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:

Click to enlarge
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!

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