Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wild Beers, Winning Beers, Winter Beers

So I just finished reading Jeff Sparrow's Wild Brews: Beers Beyond the Influence of Brewer's Yeast, published by Brewers Publications.  I've had the book on my shelf for over a year, but I hadn't gotten around to reading it until now.  I wish I had read this one much sooner, as it was quite outstanding.  It goes into excellent detail on the complex processes that go into making lambics, Flanders Red, and Flanders Brown ales.  The section on barrel aging was fascinating, with implications far beyond just spontaneously fermented beers.  If you enjoy any of these beer styles or just want to expand your general knowledge on the subject of Belgian brewing, I can't recommend this book enough.

Since I was reading this book on wild beers, I was inspired to pull a bottle of Cantillon Brewery's Classic Gueuze from my beer cellar over the weekend.  Ever since my first visit to Belgium,  have been in love with the tart, sharp, highly carbonated flavors of this unique style of beer.  A fine gueuze is truly a work of art, given the complexity and care that has to go into blending its various component parts into a balance and coherent whole.  One-, two-, and three-year-old lambics, aged in several different barrels, each with its own unique characteristics, are married via the blender's skill to produce a gueuze.

When I opened this particular example of the style, the cork came out with a very loud pop, indicative of the high carbonation that you expect.  It poured a crystal clear gold in the glass with a small white head that dissipated to a collar.  The aroma had the tart, funky notes that you'd expect from a beer fermented with a mixture of wild yeasts and bacteria.  On the palate the carbonation was excellent, while the tartness was just short of pucker-inducing.  Extremely dry and with plenty of funky notes, thanks to brettanomyces devouring every trace of fermentable sugar, this beer certainly lived up to its name.  It is a classic gueuze in every way.  Gueuze is certainly an acquired taste, but if you got a taste for it, you'll love this example.

Speaking of Belgium, how would you like to win a free week-long trip, including visiting numerous breweries, like Cantillon? The Ultimate Belgian Brew Tour drawing is sponsored by The Weekly Pint, Visit Flanders, and Brussels Airlines.  To have a chance to win, just go to and sign up to receive The Weekly Pint newsletter.  You can also see the itinerary-- Brussels, Bruges, and Ghent are all on the list.  On second thought, don't sign up, as you'll just be cutting into my chance of winning...

Speaking of winning, Denali Brewing Company took the People's Choice Award at the Mighty Matanuska Brewfest for the third year in a row.  Last year their Mother Ale took home the prize, while this year their Purple Haze earned the honors.  This is a 5.5% ABV, 18 IBU American Wheat beer that's made with 10 pounds of wild Alaskan and Canadian blueberries per barrel. Kenai River Brewing's Peninsula Brewers Reserve (PBR) took the second place People's Choice Award on Friday night.

Also at Kenai River, I believe that their Winter Warlock Old Ale is now gone for another year.The last keg went on tap on Saturday, October 20th.  The word is that a double batch only lasted 20 days, which is a testament to just how good a beer that one is.  Worry not, however, as a brand new beer will be released this Friday: Citra Imperial Rye Pale Ale (CIRPA), with 9% ABV and a ton of citrusy hoppiness.

Speaking of winter, besides the single digit nighttime temps, the other sure sign that it's here is the return of Midnight Sun Brewing Company's winter seasonal, CoHoHo Imperial IPA.  I reviewed this beer way back on 10/20/2008 and it remains a favorite of mine.  It's not as hoppy as some of the newer Imperial IPAs around today, but that just makes it that much easier for me to drink a bomber all by myself!

This just in:  Seward Brewing Company will be offering $3.75 pints from Friday, 10/26 thru Thursday, 11/1.  If you haven't checked them out yet, this sounds like the perfect time to do so!

I was up in Anchorage for my job from noon on Sunday to noon on Monday.  Since I had to pick up some beers at La Bodega that they were holding for me (Thanks, Pam!), I took the opportunity to duck into Cafe Amsterdam before they closed at 3:00 pm on Sunday.  I only had time for one, so I looked over their chalkboard and settled on a Bonator Doppelbock from Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe, which is located in in the town of Weissenohe, about 15 miles NE of Nuremberg.  In the glass this was a pretty garnet color, translucent but deep, with a nice light tan head that was quite persistent.  The nose was of sweet syrup, chocolate, and toasted nuts overlying a strong, bready base from the malt.  On the palate, the same rich flavor profile is there, with flavors components ranging from toasted nuts to figs to syrup to bread.  There is a touch more hop bitterness than typical for the style, which helps keeps it from becoming too cloying, and the beer falls away to a long, slow, delicious finish.  Bonator is the real deal, one of the best dopplebocks I've ever gotten to experience.  If you like this style, I'd strongly recommend stopping by Cafe Amsterdam before it's gone.

On of the beers I picked up at La Bodega was Oskar Blues Brewing's Deviant Dale's IPA. This beer is sold in a four-pack of "tall-boy" 16 oz cans, similar to how Sierra Nevada Brewing sells their Torpedo Extra Pale AleDeviant Dale's took the silver medal in the American IPA category at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival.  At 8% ABV and 85 IBUs, we are certainly well into the Double or Imperial IPA realm with this one.

It poured a light copper color with a a big, cream-colored head that left lots of good lacing on the glass.  The aroma was pure American hops: onion/garlic (Summits?) and piney resin notes.  Very nice.  On the tongue the first assault is citrus and resin flavors from the hops, but there's enough caramel malt backbone to keep things in balance.  The 8% ABV is well-concealed beneath the hop onslaught, making this brew surprisingly drinkable; I had no problem polishing off the entire can by myself.

Well, that's about it for this week.  I hope you all have a Happy Halloween and get lots of the adult candy known as craft beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Some Book & Beer Reviews

I haven't reviewed any beer books for quite some time, so perhaps it's time to write a bit about a couple of relatively recent releases.

First up, there's Teachings from the Tap: Life Lessons from Our Year in Beer by Merideth Canham-Nelson.  She is half of the husband and wife team behind and Beergeek.TV.  The book chronicles their adventures in 2008, when they decided to devote that entire year (more or less) to traveling to various locations to experience beer.  Each chapter covers a month of their Year of Beer.

Of particular interest to me is that their very first beer adventure was to travel to Anchorage for that year's Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival, which Elaine and I also attended.  In fact I believe I actually met them at the Great Northern Brewers meeting, though unlike such Alaskan beer superstars as Jim Roberts and Ken Pajak, I did not rate a mention.  To me, the real charm of the book was to get the author's take on places and events with which I was also familiar, like the GABBF, the Great British Beer Festival, various London pubs, Wynkoop Brewing's BeerDrinker of the Year Contest, and others.  It's written in a breezy easy-to-read style and is a good place to get some perspective on some of the "big events" of the beer world, if you haven't been fortunate enough to experience them for yourself.  You can find it on in paperback for $14.40 or Kindle for 9.99.

The second book I want to review is The World Atlas of Beer: The Essential Guide to Beers of the World by Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont.  If you are someone of my generation, it is likely that this title has a very strong resonance for you, given that it's even money that the first book you read on beer was Michael Jackson's The New World Guide to Beer, first published in 1977 and updated in 1988.  Webb and Beaumont both have impeccable beer writing credentials, which makes them the perfect choice to chronicle the world of beer, 24 years later.

Visually, it is a beautiful book, with numerous excellent photos and fine graphics, a perfect conversation starter for your coffee table or bar top.  Obviously, given the tremendous area being covered, some things had to be left out and reasonable people can disagree with the choices the authors made in that regard.  Still, Webb and Beaumont have produced a truly magisterial work, one which belongs in the library of even the most casual drinker of craft beers.  It's also available from, at $19.20 for the oversize hardback.

In beer news, I noticed that Fred Meyer has the new 12-pack samplers from Alaskan Brewing on sale.   They contain 3 bottles each of Alaskan Amber, Alaskan White, and Alaskan IPA, plus three bottles of a rotating Brewer's Choice.  The Brewer's Choice will vary with the seasons and availability.

Denaili Brewing Company has now taken deliver of the cans for their Single Engine Red Ale, so hopefully they will be firing up their new canning line soon.

I exchanged a couple of emails with Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company regarding his purchase of four more foudres (which I wrote about last week) and I now have some additional details. The new foedres will be delivered in February and will triple his primary fermentation capacity, allowing him to ferment multiple beers at a time, instead of filling two foudres and then having to wait a month before he can brew again.  This year, Gabe produced about 12,000 cases of 750 ml corked bottles; next year he hopes to produce closer to 20,000.

In other developments, Gabe will be bottling Batch #2 of his collaboration beer Mikkeller’s Invasion Farmhouse IPA in early November, so it should hit the shelves before Christmas.  This time around, he's brewing a double batch (1300 cases) and using different yeast and hops to produce a much lighter beer.  100 cases will stay in Alaska this time (instead of just 20), with the rest being split between Denmark and the Lower 48.  Batch #2 of The Tide and Its Takers Tripel will also be bottled at the same time, while the long-awaited Darkest Hour Belgian Imperial Stout and Anadromous brews should finally be released in early January, in time for the Great Alaskan Beer & Barley Wine Festival.
Gabe also reports he will be traveling to Europe next May to pour 9 of his beers at the Copenhagen Beer Festival and to brew another collaboration beer with Mikkeller somewhere in Belgium.  As if all that wasn’t enough, Gabe is in the process of having a 12-bbl coolship fabricated, which he will be able to utilize for his on-going experiments in spontaneous fermentation.

Homer Brewing Company now has an Oktoberfest beer on tap. 

Finally, I had an email from Bobby Wilken of HooDoo Brewing in Fairbanks.  They have had a couple of construction delays, but expect to be open for business by the end of the month.

 Moving on to some beer reviews, I have two new beers to tell you about.

 First is Fuego del Otono (Autumn Fire) from Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales; I picked up a 750 ml bottle of this seasonal at La Bodega a few weeks back.  The label stated that it was brewed with chestnuts, spices, and barrel-aged, so there's an awful lot going on here. It poured a light honey color with a small white head that dissipated rapidly to a collar.  The aroma had tart cider-like notes, plus spices - nutmeg? cinnamon?- and a hint of wood.  On the palate there was the characteristic Jolly Pumpkin tart funkiness, plus spicy, peppery flavors.  There seemed to be no hop bitterness, with the sourness providing the needed balance.  The beer had a lovely dry finish and was very refreshing.  I very much enjoyed it, though in many ways it did not taste like a beer at all.  At 6.1% ABV, this is a highly drinkable seasonal, so long as you enjoy sour, funky brews.

The other beer I tried was one I have been looking forward to, ever since I first read that it was going to be bottled and imported into the US.  Last week I wrote about Meantime Brewing's London Porter, one of their flagship beers, which has been around for several years.  As good as that beer is, they also brew an even more interesting version.  Their Naval College Old Porter is known as Hospital Porter in the UK, but thanks to the stupidity of the ATF, they were forced to change its name for import, lest some American out there be so stupid as to think "Hospital" might imply health benefits.  Regardless of what it's called, this porter is made in the way that porters were made in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, by blending "stock" or "stale" beer (beer that had been aged for two years in wooden tanks or tuns, whose porous surfaces were full of brettanomyces) with young or "mild" beer.  Meantime has replicated this technique, by aging beer for 24 months in wooden barrels that previously held Octomore Scotch Whisky from Bruichladdich Distillery on Islay, then blending it with fresh, young beer.  The result is Naval College Old Porter.  So what does it taste like?

It poured a deep, almost opaque ruby color in the class, with a nice tan head.  The nose was of chocolate, dark malts, and perhaps a touch of peat smoke from the barrel-aging.  On the palate there was tremendous mouthfeel, thick and rich, like melted ice cream.  The flavor profile was very complex and deep- chocolate, coffee, smokiness, vinous notes from the wood, with the barest touch of brett funk; be interesting to cellar a bottle for several months to see if the brett flavors increased.  Long, slow, finish, with more smoke at the end.  At 8% ABV, this is a somewhat formidable beer, but it's a great pairing with food, especially any sort of roast or grilled meet.  I thought it was wonderful, and I'm looking forward to grabbing a few more bottles, including some to cellar.

Finally, I polished off a quart growler of this year's edition of Kenai River Brewing's Winter Warlock Old Ale (reviewed on 9/8/2008).  As it has been for the last several years. this is an absolutely delicious take on the classic English Old Ale style.  Rich and malty, but with enough hops for balance, this is the perfect beer to keep you warm as the days grow colder and shorter.  It's only on for a limited time, so don't miss it!

That's it for this week.  Sorry I haven't had a chance to stop by either Kenai River or St. Elias Brewing to try the new brews they have on tap, but I hope to do so soon.  And anyway, you don't have to wait for me to tell you about them; stop by and try them for yourself!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Back From Mississippi, Thank the Beer Gods!

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There was no blog last week, due to my being out of state.  Normally, a trip Outside offers me the chance to try new brews which can't be had here in Alaska.  Unfortunately, this was a trip to visit my father, who happens to live in Corinth, Mississippi.

Mississippi -- or as I like to call it, "Beer Hell" -- is not exactly a mecca for craft brewing.  In fact, there are only two breweries in the entire state, earning it another of its many "last place" finishes among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, this one for breweries per capita.  As if that wasn't bad enough, a large portion of the state is "dry", including Alcorn County, in northeastern part of the state, which happens to be where Corinth is located.

So as much as I love visiting my dad, I sure wish he still lived in New Orleans; at least in The Big Easy, you can get a drink without having to drive to Tennessee...

The flight down took me through Salt Lake City at breakfast time, so no beer there.  However, on the flight back, I had a three-hour layover in Minneapolis, from about 11 AM to 2 PM.  As I was walking from G Concourse to F and contemplating my lunch options, I cam across a rather large kiosk under a sign reading Local Brew.  While they were not selling any actual beer, they had everything else, from shirts and hats from local breweries like Surly, Summit, and Fulton, to books on beer, growlers, and glassware.  It was a very neat place, and a great idea for an airport, especially a busy hub like MSP.  I stopped to chat with the salesman, and he ended up recommending that I lunch at the Mill City Tavern, on Concourse G, based on their beer selection.  Along with my burger and fries, I had a glass of Surly Brewing Company's Bender American Brown Ale.

Bender was a very dark ruby color in the glass, with a nice tan head.  The aroma was primarily of caramel, and their was good carbonation and nice mouthfeel on the palate.  Decent up front bitterness, then smooth maltiness from the use of oats, with hints of roast coffee and caramel.  An easy drinker that paired well with my burger. 5.5% ABV, 45 IBUs.

By the way, October 8th, was the birthday of the modern microbrewery. On this date in 1976, Jack McAuliffe incorporated New Albion Brewery, the prototype for the many which have followed.  While New Albion closed its doors in 1983, it still paved the way for all that came after.  Happy Birthday, and hats off to Jack McAuliffe.

Speaking of New Albion, Jack is now working with Boston Brewing Company to bring the brand back to stores shelves, which will be great!

In brewery news, the word from Anchorage is the Head Brewer Jeremiah Boone has left Midnight Sun Brewing to take a job at the Anchorage Brewing Company. Lee Ellis has been named as the new Head Brewer.  Ellis has considerable prior brewing experience, having worked at Mac and Jack's in Washington state before moving to Alaska.  He has been at Midnight Sun for the last few years.

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Speaking of Anchorage Brewing, Gabe Fletcher has been conducting his primary fermentation in two 60-barrel oak foeders, purchased from the Harlan Estates Winery in Napa Valley.  He has now purchased four additional foeders.  Prior to this expansion, Gabe was producing about 600 barrels or 8,000 cases of 750 ml corked bottles per year, distributed nation-wide by Shelton Brothers.  What’s next?  You never know with Gabe, but he’s started talking about possibly installing a coolship…

The RSBC 6th Annual Beer & Wine Tasting Event will take in Seward on Saturday, November 3, from 7 to 10 PM at the SeaLife Center.  This is always a great event, with plenty of brewers in attendance.  Tickets cost $35 and are available at  See the flyer to the left for more details.  If you can be in Seward on the Saturday evening, it should be a great time.

Kenai River Brewing has a new beer, Almost Imperial Red Ale, just put on tap today.  Also, their excellent Winter Warlock Old Ale is still on tap.  See my review of 9/8/2008.  Do miss getting some of this outstanding seasonal.

St. Elias Brewing Company has two new seasonal brews on tap: an Oktoberfest and First Gold ESB.  I haven't had the opportunity to try either yet, but I'm sure they're pretty good.

I only have one beer review this week, but I should have more next time around.  The beer this week is Meantime Brewing Company's London Porter.  I've loved Meantime's beers for years, and even tasted them in my beer class, as an example of classic British beer styles.  I have never reviewed any, since I started drinking them long before I started this blog.

Anyway, their London Porter pours a very dark, semi-translucent ruby, with a nice tan head. The nose is primarily roast malt with some caramel notes.There was good carbonation and excellent mouthfeel.  The flavor profile has plenty of roasted malts and coffee flavors, with and lots of of hop bitterness for balance.  An excellent beer and a fine example of a classic robust porter.

Well, that's about it for this week.  More beer reviews next week.  Keep drinking those good craft beers.

Until Next Time, Cheers!