Friday, August 31, 2012

Busy Times

So here we are, two weeks after my last post.  My day job, the one that puts beer in the fridge, at Kenai Peninsula college has been absolutely crazy, since this is the first week of classes.  Plus there has been quite a bit of beery going-ons as well.

I won't go into detail about King Street Brewing Company's Barbecue and Free Wort Day, since I wrote about it in my column in next week's Redoubt Reporter.  However, here are a couple of photos from that day.  Owners Dana Walukiewicz and Shane Kingry are giving out the free wort.  Note the two new 40 barrel fermenters in the background.

Besides this event, I have heard that their Gourmet Beer Dinner at Sullivan's Steakhouse on Wednesday, 8/29 was a huge success.

Kenai River Brewing has Arctic XPA back on tap.  They will be closed Sunday and Labor Day, so be sure to get you holiday supply before then.

Kassik's Brewery has a new bottled beer available: BOB's Beer: a Whatever Pail Ale.  Named after 92.1 BOB FM, all proceeds from the sale of this beer will go to support the Fischer House of Alaska, a very worthy cause.  It's an ESB that's been dry hopped with Willamettes and Cascades.  And if you happen to be at the State Fair in Palmer, keep an eye out for Kassik's Cream of the Coop Cream Ale.  If you can't make it to Palmer, they also have it on tap at the brewery.

St. Elias Brewing has brought back one of their more popular beers from the past: Flower Child XPA.  I believe this is the third incarnation of this brew.  The base of the beer is always the same: German malts fermented at cool temperatures for a clean flavor.  Where Zach makes his tweaks between batches is in the hopping schedule.  The first version used noble European hops, while the last time round, Galaxy was the hop of choice.  This time, Zach has cut back on the Galaxy and added Falconer's Flight, a proprietary hop blend.  See below for my review of the latest version and my blog of 3/9/2009 for a review of the original.

In other release news, next month Alaskan Brewing Company will be re-releasing their Alaskan Baltic Porter as the next beer in their Pilot Series.  I think this is an absolutely fantastic beer; see my review of 11/17/2008.  It hasn't been available since 2009, so if you haven't tried it yet, be sure to pick up a bottle.  I know I'll be buying a case to cellar.

Pushing on to beer reviews, I finally got to try the appallingly-named Pixie Dust Wit at St. Elias. If you recall, this wit underwent a secondary fermentation using a "wild" Belgian yeast strain.  In the glass it was a cloudy gold with a small white head.  The aroma had primarily citrus notes from the curacao orange peel, but there were also some tart notes, I'd assume from the wild yeast.  On the plate there was nice mouthfeel, good carbonation, and the same touch of tartness that I picked up in the aroma.  Overall, it was very refreshing, a great summer beer.  It will be interesting to see if the beer evolves and becomes even tarter over time.  Of course, you have to be a real man to walk up to the bar and order a glass of Pixie Dust...

I also got to taste the latest iteration of Flower Child XPA.It poured a clear gold with a small white head.  The aroma was full of nice, crisp American hops from the Falconer's Flight.  There was good carbonation, very clean flavors, and a crisp level of hoppiness that I found very enjoyable and moreish.  It actually reminded me quite a bit of Sierra Nevada's classic Pale Ale (which is now available in cans at Fred Meyer, by the way).  I like this latest version better than last year's; in that one the Galaxy hops were a bit too prevalent for my tastes.  If you like a good, hoppy pale ale, you'll like Flower Child.

While I was at King Street Brewing on Saturday, I had a pint of their Black IPA.  The beer was very dark with some ruby highlights when held up to the light and a small khaki head.  The aroma was mostly of roasted malt, with some hop aroma around the edges.  When I tasted it, there was some nice, clean roasty flavors and a fair amount of bitterness.  I liked it a lot, though it seemed more like a hoppy robust porter than a black IPA to me.  Oh well, a rose by any other name...

Finally, I got around to trying the winner of the People's Choice Award from the 2nd Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival, Kenai River Brewing's Chocolate Coconut Almond Porter.  This beer is somewhat problematic for me, since I really don't like coconut in any form, and I haven't had much luck with "nut" beers in the past (Lazy Magnolia's Southern Pecan Nut Brown Ale comes to mind).  It poured a very dark, almost opaque, brown, with a small head that dissipated to a collar.  The aroma had plenty of roasty porter notes, plus a touch of sweetness that I'd attribute to the chocolate.  There was good mouthfeel with more roasted flavors and hints of chocolate; I'm afraid I couldn't find any coconut or almond (unless they were part of the roastiness), but since I don't like coconut, that probably wasn't a bad thing.  Overall, it was OK, but not something I'd go out of my way to get more of.  Obviously, my tastes differ from the public at large's, given how popular this beer has been, so what the heck do I know?  Go by Kenai River and try it for yourself, then come back here and write a comment to tell me how wrong I am.

Well, that's about it for this week.  More news and reviews next week.  Until then, enjoy these last gasps of summer; the fireweed has all gone to seed, so fall will be here at any moment.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The 2nd Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival

 Well, if you weren't in Soldotna last Saturday (yeah, I'm looking at you, Fermento), you missed one heck of a good time.  The 2nd Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival took place from 4 to 10 PM, under bright sunny skies.  The beer was cold and tasty, the food was hot and delicious, and the live music was loud and good.  Just like last year's fest, Matt Pyhalla and his crew from the Soldotna Rotary put on one excellent event.

There were eleven breweries in attendance ( Alaskan Brewing, Broken Tooth Brewing, Denali Brewing, Glacier Brewhouse, Kassik's Brewery, Kenai River Brewing, King Street Brewing, Midnight Sun Brewing, Silver Gulch Brewing, Sleeping Lady Brewing, and St. Elias Brewing), plus Odom and Specialty Imports pouring many of the out-of-state and imported beers and ciders that they distribute.  Last but not least, the Kenai Peninsula Brewing and Tasting Society (including yours truly) was pouring samples of nine different homebrews.  There were over 1350 folks in attendance, but thanks to the new, bigger venue at the Soldotna Sports Center, things did not feel at all crowded.  There were vendors offering great food (my wife and I had pulled pork sandwiches from Davis Pit BBQ, washed down with King Street Stout -- delicious) and continuous great live music.  Bands that performed were Bull Don and the Moose Nuggets, Sean and friend, Yellow Cabin, Troubadour North, Sarah Jane Superman, and headliner Big Fat Buddha.  The only significant break in the music was to allow Matt Pyhala to announce the winner of the People's Choice Award: Kenai River Brewing's Chocolate Coconut Almond Porter.  Here are some photos of the Festival:

The KPB&TS Booth

All-in-all, this was a great event.  Last year's fest raised over $14,000 for charity, so I'm sure this year's will raise even more.  Thanks to Matt, the Soldotna Rotary, the breweries and distributors, and everyone else whose generosity and hard work made such a great event possible.

By the way, one of the attendees at the festival was John McDonald, owner of the Boulevard Brewing Company of Kansas City, Missouri.  If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you have probably heard me wax lyrical about certain of their brews, such as The Sixth Glass or Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, so it was a real pleasure for me to meet and talk to John.  He just happened to be vacationing in Cooper Landing on his first ever trip to Alaska, so his distributor, Odom, arranged for him to attend the festival.  During our chat, he made it clear that he was quite impressed with the festival's organization and attendance, as well as the quality of the beers on offer from our craft breweries.  I made it clear to him how much we Alaskans appreciated getting his excellent craft beers sent up here for us to drink.  Hopefully his first visit to Alaska will not be his last.  See you next summer, John!

In the lead up to the Festival, Alaskan Brewing Company and The Pour House Sports Bar combined in an event Friday evening, that culminated in one lucky person winning a sweet Alaskan Brewing bike.

I'm told that the Augtoberfest at 49th State Brewing Company in Healy (held the same Saturday as the KP Beer Fest) was also a big success.  James "Dr. Fermento" Roberts attended and the word he used to describe the fest was, and I quote: "LEGENDARY". I understand he will be writing it up extensively in his next blog, so you can check out the details there.

 As I reported in previous blogs, there are more brewfests in the offing.  First, on Saturday, September 15th, will be the Capital Brewfest in Juneau, the very first one in that city.  The following Saturday, 22 September, is another double-dip: Bodega-Fest in Anchorage (its second year) and the Talkeetna Beer Festival (brand new) in, oddly enough, Talkeetna.  Then on October 19 and 20th, it will be the return of the Mighty Matanuska Brew Fest, at the Alaska State Fairgrounds in Palmer.  It's not too soon to start thinking about which of these you'll be able to attend.

As a fan and promoter of good craft beer, I'm very happy to see these festivals springing up around the state.  To me, it's a sign that the craft beer scene in Alaska is continuing to grow and mature, and is beginning to permeate the the entire local culture.  It all bodes well for the future of beer in The Great Land.

There's been plenty of other beer news since my last blog.  Midnight Sun has released their long-awaited and much anticipated latest batch of Berserker Imperial Stout.  It's got a fancy new label and everything.  Folks around the country have been clamoring for this one, so expect it to sell out fact.  I haven't gotten any to taste yet, but I reviewed a prior version on 9/9/2009.  As soon as I can get my hands on some of the 2012, I'll let you know what I think of it.

Midnight Sun has another new beer coming out in September, though only on draft.  Brandie's Panties is a batch of their Panty Peeler Tripel that's been aged in brandy casks; sounds pretty special.

The Seward Brewing Company appears to be getting closer and closer to opening.  The prior report was that they would open on 8/8/12, but that obviously did not happen.  The latest word is "prior to the end of August", so a Labor Day Weekend excursion to Seward may be in order.  Here are some interior shots that I lifted from their Facebook page.  Looks pretty nice:

The Bar

Seating in the bar area

Dining area looking toward the front door.
King Street Brewing Company in Anchorage will be having their first beer pairing dinner at Sullivan's Steakhouse on Wednesday, August 29, at 6 PM.  $59 gets you a five course meal with six King Street brews.  Should be a fabulous time; just take a gander at the menu:
Click to enlarge
Down here on the Peninsula, Kenai River has released their new Chocolate Coconut Almond Porter, which took the People's Choice Award at the Festival. Stop by their tap room to try it and see their trophy.  They tapped a keg of their Gummi Bear Tripel at the Festival.  Finally, they put a keg of Monks in the Hood Dubbel on two days ago, but I'm not sure if it's still around.

Kassik's Brewery is celebrating the distribution of the bottled versions of their beers to select shops in Seattle.  To the best of my knowledge, this make them the first brewery on the Peninsula to send their beers out of state, so congratulations to the Kassiks!

I still have made it into St. Elias Brewing Company to taste their new Pixie Dust Wit, but I have every intention of doing so before my next blog.

Let's have some beer reviews:

I opened a bottle that I've had in my beer cellar since May of last year: a Batch #1 of Anchorage Brewing Company's Whiteout Wit. I was curious to see what the brettanomyces inside it had been up to in the last 15 months.  I reviewed the fresh version on 6/22/2011.  At that time, I noted that the brett notes were "extremely well-balanced and totally integrated into the overall flavor profile, really becoming apparent only on the long finish".  After over a year in the cellar, the brett has become much more apparent; in fact it is really the dominant element in the flavor and aroma profiles.  The nose is much more brett funk and much less spice, while the beer itself has become quite dry and full of the tart funkiness that this yeast produces.  Very different from its younger self, but just as tasty and enjoyable.

While at the Beer Festival, I was fortunate enough to score a six-pack each of Broken Tooth Brewing's Fairweather IPA and Chugach Session Cream Ale.  These are not that easy to obtain, since they are only on sale at the Moose's Tooth and the Bear's Tooth in Anchorage, thanks to the silliness of Alaska's Liquor Licensing laws.

The Chugach Session Cream Ale, 4.8% ABV, poured a clear gold with a nice, white head.  The aroma was slightly nondescript, with malt notes mingling with a bit of hops.  On the palate there were good, clean malt flavors that you typically get from this style of beer, nice carbonation, and just enough hop bitterness for balance.  It was light, refreshing, and had good flavors, which is what you want in a good session beer.

The Fairweather IPA was a considerably more substantial beer at 6.2% and 64 IBUs. It poured a light copper color with a nice off-white head.  The nose was loaded with hop aroma, distinctly Pacific Northwest in its piney, resiny character.  In the mouth the bitterness was good, flavors were clean, and the beer was tasty.  My only criticism is that the finish was a bit abrupt, but otherwise an excellent IPA.  I wish we could get these canned beers here on the Peninsula!

Well, that's about if for this week.  Let's all get out and enjoy what remains of our Alaskan summer with some good craft beer.  The fireweed is blooming, so fall is just around the corner...

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Happy International IPA Day!

Today is International IPA Day.  It's a day when we pause from our busy lives to reflect on the impact that a style of beer, created some three centuries ago to sell to British nabobs busy building their Raj over the objections of the local inhabitants of the Indian sub-continent has had on modern craft beer culture.  Nearly extinct as a style of beer forty years ago, today IPAs (and Double IPAs and Imperial IPAs and Black IPAs) bestride the beer world like a colossus.  Everybody brews them and almost everybody drinks them.

I've mentioned it before, but if you're interested in learning more about the real history of India Pale Ale (as opposed to some of the myths surrounding it), one of the best books out there is Hops and Glory: One Man's Search for the Beer That Built the British Empire by Pete Brown.  By the way, Brown has another book coming out this fall, Shakespeare's Local: A History of Britain Through One Pub.  It focuses on the George Inn, located in the Southwark neighborhood of London, a short walk from the site of the historic Globe theater.  Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens-- they all drank at the George at some point in the last six centuries.  Brown's an excellent writer, so this should be another great read.

But getting back to International IPA Day, Kenai River Brewing Company is celebrating by tapping their Magnum Single Hop IPA.  Magnums are dual use hops (bittering and aroma) originally bred in Germany in 1980 as a cross between Galena and a German hop.  Alpha acids are usually in the range of 10 to 12%, and it is typically used as a bittering hop due to it's clean, forceful, but not too harsh bitterness.  So stop by and see what Magnum tastes like when it does a solo performance.

Click to enlarge the horror...
Kenai River also has brand-new logo'd glasses for sale.  In what I can only assume is an effort to get me to stroke out, given how often and how vociferously I have ranted against them, they are now selling logo'd mason jars as glasses.  They're the perfect gift for your brother-in-law in Mississippi who thinks Miller Lite is a craft beer.  Cue the dueling banjo music...

Over at St. Elias Brewing, Zach Henry continues to work on incremental improvements.  He has finally found a fining agent that he likes and that works well.  For those of you who are not brewers, finings are substances added near the end of the brewing process which help precipitate organic compounds to improve the clarity of the beer.  Until now, Zach has been filtering his brews using diatomaceous earth filter to achieve the clarity he wanted.  This works, but such a filter tends to strip out flavor components as well.  Now he can serve his brews unfiltered but still crystal clear.  I had a pint of his unfiltered Puddle Jumper Pale Ale on Sunday and I thought it had a much more distinct hop flavor and aroma.  If you haven't had a Puddle Jumper recently, you should give this new, unfiltered version a try.  Plus I believe there is currently a cask-conditioned version available as well.

St. Elias has two new brews on tap as well.  Sadly, the Sunfire Saison is gone, but it has been replaced with Tempest, a brown ale aged in red wine barrels.  I had a glass of this last week.  It was an amber color with a khaki-colored head that dissipated fairly quickly to a collar.  The aroma was primarily of caramel and malt, but there was also significant woody notes.  On the palate the beer was surprisingly light, with most of the bitterness seeming to come from the wood-aging rather than hops.  Flavors were clean and the finish was good.  Another nice exercise in barrel-aging.

What, no mason jars?
The second new brew is Pixie Dust.  I haven't had it yet, but it's described as a Belgian Wit, brewed with curacao orange peel and coriander, two traditional spices for the style.  It's also undergone a secondary fermentation using a "wild" yeast strain, isolated in Belgium. 7.2% ABV.  As soon as I can taste some, I'll let you know my impressions.

By the way, since St. Elias Brewing started serving their Hefeweizen and Monkey's Dunkel brews is the traditional style glasses, they've been hard pressed to keep up with the demand. Perhaps these fine beers would have sold even better in mason jars, but I guess we'll never know...

Kassik's Brewery has finally gotten a label approved for their Orion's Quest Red Ale.  Seems the feds baulked at letting them use the actual Chief Petty Officer insignia in their design, so they had to alter it.  I've known a lot of Chiefs in my day, starting with my dad, and I honestly can't think of a one of them who'd object to having their insignia associated with an excellent beer.  Or a not so excellent beer.  Or, come to think of it, any beer at all, so long as somebody else was buying it...  Anyway, it's good news that Kassik's will finally be able to get some of this beer out in bottles.  During my last visit I sampled the latest batch of their Double Wood Imperial IPA (see my review on 12/2/2009).  I must admit, I like the current version even better than previous ones, as the bitterness seemed a little rounder and not quite as sharp.  Very nice, so get it before it's gone.

A new brewery is going to start distributing in Alaska.  Gigantic Brewing Company out of Portland, Oregon, will be sending us their beers, by way of Specialty Imports.  Look for beers like Gigantic IPA, Axes of Evil (a collaboration brew with Three Floyds Brewing Company), and The City That Never Sleeps, an Imperial Black Saison (whatever the heck that is!) to hit our shelves soon.  Plus Gigantic is brewing another collaboration brew with Gabe Fletcher's Anchorage Brewing Company, due to be released in January.

While the 2nd Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival is only 9 days away (Got your tickets yet?), September is continuing to fill up with festivals.  Bodega-fest in Anchorage has been moved from Saturday September 8th, to Saturday, September 22nd, the same day as the Talkeetna Beer Fest. On Saturday, September 15th, the Juneau Rotary will be holding the Capital Brewfest in the Juneau Arts and Cultural Center from 1 to 5 PM. $25 gets you a commemorative glass and 10 tokens for 4 oz. pours. If you'll be in Juneau on that date, you can find more information on their website,

Last but not least, let's talk beer reviews.  Besides Tempest from St. Elias and the latest version of Double Wood from Kassik's mentioned above, I haven't really had much new in the last week, with one exception.  In my continuing effort to clear out some of my beer cellar (to make room for new stuff, of course), I decided to open my bottle of Fuller's 2008 Vintage Ale.

When I lived in London from 1998 to 2001, there were two regional breweries in the city, still family owned and committed to brewing cask or "real" ale, Young's and Fuller's.  I must admit that my personal preference was for Young's, but that certainly did not mean that I thought any less of Fuller's excellent beers or their fine tied house pubs.  With the demise of Young's as an independent brewing concern in 2006, only Fuller's remains.

They began producing their limited edition Vintage Ales in 1997.  Each year's batch is similar, though minor changes are made from year to year.  They recommend cellaring a bottle for 3 to 4 years, so my 2008 bottle should have been just about at its peak.  The 2008 recipe used Northdown and Challenger hops, plus floor-malted Maris Otter barley.  So how was the 2008 Vintage Ale?

It poured a dark honey color in the glass, with a small, cream-colored head. After four years in the bottle, there were zero hops in the nose, with  caramel, toffee, and dark orange notes predominating.  On the tongue there was a delicious, viscous mouthfeel, very smooth.  The flavor profile is quite complex, plums, honey, and a creamy malt flavor being balance by residual hop bitterness, falling away gradually to a touch of alcohol heat on the finish.  8.5% ABV.  A classic British Strong Ale, and certainly worth the wait.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Here's a final cartoon for you, a scene which should be familiar to any craft beer lover:

Click to Enlarge  

Until Next Time, Cheers!