Friday, January 25, 2013

Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival: 2013 Edition

Wow, what a week!  I'm still recovering a bit from the mass quantities of exceptional (and exceptionally strong) beer that I consumed last week during the run up to and then at the GABBF on Saturday.  Alaska Beer Week has become an event in itself, with the Festival serving merely as the exclamation point at the end of a ton of great beer festivities.

My AK Beer Week started a bit late, with me driving up to Anchorage on  the afternoon of Wednesday, 1/16. Lots of events had already taken place, such as the draft release of Midnight Sun's 3000 Belgian Barley Wine.  I stopped by The Loft on my way into town, in the vain hope that there still might be some available.  No such luck, but I was able to drown my sorrows with a nice glass of this year's Arctic Devil Barley Wine.  The 2013 version was aged in brandy casks instead of bourbon barrels, imparting a subtle but delicious difference to this classic beer.  It will be released in bottles on Monday, January 28th, with a six bottle per person per day limit at the brewery.

Then it was off to check into my hotel before attending the Old vs. New "Throwdown" Beer Dinner at Kinley's RestaurantSamuel Smith and Kenai River Brewing beers of the same style were each paired with each of the five courses. Here's the menu:

Greet Beer 

Samuel Smith Organic Cider

First Course

Roasted Garlic Butter Poached Shrimp on Bacon and Cheddar Grits
with Crispy Prosciutto

Second Course

Slow Roasted Pork Ribs in a Chipotle-Blueberry Barbeque Sauce
atop a Bed of Cider Slaw

Third Course

Braised Beef Short Rib Bourguignon with Mashed Potatoes
Topped with a Fried Oyster and Bleu Cheese

Fourth Course

Oatmeal Stout
Stout Braised Lamb Shank with a Fried Rosemary Oatmeal Cake
and Creamed Kale

Fifth Course

English Strong Ale
“Peach Cobbler”
Housemade Biscuit with an Apple and Peach Compote,
Vanilla Bean Cream, and Caramel Streusel

Old vs New at Kinley's
While I had tasted every beer on offer before (many times),  I have to say that this was one of the best beer dinners I have ever been to, primarily because Chef Brett Knipmeyer went above and beyond the call of duty.  He not only prepared exquisite food, but he had also quite obviously gone to great lengths to match the dishes to the beer styles, resulting in a truly transcendent dining experience. I think everyone had a fantastic time, even if the "throwdown" got a bit heated at times.

After a good night's sleep, my first beer event on Thursday was the Specialty Imports Trade Show.  I really enjoy going to this every year (and not just because of the great buffet they put out).  It gives me a chance to see what new beers they will be bringing it to the state, as well as the opportunity to hobnob with other friends in the Alaska beer scene.

Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave
This year was no exception, with new (to me) breweries like Baranof Island Brewing Company from Sitka and Two Beers Brewing Company from Seattle on offer.  However, for me the most interesting new brewery on offer was Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, out of Denver.  Chad Yakobson was pouring three of their 100% brett-fermented beers, the Saison Vielle Artisanal, the Nightmare on Brett Dark Sour Ale, and the L'Brett d'Or Dry Hopped Golden Sour Ale.  I was so impressed that I made a point of picking up bottles of each of them from La Bodega later in the weekend, so that I will be able to do proper full reviews in the upcoming weeks.  Until then, let me just say that all three were exceptional beers, so snap them up if you get the chance.

I also learned at the show that Crooked Stave and Anchorage Brewing Company have brewed a collaboration beer.  It will be a burgundy-colored sour, fermented 100% brett (of course), then soured and aged in cognac barrels.  No name yet, but look for a possible release in 8 or 9 months, if things go as planned in the casks.

Once the Trade Show wrapped, the next big event was the Great Northern Brewers-Brewers Guild of Alaska joint event at the Snow Goose.  I arrived a little late, due to spending too much time enjoying supper, but the event was a big hit again this year.  Lots of great food and good beer was on offer, both homebrew and special stuff from the breweries.  I finally got to sample HooDoo Brewing's beer, as there was a keg of their Stout on tap.  It was great, and I look forward to getting up to Fairbanks later this year to check them out and try more of their brews.  Paul Gatza, the Director of the Brewers Association and Chad Yokobson were the guest speakers and gave very interesting talks.  Then the giant raffle was held, followed by a late night of partying to the sounds of Tom Dalldorf and his Rolling Boil Blues Band.

Friday morning I headed out to do some shopping, including a stop to load up at La Bodega, where Pam Hatzis had been kind enough to put some brews aside for me.  Then it was over to The Loft at Midnight Sun to meet up with Deuane Hoffman, a beer lover who had made the trek all the way from the East Coast for AK Beer Week.  As he and his family joined me for lunch, in walked Phil Farrell, the 2011 Beerdrinker of the Year, along with two mutual friends from North Carolina, James Bond and Dave Keller.  Naturally, we all ended up having lunch (and several beers) together.  I had a glass of Midnight Sun's Last Sun Barley Wine, made in collaboration with Last City Brewing out of Minneapolis-St. Paul (see my review below) and a damned-fine muffaletta sandwich.
Lots of well-aged beers to taste

Later Friday afternoon, attended a private beer tasting that I was invited to, at a location which shall remain undisclosed, though some of you may recognize it from the photo.  Lined up are just some of the beers I got to taste (as more arrived after I snapped this photo).  If you look closely, you can see that the third bottle from the left was indeed that legendary white whale among beers, Midnight Sun's M Barley Wine from 2005.  I did not get much, but the ounce or so  that I did get was more than enough for me to understand what all the hoopla was about.  Now I can understand how bottles of this beer could sell on E Bay for $1500+.  I can honestly say that I never thought I would ever taste this beer and I was truly surprised and honored to be given the chance to do so at last.

Saturday was the climax of AK Beer Week, when I attended the Connoisseurs' Session of the GABBF from 2 to 5 PM.  By my count, I managed to taste 17 beers in that three hour period, which wasn't bad, considering how high-octane some of them were.  Some of the highlights, according to my (somewhat scrawled) notes included:

Anchorage Brewing: Frequency IPA, 6.5% ABV, 70 IBUs
Anchorage Brewing: Anadromous Sour Black Bier, 8.5% ABV, 20 IBUs
Arkose Brewery: Bitter Earth ESB, 5% ABV, 26 IBUs
Arkose Brewery: Spindrift IPA, 5.5% ABV, 95 IBUs
Broken Tooth Brewing: Darth Delerium 2012 Belgian Stout, 12% ABV, 85 IBUs
Galcier BrewHouse: Russian Imperial Stout, 9.4% ABV, 50 IBUs
Haines Brewing Company: Black Fang Imperial Stout, 8.6% ABV
Kodiak Island Brewing: Double Wing Nut Imperial American Brown Ale, 7.9% ABV, 81 IBUs
Silver Gulch Brewing: 40 Below Stout, 8.5% ABV, 77 IBUs
St. Elias Brewing: Cuvee Rouge Barrel-aged Belgian Ale, 8.4%, 20 IBUs

I was particularly happy to get to try the beers from Arkose Brewery, as until then they were the on brewery in the state that I had not had a chance to sample.

The other big moment at the session was the announcement of the winners in the two competitions, Winter Seasonal Beer and Best Barley Wine.  Jim Roberts, AKA Dr. Fermento, once again made the announcements, but this year he insisted I come up on to the stage to assist.  Kevin Burton of Glacier BrewHouse took top honors in the Winter Seasonal with his Glacier Eisbock.  Third place in the Barley Wines went to Black Raven Brewing Company's Old Bird Brain (which won 1st place in 2011 & 2012), while second place went to Firestone-Walker's Sucaba Barley Wine.  However, First Place in the Barley Wine Competition went to Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company's Cognac Barrel Aged Barley Wine (Edit: renamed A Deal with the Devil Barley Wine).

This monster of a beer had an Original Gravity of 1152, resulting in an ABV of 17.3%, making it easily the strongest beer ever brewed in Alaska.  It took over 4000 pounds of malt to brew this beer, and four separate 3.5 hours boils to fill just two 110 gallon used cognac barrels.  Gabe brewed it back in February and then let it age in the wood for over 8 months.  What's even more amazing is that this is a single malt, single hop beer, quite unusual for a barley wine.  So how does it taste?

In a word: Amazing!  No, make that two words: Freakin' Amazing! First off, tasting it, you would never believe that it is north of 17% alcohol.  It is so smooth and deep that I would have guess more like 12% tops.  It is incredibly complex, with a balance and depth of flavor profile that has to be experienced to be believed.  I first tasted it the day before the Festival and I immediately knew it would win first place; it was just that good.  Once again Gabe Fletcher has pulled off a brewing masterpiece; I'm starting to wonder if he didn't meet a certain gentleman at the crossroads late one night and make a deal for the power to brew these sort of beers.  After all, if Robert Johnson could do it to learn how to play the guitar, why not Gabe?

If you want to sample this beer, you need to get over to Humpy's or Cafe Amsterdam before it's gone.  Besides the Festival and those two venues, Gabe is sending some to Copenhagen and to barley wine festivals in San Francisco and Seattle.  And that's it.

With that, my report on Alaska Beer Week comes to an end.  If you missed it, you missed one hell of a good time.  Start making plans for 2014 now.

Three more pieces of news.  Kenai River Brewing has just taken delivery of another conical fermenter.  I'm not 100% sure of the size, but it looks like it is about 20 barrel capacity from the picture they posted.  Word is, they are getting ready to offer another beer in cans, their Peninsula Brewers Reserve, which would explain the need for another tank.  They are also upgrading from a 2-head manual to an automated 4-head canning machine, which should be here in the next month or two.

2nd piece of news:  Gabe Fletcher is planning a beer festival for late April.  Everything is tentative right now, but he is talking about a top-shelf event, with attendance limited to 300 people.  Tickets would be $100 per person.  The event would be catered, so there would be plenty of good food included.  The beers would all be personally selected by Gabe, approximately 60 of them, and all would be beers not normally available in Alaska. I'm sure many more details will be forth coming, but so far it sounds like an absolutely fabulous event.

3rd piece of news: Midnight Sun's 3000 Belgian-style Barley Wine was released today at Brown Jug Warehouse in Anchorage.  It will be available in certain of their stores, as well as at the brewery itself.  $15 per bottle, and you will be limited to 6 bottles per person per day.

Finally, let's do some beer reviews.

I promised you a review of the Last Sun Barley Wine, brewed by Midnight Sun and Last City, so here it is: it was served on nitro and was opaque with a smooth, tan head.  The aroma was heavy with malt, alcohol, and bourbon notes.  The mouthfeel was thick and smooth , made even more so by the nitro, and the flavor profile was quite complex: malt, bourbon, wood, toffee, caramel, perhaps a touch of tobacco and old leather, falling away to a long, slow and delicious finish.  Very nice.  On nitro draft at the brewery and perhaps some other select venues around town.

Before I dropped out for AK Beer Week, I reported that Kenai River had a new beer on, their Pilgrim Imperial Rye Pale Ale or P.I.R.P.A.  I picked up a quart on my way home on Tuesday, 1/15/13, and drank it that night.  It poured a cloudy dark honey color with a small, off-white head.  The nose had lots of Pilgrim hops in it: earthy & spicy notes.  On the palate the carbonation was good, with decent mouthfeel.  The flavor profile was straightforward but nice, with a touch of peppery spice from the rye and what I perceived as a bit of toffee.  Nice finish.  All-in-all, another nice take on an imperial rye pale ale.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Next week I'll be getting back to business, reporting more local beer news and more reviews.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Let The Beer Week Begin!

We've been waiting patiently, but the wait is finally over.  Yes, Alaska Beer Week is upon us at last!  I can't even begin to catalog in this blog the over 80 (!) different events which are scheduled to take place both in Anchorage and at other locations around the state.  Your best bet is to visit the dedicated Alaska Beer Week website at and look over the entire list to see which events you can possibly attend.  If you're interested in attending a beer dinner or any other event that requires tickets/reservations, you'd better get them now, as things are starting to sell out.

If you're interested in seeing me during Alaska Beer Week (maybe to have your copy of Beer on the Last Frontier autographed?), here are three events that I definitely plan to attend:

Old vs. New "Throwdown" Beer Dinner at Kinley's Restaurant Wednesday, 1/16 at 6 PM

Great Northern Brewers Club Meeting at The Snow Goose,  Thursday 1/17 at 7 PM (GNB members only)

Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival, Saturday 1/19 session, 2 to 5 PM

Otherwise, look for me to pop up anywhere good beer is being poured in Anchorage next week!

Since AK Beer Week has pretty much dominated the "beer news" since last week, let's jump right into beer reviews.

I cracked open a bottle from Batch #2 of Mikkller's Invasion Farmhouse IPA, brewed at Anchorage Brewing Company and bottled in November.My understanding is that Gabe Fletcher adjusted the hop profile a bit from Batch #1. It poured a slightly cloudy gold with a dense white head.  The nose was bright with citrusy hop aroma and a subtle brett tang.  On the palate there was good carbonation, lots more citrusy hoppiness, and a nice light mouthfeel, with more brett elements appearing toward the finish.  Looking at my notes for Batch #1 (reviewed on 9/20/2012), it seems #2 was a bit less carbonated (the cork showed no signs of popping itself this time around), was gold rather than orange-gold in color, and perhaps a tad more balanced in the hop profile. It's another hoppy, brett-laced masterpiece from Gabe Fletcher.  8% ABV.

I had another beer from Troegs Brewery, part of my recent shipment from a friend on the East Coast.  This was one of their Scratch Beer Series, which I gather are small experimental brews that let them tinker with new techniques and different ingredients. They are only sold at the brewery itself, so I am very lucky to have been sent a few to try.

This week, I had a bottle of Scratch Beer #57, a weizenbock.  It poured a dark honey color, a bit cloudy with a decent cream-colored head.The aroma was mainly malt, but with a touch of alcohol warmth.  On the palate, there were lots of nice, clean malt flavors, as you'd expect from a proper bock, with just enough hop bitterness to balance the malt.  Overall, the flavor profile was rich and slightly sweet.  A very nice weizenbock, and one I'd love to see go into full production.

The shipment also include a bottle from of Cold Mountain Winter Ale from Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC.  I have been eager to try a beer from the brewery for some time, as I have heard many good things about it in particular and Asheville, NC breweries in general.  Unfortunately, this particular beer left me unimpressed.  I am wary of spiced beers to start with, and this one used hazelnut, cranberry, vanilla, and cinnamon.  It poured a cloudy, dark honey color with a cream-colored head.  In the nose I picked up the cinnamon and sweet malt.  The palate was a bit of a jumble, with the various spices jostling for position.  Had they gone with just one or even two, I think I would have been OK, but four was just too much.  Still, I did not pick up and production flaws, so I look forward to trying something else from the brewery.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Since I will be busy enjoying Alaska Beer Week next week, there won't be a blog.  However, look for an extra long one the following week as I report on what happened during the week and any news or rumors I pick up during it.  Even if you are unable to attend any of the events, be sure to raise a bee in celebration!  Remember the Alaska Beer Week motto:

"Brave the cold. Revere the beer."

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, January 4, 2013

2013: A New Year of Beer

So here we are again, having survived both the Mayan Apocalypse, and the Holiday Season.  Time to buckle down and get back to talking about beer.  Lots of beer news has accumulated during my holiday stand-down, so let's get to it!

Perhaps the single biggest piece of news was the announcement by Midnight Sun Brewing Company of the impending release of their 3000th brew, named appropriately enough, 3000 Belgian-style Barley Wine.  This is indeed a name to conjure with, given that their 1000th brew, named simply M from the Roman numeral for 1000, has become one of the most legendary and sought-after brews among beer hunters around the world.  Bottles have been seen for sale on E-Bay for prices north of $1500.

So with a track record like that, you can be sure that the demand for 3000 will be fast and furious.  The entire 15 barrel (465 gallon) batch will be released in Alaska, on draft and in 22 oz. bottles.  Here's what Barb Miller, MSBC's VP of Sales and Marketing had to say:

"In this ridiculously wonderful world we’ve created,we make beer- one batch at a time. As the scientist in us demands, we number said batches. And while every batch of our beer is special for us – providing a fresh start on a new day, establishing an experimental opportunity, bringing together our minds and spirits, projecting our company forward – each batch also scores time."

"To celebrate our 3000th batch, we present a Belgian-style Barley Wine, simply called 3,000. Luscious layers of flavor begin with barley, wheat and rye malts followed by triple-hoppping with a single varietal. Fermentation, using two distinct yeast strains, achieves complexity in character and, of course, alcohol. This special batch was transferred into red wine oak barrels for eight months to age gregariously yet gracefully. After bottle-conditioning, this exclusive beer is ready for immediate enjoyment although it can be lovingly cellared for future festivities."

"As we release 3,000 in January 2013, we hoist our glasses in thankful toast to YOU – our dearest friends in beer!"
The latest word is that that they are shooting for a release next Friday, January 11th, so make your plans now.

More good news from Midnight Sun:  their Fallen Angel Belgian Strong Golden Ale will now be available year-round. Also, on Friday, January 4th, the artist Scott Clendaniel will be kicking off his month long show at MSBC's Loft Bar.  This is Scott's third show there, and is titled "Homage to Homebrew".  He's got quite an eye for beer, so if you 'll be in anchorage on the 4th, you should stop by to check it out, as well as sample the firkin that they'll be tapping.  If you miss the opening, the paintings will be on display all month long.

There will be plenty of other beer events taking place, as we all spool up for the start of AK Beer Week on Friday, 11 Jan.

Denali Brewing Company has released their Single Engine Red Ale in cans, joining the growing number of AK craft brewers to opt for that packaging choice. They are also holding a "Brooms & Brews" event from 6 to 10 PM on Monday, January 14th during AK Beer Week.  This will not involve competitive sweeping or playing quidditch; it is all about curling.

Click to enlarge
This particular event takes place at the Anchorage Curling Cub and will include food, as well as big rocks sliding on ice and craft beers.  As you can see from the flyer to the left, there will lots of good food to enjoy with eight different beers from Denali Brewing Company.  Boe Barnett of Denali says: "Basically we were looking for a fresh take on the conventional beer dinner, of which there are so many during [AK] beer week."  I'd say this event definitely qualifies as something different! Admission is $50 per person, with a portion of the proceeds being dedicated to the Anchorage Curling Club's expansion project.

The Snow Goose has released their 2012 Old Gander Barley Wine, and has their monthly beer dinner next Thursday, January 10th.  You can find the entire menu here and the beers will include three of their own ales, plus some imports from Specialty Imports.  Cost is $55 per person (tip included), and you must buy tickets in advance as seating is limited.

 Up in Fairbanks, HooDoo Brewing Company now has a Mild on tap;  I'm a huge fan of this obscure style of beer, so I'm hoping they will be bringing some to the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival in a couple of weeks.  Other than St. Elias Brewing Company's Marathon Mild Ale from several years ago, I'm not aware of any other Mild that has been brewed in Alaska.  So here's an official tip of my hat to Bobby Wilken and the guys at HooDoo for doing so.

Speaking of St. Elias, they have a new beer on tap, named Horseshoe Porter.  It's brewed with a bit of peated malt, giving it a nice, subtle smoked flavor.  Along with their CK Porter, it presents another nice option.  For AK Beer Week, they will be offering $5 goblets of all their specialty beers (like their award-winning Moose Juice Barley Wine) from Friday, 11 Jan thru Thursday, 17 January.

Kenai River Brewing also has a new beer on tap: Pilgrim Imperial Rye Pale Ale (P.I.R.P.A.), at 8.8% ABV.  I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but I hope to soon.  At Kassik's Brewery, they are giving away a free Bob's Pint Glass with every $10 purchase. Down at Homer Brewing Company, I believe they still have their special holiday ale Clestiale available, so get ti while it lasts.

Moving on to some beer reviews, over the holidays I had a couple more brews from Troegs Brewery, part of a shipment from a friend on the East Coast.

The first one was Dead Reckoning Porter. This beer poured opaque with a decent khaki head. The aroma was redolent of roasted malt, chocolate, and Chinook hops; very nice.  The carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was middle of the range. On the palate there was a good match between bitterness from the roasted malt and bitterness from the Chinooks; too often the flavors clash rather than compliment.  To me, this was a classic hoppy porter, with the hops coming in before the roast, then lingering after it on the finish.  Quite enjoyable.

The second beer from Troegs was their Java Head Stout.  This is an American Stout brewed with coffee, hence the name.  This beer weighs in at 7.5% ABV and also poured opaque with a nice khaki head.  The nose was a combination of coffee notes and citrusy American hops.  Carbonation was good, as was its mouthfeel.  There was no acid coffee "bite" and the citrusy hop flavors actually worked quite well with the coffee elements, which were especially evident on the finish.  Not a flavor profile that I would have expected to work, but it was actually extremely successful, making this a very nice American Stout.

Finishing up the porters, I also had a bottle of Firestone-Walker's Walker's Reserve Porter. At 5.8% ABV, this beer was actually not opaque, just very dark with some ruby highlights and a big, dense tan head.  The aroma was entirely of roast malt, and there was good carbonation, but it was a bit thin on the palate for my taste.  Roasty malt flavors lead the flavor parade, but there were also some woody notes in the background, especially towards the finish.  A nice beer, but not exceptional.

I also finally cracked open a bottle of Brux Domesticated Wild Ale, a collaboration brew between Sierra Nevada and Russian River Brewing Companies. It poured a lovely clear gold with a nice white head.  In the nose the unmistakeable aroma of brettanomyces was quite prominent. There was excellent carbonation and very light mouthfeel.  The beer was exceptionally dry, with plenty of brett flavors, though it did drop off a bit abruptly toward then end.  If you like brett in your beers (and I certainly do!) you should really enjoy Brux.

Finally, I had the bottle of Midnight Sun's Obliteration IX Double IPA that I was given during my last Anchorage trip.  The latest iteration of the series uses Citra & Saaz hops, a most atypical pairing.  It poured a lovely golden color, with a dense white head.  The nose was loaded with hop notes, from both varieties.  I had thought the brash Citra and delicate Saaz might clash, but it did not happen.  Instead, each complimented the other quite nicely.  On the palate, the 80 IBUs made itself felt, but it was still quite drinkable for such a hop bomb, clean and crisp, with some spicy, peppery rye notes. At 8% ABV, this is a big beer, but a very enjoyable one.  Another great addition to the series by Midnight Sun.

Well, that's it for this week.  I'll be back next week with all the last-minute news before AK Beer Week kicks off.

Until Next Time, Cheers!