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!

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