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!

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