Sunday, December 23, 2012

Northwest Brewing News Correction

I'm sure some of you read my column in the Northwest Brewing News about the happening on the Alaska brewing scene.  An attentive reader just pointed out to me that in the last sentence in my most recent column in the December/January issue, I incorrectly stated that Jeremiah Boone took over as head brewer at Midnight Sun Brewing Company following Gabe Fletcher.  This was an error.  Ben Johnson served as head brewer between Fletcher and Boone.  I'd like to apologize to him and to all my readers for this mistake.

I have asked my editor to run a correction in the Feb/Mar issue, but in the meantime I wanted to make this post to acknowledge my error.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Holidays!

This will be a short post, as I am really looking forward to taking a break until the new year.  However, I've got a few pieces of news to pass along and a some reviews to post before we say so long to 2012.

My good friend Jim "Dr. Fermento" Roberts reports that 22 oz. bombers of several of Baranof Island Brewing Company's beers will be making the long trek from Sitka to Anchorage, thanks to the efforts of Specialty Imports.  You can be on the look out for their Halibut Point Hefeweisen, Peril Strait Pale Ale, Medvejie Stout, Silver Bay IPA, Redoubt Red Ale, and Baranof Brown Ale.  I've tasted their beers at the last Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival, and they were excellent, so I'm really looking forward to being able to taste them more than once a year.

Ben Millstein out at Kodiak Island Brewing reports that he has taken delivery of two 300-gallon square tanks that were formerly used at a winery.  These will be his dedicated brettanomyces tanks, allowing him to conduct long, slow secondary fermentations using that yeast without risking cross-contamination of his primary brewing equipment.  No word yet on when the first new brett-laced brew might be ready...

I was up in Anchorage for a few hours on Monday and stopped by The Loft at Midnight Sun.  Since we were still counting down to the Winter Solstice at that point, they still had their "all dark beers" tap line-up on; as of today, they should be pouring all light-colored beers.  Anyway, while there I had a small glass of their Oaked Even Dahker; it was outstanding!  I was lucky enough to get the first bottle off the line of Obliteration IX DIPA; I'm looking forward to trying it.  Plus I got my brauler filled with their Full Curl Scotch Ale, which will go nicely with the turkey we're smoking for Christmas dinner.

For those of you who care, sales of Elaine's and my book Beer on the Last Frontier: The Craft Breweries of Alaska have been pretty brisk.  The signing we did last weekend at Kenai River Brewing Company was a lot of fun.  If you are local, copies are available at Kenai River, St. Elias, and the KPC Bookstore.  Further afield, you can find them at Homer Brewing and Kodiak Island Brewing.  In Anchorage, they have them at MSBC's The Loft and La Bodega.  Otherwise, look for it on

OK, let's move into reviews; I've got four new ones for this week.

First, Kenai River Brewing's Kenai Classic Pale Ale.  I was drinking this at our book signing and took some home as well.  It poured a lovely honey color with a good-looking off-white head.  There was a nice hop nose and plenty of good carbonation.  The beer was lighter on the palate than a full-on IPA, as you expect from a pale ale, but still had plenty of good, clean bitterness with zero off-flavors.  Extremely drinkable and an excellent accompaniment to food.  A top-notch pale ale.

The next three beers were all supplied by an acquaintance on the East Coast, who shipped them to me.  To my knowledge, they are not available in Alaska.  The first one was an anniversary beer from Weyebacher Brewing, their Fifteen Smoked Imperial Stout, released in 2010.  I had a couple of Weyerbacher brews back in 2010 during my last visit to the East Coast, so I already knew that they brewed good stuff.  Fifteen poured opaque with a small tan head.  The aroma was of chocolate, roasted coffee, and a touch of smoke.  On the palate there was lots of good mouthfeel, more malt and roast flavors, as well as more smoke.  I thought it was quite well-balanced, with no single component running away with things. 10.8% ABV.  All-in-all, an absolutely excellent smoked imperial stout.

The second beer was Belle Saison from a brewery I'd never heard of, À l’abri de la Tempête. Since the entire label was in French, I surmised (correctly) that this beer was from a brewery in Quebec.  It poured a light, clear gold, with a small white head.  There were spicy notes in the nose, ginger and cinnamon, I believe.  The beer was very light on the palate, with good carbonation and more spicy flavors. 5.8% ABV.  Personally, I prefer my saisons dry and without spices.  In this one, the spices seemed to be to the forefront.  Well-made, but not my personal cup of tea.

The last beer was Troegenator Double Bock from the award-winning Troegs Brewing in Hershey, PA. I'd heard of this beer before, most notably when it took a Gold Medal at last year's GABF, so I was eager to give it a try.  It poured a deep, translucent bronze color, with a very nice cream-colored head.  The aroma was primarily of bready malt, as befits a style of beer nicknamed "liquid bread".  On the palate there was great mouthfeel.  This is certainly a malt-forward beer, with the 25 IBUs there purely for balance.  Very clean tasting, as you'd expect from a lager.  An excellent example of the style; easy to see why it has won so many awards.  8.2% ABV.

Well, that about wraps it up for this week and for this year.  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and drink plenty of excellent beer with your friends and family.  I'll see you all in 2013, where will will continue our explorations of craft beer in Alaska and beyond.

Until Next Time, Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Change in the Weather

Well, we've all been wondering when the snow would show up, and it looks like it's here now, with some freezing rain thrown in for variety.  On the plus side, temperatures are now well above zero. (On the plus side, get it?  That's a pun that wouldn't work in Celsius...).

I just took delivery of a brauler from HooDoo Brewing and it is impressive.  If you haven't heard of it, the brauler is a stainless steel growler produced by The Zythos Project, a bunch of craft-beer-crazy engineers.  These growlers have amazing caps, very big with lots of threads, much superior to the ones on standard growlers or even those on Hydroflasks, which I've never been able to get to seat properly.  Plus, they have an even more high-tech cap that has a small port in it to allow you to pressurize the brauler with carbon dioxide after you have re-closed it.  So you could drink half a growler, recap it, then pressurize it, so that the remaining beer will not go flat.  Amazing!

These puppies aren't cheap, running you about $50 retail, but I think they're worth it.  You can't buy them direct; you have to get them from a participating brewery.  As of now, the only breweries in Alaska selling them are HooDoo in Fairbanks and Kodiak Island Brewing Company, but I know some others are considering it.  They've been so popular that HooDoo is currently out, but they are selling gift certificates that entitles the bearer to one from their next shipment when ti arrives in January.  Makes a great Christmas gift to the beer geek in your life, or just for yourself...

Speaking of gifts for Christmas, my new book, Beer on the Last Frontier, is now available in paperback on, as well as at Kenai River Brewing Company, St. Elias Brewing Company, and the Kenai Peninsula College Bookstore in Soldotna.  It will be on sale in Anchorage at La Bodega and Midnight Sun's Loft Bar starting next Tuesday (12/18).  If you're looking for an autographed copy, Elaine and I will be doing some signings, starting with one at the Kenai River Tap Room this Saturday from 5 to 7 PM.  Stop by and get your copy signed or just tell us what you think of our little book.

Continuing to speak of Christmas gifts, Midnight Sun Brewing Company has kicked off a special for the holidays: their 12 Beers in a Box, a special combo case of brews for $69.  It has the following:

CoHoHo Imperial IPA
Kodiak Brown Ale
Operation Hay
Monk’s Mistress Special Dark Ale
Mammoth Extra Stout
Arctic Rhino Coffee Porter
Snowshoe White Wit Beer
Trickster Pumpkin Ale
Sockeye Red IPA
Panty Peeler Tripel
Brewtality Belgian Black Beer with Espresso
XXX Double Black IPA

plus a can koozie and a bag of Doug's Nuts.  Sounds like a great gift, especially for someone Outside, who can't get access to the great MSBC brews on a regular basis.

Gabe Fletcher at Anchorage Brewing Company filled his new 12 barrel coolship today.  What spontaneously fermented wonders will emerge from it? Only time will tell...

Kassiks' Brewery now has their Caribou Kilt Scotch back on tap, along with the Big Nutz Imperial Brown and the Chocolate Cherry Stout.  Look for the Smoked Russian Imperial Stout on tap from 21-24 December, and say hi to their new brewer Luke.

Seward Brewing Company is shutting down for the winter after this week.  On Friday night, they will be having Ugly Sweater Discount.  The uglier the sweater you wear, the bigger the discount (15 to 50%).  Then on Saturday they will filling growlers for only $7.  Get your SBC fix now or you'll have to wait until spring.

For those of you ambitious beer geeks out there, it's time again to submit your resumes for Wynkoop Brewing Company's Beerdrinker of the Year Contest!  You can find all the details on their website, here. If you are selected as one of the three finalists, they will fly you to Denver in February to compete in person.  If you win, you'll get a $250 bar tab at your local drinking establishment plus free beer for life at the Wynkoop.  As the 2010 Beerdrinker of the Year, I speak from experience when I say it's a great time.  If you don't apply, you can't win, so get those resumes in before the end of the year.

Let's go to beer reviews.  I have five new brews to write about this time.

First, there's the new Imperial Red Ale from Alaskan Brewing.  This is the latest beer in their Pilot Series and it's on sale locally at Fred Meyer and other locations.  It poured a deep, clear red with a nice dense cream-colored head.  The aroma had plenty of citrusy hop notes from the blend of Centennial, Citra, Meridian, and Summit hops used, with perhaps a touch of caramel behind it.  On the palate there was plenty of good bitterness up front (70 IBUs) and a very clean flavor profile, falling away to a nice finish.  Between the IBUs and the 8.5% ABV, this beer is no session ale, but it's quite drinkable for such a burly brew.  Another very fine entrant into the Pilot Series.

Next, I had a liter growler of King Street Brewing's Black IPA that I picked up at the La Bodega growler bar.  When I try a black IPA, I always have to wonder if what I'm about to taste is really a hoppy porter, i.e. is it going to have a ton of roasted flavors to go along with the hops.  Not this time around.  This is a dark brew with ruby highlights and a nice light tan head. Nose is hops alone, no roasty notes, and it's the same on the palate: excellent hop bitterness but not even the slightest hint of roasted malt.  This is a true black IPA; close your eyes and you'd have no idea that you're not drinking a good copper-colored American IPA.  Very nice job from the guys at King Street.

The third beer is a weird one: Neapolitan Milk Stout from Saugatuck Brewing in Michigan. This isn't a beer you can find up here in Alaska, but a colleague brought me back a bottle from the Lower 48.  As the name implies, it's a milk stout made with cocoa, vanilla, and strawberry flavors, just like the ice cream.  It poured opaque with a huge, dense head.  Sure enough, I could pick up all three flavor elements in the nose and on the palate.  If you can imagine Neapolitan ice cream, but not that sweet, plus some roasty flavors, you know what it tasted like.  An amazing tour de force, but I can't help wondering: why bother?  Is there really a big market for ice cream flavored beers out there? Oh well, if it floats you boat, who am I to criticize? 6.3% ABV.

Next, there's Kenai River Brewing Company's Pilgrim Single Hop IPA.  The latest in this on-going series, this beer poured a clear gold with a nice off-white head.  The aroma was of hops, but with some interesting citrus notes: lemon & grapefruit.  There was good carbonation and lots of up front bitterness, plus some more of the citrus notes.  A very unusual hop and another excellent addition to the Single Hop IPA family.  Also, when I was picking up my growler of this beer, I had a sampler of their new Kenai Classic Pale Ale.  I haven't done a formal review yet, but I can tell you that I really enjoyed that sampler.

Finally, I picked up a few bottles of Sierra Nevada's Narwhal Imperial Stout.  Given the quality of beers Sierra Nevada routinely produces, I was expecting a lot from this beer, and it did not disappoint.  It poured completely opaque with a small tan head.  The aroma was all roasted malt, with elements of coffee and cocoa.  There was excellent mouthfeel and the flavor profile was extremely rich and complex, with various elements making themselves known -- coffee, figs, cocoa -- plus a touch of alcohol heat on the back end.  This is definitely one to sip and savor at 10.2% ABV.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Next week's blog will be the last one for this year, as I'm taking the holidays off to enjoy them with my lovely wife, Elaine.  Good luck with your Xmas shopping. Remember: Craft beer is always a great gift...

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My 200th Post

I'm not usually big on milestones, but a couple of weeks ago I happened to notice that this blog was coming up on a pretty big one: this is my 200th post.  I made Post #1 on July 10, 2008, so it's taken me just shy of four years and four months to get to this point.  Checking my stats, it seems this blog as has had 37,719 page views to date.  I honestly never thought it would last anything like this long. Besides sheer longevity, writing this blog has led to many other good things, like my Redoubt Reporter column, becoming Wynkoop's Beerdrinker of the Year, writing for the Northwest Brewing News, and now publishing a book.  I want to thank each and every one of you who read this blog; without your support, I certainly wouldn't still be doing this.

Today is also another important milestone.  On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution was officially ratified, ending the disastrous social experiment of Prohibition.  While the anti-alcohol forces are still with us, they are but a shadow of what they were a century ago, for which we can all be thankful.  So pour yourself a craft beer, fill your bathtub with gin, and let's celebrate the day that America came to her senses seventy-nine years ago! 

Now that it's December, it's time to really start thinking about Alaska Beer Week in January.  This year it will run from Friday the 11th thru Sunday the 20th.  Events are already beginning to be scheduled and tickets for some of them are already on sale.  Events happen all around the state, not just in Anchorage.  For example, our very own St. Elias Brewing Company will be offering $5 goblets of their beers all week.  Your best bet is to pay frequent visits to the Alaska Beer Week website at and check out the events listed there.  You wouldn't want to miss out on a great event simply by learning about it too late, would you?

In addition to AK Beer Week next month, there are lots of things happening this month.  I wrote in last week's blog about Glacier BrewHouse's Twelve Days of Barley Wine.  Well, on Saturday, December 15th, they will also be having a "Pint for a Pint" Event.  The Blood Bank of Alaska'a LIFEmobile will be parked out front and anyone who donates a pint of blood will get a pint of root beer and a complimentary pint glass from Glacier. You can call 222-5630 to make an appointment between 10 AM and 5 PM, or just stop by see if they have an opening.  There's no worthier cause than giving blood so others may live, and I think it's great that Glacier is supporting this.

Over at Midnight Sun Brewing, their new Brew Crew has released their first beer: Pleasure Town IPA is brewed with Cascade and Citra, then dry hopped with Chinook and Citra, a great refreshing touch of grapefruit at the end of this crisp treat.  6.13%ABV and 65 IBU's.  This Friday is First Firkin Friday, and they will be tapping a cask-conditioned Lust Belgian Dark Strong with Sour Cherries and Bret.  This marks the five year anniversary of the original release of Lust; I wrote a bit about it back on July 27, 2009, but it had been out for over a year and a half at that point.

This firkin is coming out of the original batch; it has been quietly waiting, un-carbonated, in a keg in MSBC's "cellar". Last month it was transferred to the firkin to begin it's natural carbonation process. If you want to actually get some of this, I recommend you are at The Loft well before the firkin's tapped at 5 PM; this one won't last long...

This just in: The Loft at MSBC was selected as the Best Brewpub in Alaska for 2012 by the readers of the Northwest Brewing News!  Also, MSBC's Arctic Devil Barley wine tied with Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot for Best Barley Wine in the Northwest!

I have also heard that La Bodega was voted the Best Beer Store in Alaska for 2012 by the readers of the Northwest Brewing NewsLa Bodega's Christmas Party at The Snow Goose is tonight; check last week's blog for details.  They will also have La Fin du Monde, Unibroue's Belgian-style tripel, on tap at their growler bar starting on December 19th; stop by and stock up for The End of the World...

Moving to local news, Kassik's Brewery has Big Nutz Imperial Brown Ale Christmas ornaments in and they look great. Kenai River Brewing put a new beer on tap last Friday: Kenai Classic Pale Ale.  It's described as "an American-style golden-straw colored ale assertively hopped with Pacific Northwest hops."  I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but I plan to stop by soon.  St. Elias Brewing Company now has the latest version of their award-winning Moose Juice Barley Wine on tap.  I stopped by last Friday after work and had a glass, so let's move into beer reviews.

The Moose Juice poured a murky brown with zero head.  The aroma was of malt, alcohol heat, plus some oaky, bourbon notes.This version was aged for over a year in bourbon, rye whiskey, and brandy barrels before being blended together, and the blending is top-notch.  The various flavor profiles come together in perfect harmony, making for a rich and warming whole.  Every aspect is properly integrated, making this an exceptional barley wine.  I would not be at all surprised to see this take another medal at the GABBF next month.

Thanks to La Bodega's growler bar, I also got to try To Ol's Snowball Saison, from De Proefbrouwerij in Belgium.  De Proef is an experimental/contract brewery; as such, they brew beers for many, many different people.  This particular beer is an 8% saison, heavier and hoppier for the cold winter months. It poured a slightly hazy gold with a dense, white head.  The aroma was of hops (Styrian Goldings?) plus the classic spicy, earthy notes of a Belgian yeast.  There was good mouthfeel and plenty of hop bitterness plus a good malt backbone.  it some ways it reminded me more of a Belgian pale ale than a saison, but there is a touch of funkiness.  The flavors fall away nicley to a good finish.  All-in-all, and excellent brew, though stronger and maltier than your typical saison (if there is such a thing).

Finally, I had a bottle of Jaipur IPA from Thornbridge Brewery in the UK, again thanks to La Bodega. I had read many good things about this beer, mostly in blogs written by beer lovers in the UK, so I was excited to give it a try, even if it was in a bottle rather than cask-conditioned.  It's 5.9% ABV and poured a lovely light, clear gold with a big white head.  There was a wonderful clean, floral hoppiness about the beer, with excellent carbonation.  This beer reminds me of everything I love about a great British Ale: spritely & refreshing carbonation, delicate but assertive hoppiness, and what I call "moreishness", i.e. when you finish one, you always want more.  As good as it was in the bottle, I shudder to think how outstanding a well-kept cask of this beer would be, served on hand pump in a fine British pub.  Truly an exceptional beer, and one I plan to do my best to drink more of.

Well, that wraps things up for this week, more or less.  It appears that the printed version of Elaine's and my book, Beer on the Last Frontier, will be for sale on Amazon soon.  With any luck, you will be able to order it for $8.99 by the weekend.  Or you can wait about a week more and it will be on sale at several of the local breweries.  It makes a great stocking stuffer...

Until Next Time, Cheers!