Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Fermented Affair Radio Interview

A few weeks ago, I did an interview with A Fermented Affair, a blog-radio program out of Colorado.  They have posted it, so if you like to listen, click here.

The Alaska Six-Pack

Some of you may have heard of the Six-Pack Project, the brainchild of Bryan Roth, who write This Is Why I'm Drunk.  Bryan had the idea of having a blogger from each of the fifty states come up with the ultimate six-pack of craft beers from their state and write it up in their respective blogs, and then link each blog to an archive, which you can find by clicking on the link above.

Of course there are some rules to guide the selection.  Here they are:
  • Must pick a six-pack of beers that you feel best represent your state and/or state's beer culture
  • Beer must be made in your state, but "gypsy" brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state
  • Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include
  • Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred. (ideally that could be another post)
As you can see, right off the bat this eliminates some great breweries/brewpubs, since they don't can or bottle their beer.  No St. Elias Brewing Company, Homer Brewing Company, Seward Brewing Company, Glacier BrewHouse, Sleeping Lady Brewing Company, Arkose Brewery, Last Frontier Brewing Company, 49th State Brewing Company, HooDoo Brewing Company, Haines Brewing Company, Kodiak Island Brewing Company, or Skagway Brewing Company beers could be considered.

So that leaves the following ten breweries to consider for six slots:

  • Anchorage Brewing Company
  • Alaskan Brewing Company
  • Baranof Island Brewing Company
  • Broken Tooth Brewing Company
  • Denali Brewing Company
  • Kassik's Brewery
  • Kenai River Brewing Company
  • King Street Brewing Company
  • Midnight Sun Brewing Company
  • Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Company

Ten breweries but only six slots: this was a tough call and reasonable minds can disagree (and probably will).  But here's my take on the quintessential six-pack for Alaska:

Alaskan Brewing Company's Smoked Porter

Any list of great beers from Alaska has to start with the brew, the winner of more medals at the Great American Beer Festival than any other beer and the product of the oldest craft brewery in the state. First brewed in 1988, Smoked Porter is released each year around 1 November in 22 oz bombers and vintage dated, this is the grand-daddy of all American smoked beers.  While the new vintage is released each year, the current vintage is on-sale pretty much year-round, so it passes the seasonal test.

The malt used in the brew is smoked over alder the Taku Smokehouse, which is also owned by Alaskan Brewing.  It pours opaque with nice tan head that leaves good lacing.  The aroma is full of heavy smoke and highly roasted, almost charcoal-like malt.  On the palate it's smooth and full-bodied, with lots of roasted grain flavors to balance the smoke and hop bitterness.  It falls away to a long, dry and slightly astringent finish. If you haven't tried this beer yet, you are missing out on not just an Alaskan but an American craft beer classic.

Midnight Sun Brewing Company's Arctic Devil Barley Wine

I could have selected any number of great brews from Midnight Sun, Anchorage's oldest brewery, for this project.  I was very tempted to us their their infamous fall seasonal, Berserker Imperial Stout.  But if there's one thing Alaska is famous for, it's the quality of our barley wines, and Midnight Sun makes one of the absolute best.  Arctic Devil is released each January in 22 oz bombers to coincide with the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival.  I may be stretching the seasonal rules a bit here, but I just can't bring myself to submit a six-pack without a barley wine in it!

Here's my review of the 2013 vintage: It pours a dark honey color with ruby highlights and a small, cream-colored head that dissipates quickly to a collar.  The aroma is strong in malt, woody notes, and a touch of alcohol heat.  The flavor profile is deep and complex, with notes of brown sugar, molasses, toffee, oak, and some alcohol heat on the long, rich finish.   Once again, this is easily one of the best barley wines on the market.  Delicious now, but fully capable of being cellared for years, if your like English-style barley wines, how can you pass this one up? 13.4% ABV and 20 IBUs.

Anchorage Brewing Company's Love Buzz Saison

Gabe Fletcher is probably the best known brewmaster in Alaska.  After a long and famously successful stint as the brewmaster for Midnight Sun Brewing Company, he decided to establish his own brewery in 2010.  The Anchorage Brewing Company's motto is "Where brewing is an art and Brettanomyces is king," so that gives you an idea of the sort of beers he's looking to make now.  His most popular beer is probably his Bitter Monk Double IPA, but personally, I think his Love Buzz Saison, available in 750ml corked and caged bottles, is his best regularly available brew.

Love Buzz pours a deep, slightly cloudy gold, with a big, rocky white head. Citra hop aroma is present in the nose, which is not surprising since this beer is also dry-hopped with that variety.  There are also the earthy, spicy notes that are typical of Belgian yeasts, especially saison yeasts.  The carbonation is excellent, and the flavor profile is complex, with citrus-like hops, rose hips, orange peels, and peppercorns all making their presence felt, as well as the ubiquitous oak and brett barnyard elements.  Give it time in the cellar and the brett elements become even more prevalent and the beer dries out even further. 8% ABV and 40 IBUs.

Kenai River Brewing Company's Skilak Scottish Ale

When Doug Hogue of Kenai River Brewing Company made the decision to start canning his flagship Skilak Scottish Ale in late 2010, he was breaking new trail for the rest of the breweries in Alaska.  Since then, four other breweries have followed his lead, and more are rumored to be considering it.  Canned craft beer has proved to be extremely popular in Alaska, and in the years since they first released Skilak Scottish Ale in cans, the folks at Kenai River have added two more beers to their canned line-up: Sunken Isle IPA and Peninsula Brewers Reserve (PBR) Ale.

Skilak Scotish Ale pours with an off-white head atop an attractive amber beer. Its aroma is a complex mix of hops and malt with traces of yeast. Assertively spicy hops balanced by a rich malt profile entice the pallet. The finish is long with lingering hop bitterness. 6.8% ABV, 63 IBUs.

Denali Brewing Company's Twister Creek IPA

 There's many a good IPA brewed in in Alaska, and several of them are canned or bottled, so picking just one was very tough.  However, the Twister Creek IPA that Boe Barnett and Sassan Mossassen of Denali Brewing Company brew is just ever-so-slightly my favorite.  It's one of four flagship brews that this rapidly-growing Talkeetna brewery offer in cans.

Twister Creek is a clear gold with a nice white head, looking more like a lager than the traditional copper-colored IPA. The nose is full of bright hop notes.  On the palate, there's a blend British and American hops to produce an very pleasing but not overly harsh bitterness. The brew also had a nice malt backbone to hang all that hoppiness on, and a nice, clean finish. 6.7% ABV and 71 IBUs.

King Street Brewing Company's Czech Pilsner

When Dana Walukiewicz and Shane Kingry, the owners of King Street Brewing in Anchorage, wanted to join the club of Alaskan breweries who can their beers, they were faced with one major problem.  A typical can run is in excess of 100,000 cans, and they were not sure which of their several excellent and popular beers to commit to.  Since opening in 2010, their specialty has been to make quality beers in the classic European styles, such as their  Hefeweizen, Pilsner, Blonde, and Stout. So they came up with a very clever work-around.  All the cans are identical, except for the name and ABV of the beer.  These are added using a stick-on label to the can, meaning they can use the same base can for any of their beers!   Any one of their brews could have made this list, but my personal favorite is their Czech Pilsner.

If you've ever been to Prague, you know what you want in a real Bohemian pilsner, and King Street's version delivers.  It pours crystal clear gold with a nice white head. The nose is full of the delicate but unmistakable aroma of noble hops, wafted to your nostrils by the excellent carbonation.  It's light and effervescent on the palate, with a dry malt backbone to support the clean, crisp hop bitterness.  Amazingly drinkable, just like it's namesake. 5.5% ABV.

Some final thoughts:

Alaska is a long way from just about everywhere, so with the exception of the beers from Alaskan and Anchorage Brewing Company, you may have difficulty finding the beers listed above.  Alaskan Brewing Company distributes to most states west of the Mississippi, while Anchorage Brewing Company beers are distributed nation-wide by Shelton Brothers.  Midnight Sun Brewing Company has some limited distribution in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California.  For the rest, you pretty much have to come to Alaska to taste them.

However, that's not such a bad idea.  A summertime visit to Alaska could easily be built around visiting many of the breweries listed above, not to mention our fantastic scenery, fishing, and wildlife viewing.  Or you could really be bold and fly up to Anchorage for Alaska Beer Week in January, culminating in the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival.  That way you could truly experience the best that Alaska has to offer in the way of beer.

Meanwhile, enjoy your six-pack.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Still Alive

Yes, I'm still alive, in case any of you were wondering.  Sorry the blog has been so silent for the last three weeks;  life has conspired to get in the way, as it frequently does.  However, time, tide and beer wait for no man and lots of stuff has been happening while I've been off-line, so let's get to it!

click to enlarge
Both BodegaFest In Anchorage and the Capital Brewfest in  Juneau last week end appear to have been great successes.  The pictures I've seen on Facebook and from The Beer Up Here folks show lots of folks enjoying themselves and drinking plenty of good beer, which pretty much defines "great festival" in my book. I really hope to make it to BodegaFest next year.

As long as we're on the subject of festivals, don't forget about the 2013 Talkeetna Beerfest, taking place from 2 to 6 pm this Saturday, September 28th.  Last year's fest was delayed by flooding, but the weather looks a lot better this time around!  You can get your tickets here.

The main reason I was not at BodegaFest was that I was helping Zach Henry of St. Elias Brewing Company brew a batch of beer all day last Saturday.  This was our second go at such a joint effort; I blogged about our last effort, the under-appreciated H&H Highland Ale, back on 9/7/2010.  This time around, we adapted another of my homebrew recipes and created H&H Winter Warmer.  This one is a Burton Ale and has a long way to go yet before it will be ready to be offered to the public; look for it to be released around the Winter Solstice.  I sure hope it turns out well, as I twisted my back shoveling out the mash tun and had to get my chiropractor to snap my L1 vertebrae back into alignment!

Plenty of new brews have hit the shelves since my last blog.  Given the season, most of them seem to either have "pumpkin" or  "Oktoberfest" in their names.

Alaskan Brewing has a new addition to their Pilot Series:, as of 1 September: Pumpkin Porter. There's 11 pounds of pumpkins in every barrel, along with brown sugar and holiday spices.  Also for the fall, Alaskan released the latest in their Rough Draft Export series: Sentinel Rye Pale Ale.  At 5.7% ABV and 45 IBUs, this pale ale uses Summit, Magnum, Calypso, and Mosaic hops, plus a new and an as-yet-unnamed experimental hop variety to compliment the peppery notes of the rye malt. Alaskan was  also recognized with two medals at the European Beer Star 2013 awards ceremony held Sept. 18 in Munich, Germany. Alaskan Oatmeal Stout and Alaskan Smoked Porter were both recognized with Silver Medals

King Street Brewing Company released their 2013 Oktoberfest beer last Wednesday, 11 September.  It's 5.4% ABV and they brewed twice as much this year as last, but it still likely won't last long! Drop by their taproom on Saturday, October 5th for their Oktoberfest celebration, with drindls, German music and food, and great beer, including a collaboration brew with 49th State Brewing.  Should be a great time!

Speaking of Oktoberfest, HooDoo Brewing Company in Fairbanks is kicking off their celebration

this Saturday at 11 am and running it through Saturday, October 5th, just like the real one in Munich! They'll be tapping their new Oktoberfest Lager at noon on the 21st, and there will be additional contest and events throughout the next two weeks.

Silver Gulch in Fox also has an Oktoberfest beer on tap.  Theirs is 7.1% ABV and 25 IBUs, hopped with Czech Saaz.

49th State Brewing Company will be closing for the season on Saturday, October 26th, but they're going out with a bang: a Halloween Party,

The Seward Brewing Company has also announced that they will be shutting down for the season this Sunday, 9/22.  The will still be available for private functions through the winter and will be open for limited hours on Saturdays to fill growlers.

Midnight Sun has released this year's batch of their classic Berserker Imperial Stout (reviewed 9/9/2009).  Their Trickster Ale (reviewed on 10/15/2009) is one tap and will be out in the bottle soon, while everyone is counting down the days until the Monday, September 30th release of this year's T.R.E.A.T. (reviewed on 5/18/2012). Also on draft is Packer's Pride, a Dortmunder-style Lager and Sipster, a 6.7% ABV Pale Lager, made from the second runnings of their Arctic Devil Barely Wine.

Arkose Brewery in Palmer will be celebrating their second anniversary with another Beer Meets Chocolate event.  Here's the poster for it:
Click to enlarge

Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company has made an announcement:

"I'll be traveling to Michigan to brew a beer with Ron Jeffries of Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. This is a real honor for me personally. The beers Ron has made have inspired me as I have grown as a brewer over the years. We will be making a Saison named "Calabaza Boreal". 100 bbls will be produced and we hope to release it at The Culmination festival sometime in April. Ron will hopefully be joining us in Anchorage for the fest and the release, where we will brew the same beer again at Anchorage Brewing. Just another reason to come to The Culmination next year!"

Gabe has also announced another collaboration brew with Hill Farmstead Brewery.  Here's the label for their Arctic Soiree:

click to enlarge
Glacier BrewHouse has also released an Oktoberfest beer, as well as their Beam Stout, which is their award-winning oak-aged oatmeal stout specially aged for nearly 2 years in used oak barrels acquired straight from the Jim Beam distillery in Kentucky. The barrels impart flavors of vanilla, bourbon, coconut, chocolate, and more. It is served nitrogenated for that extra smooth mouth feel.  Sounds amazing!

Sleeping Lady Brewing also has an Oktoberfest on, as well as a cask of their Honey Cream Ale,  primed with braggot and aged on local spruce tips.

Kassik's Brewery's Beer Dinner at Jack Sprat's in Girdwood was a great success, judging by the pictures and comments on Facebook.  Not sure if there's any left, but they did have a Hyper Heifer Espresso  Milk Stout on tap earlier this month. 

Kenai River Brewing will have a new Single Hop IPA on this Friday: Herkules Single Hop IPA.  An they are counting down to Tuesday, 1 October, when this year's Winter Warlock Old Ale will be tapped.  I had a sneak preview at the Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival and it was exquisite as always.

St. Elias Brewing Company has several new beers on tap.  Fair Trade Porter (reviewed 9/15/2011) is back on tap.  The also have Garden Gnome, a 3.1% small beer made from the second running of their Moose Juice Barley Wine, and -- yes, you guessed it -- an Oktoberfest Lager.  What a surprise!  St. Elias will also be having an Oktoberfest party of Saturday, October 5th.

Now that we've made it through all that news, let's do some reviews.

In my last blog, I wrote about a couple of new releases from Gigantic Brewing Company: High Fidelity and Hellion.  Since then, I was able to obtain a bottle of each.

High Fidelity poured a clear gold with a big white head.  The aroma was full of bright, citrusy hop notes.  Carbonation was good and its mouthfeel was light.  There was good, clean hop bitterness up front, then the hop flavor and aroma came through on the back end.  5.9% ABV, a nice, solid pale ale.

Hellion also poured a crystal clear gold with a dense white head.  The nose was full of spicy Belgian yeast notes, plus some hints of tropical fruit.  On the palate there were fruity ale notes that lingered to the finish.  Very much in the style of a tripel. 8.5% ABV.

I was able to snag a growler of Kenai River's Chocolate Milk Stout, which came and went between my last blog and this one.  It poured opaque with a small tan head.  The aroma was sweet malt with some roasty notes behind it.  Very smooth and rich on the palate, with nice mouthfeel from the lactose, plus plenty of nice roastiness.  Very tasty.

I had a glass of St. Elias Brewing Company's Framboise Lambic.  It was a pinkish-red in the glass, with a small, off-white head that dissipated to a collar.  The aroma was tart with plenty of oak notes from the wine-barrels it was aged in.  On the palate, the raspberry notes came forward, along with plenty of more oak, before dropping off to a fairly abrupt finish.  Fruit beers are not my forte, but this one was dry enough and oaky enough that I really enjoyed it.

I've had a bottle of Boulevard Brewing's Love Child #3 for some time in my beer frig and I finally got around to drinking it.  It poured a clear deep honey color, with a nice cream-colored head.  The aroma was heavy on the funky, tart brett notes.  There was good carbonation and a fairly tart attack, the a long, slow finish with plenty of lingering brett notes.  9.5% ABV.

Finally, I opened the bottle of Judgement Day from Lost Abbey that I acquired in February of last year when I visited the brewery.  It poured opaque with a mocha-colored head that left excellent lacing on the glass. The aroma was just what you'd expect from a massive quadruple: plums, raisins, figs, bourbon, oak.  Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was exceptional.  The flavor profile was ridiculously rich, with elements of chocolate, coffee, dark fruit, and oak dancing around each other to a long, lingering finish.  A truly wonderful beer, and I wish I had a dozen more bottles like it in my cellar. 10.5% ABV.

Well, that's about it for this go.  Stay tuned for next week, when I reveal my choices for the ultimate six-pack of Alaska beers, as part of the Six-Pack Project.

Until Next Time, Cheers!