen about it and not have it blow up in their face. To me it's telling that such a big company would feel so threatened by a small craft outfit to actually do something like this; even they must know that craft beer is the future of the industry.

On a more positive awards note, Alaskan Brewing Company reeled in another three medals, this time from the World Beer Cup, the international competition sponsored every two years by the Brewers Association. Judges blind tasted 3,921 beers from 799 breweries in 54 countries to award gold, silver, and bronze medals in 95 beer categories.  Alaskan Stout took the bronze medal in the Oatmeal Stout category, Alaskan IPA took the bronze in the American-style  Strong Pale Ale category, and Alaskan Amber took the silver in Irish Red Ale category.  Congratulations to the gang in Juneau and keep up the good work!

More good news:  Jim Roberts, AKA Dr. Fermento, the Dean of Alaskan Beer Writers and a good friend, has resumed publishing his occasional newsletter-style blog, know as Da Rant.  If you're interested in the Alaskan Beer Scene at all and you're not on his mailing list, you are missing out.  Send him an email at to receive a copy.

Here a chance to win something cool:A travel company known as Zephyr Adventures has teamed with World Class Beer, Untapped, New Belgium Brewery, and Draft Magazine to give away a free spot on an upcoming Colorado Hike, Bike, Beer and Brewpubs Adventure, plus round-trip airfare to Denver.  Follow this link to register for a chance to win this free trip.

I was in Anchorage for one day this week for a conference.  Meetings lasted most of the day so I didn't get to do much except drive up and drive back, but I made a point to delay departure for a few minutes to check out La Bodega's new store.  I talked about all of the upgrades in their new location in prior blogs, so I won't rehash them here, but I will say this: WOW!  The place looks fantastic, the growler bar is great, and I'm really confident that this is going to boost the craft beer profile in Anchorage tremendously.  Here are some photos, courtesy of my wife Elaine:

Exterior shot
Looking right from the growler bar
Interior shot
Looking left toward the growler bar
Close up of the growler bar
If you live in Anchorage and haven't checked La Bodega out yet, what the heck are you waiting for?

OK, let's turn to some reviews.

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Here's a new brew from Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, NY: The Art of Darkness.  All of Ommegang's beers are of the highest quality and this new brew is no exception.  Brewed in the style of a Belgian Strong Dark, it poured an almost-opaque ruby color with a giant khaki head.  The nose was of dark fruits (plums, figs, raisins) plus earthy, spicy Belgian yeast elements.  On the palate, there was more of the same, with plums, raisins, figs, and some chocolate notes blending into a rich and complex ensemble.  A fine take on the style and another proof that you don't to be Belgian to brew absolutely fabulous Belgian beer.

 I also have had the chance to sample several beers in Samuel Smith Brewery's Organic line of beers and cider.  Samuel Smith's is a very traditional brewery located in Tadcaster in the U.K., famous for still fermenting their beers in open fermenters made from huge slabs of  Yorkshire slate.  Their beers have been imported into the US for decades by Merchant du Vin.  In fact, I can remember times in the late 80's and early 90's when they were about the only decent British ales you could find in this country.  These days they have much more company, but they are still producing some excellent brews, including their classic Yorkshire Stingo Ale, which I reviewed back on 8/31/2010.

With regards to the value of paying for organic brews, you will have to decide for yourself whether or not the added cost is "worth it" for you.  Personally, I have been perfectly satisfied with non-organic beers, but if you feel strongly on the subject Samuel Smith's is now presenting you with a viable option.

The organic line consists of a cider, a lager, a best bitter, and fruit beers: cherry, raspberry, strawberry, and most recently apricot.  I have tried several, and found them all to be uniformly well made; I particularly enjoyed the Organic Lager Beer.  It poured a lovely straw gold, very clear, with a big white head.  It had a nice, clean hop aroma and a very crisp, clean and refreshing taste.  It was more in the style of a German than a Czech lager and quite delicious.

Among the fruit ales, I found the Apricot Ale to be the most interesting.  I am not overly fond of apricots, but even so I enjoyed this beer.  It poured a cloudy orange-gold with a nice white head and a strong apricot aroma,  On the palate, there was enough natural tartness to keep the beer from being too cloyingly sweet, as fruit beers can sometime be.  I'm not sure I'd have another, but I suspect that's because I'm not as big a fan of apricots as someone else might be.  If you like apricots, this is definitely the beer for you.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Hopefully next week's blog will be out on time.  I will certainly do my best to make it so.

Until Next Time, Cheers!