Thursday, April 4, 2013

Break(ing) Up Is Hard To Do

Sorry for the lack of blog activity last week and the premature posting of an unfinished blog this week; things have been more than a little busy for me.

So it's finally Break Up here in Alaska.  For those of you who live Outside, Break Up is the season in Alaska between Winter and Tourist (or Road Construction) Season.  Daytime temperatures soar into the low 40s, while nighttime temperatures still dip into the mid-20s.  These produces a wonderful thaw-freeze cycle, guaranteed to generate icy streets for morning rush hour and muddy ones for the drive home.

It's a messy, messy time to be an Alaskan, but it beats the hell out of winter.

The melting snow has also sent most craft breweries in the state into overdrive, as they try to stockpile enough beer to get them through the peak summer demand.  Forget brewing those time and labor-intensive big, barrel-aged barley wines and imperial stouts; now is the time to produce as much of their flagships beers as possible to sell to all the tourists that will soon be flocking to The Great Land.

So let's talk beer news:

Way up north in Fox (where I'm sure it's still winter), Silver Gulch Brewing Company has a cask of Pick Axe Porter on, as of last Friday, March 29th. See my review of this beer, keg version, back on 7/9/2009.  I'm sure it's even better on cask.  They also have a limited bottling run of their Northern Light Ale on sale, by the case only.  This beer is very lightly hopped with Willamettes, so it comes in at only 10 IBUs, and is described as clean and dry on the finish. 4.7% ABV.

In Fairbanks, HooDoo Brewing has four brews on tap: their German Kolsch, Belgian Saison, American IPA, and HooDoo Stout. Looks like they are continuing their growing penetration of the Fairbanks market.  We need some of your beers down here, guys!

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 49th State Brewing Company in Healy has set the date for their spring opening: Sunday, April 27th.  They have also gotten their disc golf course officially registered and will be holding a putting tournament their on June 23rd; check out this link for more details.  They will also be hosting a Sunday Market this summer; here's the flier for that:

This is the big beer weekend at Denali Brewing Company in Talkeetna that I posted about two weeks ago.  If you are there, you are almost certainly having a great time. I am not there, so that's all I've got to say about it!  However, Backcountry Magazine did select Denali's Back Country Rye Pale Ale as the best beer in the Pacific Northwest.  Read about it here.

Anchorage Brewing Company's A Deal with the Devil Barley Wine took third place at the Hard Liver Festival in Seattle on March 23rd.  They report that their Culmination Beer Festival on April 20th is completely sold out.  The long-awaited (and I do mean LONG) Darkest Hour Belgian Imperial Stout is finally in the bottle.  This beer has spent two years in used rye whiskey and French Oak Pinot Noir barrels and weighs in at a staggering 13% ABV. It should be released in about three weeks, once the beer has had a chance to bottle condition.

Midnight Sun Brewing Company has released their summer seasonal,  Meltdown Double IPA.  This also means you can find some screaming deals on their winter seasonal, CoHoHo Imperial IPA, at Country Liquors in Kenai.  Not sure if there's any left, but a week ago it was going for $6.49 a bottle, marked down from $7.99.  I loaded up!

Glacier BrewHouse has completed their remodel and is open for business again.  If you are in Anchorage, stop by and check out their new look.

King Street Brewing has been working on a barrel-aged beer, King Street Export Stout.  Aged in the wood for several months, this will be their first ever bottled beer!  Speaking of barrel-aging, last weekend, they put Forever Winter on tap at the brewery.  This is their very popular Winter Warmer, but aged in a bourbon barrel.  Very limited in supply, i.e. only one barrel's worth, this brew is only available by the glass at the brewery, so no growler fills.

Moving down to the Peninsula, Seward Brewing Company is getting ready to reopen after their long winter's nap. No opening date announced yet, but they are hiring staff and hosting a Ducks Unlimited function on April 19th, so it should be soon.

At St. Elias Brewing, Zach Henry now has a Czech Point Pils, a Bohemian pilsner brewed with German malts and Saaz hops and fermented with a Bavarian lager yeast.  I haven't had a chance to do a formal tasting yet, but the small sample I had was extremely tasty!

Out at Kassik's Brewery, they are very busy trying to build up inventory before the inevitable summer spike in demand.  To help things along, they've purchased a new keg washer and hired another brewer, Drew.  A keg washer may not sound very sexy, but trust me, if you've ever tasted beer from an improperly cleaned keg, you know just how critical it is!  This new machine is highly automated, so it ensures that everything is done properly, in the correct order, for every keg.  Here's a photo of it:

Doug Hogue at Kenai River Brewing gave Cupid an assist by seaming an engagement ring into a can of Sunken Isle IPA at the request of a bloke named Stephen, so he could use it to propose to his girlfriend, Courtney.  It seems their first date a couple of years ago was at Kenai River, so it seemed appropriate for that to be where he asked her to marry him and Doug was happy to help out.  The plan went off without a hitch on Friday March 29th.  She said yes, by the way...

Also at Kenai River, they just brewed a batch of the Wee Heavy Skilak Scottish Ale, something they do much too seldom for my taste!  Kenai River is also clearing out the cooler, so they currently have some of their Monks in the Hood Dubbel on tap, until it's gone.  See my review on 4/24/2012.

Out at Kodiak Island Brewing, Ben Millstein has put up a brand new sign.  Here's a picture of it that I "borrowed" from their Facebook page:

Looking sharp, Ben!

Finally, Alaskan Brewing Company has released their summer seasonal, their Kolsch-style Summer Ale.

Whew!  That was a lot of news to get through!  Now let's move on the reviews.

First off, I snagged a growler of Anchorage Brewing Company's Frequency IPA during my last Anchorage trip at the La Bodega growler bar.  It poured a lovely clear gold color with a nice white head that left good lacing on my glass.  The aroma was full of bright, citrusy American hops,  On the palate their was plenty of good, clean hop bitterness and hop flavor.  While he may like making funky beers, this brew shows Gabe Fletcher is perfectly capable of making an excellent, straight ahead American IPA.  Very nice.

Next, Alaskan Brewing's latest entry to their Pilot Series, their Troppelbock Imperial Doppelbock.  It poured a dark honey color with a small cream-colored head that dissipated rapidly to a collar. The aroma was strongly of caramel and sweet malt notes, which carried through to the flavor profile.  There was a touch of alcohol heat on the finish.  The beer was aged on oak chips, but I was unable to really isolate any wood elements in the bottle I tasted, but perhaps they would come through more after some time in the cellar.  At 10.6% ABV, this is one strong doppelbock.

As I reported a few weeks ago, New Belgium Brewing of Fort Collins, CO is now distributing their beers here in Alaska, and they have made it to the Kenai Peninsula.  I picked up a couple of them at Country Liquors in Kenai, their 1554 Enlightened Black Ale and their Ranger IPA.

The 1554 poured very dark with ruby highlights and a nice cream-colored head that persisted and left good lacing.  The aroma was primarily of roasted malt with some chocolate notes.  Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was in the medium range.The flavor profile had more notes of sweet malt, chocolate and roasted flavors.  5.6% ABV and very drinkable, though a bit tame for my personal tastes.

The Ranger IPA poured a clear gold with a big white head.  The nose was all American hops, very bright.  On the palate there was good carbonation and it was a very well-balanced beer, no excess bitterness, just good clean hoppiness, with a light mouthfeel.  An excellent IPA, and easy to see why it's one of New Belgium's bestsellers.

Finally, I picked up several beers from an old favorite of mine, Fuller's in London.  When I lived in London from 1998 to 2001, there were only two breweries in the city: Fuller's and Young'sYoung's closed their brewery in 2006, leaving Fuller's as the only regional brewery remaining in the city, though several micros have subsequently opened.  They brew excellent beers in the classic British styles and export several of them in bottle form to the US.  I had three different beers.

First, London Pride.  This is the bottled version of their classic bitter.  It was light copper in color, with a big, off-white head.  The nose was of traditional English hops, plus a toffee-like aroma that I associate with Fuller's house yeast.  Good carbonation, nice mouthfeel, with the nice up-front bitterness of a classic British ale, backed up by biscuity malt flavors.  Clean tasting and moreish, a classic session beer at 4.7%.  While you have to taste it on cask to truly experience it, the bottled version is still an excellent beer.

Next, Fuller's ESB, the beer that defined a style.  While here in the US, Extra Special Bitter is a style, in Britain it's the trademarked name of this beer, the first of its kind.Visually, it's similar to London Pride, though with a deeper copper color.  The aroma is also similar, though a bit more intense.  On the palate, there is superb balance between the malt and hoppiness, with a rich and delicious flavor.  Undeniably a British bitter, but a bitter on steroids, with all elements intensified.  At 5.9% ABV, it's not as sessionable as its lighter brother, but who cares?  It's a true classic.

Finally, Fuller's 1845 Ale.  First brewed in 1995 to celebrate Fuller's 150th anniversary, this beer is actually in a once popular but now nearly extinct style, a Burton Ale.  Bigger, darker and maltier than an India Pale Ale, this was the style of beer which first made Burton-On-Trent famous as a brewery town, before IPAs even came into being.  It poured a deep ruby color in the glass, with a big, cream-colored head.  The nose was primarily of malt, again with the characteristic fuity, estery notes of Fuller's house yeast.  This is a malt forward beer, but with plenty of balancing hop bitterness and some hoppiness from dry hopping, I think.  A rich, complex profile, with lots of big flavors, it is a shame that this style has fallen from popularity. 6.3% ABV.

Well, that's it for this week.  Sorry for the incomplete post, and I'll be back next week with more news and reviews.

Until Then, Cheers!

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