Friday, February 15, 2013

Time for Some Reviews

I've fallen behind on reviewing beer books lately, so I have four new ones piled up that I need to tell you about.

First, there's Shakespeare's Pub: A Barstool History of London As Seen Through the Windows of Its Oldest Pub - The George Inn by Pete Brown.  I have reviewed Brown's previous books, most recently his Hops and Glory While that book centered around India Pale Ale, this one focuses on the George Inn, located in the Southwark neighborhood of London, a short walk from the site of the historic Globe theater.  Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens-- they all drank at the George at some point in the last six centuries.    As you'd expect from Brown, it's very well written, though the focus is less on beer than it is on the evolution of the pubs and drinking in general.

At the same time that I ordered Brown's book, I also ordered The Search for the Perfect Pub by Paul Moody and Robin Turner.  The book is a meditation on what makes for a great pub, framed by George Orwell's classic 1949 essay "The Moon Under Water", describing a perfect but -sadly- fictional pub of that name.  The authors travel around Britain, visiting various pubs and interviewing their denizens, trying to establish a composite vision of the "perfect" pub.  It reminded me a great deal of The Longest Crawl by Ian Marchant that I reviewed on 6/28/2012.  Either book is an interesting look at what makes the British pubs so unique and special.

I'm starting to see more and more books on the subject of pairing beer with food.  I think this is wonderful, as until now there was a real paucity of works on that subject.  One of the handsomest books on the subject is Beer, Food, and Flavor: A Guide to Tasting, Pairing, and the Culture of Craft Beer by Schuyler Schultz.  The author is a chef who has designed and prepared many gourmet dinners, pairing delicious dishes with exceptional beers.  The book is a lovely edition, printed on high quality paper and containing numerous photographs and reproductions of brewery logos and beer labels.  If you have an friend who is a serious foodie, whether or not they are into craft beer, this book would make an excellent gift.

Finally, there is Let Me Tell You About Beer: A Beginner's Guide to All Things Brewed . This is another book from Britain, where the author is a leading beer expert and respected international beer judge.  As the title suggests, this book assumes zero beer knowledge on the part of the reader, and does an excellent job of conveying the important concepts involved in enjoying craft beer and pairing it with good food.  It is lavishly illustrated, with colorful pictures, labels, or graphics on almost every page.  I found the writing style to be very approachable, and it was refreshing to see craft beer presented from a female perspective.  Too often, beer books seem to be written from a solely masculine point of view.  Plenty of ladies enjoy craft beer and it's heartening to see more and more of them taking pen in hand to write and blog about it.  If you have got someone you'd like to introduce to the joys of craft beer, this book is a great choice, especially if they are female.

Besides books, I also want to review a beer kit from Midwest Supplies (, an online homebrewing supply company.  In the interests of full disclosure, let me state up front that I was contacted by the company and offered a free kit of my choice if I would review it.  I agreed and chose their Partial Mash Mild Brown Ale Kit (SKU 565PD).  When the kit arrived, I checked the contents, which were:

4 lbs Domestic 2-row barley malt
8 oz carapils malt
4 oz chocolate malt
4 oz caramel 60L malt
3.3 lbs Munich malt extract
1 oz Perle hop pellets
1 oz Fuggle hop pellets
packet of priming sugar
1 packet Safale S-04 dry yeast

I brewed it up last weekend.  I found the instructions easy to follow and the ingredients to be of good quality.  Obviously I am still weeks away from being able to tell you how the beer tastes, but if there is any serious problem with it, it would have to be the fault of my brewing technique, not the kit.  The only negative I could see with this kit would be its shipping cost.  The kit itself was priced at $25.99, which is quite reasonable, given what was included.  Unfortunately, the shipping cost via USPS Priority Mail From Minneapolis to Alaska was $31.85.  This is not a criticism of Midwest Supplies, obviously, but just a fact of life for those of us who want to brew on The Last Frontier.

So thanks again to Midwest Supplies for sending me this kit, and I will report in a month or so how the finished product turned out.

Lastly, I have a new glass to review.  There's been a lot of buzz lately about the Dogfish Head-Sierra Nevada-Speiglau IPA glass collaboration project.  I have written about Speiglau glasses before; their stemmed pilsner glass is one of my go-to beer tasting glasses. Why their previous offerings have been in the traditional beer glass shapes, this new glass has been specially designed to accentuate the characteristics of a hoppy American-style IPA.  Supposedly, there were over 50 iterations before they settled on this final design.  It has the following features:

  • Thin, round walls to maintain proper temperature longer
  • A slender, bowed shape to amplify the hop nose
  • Wave-like ridges to aerate the beer on its way in and out of the glass
  • A wide mouth, allowing drinkers to comfortably nose the beer
  • A laser-etched logo on the bottom of the bowl to act as a nucleation site for good head formation 
I purchased my glass for $9 from Sierra Nevada's webstore, since they were willing to ship it Priority Mail; Dogfish Head insists on shipping 2nd Day Air to Alaska.  Since that was where I bought it, I decided it would be appropriate to test it using a Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA.

In drinking out of the glass, I found it enjoyable, but hardly a quantum leap forward.  It drinks less awkward than it looks, and it does seem to do a good job promoting head formation and retaining hop aromas, but so will a decent red wine glass.  So, if you you like to collect glasses, this one might make a nice addition, but it's nothing you can't live and enjoy good IPAs without.

In other news, Kenai River Brewing has a new release on tap.  Just in time for Valentine's Day, they are offering Pomegranate Lager, a California Lager (I'm thinking that means it's a steam beer), brewed with California pomegranates.  I got to taste a sample Tuesday evening, and found the fruit flavor to be subtle but delicious.  Definitely worth checking out, especially if you or your significant other are partial to fruit beers.

Kassik's Brewery reports they have found 15 cases of their Spiced Cream Ale.  If you want some, head over to the brewery before it's gone!

Up in Anchorage, Midnight Sun has released another new beer, a collaboration between Head Brewer  Lee Ellis and Zoe Oakley of Modern Dwellers Chocolate Lounge; it's called Modern Romance Dark Strong Chocolate Ale.  This beer is brewed with chocolate malt, roasted cacao nibs, cacao powder, brown sugar, maca powder, and Modern Dwellers' Mayan Spice blend.  Draft only, get it while it lasts.  Midnight Sun will be tapping a cask-conditioned firkin of Modern Romance, dosed with vanilla beans and more cacao nibs, at 5 PM on Friday, 22 February, in The Loft to kick off this year's Fur Rondy.

I only have one beer review this week, but it's a big one: Midnight Sun's 3000 Belgian-style Barley Wine.  We were lucky enough to get a few bottles of this monster down here on the Peninsula at Country Liquors in Kenai, so I snagged one last Saturday and drank it on Sunday.  It poured opaque with a nice, tan head that was persistent and left a nice lacing on the glass.  The nose was primarily of oak, from the barrel-aging, with some malt creeping in.  At 13.2% ABV, and 25 IBUS, this beer certainly comes in on the malty end of the malt-hops continuum, but I found it surprisingly dry on the palate, compared to say MSBC's Arctic Devil Barley Wine.  Don't get em wrong, it's still a big, chewy, sweet beer; it just seemed a little less so than some others.  The flavor profile is everything you'd expect from a big, oaked, Belgian quadruple: malt, dark fruits, woody notes, hops purely to balance, and the alcohol barely discernible.  As good as this brew is, I look forward to what several years in the cellar will do for it.  Good luck finding any bottles for sale, but if you can, get as many as you can to cellar and savor.

Well, that's about it for this week.  I may not be able to blog next week, due to some work commitments, but if I can't, I'll be back the following week with twice the news and reviews.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Someday Spring Will Come...But Not Today

Well, here we are in Alaska in February, dreaming of spring.  People are drinking bock, the classic spring beer, and wondering when it will stop snowing.  We got at least six inches this week, and there's another six forecast for the weekend.  So throw another log on the fire, crack open another bock, and dream of spring...

Bocks were the theme beer of the most recent meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society, held on Wednesday at Kenai River Brewing.  While I was there, Doug Hogue took me into the brewery to see where they had installed their brand-new 20-bbl conical fermenter.  Doug said they currently had every fermenter full, meaning that they had 110 barrels of beer in production simultaneously, which is pretty cool.  Kenai River expects to receive their new 3-head automated canning machine in a few weeks, which should allow them to can 20 barrels of beer in about 6 hours.  It will also make life easier when they start canning their third beer, Peninsula Brewers Reserve, later this year.

Speaking of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society, if you haven't renewed your 2013 membership, you're late.  Said membership entitles you to discounts at La Bodega in Anchorage and The Copper Kettle locally.  Plus Tracie Howard has put together a breweries tour for paid-up members.  The tour will be on Saturday, March 23rd, starting at 3:30 at Kenai River Brewing.  Stops will include St. Elias, Kassik's, Country Liquors, and then finishing at the Main Street Bar.  8 beers, pizza, snacks, seats in the van, door prizes, and a safe ride home are all included in the $78 price tag.  If you are interested, you can sign up on the groups Meet-Up page, by clicking here.

Tonight from 6 to 8 PM at Cafe Amsterdam, Alaska Meadery is releasing the second of its unique, high end, barrel-aged meads.  At 17% ABV, Batch #72 is made from 100% raw Tupelo honey from northern Florida and was aged in brandy barrels for six months, the received another year of bottle conditioning before release.

Also in Anchorage, King Street Brewing has expanded their hours.  They are now open Monday thru Friday from 3 to  8 PM, and Saturdays from noon to  8 PM.  They also have their second seasonal for 2013 on tap, La Dolce Vita. They describe it as a coconut chocolate porter, infused with both organic coconut and cocoa nibs to create a smooth velvety chocolate indulgence that is balanced by a subtle roasted coconut aroma and flavor.  I look forward to tasting it myself.

Finally, Country Liquors in Kenai has some bottles of Midnight Sun's 3000 Belgian-style Barley Wine on offer.  This beer won't be around long, either here or in Anchorage, so if you want to try it, this may be your only chance!

OK, let's have some reviews.

St. Elias Brewing Company has their Goat Dope Bock on offer.  I tried a pint of this last Friday.  It poured a deep honey color in the glass, with a small, cream-colored head.  The aroma was full of clean malt notes, just as you'd expect for this style.  The mouthfeel and carbonation were good, and the flavor profile was also full of clean, malty goodness.  If you are a fan of this style of malty lager, you'll find Goat Dope quite delicious.  ABV 7.2%.

Over the weekend I drank a bottle of Cuvee Van De Keizer Blauw from Brouwerij Het Anker in Belgium.  This is an 11% ABV Strong Dark Ale, recommended to me by Pamela Hatzis, the owner of La Bodega.  Just looking at the stunning label design, I knew I was in for something special, and the contents of the beautiful bottle certainly did not disappoint. It poured a deep, semi-translucent ruby color, with a small, cream-colored head.  The nose was exceptional: plums, figs, raisins, and a touch of alcohol.  Excellent mouthfeel, with a rich and highly complex flavor profile, which included sweet notes of all the dark fruits above, plus elements of pepper and spices.  All-in-all, an amazing beer and a real masterwork of the brewer's art.  If you see a bottle of this one, don't hesitate!

 Another beer I picked up from La Bodega was L'Brett d'Or Surreal Golden Sour Ale, from Crooked Stave. In my last couple of blogs, I've talked about how impressed I was by this brewery.  Well, this beer was easily the most impressive of the three from them that I've tried.  It poured a slightly cloudy gold with a small white head.  The aroma was a combination of sour and funky notes, but very bright.  Upon tasting it , the attack is amazingly sour.  The first time I tasted this beer, all I could think to say was "Wow!"  It is shatteringly sour, but still wonderfully drinkable.  After the initial sour attack, woody notes from its wine barrel aging begin to be perceived, then the brett funkiness.  You have to really like sour beers, but if you do, you will find this one to be fascinatingly complex and incredibly well built.  A wonderful beer.

Finally, I picked up a bottle of Medvejie Stout from Baranof Island Brewing at Country Liquors. This Sitka-based brewery has just recently begun bottling and I believe this is the first time its product has made it to the Kenai.  It poured totally opaque with a small but persistent tan head that left nice lacing on the glass.  The aroma was mostly of roasted malt, but there was a touch of sweetness in the background.  A nice roasted malt attack, with good mouthfeel and fine balance, dropping off gradually to a fine finish.  A very nice American Stout, worth seeking out.

Well, that's about it for this week.  I'll be back next week with more news and reviews.  I hope you all have a Happy Mardi Gras and Happy Valentine's Day.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, February 1, 2013

One Weird Winter

Well, our weird winter weather continues.  The last couple of days, it's been fog, with occasional freezing or ice fog thrown in for variety.  Darwin has been hard at work improving the breed of drivers on the Sterling and Seward Highways, as people who can't grasp that you can't drive 55+ on iced roads are reintroduced to the laws of physics the hard way.

All that makes it a nice time to minimize your road exposure and fort up at home with a nice beer in hand.  And what better beer for that than an American classic, the 2013 edition of Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot Barley Wine?  It's on the shelves at Country Liquors in Kenai, where I picked up two 4-packs last Saturday.  Yes, it now comes in 4-packs rather than 6-packs.  What else is there to say about the beer that pretty much created the American-style barley wine?  Go get yourself some.

Speaking of barley wines,  Midnight Sun has released their 3000 Belgian-style Barley Wine and this year's Arctic Devil Barley Wine, and bottles seem to be flying off the shelves in Anchorage (and straight into beer geeks' cellars or beer traders' "Got" lists), so if you plan to acquire either of these, you'd better act fast.  Midnight Sun also had a very successful beer dinner at Jack Sprats in Girdwood at 6:30 on Wednesday night; judging by the photos I've seen, they had some absolutely fantastic food.

Over at Anchorage Brewing Company, Gabe Fletcher has continued to make news.  In my last blog, I mentioned that he was planning a beer festival for late April.  Well, a date has now been set: Saturday, April 20th, at the Dena'ina Center.  so mark your calendars.  Not sure when tickets will go on-sale, but according to Jim "Dr. Fermento" Robert's latest Anchorage Press column, over 25 breweries have already expressed an interest.  Imagine the chance to sample not-available-in-Alaska beers from the likes of Pizza Port (Southern California), Hill Farmstead Brewery (Greensboro, Vermont), Cascade Barrel House (Portland, Oregon), Jester King (Austin, Texas), Sante Andairius Rustic Ales (Santa Cruz, California), Three Floyds Brewing (Munster, Indiana), Lawson’s Finest Liquids (Warren, Vermont), Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery (Athens, Ohio), Upright Brewing (Portland), Cigar City Brewery (Tampa, Florida), and Founders Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, Michigan).  Oh, and you'll be sampling them from a custom-made glass, shipped in just for the festival.  Cheap at the $100 price.  In fact, my biggest worry is that all 300 tickets might sell out before I get a shot at buying one...

The other news from Anchorage Brewing Company is that perhaps I was closer to the mark than I knew last week when I jokingly suggested that Gabe might have made a deal with the Devil (a la Robert Johnson), for the ability to brew such an amazing beer as his prize-winning 17.3% barley wine.  Apparently, Gabe has announced the official name for it: A Deal with the Devil.  I have to admit I'm more than a little tickled, especially when I think how this beer is going to tear up the competition at Toronado in SF and Hard Liver in Seattle.  Here's to the Devil!

Further afield, Alaskan Brewing is earning tons of good publicity (not to mention saving lots of bucks) with their new spent-grain-fired steam boiler.  Given their isolated location, Alaskan has always had to spend money drying their spent grains and then barging them to the Lower 48, rather than just trucking them off to be used as animal feed, as is done here on the Peninsula and up in Anchorage.  Now they have installed a new boiler that burns the dried spent grain, providing enough heat not only to dry the grain but also to significantly reduce the overall energy usage at the brewery.  Just another example of brewers doing this right on The Last Frontier!

Up north, Silver Gulch Brewing Company has announced the date for this year's Golden Days Beer Festival in Fox.  It will take place on Saturday, July 13th.  I have not yet made it to this particular festival, though I've heard great things.  Perhaps 2013 will be the year.  And I can't remember if I've mentioned that there is now a Silver Gulch outlet at Anchorage International Airport, on Concourse C.  You can even buy a sealed growler to take with you (but not drink) on the plane!  How cool is that?

Silver Gulch also has The Weird Beard, their newest barley wine, on tap. With 9.5% ABV & 90 IBU’s, they describe it as: " An American Barley Wine aged in Zinfandel French oak barrels. Malty sweetness compliments the vanilla flavor from the oak and high hop addition of Galaxy and Pacific Northwest hops."

Also up north, HooDoo Brewing has been doing their part for education, by having a beer tasting last night at The Pub on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  A great idea and the perfect venue to spread the gospel of good craft beer! 

Closer to home, here on the Peninsula, St. Elias Brewing Company has revised their tap list again.  Cuvee Rouge at 8.85% ABV is now on tap.  I got to taste this barrel-aged Belgian Strong Ale at the GABBF and liked it quite a lot.  The CK Porter has gone the way of all flesh, unfortunately, but it has been replaced by GoatDope Bock, a 7.2% malty lager.  Here's how they describe it: "Traditionally Bock beer is brewed in the fall season when hops and barley are at their best. It would then age throughout the winter season and then be offered up for tasting in the spring. Bock beer has long been associated with the image of a goat and this could simply be due to the fact that the literal translation of the word “Bock” is “Goat”. Goat Dope is a Maibock, Brewed with European malts giving a rich malty character and a deep honey color. Hopped with German hops lending a crisp dry finish."  I haven't tasted it yet myself, but plan to soon.

OK, let's do some beer reviews.

First, while in Anchorage for AK Beer Week, I saw a beer at La Bodega that I had not seen for several years: Leifman's Goudenband, a Flemish Brown Ale.  In fact, it is THE Flemish Brown Ale, the classic beer of this rather rare style.  Young beer (four months old) is blended with beer two or three times that age, bottled and primed with invert sugar, then left to condition in the brewery's cellar.  The result is a classic Belgian beer style.

It poured a deep tawny port color, with a nice nice cream-colored head.  Based on the cork date, this was a 2011 bottling.  The nose was complex with both sour notes and hints of caramel sweetness; very unusual.  Tart attack, suggesting almost sour cherries, followed by some woody notes, malt elements, and a slight metallic taste on the very dry finish.  8.0% ABV. An exceptional example of a classic beer.  I think I'll try to pick up another bottle to cellar for a few years.

Next, I had a bottle of Harviestoun Brewery's Old Engine Oil Engineer's Reserve Blackest Ale.  I've had lighter versions of this beer from this Scottish brewery before, including some aged in Highland Park Whisky barrels.  This time round, they've pulled out all the stops, producing a 9% Old Ale.It poured totally opaque with a nice tan head.  The aroma was certainly full of roast malt elements, plus some chocolate, dark fruits, and perhaps even a hint of smoke; very complex and enticing.  On the palate it was quite chewy, with more chocolate, smoke, and dark fruit.  the alcohol is not apparent at all, making it quite easy drinking for such a big beer.  Toward the close I thought I picked up some earthiness from the Fuggles used.  Another deeply complex brew, demanding plenty of concentration and contemplation from the drinker.

Finally, last week I mentioned Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project had begun to distribute in Alaska.  I had a bottle of their Saison Vielle Artisanal.  It poured a slightly hazy gold with a dense white head, a classic saison in appearance.  However, the nose immediately tells you that Mr. Brett is in the house, with a huge funky, barnyard tartness.  Very appealing if you like brett as much as I do.  On the palate there was great carbonation and a nice effervescent quality.  A refreshing tartness, plus elements of tropical fruit, likely from the yeast.  Quite dry, with a little bit of hop flavor slipping in towards the finish.  Very unusual and masterfully brewed.  I said it last week and I will say it again:  If brett and/or sour beers are your thing, you really need to seek out this brewery!

Well, that's about it for this week.  Gentlemen, don't forget to get your Valentine's Day plans in line; If you're in Anchorage and looking for dining options, I believe both Glacier BrewHouse and Snow Goose will be having special dinners for the holiday.

Until Next Time, Cheers!