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!


Vernon said...

This is cool!

Amparo said...

This is cool!

Cara Membuat Jus Kulit Manggis said...

great wine festival, nice... Its very cool