Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ho, For the Klondike! (Part I)

I bet you are thinking: "OK, time for Bill to start making excuses why he hasn't blogged for almost a month."  Ha, jokes on you!  No excuses needed; this time I was on VACATION!  Yes, an honest-to-goodness vacation, just Elaine and I on the road for two weeks!  So I couldn't have blogged if I'd wanted to.  But all good things must come to an end, and it's time to get back to work.  So let me tell you about my beery adventures.

Since neither Elaine nor I had been there, we decided we wanted to visit Skagway and Dawson City in the Yukon, to explore the region where the famous Klondike Gold Rush took place.  Plus we wanted to attend the 20th Annual Great Alaska Craft Beer & Home Brew Festival in Haines on May 25 & 26, the oldest beer fest in the state.  It's a two day drive from our home on the Kenai to Haines, so we spent a night in Tok, before rolling into Haines on Thursday afternoon, May 24.

Haines Brewing in Dalton City
Haines is a very beautiful and laid-back little town, and is blessed with an excellent local brewery, Haines Brewing Company.  Brewer Paul Wheeler produces some absolutely outstanding brews.  I had sampled some of them at past Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festivals in Anchorage, but I was looking forward to getting them from the source.

The brewery is located in Dalton City, which was originally a movie set built for the Disney movie White Fang before being moved to the SE Alaska Fairgrounds.  When we arrived in town on Thursday, it was our first stop.  As we walked up, we could see that there was a line of folks waiting to buy pints to drink out front and with growlers to be filled.  As an aside, every restaurant Elaine and I ate at in Haines that sold beer had Haines Brewing beers on their list.  It certainly speaks well of a brewery when it has such tremendous local support.  After a such a long drive, I felt the need of refreshment, so I had a glass of their Black Fang Imperial Stout, which was delicious.

The next morning, I helped judge the first round of the Home Brew Competition, which was a first for me.  I've written many reviews, but I'm not BJCP certified, so it was a new experience to evaluate brews for points against the style guidelines.  I tasted 8 different lagers, from several different styles.  A couple were quite good and one was outstanding, and they were all at least palatable.  I later learned that Ben Hastings, one of our homebrewers from here on the Kenai, took Best in Show, with an IPA, I believe.  Good job, Ben!

Click to enlarge
The Brewer's Dinner on Friday evening was another great event.  250 folks attended the sold-out dinner, to enjoy a seven course meal, paired with 10 different beers!  Chef Adam Richard of the Fireweed Restaurant supplied the food, going with a Latin American Pig Roast as the theme.  Various courses where paired with beers from Baranof Island, Alaskan, Midnight Sun, Yukon, Denali, Haines, & Kenai River Breweries, plus a Faro Lambic from Lindemans, supplied by Specialty Imports.  Various brewers made short speeches between courses, and Geoff Larsen, one of the founders of Alaskan Brewing Company was the Guest Speaker.  His talk focused on how far brewing in Alaska has come in the last twenty-five years.  Paul Wheeler lead us all in a final toast, using a beer he called Sixteen Pounder, from the amount of hops it took to make it.  All-in-all, this was one of the best beer dinners I've ever attended; it was superb in every aspect, from the food, to the beer, to the service, to the company.  I'll certainly jump at any chance I ever get to attend again.

May in Alaska: Drinking beer in the rain!

The next day was Saturday, the day of the actual festival, and it dawned cold and rainy.  However, cold and rainy weather does not stop Alaskans (or Yukoners -- there were plenty of them there) from having a great time.  The Fest has sold out long before (1250 attendees) and the scalpers were busy outside the gate.  Inside, the breweries and Specialty Imports were set up under the tents and pouring some excellent beers.  The wet weather did not seem to have dampened anyone's spirits.  I had a wonderful time and I can understand why many folks say this is the best beer festival in Alaska.  I hope I can visit it many more times.

Best place to drink in Skagway
The next day, Elaine and I caught the ferry over to Skagway (or Alaska's Disneyland and the folks from Haines call it).  There was only one cruise ship in town that day and it departed that night, but two tied up for the day on Monday, and four were in port on Tuesday and Wednesday.  During the day, the streets of Skagway are busy with tourists, but by 6:30 in the evening they have all returned to their ships, the streets are empty, and the locals are drinking at the Skagway Brewing Company.

The Skagway Brewing Company has a full bar and and excellent menu of pub grub, with daily specials (Elaine and I had gourmet burgers there on Sunday night), not to mention a great atmosphere, but the real attraction is the beer.  Brewer Trevor Clifford is doing an excellent job, and he was nice enough to come out and chat with me for a bit (not to mention pulling off a taster for me from a not-quite-finished batch of his Spruce Tip Blonde Ale).  They had four brews actually on tap -- Prospector Pale Ale, Boom Town Brown, Chilkoot Trail IPA, and Blue Top Porter -- and over the course of the next couple of days, I tried them all.  This is a really nice brewpub, and Elaine and I enjoyed ourselves every time we stopped in while we were in Skagway.

Beer Worth Freezing For...
When we rolled out of Skagway, we headed north toward Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory.  During our time in the territory, I found I really liked folks from the Yukon.  They didn't seem particularly Canadian, anymore than Alaskans are particularly American.  We think of ourselves as Alaskans first and Americans second; residents of The Yukon seem to feel the same way about Ottawa that we feel about Washington.  Whatever the reason, we are very simpatico.

When we hit Whitehorse, we made it a point to get to Yukon Brewing Company by noon, so as to be able to take the tour.  As you might imagine, given my predilections, I've been on many a brewery tour, so please take me seriously when I say that this was certainly one of the top three or four tours I've ever taken!  It lasted over 90 minutes total (instead of the advertised 30 or 40), was very thorough and concluded with tasting over a dozen different beers!  Yes, that's right, a dozen.  We tasted every beer they bottle or can (eight) plus all five of the seasonals/specials they happened to have on tap at the brewery.  Here's the list:

Bottles/Cans: Chilkoot Lager, Deadman Creek Cranberry Wheat, Discovery Honey ESB, Ice Fog IPA, Lead Dog Old Ale, Yukon Gold English Pale Ale, Yukon Red Amber Ale, and Midnight Sun Espresso Stout.

Seasonals: The Noble Pilsener, Chocolate Brown Ale, Yukon Crude Stout, White Pass Porter, and Double Trouble IPA.

Had we been there on Friday, we could have added a beer on cask to the list.  All this for $5, which they donate to charity.  Absolutely amazing.  Miss Aubre, the young lady who gave the tour did an excellent job, especially trying to answer the overly technical questions of a certain beer blogger.

As we continued our travels through the Yukon, up to Dawson City and its Klondike goldfields, the goal of all the stampeders in '98, it became clear that Yukon Brewing has tremendous local support.  We were told at the brewery that their Yukon Gold was the #1 selling beer in the territory, and after being in Dawson, I believe it.  Every single restaurant and bar sold it, often the only beer they had on draft.  Just like Haines and Skagway, people in the Yukon are proud to support their local brewery.

So at this point, you're probably thinking: "How about some beer reviews, Bill?"  Patience grasshopper!  I have a ton of them, and I want to hit the highlights of the local happenings while I was gone.  Beer reviews will be in Part II of this post.

So turning to what's been happening around town in my absence:

The proud parents of Lemongrass Ale
Kassik's Brewery has their Vanilla Cream Ale back on tap. Kenai River Brewing has their new Lemongrass Ale (brewed by local homebrewers Seth & Tony) on tap.  St. Elias has added The Monkey's Dunkel and a double IPA to their tap line.  Homer Brewing has an excellent Spring Rye Lager making the rounds.  Not a bad bunch of choices, given that we are moving heavily into the tourist season and our local brewers will be pretty busy just keeping up with demand for their flagship brews for the thirsty folks from Outside.

Looking a little further afield, Alaskan Brewing has re-released their Pilot Series summer seasonal, Alaskan Raspberry Wheat, for a limited time.  They have also announced that the September release will be a return of their Baltic Porter.  This is wonderful news for me, as I think that is a fantastic beer, one of their very best.  In December, they will be releasing an new Imperial Red Ale, name unknown of of yet.

Midnight Sun Brewing in Anchorage just re-released their Fallen Angel Belgian Golden Strong Ale and installed an brand-new 80 barrel conical.  That's one big tank!  I predict lots of excellent beer will be coming our way.

If you will be in Fairbanks on July 21st, you should definitely head for the Golden Days Beer Festival, held at the Silver Gulch Brewing's beer garden in Fox, AK.  It's from 3 to 10 PM, costs $20, and there will be over 150 different beers on offer. For more info, click here.

Finally, the June/July issue of Northwest Brewing News has hit the streets (or the mails, or whatever).  The issue is focused on Alaska, with articles by yours truly and Jim "Dr. Fermento" Roberts among others.  Look for it at your local brewery, newsstand, or their website.

OK, that's it for the news portion.  Look for Part II in a couple of days, chock full of beer reviews.  Keep drinking those great local craft beers.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

1 comment:

Dave Duryea said...

Sounds like a great vacation!!