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!

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