Thursday, September 27, 2012

Joe Friday Blog

"Just the facts, ma'am."
This is a Joe Friday Blog.  I don't have time to write a full blog this week, but I've seen so much beer news come through my inbox, I really felt I need to get something out.  So, inspired by Jack Webb's immortal character on Dragnet, here they are, just the facts.

The Talkeetna Beer Festival, cancelled due to flooding last weekend, had been rescheduled for Friday, October 5, from 7 to 11 PM, in the same location.  If you cannot make the new date, contact Denali Brewing about ticket refunds.

The Alaska Beer Train will be happening on Saturday, October 6.  Here's the poster for it:

Click to enlarge
King Street Brewing Company released a new Oktoberfest beer  on Tuesday.  Here's how they describe it: 

Oktoberfest (5.4% ABV)
"King Street’s Oktoberfest lager is dark gold to light orange in color, and its rich malty aroma entices you to take a sip.  Medium bodied, slightly toasty, and a complex upfront Vienna and Munich malt sweetness give way to a clean crisp finish that begs to be followed."

King Street will also be having an Oktoberfest celebration on Saturday, October 13th, at their tap room.  Look for free German food and German music.

Alaskan Brewing has launched a sampler 12-pack in the Pacific Northwest Market (I assume that includes Alaska, but maybe not.)  The pack contain three bottles of Alaskan Amber, three bottles of Alaskan White, three bottles of their IPA, and three "Brewer's Choice" bottles, that will rotate based on the seasons and availability.  Distribution will expand beyond the Pacific Northwest next year.

The name of St. Elias Brewing's new brown ale, which I did not know when I posted my last blog, is Bullwinkle Brown.

The Seward Brewing Company has added a fifth beer to their line-up: an Oatmeal Stout.

Monday is October 1st, so Kenai River Brewing should be releasing their Winter Warlock Old Ale on that date.

So that's it; just the facts.  Next time around there will be more color commentary and beer reviews, I promise.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Breaking News: Talkeetna Beer Dinner and Beer Fest CANCELLED

This is likely old news to anyone planning to attend, but both tonight's Beer Dinner and tomorrow's Beer Fest in Talkeetna have been cancelled.  The town of Talkeetna is under an evacuation order due to the possible failure of the levee protecting it from flooding. I was in Anchorage on my way to Talkeetna when I got the word, which is why this post is a bit time late.  According to Sassan Mossanen of Denali Brewing, they hope to reschedule both events once the situation is resolved.  Please keep the people of Talkeetna and the folks at Denali Brewing in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Festive Weekend

Well, assuming we aren't all washed away in the floods from the deluge of rain we've been having, this coming weekend will be a big one for festivals.

First, in Anchorage there's the 2nd Annual Bodega-Fest.  I've written about it in preceding blogs, but since then I've gotten a look at the beer list for it.  Based on what's being offered, this should be an absolutely fabulous event. If you're going to be in anchorage this Saturday, you should really check it out.  It's at The Chalet in Kincaid Park from 2 to 8 PM and only costs $25.  Tickets on sale at La Bodega.

Also on for this weekend in the first ever Talkeetna Beer Fest, at the Don Sheldon Community Arts Hanger behind the Post Office in Talkeetna. It runs from 2 to 6 PM.  I understand the space in pretty small, only big enough for about 300 folks, so it's probably wise not to count on being able to get tickets at the door.  You can buy them from the Denali Arts Council website here.

And don't forget the Gourmet Beer Dinner at the Twister Creek Restaurant at 8 PM tomorrow night. I don't know if there are any seats left, but call 733-2537 to make your reservations.

Back in my September 7th blog, I reported that Arkose Brewing would be having their 1st Anniversary Dinner on 6 October at Rusty's Restaurant in Palmer.  Well, they have now released the menu for that affair and it looks delicious:

click to enlarge
Speaking of Talkeetna, there's big news from Denali Brewing Company.  They have taken delivery of their new Wild Goose canning line. Here's a picture that I liberated from their Facebook page:

So before too much longer, we can look forward to having Denali's beers available in cans.  The list of in-state beers that we can pick up in cans just keeps growing and growing, and that's a good thing, in my humble opinion!

There's not a lot happening on the local front, as the brewers gear up to support all these festivals.  However, when I stopped at St. Elias Brewing last Friday, Zach Henry was in the process of putting a new beer on tap.  He seemed to be unsure of what it would be called, but the sample I had was very nice.  It could be called either an American Brown Ale or a Brown Porter, I'd say.  I'm sure it's on tap by now, so you can stop by to try it out.

Let's move on to beer reviews:

First, here's another beer from Outside, courtesy of a generous colleague where I work: The Poet Oatmeal Stout from New Holland Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  It poured a nice opaque color with a big tan-colored head.  The nose was of roast malt with some chocolate notes; very rich.  On the palate, the beer was quite creamy, with the soft, silky mouthfeel that I always look for in an oatmeal stout.  There was plenty of good, clean roast flavor.  A very nice oatmeal stout and at 5.2% ABV, a beer you can easily have more than one of.  It would make a great paring with a nice steak or just about any sort of chocolate dessert.  Too bad they don't distribute to Alaska.

A beer which is distributed in Alaska is the 2012 Alaskan Baltic Porter, the latest in Alaskan Brewing's Pilot series.  I picked up a few bottles at my local Fred Meyer and sampled one.  I previously reviewed the 2008 version of this brew on 11/17/2008.  I believe there was a 2009 release as well, but I did not write up a separate review.  Comparing with my notes from then, I'd say the 2012 version has a bit less mouthfeel, but still plenty of vanilla flavor mixed in amongst the dark fruit flavors.  It certainly a sipper, coming in at 9.8% ABV, but I think it's one of the best beers in the Pilot series.  Definitely pick some up for cellaring.

Midnight Sun has released another of their experimental hop-driven beers.  This one is called Operation Hay DIPA, and uses Falconer's Flight hops.  At 108 IBUs and 7.8% ABV, there's no question about this one being a Double IPA.  It poured the classic copper color of a traditional IPA, with a big cream-colored head.  The nose was chock full of hop aroma from the Falconer's Flight hops.  There was tons of bitterness right up front, followed by good hop flavor.  You wouldn't want two of these, but even at 108, this beer was balanced enough to be drinkable.  If you love Falconer's Flight, this is a great beer to showcase that hop variety's characteristics.

Speaking of going crazy with hops, I finally got around to opening a bottle of Mikkeller's Invasion Farmhouse IPA, 8% ABV & brewed at the Anchorage Brewing Company.  The first thing I noticed was that when I removed the wire cage, the cork started working itself out of the bottle.  With hardly any assist from me, it came out with a very explosive pop, giving me an idea of how carbonated the beer was.  It poured with an insane cream-colored head, orange-gold in the glass.  There was a strong citrusy hop nose (Citra?) and perhaps the faintest whiff of brett.  It was quite light on the palate, thanks to the carbonation, and exceptional hop flavor.  Currently, the brett is barely a hint; I plan to cellar a bottle for several months to see what else develops.  Only a couple of cases of this were released in Alaska, so if you missed it you have probably won't find any more on the shelves.

Finally, I picked up a bottle of Boulevard Brewing Company's Collaboration #3; this one was made with the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project.  This beer is a stingo, an old and relatively rare style of beer from the North of England, perhaps best known today in the example made by Samuel Smith's Brewery, Sam Smith's Yorkshire Stingo Ale (see my review on 8/31/2010).  It is oak-aged, giving it a tartness which was said to "sting" the tongue, hence the name.  The Collaboration #3 Stingo poured a dark chestnut color in the glass, with a thick, tan-colored head.  The aroma was of malt, roasted nuts and woody notes; no significant hop presence.  On the palate the flavor profile was quite complex, with elements from both the malt and the wood blending and contrasting.  At various times I thought I picked up old leather, roasted walnuts, caramel, vanilla, and who knows how many more.  An extremely rare style of beer, I feel very privileged to have been able to drink and enjoy it. 8.5% ABV.

Well, that's about it for this week.  I should have some more new beers to write about next week.  Between now and then, try to stay dry and save me a seat in the ark...

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Special Report: Kodiak Island Brewing Company

I've been an Alaskan for over eight years now.  For at least six of those, my wife Elaine and I have periodically exchanged the phrase: "We really need to visit Kodiak sometime."  Last weekend, after a bit of a nudge from owner/brewer Ben Millstein, we took the proverbial bull by its proverbial horns, and flew to Kodiak for a few days.

The B&B Bar in Kodiak, the oldest bar in Alaska
First off, let me say that Kodiak is a very beautiful place.  Elaine and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit there.  The weather was perfect on Sunday, without a cloud in the sky, and we took full advantage of it to explore.  Folks were very friendly, and seemed very proud of their community.  Ben actually went to the trouble to meet us at the airport, which was a totally unexpected level of hospitality.  He also gave us some great recommendations on things to do and places to eat.  His suggestion of the Old Powerhouse Restaurant was particularly good; I had some of the best sushi I've had this side of Japan there!

However, this is a beer blog, not a travel one, so let's talk about Kodiak Island Brewing Company.  The brewery has just completed (more or less) a move to a new, much expanded location, going from 2400 to 9000 square feet. I saw their original site, and the new taproom is bigger than their entire previous location.  They are now at 117 Lower Mill Bay Road, right in the heart of town (next to the McDonalds).  As part of the move, they added three new tanks, a new 30-barrel fermenter and two new 30-barrel conditioning tanks.  All together, the new tankage should allow about a 30% increase in production.  Also as part of the move, the size of their tap room tripled.

The new, much larger tap room

As you can see from the picture, the new tap room layout is open and airy, favoring long, communal bars over tables and chairs.  There is a lot or re-purposed material, from ship's masts used as pillars to old fishing gear used as decorations.  Open from noon to 7 PM, seven days a week, their tap room is clearly one of the social hubs of the community.

In fact, I'd have to say that Kodiak Island Brewing Company is probably the most deeply community-embedded craft brewery that I have ever visited.  Other craft breweries are vital parts of their respective communities, especially here in Alaska, but I've seen none so fully and completely entwined with ever aspect of daily life.  Ben Millstein makes no bones about his goal: he wants to make good beer for the people on Kodiak, and he could really care less about sending his wares off island.  You'll find his beers on tap in most bars and restaurants, and he is the second largest purchaser of Quoin's party pigs in the country, so he's obviously doing what he wants to do very well.  But don't expect to see his brews anywhere off island, barring the Great Alaska Beer & Barely Wine Festival and the odd keg at Humpy's or Cafe Amsterdam.

Which is too bad, because Ben and his head brewer Mike Trussell are brewing some damn fine beer.  They only had six beers on tap while I was there, as they are still trying to build up inventory after being shutdown for the big move, but the new bar has taps for nine.  I had five of the six while I was there; I never got around to their Hefeweizen.  Here are some thumbnail reviews:

Sarah Pale Blonde Ale: Named after a certain former governor of this fair state, this beer is touted as "All body, no head." A 5% ABV coastal lager or steam beer, it pours a dark gold with little head.  The aroma was primarily of malt, as was the flavor profile.  Well made, but like its namesake, it really wasn't my cup of tea...

North Pacific Ale: More or less in the style of a Scottish ale, this 4.5% ABV brew poured a dark caramel color with a small tan head.  The nose was of malt & caramel, with the tiniest hint of roast.  Excellent mouthfeel, good carbonation, very malt forward, with a nice, clean taste.  Extremely drinkable, an excellent session beer.

Liquid Sunshine: One of their flagship brews, this is a classic California Common or Steam beer.  It was a deep golden color in the glass, with a very nice white head that left excellent lacing on the glass.  Great carbonation, and clean, crisp hoppiness, falling off to a nice finish.  Extremely drinkable at 5% ABV, it was easy to see why this beer was such a big seller.

Devil's Club Strong Ale: This beer was created by Mike Trussell; rumor has it he wanted to convey what it feels like to be hit in the face with Devil's Club. (For those of you non-Alaskans out there, Devil's Club, scientific name Opolpanax horridus, is a plant covered in very nasty, tiny brittle spines.  I stumbled into some on a hike a few years ago and it took weeks to get all the nasty little spines out of my hand. )  It's a brew that reminded me a bit of Stone Brewing's Arrogant Bastard Ale, being strong (8%) and very hoppy.  It poured a very dark honey color with a small head.  The aroma was full of Simcoe hop aroma, and on the tongue there was great balance between the massive malt backbone and the ton of hop bitterness and flavor.  A great brew, but definitely not one you could have more than one of!

Bering Sea Scotch Ale: OK, yes, I saved my favorite for last.  Everyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that Scotch Ale is probably my favorite style of beer, especially when it's done right.  And Kodiak Island does it right.  It poured a dark, semi-translucent ruby, with a nice off-white head.  The smoked malt used made it presence known with authority in the nose.  There was excellent body to the beer, a real sturdy malt forward flavor profile, plus the nice smoke flavors, all dropping off to an excellent finish.  A really great smoked Scotch Ale; if it was available locally I'd be running through a growler per week.

Waiting for another pint at the serving bar
So what's the takeaway from my visit to Kodiak Island Brewing Company?  I really wish I hadn't waited eight years to visit. Kodiak is a lovely place, full of friendly folks, and blessed with a great craft brewery.  Like some of the best things in this world, you won't find their products for sale at Safeway or Fred Meyer; no, you actually have to go there to experience them.  But there's nothing wrong with that, is there?

Back next week with my regular blog.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Seward Brewing Company is Open!

The Seward Brewing Company opened on Friday, August 17.  It took me a bit , but I made it over to Seward on Labor Day Weekend to check it out. They are currently open from 4 to 10  PM, seven days a week, so you need to target them for dinner. Only the ground floor was open, but it looks very nice. Here are a couple more photos:
From the back, looking to the entrance.

The bar area

  When my wife and I were there, they had four of their own brews on tap, plus several others from around the state.  From their own brewhouse, they were offering a Wit, a Golden Ale, an IPA, and a Red Ale; I had a pint each of the IPA and the Red Ale.  See my review of each below.  Here's their beer menu:
Click to enlarge

The Seward Brewing Company also had a very nice food menu.  Being located in Seward, it comes as no surprise that the menu leans heavily toward seafood dishes.  When my wife and I ate there, we started off with a cheese and beer soup and some beer-battered Wisconsin cheese curd.  For  our main dishes, she had a cheeseburger and I had fish and chips, choosing the Alaskan cod option rather than halibut.  Everything tasted great, though some of the curds suffered from "too much batter, not enough curd".  I thought the soup was especially good; it was made using SBC's Red Ale.  If you're in Seward at the dinner hour, this is a great choice.

Speaking of breweries opening, HooDo Brewing in Fairbanks brewed their first batch of beer (a kolsch) on Sunday, September 2.  If things go well, it might be on offer at the Talkeetna Beer Fest on 9/22.  Look for the brewery to be open to the public in October.

Speaking of the Talkeetna Beer Fest, there will now be a Beer Dinner at the Twister Creek Restaurant at 8 PM on the Friday night before the festival.  It will be $65 and the menu looks exceptional.  Take a gander:
Click to enlarge
Seating is limited, so if you're interested, you'd best call and make reservations.

Arkose Brewery will be celebrating their one year anniversary on 6 October, also with a 1st Anniversary Beer Dinner at Rusty's in Palmer.  Here's the flyer for that one:

Click to enlarge

Arkose is also having another of their Beer Meets Chocolate tastings at the brewery on 13 October. Here's the info for that:

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I've yet to make it to Palmer during a part of the day when Arkose was open, but I'm hopeful that perhaps I'll be able to visit sometime this month. 

Don't forget Bodega-Fest, on Saturday, September 22nd.  It's on the same day at the Talkeetna Fest, but in Anchorage at The Chalet in Kincaid Park.  

Click to enlarge

At Kenai River Brewing, there's a new art show by Claire Johnson up in the Tap Room; I saw it at this month's meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society on Wednesday evening.  Also, they just put a keg of their Imperial Rye Pale Ale (IRPA) on; it won't last long, so get it while you can.

Moving on to beer reviews, I was able to score some beers from Gigantic Brewing in Portland, OR, during my last stop at La Bodega.  The beers have some pretty funky labels.

The first beer I tasted was Gigantic's India Pale Ale. It poured a clear orange-gold, with a big, off-white head.  The aroma was chock-full of citrusy American hops.  On the palate, there was good carbonation, excellent bitterness up front, falling away to a very nice finish.  This beer hides its 7.3% ABV well, making it quite drinkable.  A deliciously big West Coast IPA.  Worth looking for.

Moving on, the next beer I tried from them was their The City Never Sleeps Imperial Black Saison.  Obviously some serious style bending going on here.  It poured opaque (Black, check) with a nice, persistent khaki head.  It weigh in at 7.6% ABV (Imperial, check).  The nose is mostly roasty notes, with only the barest hints of the earthy, spicy yeast notes I'd look for in a saison.  It was the same on the palate, with smooth, roasty notes leading off, excellent carbonation, and a nice finish, but not much in the way of a saison flavor profile.  Overall, this one tastes more black than saison, but two out of three ain't bad and it was still a very nice beer to drink.

Finally, I tried Axes of Evil, a collaboration beer between Gigantic and Three Floyds Brewing. (Speaking of collaboration, word is Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company will also be doing one with Gigantic.)  This one poured an orange-gold with a nice cream-colored, persistent head.  Very similar to the IPA, actually, with the same great citrusy hop aroma, but perhaps a bit more malt in the flavor profile.  It is also a bit lighter, at only 6% ABV.  Taken all together, I was impressed with Gigantic Brewing's beers.  I'll look forward to sampling anything else we can get from them here in Alaska.

Thanks to the generosity of a co-worker who was visiting family in Michigan, I got to try a can of Brewery Vivant's Solitude Abbey-style Ale, from Grand Rapids.  It poured a deep, semi-translucent ruby, with a small, off-white head. The aroma was of dark fruit, my first thought being plums, but I think I eventually swung around to ripe purple grapes.  The carbonation was good, but I thought it tasted a bit thin for the style, and there seemed to be a touch of astringency on the finish.  I don't think I've every had a dubbel in a can before, but I have had many examples of the style that I liked much better.

Finally, let's talk about Seward Brewing Company's beers.  As I wrote above, I only tried two of them, the IPA and the Red Ale.  The IPA was a light honey color, with a small, off-white head.  The nose was laced with the characteristic aroma of Cascade hops, which were used in the dry hopping.  On the tongue there was good bitterness, and nice, clean flavors.  5.9% ABV.  Overall, a respectable take on the style.  I'm sure Kevin Burton will get it dialed in even more as he becomes more familiar with the system there.

The second beer I tired, the Red Ale, was also quite good.  A touch bigger, at 6.2% ABV, is dark honey or caramel color, but was served with zero head.  The aroma made it clear that this was a malt forward beer.  In the mouth the malt lead the charge, but there were enough hops for balance.  Very drinkable and an excellent accompaniment to the food.  I look forward to trying their other brews the next time I'm over in Seward.

Well, that's about it for this time.  I may or may not get a blog out next week, as I've got some big things on my plate in the near term, but if I don't, I guarantee the next one will be full of interesting stuff.

Until Next Time, Cheers!