Monday, October 14, 2013

Bay Area Beer Blast

So as I said in my last quick post, I was down in the Bay Area of California for a couple of weeks, getting to know my brand-new grandson, Liam Kile Thompson. While beer wasn't the purpose of the trip, I did take the opportunity to enjoy it while I was there.

One thing I didn't get to do was tour Anchor Brewing Company.  I've wanted to do that for years.  I was last in the area in 2009, for the National Homebrewers Conference in Oakland, but the tours were completely booked up during the conference (no surprise).  This time around, I called a month in advance to make reservations (tours are by reservation only), thinking that would be plenty early.  Wrong!  Tours were booked up for the next two months, so once again, I was out of luck.  If you are planning a trip to San Francisco and think you might want to tour Anchor, my advice is to make your reservations the instant you know when you'll be in town.

With Anchor Brewing off the table, the next highest priority was a trip up to Santa Rosa to visit Russian River Brewing Company.  The was something I'd been able to do in 2009, but I was looking forward to repeating it.  We drove up on a Saturday and arrived at around 1:30, only to be told that it would be a two hour wait for a table!  That wasn't going to cut it, so we walked a couple of blocks down to an Irish pub, Stout Brothers, and had a very nice lunch, accompanied by some nice local craft beers from Lagunitas and North Coast.  On the way back be picked up some bottled beers and a growler of Blind Pig IPA from Russian River.  Sorry, Vinnie, but there's no beer in the world worth standing on the sidewalk for two hours in the California sun.  In my humble opinion at least...

On the plus side, I did get to visit Ol Beercafe and Bottle Shop in downtown Walnut Creek.  My experience here was the opposite of that at Russian River.  Elaine and I walked in at 1:30 on a weekday afternoon and had the entire place to ourselves.  It was a very nice-looking bar, with plenty of dark, old wood and a Belgian vibe to it.  It's owned by the same folks who run The Trappist in downtown Oakland, where I drank many good brews in 2009, since it was only a couple of blocks from the Homebrewers Conference.

At Ol (it's the Danish word for "Ale", by the way), they have 18 taps, plus a very extensive bottle selection.  The bottled beers are available in both coolers and on shelves, at two different prices.  You can buy a particular beer at a higher price from the cooler and they will serve it to your for no extra charge, or you can buy it warm at a lower price to take home with you.  Very cool.  I had a nice glass of Monk's Brew, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale from Mikkeller; see below for a review.

Not far from where my daughter and son-in-law live is a small craft brewery, Ale Industries.  So I had to pay them a visit, of course. There tap room is in the middle of the brewery, more or less, with fermenters on one side and the brewhouse on the other.  Access was through the large roll-up garage door, with some tables scattered about and a small bar to sit at.

My research indicated that they had been doing some interesting stuff with sour ales and barrel aging, so I had a glass of their X-1 Sour Red Ale.  I had also heard good things about their Uncle Jessie West Coast Session Ale, so I picked up a couple of bottles of that to try.  Reviews for both beers are below.  All-in-all, I thought they were a neat little brewery, a bit reminiscent of the smaller guys we have up here in Alaska, though they are bottling some of their brews.

Other than the stops above, my California beer experience was mainly characterized by visits to the local big liquor store BevMo (think Brown Jug Warehouse, but much nicer), where I zeroed in on beers I love that aren't distributed in Alaska anymore, like Flying Dog's Imperial Gonzo Porter and Dogfish Head's 90 Minute IPA.  I also snagged bottles from some California breweries that we seldom if ever see up here (reviewed below), as well as bottles to bring back with me from breweries like Allagash and Alesmith.  I was pleased to see that some beers from Alaska were on their shelves as well.  Besides several beers from Alaskan Brewing Company, I also saw brews from Midnight Sun and Anchorage Brewing Company on offer.

So the Bay Area has plenty to offer a beer-lover, even without going into SF proper or traveling around the area very far.

Of course while I was in California, beer news did not stop here in Alaska.  Several breweries/brewpubs had Oktoberfest events of one sort or another while I was gone.  Just last Friday, October 11th, Arkose Brewery in Palmer celebrated their 2nd anniversary, while HooDoo Brewing in Fairbanks has their 1st anniversary on Halloween.

Glacier BrewHouse will be having a Hunters Harvest Beer Dinner at 6:30 pm on Thursday, October 24th.  Call 274-2739 for reservations.  The were also this year's Anchorage Press Picks for:
  • Best Brew Pub
  • Best Ingredients
  • Best Salad
  • Best Seafood
  • Best Local Brewery
So congratulations to them!

At Midnight Sun, T.R.E.A.T. and Trickster are both available, as is their winter seasonal, CoHoHo Imperial IPA (one of my favorites!).  I finally got around to drinking a bottle of their 2013 Berserker Imperial Stout; see my review below.

Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company made an announcement on Facebook a while back:

"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 left today on his way to Michigan.

Here on the Peninsula, Kassik's Brewery has a Rye IPA on tap, as well as growler koozies and news shirts/hoodies on offer.

I still haven't made it in to Kenai River since I got back from California.  I hope this year's Winter Warlock Old Ale is still on tap...

I was in at St. Elias Brewing Company on Friday.  They were down to their last 10 gallons of Oktoberfest.  As soon as it's gone, look for it to be replaced by a Munich Helles Lager.  Still pouring their Fair Trade Porter, Framboise Lambic, and Garden Gnome.

Seward Brewing Company has closed for the season, but they are still filling growlers.  Just knock on the door and if there's someone there, they'll help you out!

OK, let's move on to some of the reviews I've promised:

Firestone-Walker Brewing Company's Double Jack DIPA:  We do get beers from this excellent brewery here in Alaska, though I have never seen this particular one here.  It's an amped up version of their excellent Union Jack IPA, at 9.5% ABV.  It poured a clear copper color with an nice white head that left excellent lacing.  There was good citrus hop aroma, as you'd expect for a West Coast IPA.  There was good carbonation and mouthfeel.  Good but not excessive hop bitterness on the attach, followed up with enough maltiness for balance.  In fact, this beer is so well-balanced that it is remarkably drinkable for a Double IPA, hiding its strength well.  An excellent beer, and one I hope makes it to Alaska.

Olde Suffolk English Ale from Greene King: This beer is called more accurately Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale in the UK, but over here the ATF forbids the use of the word "Strong" in beer names, hence the change.  It's only 6% ABV, which is on the low side for an Old Ale.  It pours a deep ruby color with an off-white head that rapidly dissipates to a collar but leaves good lacing on the glass. The nose was of vanilla from the oak barrels, toffee, caramel, and raisins.  Carbonation ans adequate, mouthfeel was good.More toffee and wood notes on the palate.  Quite complex, much like a fine port.  A good example of an English Old Ale, though not quite to the level of Samuel Smith's Stingo.

Big Daddy IPA from Speakeasy Ales & Lagers: Based in San Francisco, this brewery produces several different styles.  Their IPA pours a clear gold with a nice white head.  The aroma was full of bright hop notes.  There's good carbonation and plenty of good, clean hoppiness up front, without being too bitter.  A nice, clean, bright West Coast IPA. 6.5% ABV.

Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point Brewing in San Diego:  Another IPA with an excellent reputation from a brewery that we don't get here in Alaska.  It pours a clear gold with a big white head that leaves good lacing.  The aroma is full of tropical fruit notes, like mangoes.  There's good up front bitterness, followed by excellent hop flavors and aroma, as well as more fruit flavors.  An unusual but excellent IPA, well-deserving its reputation.  7% ABV.

Hop 15 Double IPA from Port Brewing:  We do get some beers from Port Brewing here in Alaska, but this is one I haven't yet seen. It poured a honey color with a white head that left good lacing.  The aroma was full of piney, resiny West Coast hops.  On the palate there was good balance for such a big beer.  The 10% ABV is not noticeable, making the beer dangerously drinkable.

Monk's Brew from Mikkeller:  This is the beer I had at Ol Beercafe, a quadruple or Belgian Strong Dark Ale at 10% ABV. On draft, it poured opaque with a big, persistent mocha head.  There was not much in the way of the nose,  just some dark fruit with molasses.  Carbonation was good, and there was a nice mouthfeel.  The flavor profile has dark fruit, some roasty notes, plus a touch of alcohol heat on the finish.

X-1 Sour Red Ale from Ale Industries: A very deep, almost opaque, ruby color with a small cream-colored head.  The nose is full of tart, oaky notes from the barrel aging.  Carbonation was good, as was the mouthfeel. On the palate there was plenty of tart, oaky, sour cherry notes, making for a very interesting experimental ale. 6.5% ABV.

Uncle Jessie West Coast Session Ale from Ale Industries: A beer designed to showcase hoppiness without too much alcohol, this beer weighs in at 4.75% ABV.  It pours a light copper color with a nice white head that leaves good lacing.  The aroma is full of lots of citrusy American hops.  There's good carbonation and mouthfeel.  There's lots of hop flavor and aroma, but not overly bitter.  An excellent session beer, highly drinkable.  If you really like hops, you'll love this brew.

Tart of Darkness Sour Stout from The Bruery:  Another brewery that we seldom see here in Alaska, The Bruery is a real favorite of mine.  I picked this one up mainly because it seemed so unusual.  You don't see a lot of sour stouts out there. It poured opaque with a small tan head that dissipated rapidly to a collar.  The nose had tart notes plus some oak.  The initial attack is quite sour, followed by smooth malt with a bit of roastiness.  A very different take on the idea of a sour beer, but one I liked. 7% ABV.

Blind Pig IPA from Russian River Brewing Company: I sampled this beer from a growler we got at the brewery.  It poured a clear gold with a nice, off-white head.  Great American hop aroma.  Good carbonation, nice mouthfeel.  Super hop flavor, very clean and crisp, but without excessive bitterness.  6.1% ABV.  This is a world-class West Coast IPA that certainly lives up to the hype.  Bursting with hoppiness, yet still wonderfully drinkable.

2013 Berserker Imperial Stout from Midnight Sun: This year's version of a perennial favorite.  A huge beer at 12.7% ABV and 30 IBUs, this brew comes to the table after aging in bourbon barrels.  It poured opaque with no head to speak of.  The aroma was of chocolate, coffee, and alcohol.  Mouthfeel was good, but carbonation was quite low.  The flavor profile was rich, deep, and complex, with notes of chocolate, coffee, molasses, and vanilla, falling away to a long, lingering finish.  This beer is certainly a sipper, one to be shared with friends and savored long into the evening.

Well, that's about it for this week.  Blogging may be spotty for the rest of the mouth, as I am pushing hard to try to finish Volume II of Beer on the Last Frontier, but I will try to pound out a short one to spread the word about any beer events that I hear of.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, October 11, 2013

It's Coming, It's Coming...

Me and Liam
Yes, my blog is coming.  But not just yet.  I just got back in town after two weeks in the Bay Area of California to see my brand-new grandson, Liam Kile Thompson.  While beer wasn't the purpose of the trip, I couldn't go down there and not drink some very cool stuff, which I will be writing about.

Due to being out-of-pocket for so long, I'm working hard to catch up on many things, including this blog.  I hope to have it out early next week.

Until Then, Cheers!