Friday, June 28, 2013

Losing Daylight

Well, the Summer Solstice has passed, and we are once more losing daylight, and, as the Starks would say on Game of Thrones: "Winter is Coming".  But we've still got lots of summer before we have to start worrying about that, so let's eat, drink, and be merry while we can!

Speaking of being merry, tickets for the 3rd Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival should be on sale by this weekend at Kassik's Brewery, Kenai River Brewing, St. Elias Brewing, and Seward Brewing Company.  If you're in Anchorage, try La Bodega to pick up yours.  I strongly recommend you buy tickets in advance, as the festival gets better attended every year, so there's no telling how many they might have left to sell at the door this time round.  They're up to fifteen breweries in attendance this year, plus lots of other beers being poured by Odom and Specialty Imports.  Also tons of good food and good music.  Don't miss it!

One of the breweries in attendance will be HooDoo Brewing Company of Fairbanks.  They have just released a weissebeer, made with a real Bavarian yeast strain.  Look for lots of banana, cloves, and even bubble gum flavors in this one, all produced by this unique yeast.  A real summer thirst quencher, perfect for the Fairbanks summer heat.

I hear Midnight Sun has a couple of new brews, one on offer already and one coming soon.  Pleasuretown IPA is a standard or "single" IPA, brewed with plenty of citrusy hops, great for enjoying in the sun on MSBC's deck.  The have also brewed an as-yet-unnamed IPA with and for the Brown Jug Warehouse team.  It will be only available at their growler bar and at The Loft. Brewed with Columbus, Chinook, Citra and Pacifica hops, then dry hopped with Citra and Centennial, this IPA will need a name, and Brown Jug has decided to make a contest of it.  There's nothing on their website yet, but the details will be coming up there soon.  Basically, you will email in your name idea, and if your name is chosen you win a $500 gift card to Brown Jug. That's like a year of growler fills, if you are a moderate imbiber. Or one heck of a party! The beer will be delivered on Monday to their growler bar locations just in time for Fourth of July festivities.

At Denali Brewing, they have three new 120-barrel conical fermenters in service, which is always good news.  Plus, cans of their Twister Creek IPA and Single Engine Red Ale are now on offer at the Alaska Lodge in Sea-Tac Airport.  So if you're craving a good beer on your way to or from our fair state, you know where you can find it.

By all accounts the Solstice Brewfest at 49th State Brewing in Healy was a great success, and they are keeping the action going with nightly specials.  I should be there myself in a couple of weeks, and I'm really looking forward to it!

Over at Anchorage Brewing Company, they were bottling Batch #3 of their Bitter Monk DIPA (reviewed 10/12/2011) earlier this week, so once it bottle-conditions, we should be seeing it on the shelves.  The Arctic Saison, which they brewed in collaboration with Hill Farmstead Brewing (see my 5/22/2013 blog), has now been released and has been chosen as a Beer of the Month Club selection.  I believe it's on the shelves in Anchorage, so if you like funky saisons, you should definitely grab a bottle or two.

Here on the Peninsula, the brewers are all running as fast as they can, just to keep up with the summer demand.  At St. Elias Brewing, the Melvinator Helles and Chainsaw Logger are long gone, though this year's version of Sunfire Saison has taken their place.  The time around, Zach decided to use the Brasserie Dupont saison yeast strain.  The word amongst homebrewers is that this particular strain is tricky to use, but Zach reports he had no troubles.  The result is a saison noticeably drier and slightly hoppier that its predecessors by the same name.  Very nice, so get it while it lasts!.

OK, let's do some reviews.  I've been mighty light on them for the last couple of blogs, so let's make up for that, shall we?

First up, Sun of a Beak, a collaboration barley wine from Midnight Sun and Black Raven Brewing Company of Redmond, WA.  The beer was brewed with molasses, birch syrup, and toasted coconut, and weighed in at 8.3% ABV, 52 IBUs.  It poured opaque, with a big, tan head.  The aroma had toasty, roasty, and sweet notes, On the palate there were the same flavors plus some bourbon and wood notes from the barrel aging, but no discernible (at least by my palate) coconut.  This was OK by  me (I don't like coconut!) but several other on-line beer reviewers were disappointed by its absence.  At only 8.3%, it quite drinkable for a barley wine.

Moving on to New Belgium Brewing Company, the first beer from them is their Rampant Imperial IPA. It poured a deep, clear gold with a dig, dense white head.  Very enticing.  The nose was full of bright American hops, with plenty of resiny and citrusy notes.  There was plenty of good bitterness in the initial attack, as you'd expect, followed by lots of good, clean hop flavors and aroma.  Dangerously drinkable for an imperial IPA, it's 8.5% ABV could easily sneak up on you.  I also found it curious that it's priced the same in our local stores as it's less hoppy & less alcoholic sibling, Ranger IPA.  Worth seeking out.

The second brew from New Belgium is a new American classic, this year's version of their La Folie Sour Brown Ale, a member of their Lips of Faith series.  One of the first sour ales ever brewed in the US, this is a beer I've always wanted to try.  It poured a deep, translucent ruby, with a nice cream-colored head.  The aroma was a pleasant sourness with lots of malty back notes.  There was a serious sour attack, with good mouthfeel and good carbonation.  I could detect none of the wood-aging (other than the sourness itself), and I thought the finish was a bit lackluster, but overall a very nice sour brown, reminiscent of the classic Leifman's Goudenband Brown Ale that was its inspiration. 7% ABV.

I also had another of the Lips of Faith series from New Belgium, Heavenly Feijoa Tripel, brewed in collaboration with Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel of Montreal.  I will admit that I had to use Google to see just what a feijoa was.  Here's a picture of its fruit and flowers:

So what would it be like, used in a 9% ABV  tripel?  The beer poured a clear gold with a small, white head. The aroma had the earthy, spicy notes of a Belgian yeast, plus some tart, citrus notes from fruit.  On the palate, it seemed the tart fruit notes came through more strongly than the spicy yeast flavors, a reversal from the nose.  I typically am not taken by fruit beers, but this one was pretty good, actually.  Not sure I'd buy another, but I'm happy I tried it.  And now I know what a feijoa looks like...

A friend brought me back a bottle of Winema Wit from the Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City, Oregon.  It poured a cloudy gold with a nice, white head.  The aroma was classic wit: orange peel and coriander.  One the palate it was nice and refreshing, with good carbonation and a light mouthfeel, plus good, clean flavors.  A very nice wit, and the perfect beer to enjoy on a hot summer afternoon. 5.1% ABV, 18 IBUs.

Speaking of hot summer afternoons, weekend before last I came in hot and sweaty from a hike.  After a shower, I was looking for a refreshing beer to drink while I grilled up some steaks for supper, and I selected an Origins Burgundy Sour Ale from Crooked Stave.  It was an inspired choice! It poured a dark ruby with a nice bream-colored head.  The nose had some tartness and some wood, which were replicated on the palate: sour, oaky, refreshing and revitalizing!  Just want I wanted after a long, hot hike.  I can't think of a recent time when the beer in my hand better matched my mood and what I wanted to be drinking.  Excellent brew, like everything else from Crooked Stave.  6.5% ABV.

Last, but certainly not least, Darkest Hour Belgian-style Imperial Stout from Anchorage Brewing Company.  This beer has been a very long time in coming, but trust me, it was worth the wait.  Aged in French oak pinot noir and rye whisky barrels, this is a 13% ABV , 40 IBU heavy weight.  It poured opaque with a nice, persistent mocha colored head.  The nose had lots of whisky and wood notes, mixed in with the roasted barley and malty sweetness - very rich and complex.  On the tongue, it was more of the same, with a thick, chewy mouthfeel surrounding notes of dark fruit, chocolate, roasted coffee, oak, whisky, and wine, all in an intricate and complex dance across your taste buds.  The finish is long and slow, with some alcohol heat at the end.  This is a superb beer, one deserving of being savored in small glasses between a group of appreciative friends.  When I tasted it for this review, I was drinking alone and feeling almost guilty for keeping it to myself.  Seek it out at all costs.

Well, that's about it for this week's blog.  Next week's may be a bit late, what with the 4th of July holiday and all.  While you wait, get out and enjoy this summer weather while it lasts.  After all, we're losing daylight...

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Breaking News: Radio Talk Show on Beer!

Some breaking news:  I'll be one of the guests on tomorrow's Coffee Table on KDLL 91.9 FM/KBBI 890 AM, along with Zach Henry from St. Elias Brewing Company, and representatives from Homer Brewing Company and the Bear Creek Winery.  We'll be talking about the brewing and wine making on the Peninsula.  The show will be broadcast from 9 am to 10 am tomorrow, Wednesday, June 26th. Should be a lot of fun, so tune in if you can!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Basking in the Summer Sun

The warm spell continues here on the Kenai Peninsula and across most of the state.  Perhaps this is
Send more tourists!
our karmic reward for a long, cold winter and a miserable spring?  Whatever the reason, it's very enjoyable.  The only fly in the ointment -- pardon the pun -- is our bumper crop of mosquitoes.  Growing up in New Orleans, I thought I'd seen my share of bugs, but I'll be the first one to say that the Alaska mosquito takes the prize.  We've got no ticks or fleas up here, so the mosquitoes have to do triple blood-sucking duty, and they do it with relish.

Moving on to happier thoughts, we had the Kenai River Festival last weekend in Soldotna.  Given the exceptionally fine weather, attendance was phenomenal, as was the business at the beer  tent.  Both Kenai River Brewing and Kassik's Brewery were pouring a rotating selection of their brews.  By early Saturday evening, supplies were running so low that Kenai River brought in their Sunday beer allotment as well, but even so by 9:30 pm both breweries had completely sold out of beer!  On Sunday Kassik's was able to bring in their Sunday allotment, so the tent was able to reopen.  Quite a testament to the quality of our local brews and how much we like them!

(And before you ask, no, I did not play a big role in the sales. I only had one pint Saturday evening.)

More festival news.  The flier for the 3rd Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival has been released.  Here it is:
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I want to call your particular attention to the list of breweries at the bottom.  Notice how much bigger it is than last year's?  The word is out about what a good fest we have down here, and brewers all across the state are making plans to attend.  So mark your calendars for Saturday, August 10th; it's going to be a great time!

In my last blog, I mentioned the Solstice Beer Fest taking place up in Healy next weekend.  Here's a more informative flier for that one:

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I also mentioned the beer dinner taking place at 49th State Brewing Company next Wednesday.  Here's the menu for that event:

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What an amazing menu; it's making my mouth water just to read it!

I wrote back on 5/22 about foudres being delivered to Anchorage Brewing Company.  If you've ever wondered how those big wooden vessels make it into the Brett Cave, the answer is this: one stave at a time!  Their Facebook page has a nice series of photos, showing the dis-assembly and reassembly of the foudres. Very interesting stuff!

Father's Day is this Sunday, and both HooDoo Brewing Company and Midnight Sun Brewing Company are offering special package deals on their beers & logo'd stuff.  If you're in either Fairbanks or Anchorage and are stuck for a gift, check them out.

Midnight Sun has also released a new collaboration brew, Joan of Arctic.  It's the joint project of Chelsea from MSBC and Jessica Gilman from Stone Brewing Company in San Diego. It's brewed with rhubarb and wild flower honey.

Glacier BrewHouse is hosting another blood drive next Friday, June 21.  They're offering a free appetizer and a pint glass (filled with root beer) to every donor.  Here's the flier for that:

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Arkose Brewery in Palmer will be having another of their excellent Beer Meets Chocolate events in two weeks.  Here's the flier for it:

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These events always sell out, so make your reservations well in advance!

The long-awaited 3rd canned beer from Kenai River Brewing is now a reality.  Peninsula Brewer's Reserve (aka PBR) is now available in cans.  In Anchorage it's now on sale at the Brown Jug Warehouse at Tudor and Old Seward, and will soon be making it's appearance in other locations where fine beer is sold.  It's a great beer to drink cold on a hot summer's day.

I finally made it into St. Elias Brewing Company last Monday evening.  Unfortunately, owner Zach Henry was not around, so I could not pick his brain for detailed information on current and upcoming releases, but I did get to try his new Chainsaw Logger Lager.  It's one of the newest brews on the menu, along with the Melvinator Helles Lager and returning summer-time favorites Island Girl Raspberry Kolsch and Hefeweizen.

Chainsaw Logger poured a deep gold color, with a nice white head.  The aroma was laced with American hops; you won't mistake this beer for some Euro-lager, I can guarantee that.  On the palate the carbonation was good and the flavors were very clean, as you'd expect from a lager.  There's respectable but not overwhelming bitterness up front, then a good, clean malt flavor plus enough hop flavor for balance, dropping off to a nice clean finish.  Wonderfully drinkable and a great match for the pizza I had it with.  It made me think of what a pre-Prohibition American lager might have been like, if they had made them with today's varieties of American hops.  Did I mention it's served in 20 oz glasses?  Tasty!

I had planned to write up a lot more reviews for this blog, but I'm a bit short on time (as usual).  So look for even more reviews than normal next week.  Until then, get out and enjoy some the wonderful sunshine and warm temperatures.  After all, Winter Is Coming...

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Summer At Last!

After what seems like two winters, it's finally summer here on the Peninsula.  Skies are clear and blue (mostly) and temperatures are upwards of 70 F (usually).  I'm busy and behind on this blog (typically), but I got lots of news and beer reviews, so let's get going (finally)!

One of the reasons I'm late with this blog is that I was writing an article for Alaska Magazine on Homegrown Beer & Wine.  Assuming my editor likes it, look for it in their November issue.

Silver Gulch Brewing will be having their annual Golden Days Beer Festival in Fox on Saturday, July 13th.  I'm planning to make this one, so if you're attending as well, look for me. Admission is $20 and get you 10 samples. Tickets are available at the gate or in advance at The Beer Store.  Call 907-452-2739 for more information.

Glen Brady from Silver Gulch will also be offering a couple of short course at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival later in July.  On July 23rd from 1 to 5 PM he'll teach you How to Improve Your Homebrew and on July 25th from 1 to 5 PM he'll lecture on the Pairing of Food and Beer.  Click on the links for prices and registration info.

Finally, Silver Gulch has a new brew on tap, or rather  an old brew back on tap, called Lowbush, a Cranberry Belgian Saison.  Here's how they describe it:

"A Belgian saison flavored with cranberries. Pilsen, Munich and Vienna malts are combined with Styrian Golding hops to give a delicate bittering, while spicy/peppery notes compliment the dry, tart, fruity brew."  5.6% ABV, 28 IBUs."

At HooDoo Brewing in Fairbanks,  they will be holding a Fairbanks First Friday event at the brewery from 3 to 8 PM today, June 7.  You can find more info here.  Their Maibock is tapped out, so currently your choices are their Kolsch, Stout, or IPA on tap.

I can't even begin to keep up with all the events/music/food deals going on at 49th State Brewing in Healy.  Everyday, I see a new one on their Facebook page, like their $5 Blonde and Burger deal on their Late Night Menu, or $9.95 all-you-can-eat ribs late on Wednesday nights.  If you are going to be in the Healy area at all this summer, you definitely need to check out this page and see what's happening there.  Plus they will be holding a Summer Solstice Brew Fest on June 21-22.  There will also be some lead in events earlier in that week, such as Beer Chats at Prospectors Pizzeria from 4-5pm on June 17th-20th and beer dinners at 49th State Brewing on the 20th and 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern on the 19th.  I don't have any details on the cost, but if you'll be in Healy around the Solstice, I'd call the brewery for details.

Also on Saturday, July 13th, Denali Brewing will be celebrating their anniversary.  I don't have any details yet, but I'm sure it will be a great time and worth checking out if you happen to be in Talkeetna that weekend.

This weekend is Colony Days up in the Valley, and Arkose Brewery is a big part of it. They have brewed New Colony Hefeweizen in celebration.  The celebration runs June 7, 8, & 9. Next weekend on June 14th, is Business & Industry Day in Wasilla; Arkose beers will be on tap at the Beer Garden of that event.

In Anchorage, La Bodega will be having a meeting of their Beer Club on June 18th from 4 to 6 pm at Hula Hands Restaurant. Admission for current members is free, or you can sign up for three months membership or just pay $10.  They will be tasting the new 8th Trappist beer, from St. Engelzell Brewery in Austria and The Bruery's Tradewinds Tripel and Saison Rue beers.  There will also be Hawaiian food plates available for order.  If you plan to attend, please RSVP to La Bodega at 569-3800.  La Bodega also has new summer hours; they're now open from 10 am to 10 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

King Street Brewing has a new beer on tap.  Following their theme of the Year of Good and Evil, this one is named Devil's Moon.  It's a German-style helles lager, which should be delicious as we move into warmer summer weather.  Also, the Wheel Good Food Truck will be outside the brewery from 4 to 8 pm today.  Check out their menu here.

Midnight Sun Brewing Company has another First Firkin Friday tonight at 5 PM.  Artist Scott Clendaniel will be opening his June show at The Loft and the firkin will be Second Hand Smoke "Small" Smoked Stout, cask conditioned with cherries.  I had a sample of this brew, made from the second runnings from a batch of their Barfly Smoked Imperial Stout, back on Thursday, May 23rd.  I was heartbroken that they were only selling it by the glass and not by the growler; it was that good.

Glacier BrewHouse is encouraging folks to make Father's Day reservations there, with the slogan: "The last thing dad needs in another tie!"

 Broken Tooth Brewing and Midnight Sun Brewing Company have released their new collaboration IPA, Parallel Vines. Sean Heyer represented Broken Tooth and Davey Cacey represented Midnight Sun in the brewing process.  No details on the brew itself yet, but I'm sure it's good.

Here on the Peninsula, Seward Brewing Company has expanded their hours, now opening at 11:30 am until 9 pm.  Stop by and have a great burger for lunch!

At Kenai River Brewing Company, they have finished their first canning run of Peninsula Brewers Reserve (PBR).  Look for cans to appear in stores in a week or two, once they've had time to condition.

I haven't had the chance to stop in at St. Elias Brewing Company for several weeks, but I see they have three new brews on tap.  Island Girl Ale is back again, so it must be summer for sure; see my review on 6/15/2010.  The Melvinator is on tap; I believe it is a Bavarian-style Helles Lager.  There's also something called Chainsaw Logger; your guess as to style is as good as mine.

Finally, this weekend is the Kenai River Fest at Soldotna Creek Park.  There will be a beer garden, pouring both Kenai River Brewing and Kassik's Brewery beers.  My wife will have a booth at the festival, selling her photographic images, and I'll also be selling and signing our book, Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island Breweries (Beer on the Last Frontier: The Craft Breweries of Alaska) (Volume 1) .  Feel free to stop by and get your copy signed, if you haven't already.

OK, let's go to beer reviews.  I've got a bunch this time, many of them leftovers from The Culmination Beer Festival.

We'll start with some beers from Lawson's Finest Liquids, a tiny craft brewery in Warren, Vermont.  I'd had a slight acquaintance with their beers before, thanks to picking up a collaboration beer they did with The Bruery, Acer Quercus (see my 6/14/2012 review).  I was thoroughly impressed by it, so I was eager to try more of their stuff.  I was able to get three different beers from them.

First was their Double Sunshine IPA, at 8% ABV.  It poured a slightly cloudy gold with a big white head.  The aroma was all citrus and tropical fruit from lots of American hops, very appealing.  There was good bitterness up front and it persisted through the finish. Plenty of nice hop aroma and flavor, but balanced by the sturdy malt backbone.  A top-notch Double IPA.

Next I opened a bottle of their Fayston Maple Imperial Stout, at 10.1% ABV.   It poured opaque with a big tan head, a gorgeous-looking beer.  The nose was everything you'd look for in an imperial stout: full of big roasted coffee notes, plus some sweet elements from the maple syrup.  It's was incredibly rich and chewy on the palate, the sort of mouthfeel that you long for in a big beer like this.  The flavor profile was classic big roasty flavors, with some added sweetness, slowly falling away to a long, lingering finish.  Absolutely exceptional; one of the best imperial stouts I've ever had the pleasure of drinking.

Finally, I had a bottle of their Toast Black IPA, at 5.9% ABV.  This is what I'd consider a true Black IPA, as opposed to a hoppy porter.  By that I mean it has zero roasted flavors; it achieves its black color without adding anything to the standard IPA flavor profile.  It poured very dark but with some ruby highlights and a big khaki head.  The aroma is bursting with American hops,  The bitterness was good, but not overwhelming; this isn't a West Coast hop bomb.  Carbonation is nice and the hop flavor is good.  A nice solid IPA, that just happens to be as black as midnight!

In conclusion, judging by the four of their brews that I've been able to try, I have to say that Lawson's Finest Liquids is an exceptional craft brewery.  I hope I get the chance to visit them someday, and if you are lucky enough to see anything they brew for say, I'd recommend you snap it up!

Moving on from Lawson's, I had a beer from another East Coast brewery: Smoked Porter from Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in Elmsford, New York.  This is another brewery which I had read about but never had the opportunity to try.  The Smoked Porter poured opaque with a big mocha-colored head.  The nose had plenty of smoke, naturally, backed up with malty notes.  Mouthfeel was light, with the smoke leading the attack, before falling away to a nice finish.  Overall, it reminded me on the German smoked beers of Bamberg more than a more robust smoked porter like Alaskan Brewing Company's.  I'd say it's a bit more drinkable fresh than Alaskan's Smoked Porter is, but much less likely to age well.  Definitely a quality beer.

I also managed to obtain a couple of bottles of Anchorage Brewing Company's latest releases,
thanks to happening to be in Anchorage on May 23rd, when they hit La Bodega (Thanks, Pamela!).  The first one I tried was Anadromous Black Sour Ale, 8.5% ABV and 30 IBUs, which was brewed with brettanomyces, pedioccocus, and lactobacillus.  It was then aged in over 40 French pinot noir wine barrels before being blended and bottle-conditioned.  The beer poured opaque with a small tan head.  The aroma is rich and slightly tart, with a touch of dark fruit; no brett funkiness, at least at this stage, but some oak elements present.  Not super sour at first taste, pleasant tartness and more oak, with medium mouthfeel and moderate carbonation.  It defintely reminded me of another beer.  It took a few moments to pull it from the old memory bank, but then I had it: Midnight Sun's Cafe Amsterdam 10th Anniversary Dark Strong Gruit. I first reviewed that hop-less brew on 5/18/2009, then again on 6/1/2010, at which point it had soured considerably.  Anadromous reminded me of that aged, more-soured version. So the next question is this: what will several months in the cellar do to its flavor profile?  I'll let you know.

The second beer is technically a beer from Mikkeller, rather than Anchorage Brewing Company, albeit that it was brewed and bottled at ABC: AK Alive Alaskan Wild Ale. It poured a deep orange-gold with a big white head. The aroma has some spicy yeast notes and some hops; nothing overwhelming.  Great carbonation, light mouthfeel.  There's good hoppiness on the attack, then some yeast spiciness on the back end, falling away to a nice, long finish.  Extremely drinkable; you'd never guess this brew is 8% ABV.  Be a wonderful beer to sample sitting in the summer sunshine on my patio.

I think I'll wrap things up here, and save some reviews for next week.  Remember, if you're at the Kenai River Fest in Soldotna this weekend, stop by and say hello.

Until Next Time, Cheers!