Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Faithful Friend Falters...

I experienced a tragic loss on Wednesday morning; a faithful friend of eight years standing suddenly died.  I walked into the kitchen in the morning to feed the cats and there it was: the digital thermometer on my beer cooler was reading a stark 70F. At the time of this writing, it still remains to be seen if my old friend can be resuscitated, or if he will have to be buried with honors and replaced with a new model.  It's a real shock when something you've come to rely on suddenly stops working...

On to happier news: Jim "Dr. Fermento" Roberts, beer writer extraordinaire, made one of his flying visits to Kenai this week, under the auspices of his day job as head of Human Resources for Peak Oilfield Services.  We were able to meet up for lunch at St. Elias Brewing and enjoyed a pint each of their excellent Sunfire Saison while we ate.  As luck would have it, while we were sitting at the bar, Matt Pyhala, the driving force behind the 2nd Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival,  walked in with posters and a block of tickets to drop off.  If you haven't seen this year's poster yet, here it is:

Tickets are $20, which gets you admission, a commemorative tasting glass, a six coupons, each good for a 4 oz. pour.  More tickets are available at 2 for $3 or 12 for $15.  Last year's event sold out, so buy your tickets in advance to ensure you'll be able to attend.  Locally, they are on sale at St. Elias Brewing, Kassik's Brewery, and Kenai River Brewing Company.  In Anchorage, you can find them at La Bodega. Like last year, there will be plenty of food vendors and live music at the new, bigger venue, the Soldotna Sports Center off Kalifornsky Beach Road.  The breweries listed at the bottom of the poster are confirmed, but it's possible that even more be there, so stay tuned for updates.

Click to enlarge
I haven't recommended any reading material lately, but I recently finished an excellent book that I want to pass on to all of you:  The Longest Crawl, by Ian Marchant. Published in 2007, this is the author's account of a pub crawl he undertook with a friend from the extreme southwest of Britain to its most extreme northwest outpost.  During the course of the journey, there are many quaint and quirky characters and drinking customs encountered, and the author spends much time commenting on the current state of British drinking culture.  You may find the dialogue a bit tricky to follow, depending how up you are on current British idiom, and the author's politics are somewhere to the left of Fidel Castro's, but it's still a fascinating read, and you can find a used copy on Amazon for a very few dollars.

Not quite so recently, I finished another very interesting book, America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops by Christine Sismondo. Published last year, I got my copy via the History Book Club, but it is also available on Amazon.  It's a rollicking history of the pivotal role drinking establishments have played in the course of American history, and a wonderful antidote to the neo-prohibitionist sentiments you so often here expressed today.  It clearly shows that America would not be the country it is today without the presence (or occasional painful absence) of alcohol. It has plenty of excellent period photos and illustrations and is written in a light, east-to-read style.  I highly recommend it if you are at all interested in the history of beer and/or alcohol in the US.

OK, so let's push on to beer reviews.  Only two this week, I'm afraid.

I don't usually review beers that aren't commercially available, at least somewhere in the world.  It hardly seems fair for me to wax eloquent about some homebrew I've had, only to finish up with, "of course, none of you readers will be able to get any."  That being said, I did get a chance to taste a beer that has not been commercially released yet, but I'm sure it will be some day: Kassik's Brewery's bottled version of their Buffalo Head Barley Wine.  I stopped by on Saturday, June 16, to drop off some Yukon Brewing beers I'd picked up for them to try, and to grab a growler for a friend's birthday party that I'd be attending the next day.  Frank was manning the taps but business was slow enough that we had time for a pint and some talk.  As I was leaving, he handed me a bottle of their barley wine to take with me.  I'd had various versions of this beer on draft over the years, but this was the first time in bottle-conditioned form.  It poured a lovely dark honey color in the glass, with a nice, dense cream-colored head.  The aroma was rich with malty notes and a touch of alcohol.  Very good mouthfeel, with plenty of complex, malty flavors from the deep malt backbone.  With just enough hop bitterness for balance, this is definitely in the English rather than the American style.  A long, slow finish with a little more alcohol heat completes the package.  It's no wonder that Kassik's took a barley wine Gold Medal in the 2011 Tasting Institutes World Beer Championships; I thought this beer was truly exceptional, and I enjoyed the bottle immensely over the course of the evening.  It's my hope that we'll soon see these bottles in commercial release, so the rest of you can get the chance to enjoy this amazing beer.

My other beer review for this week is another beer from Green Flash Brewing in San Diego: Rayon Vert Belgian-style Pale Ale.   for those of you who aren't up on your French, "Rayon Vert" translates to "Green Flash".  It poured a clear, light copper with a huge off-white head.  So huge, in fact that it was difficult to pour the 12 oz bottle into a 20 oz snifter! The nose was chock full of bright hop aromas and the earthy/spicy note that I always associate with Belgian yeasts.  According to the bottle, brettanomyces is also in the mix, but I really didn't get any of the characteristics barnyard funk from that.  Likely my bottle was too fresh, so perhaps I'll pick up some to cellar for a few months to give the notoriously slow-working brett a chance to do its thing.  On the palate there was great carbonation, plus plenty of hop flavor with restrained bitterness.  At 7% ABV, Rayon Vert is stronger than your typical Belgian Pale, which are the session beers of Belgium, after all.  Still, it's extremely drinkable and would pair well with many different foods.  This is the kind of beer I could see always keeping on hand, ready to offer to guests.  Very nice.

Well, that's it for this week.  Be sure to buy your tickets for the Kenai Beer Fest and cross your fingers that my faithful old beer cooler can be saved.

Until Next Time, Cheers!


Kassik's Brewery said...

The 2011 Buffalo Head Barley gold metal was from the Tasting Institutes World Beer Championships.

I'm Bill Howell. said...

Thanks for the correction! I have edited the blog to reflect it.