Wednesday, December 10, 2014

News, Cellar Reviews, and a Hiatus (Addendum)

Happens every time: I no sooner get a blog out than another piece of news comes in that really should be included. Plus, I somehow totally forgot to mention the winners of the NorthWest Brewing News' Reader Choice Poll [Insert forehead slap here].

First off, Baranof Island Brewing in Sitka just released a new beer. Also, when I was in Anchorage last week, I saw six-packs of their Silver Bay IPA in cans at La Bodega.  Here's how they describe their new brew:

Baranof Island Brewing is proud to announce the return of MC's Black IPA. This dark, hoppy and slightly sweet ale is 6.65%ABV with 60 IBU's. This is a seasonal winter ale that is a holiday favorite in Sitka.

This dark ale has a coffee-chocolate aroma. “It is the perfect balance of dark malt along with Nugget and Zeus hops, to give it a bitter mouth feel with a dry clean finish that makes you want to take another sip” says Head Brewer Mike DesRosiers. This ale is only available for a limited time in Sitka, so swing by Alaska's favorite brewery and grab yourself a glass.

Photo courtesy of Baranof Island Brewing Company.

Second, here are the winners of this year's Reader Choice Poll. Congratulations to you all.

Best Beer Store-
Alaska La Bodega, Anchorage
BC Brewery Creek, Vancouver
NorCal The Good Hop -Oakland
Washington Special Brews, Lynnwood
Oregon Belmont Station, Portland

Best Brewery-
Alaska Alaskan, Juneau
BC Central City, Surrey
NorCal Russian River, Santa Rosa
Oregon Deschutes, Bend
Washington Elysian, Seattle

Best Nano Brewery-
Alaska  Baranof Island, Sitka
BC Powell Street Craft Brewery, Vancouver
NorCal Humboldt Regeneration, McKinleyville
Oregon Three Mugs, Hillsboro
Washington Foggy Noggin, Bothell

Best Brewpub-
Alaska Glacier Brewhouse, Anchorage
BC Steamworks Brewing, Vancouver
NorCal Six Rivers Brewery, McKinleyville
Oregon Ecliptic Brewing, Portland
Washington Maritime Pacific, Ballard

Best Homebrew-
Alaska Arctic Brewing Supply, Anchorage
BC- Dan’s Homebrew Supply, Vancouver
NorCal Humboldt Beer Works, Eureka
Oregon Brew Brothers, Hillsboro
Wash Mountain Homebrew, Kirkland

Best Pub-
Alaska Humpy’s, Anchorage
BC Alibi Room, Vancouver
NorCal Toronado, San Francisco
OR Horse Brass Pub, Portland
Wash Beveridge Place Pub, West Seattle

Best Bartender-
Alaska- Larry Lowrey - Lavell's Bistro,Fairbanks
BC Nigel Springthorpe Brassneck Brewery,Vancouver
Norcal- Tals Nachson- Six Rivers Brewing, McKinleyville
Oregon- Finnegan Jennings 3 Mugs Brewing, Hillsboro
Washington- Matt Bonney- Toronado, Seattle

Best Beer-Amber Lager (Märzen, Oktoberfest, Vienna, etc.),
       Chuckanut - Oktobersfest

Best Beer-Barleywine
       Thor’s Hammer, Central City

Best Beer-Barrel-aged Beers
       The Abyss

Best Beer-Belgian-Style Ale
       Sound Monk’s Indescretion

Best Beer-Bock/Doppelbock/Dark Lager
       Occidental Maibock

Best Beer-Brown Ale/Amber Lager
       Foggy Noggin Butch's Brew

Best Beer-Cascadian Dark Ale/BIPA
       HUB Secession

Best Beer-Cream Ale/Kölsch Style Ale
       Foggy Noggin Cream Ale

Best Beer-Fresh Hop Ales
       Snipes Mountain The Nooch

Best Beer-Fruit or Herb or Spice
       Foggy Noggin - Cranberry Frost

Best Beer-Imperial IPA
       Central City Red Racer Imperial IPA

Best Beer-Imperial Stout
          North Coast Brewing Old Rasputin Russian Imperial

Best Beer-IPA
       Barley Brown's Pallet Jack

Best Beer-Organic
       Fish Tale Organic IPA

Best Beer-Pale Ale
       Foggy Noggin - Diablo del Sol

Best Beer-Pilsner
       Chuckanut Pilsner

Best Beer-Porter
       Deschutes Black Butte

Best Beer-Red Ale/Amber Ale
       Central City Red Racer India Style Red Ale

Best Beer-Scotch Ale/Strong Ale
       Boundary Bay Scotch Ale  (Foggy Noggin Kastrated Dog won)

Best Beer-Sour Beer
       Breakside Passion Fruit Sour Berlinerweiß

Best Beer-Stout
       Elysian Dragonstooth

Best Beer-Wheat Beer
       Three Mugs- Mein Schatz Hefeweizen

Best Cider

We now return you to your previously scheduled blog hiatus...

Until next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

News, Cellar Reviews, and a Hiatus

Hello again from Alaska, the land that winter forgot. We finally got a couple of inches of snow on the ground, but here it is almost mid-December and we are still having days with temperatures above freezing. Not that I'm complaining about not having to blow snow every other day or keep the wood stove blazing; it just seems a bit strange. It's like we're all waiting for the other shoe to drop, when the weather gets truly terrible...

Anyway, while we wait, there's plenty of doings in the local beer world. Under "Coming Attractions," Bleeding Heart Brewery in Palmer had a very successful Kickstarter campaign, closing on November 22. 155 backers pledged $21,701, almost triple their goal of $7,500. Look for them to be open by June of 2015.

Meanwhile, Resolution Brewing in the Mountain View neighborhood of Anchorage just took deliver of the shipping container full of all their brewing equipment, grain and growlers on Monday, December 8th. They will be working to get the equipment installed and complete final inspections ASAP. No opening date set yet, but I'd expect it to be sometime in the next several weeks. Meanwhile, Resolution's cool stainless keg-style growlers will be going on sale for Christmas.
Photo courtesy of Resolution Brewing
While the new kids on the block work to open for business, one of the established breweries is pushing hard to get its new facilities finished. On Friday, December 5th, I was able to stop by Anchorage Brewing Company's new facility, still under construction. As you can see from the photos below, when it is finished, it's going to be a magnificent structure. The photos are courtesy of Elaine Howell.

Karl Morgan, Owner Gabe Fletcher and I standing in what will be the Foudre Room.

Gabe and I in the future Tasting Room at the front of the building. Note the reclaimed wood walls.

Looking from the Tasting Room into the Foudre Room. The brewhouse will be against the back wall.

Once completed, patrons will be able to sit in the Tasting Room and gaze at the ten huge wooden tanks in two columns of five, flanking the brewhouse, which will be positioned against the back wall, the top portion of which is reclaimed wood. The room on the left behind the brewhouse will house grain storage and bottle conditioning, while the one on the right has enough space for about 800 barrels. In addition, Gabe has announced that his sister Heather has returned to Alaska and will be running the Tasting Room.

New employee Heather. Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Co.

Gabe reports that his brewhouse is due to arrive in Anchorage on December 22, and he hopes to have it installed and tested by late January. If all goes well, we might see an opening not too long after that, so keep your ear to the ground.

At Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling in Fox, there are a couple of holiday fruit ales on tap.  Here's how they describe them:

Two different Holiday Ales using our German Pilsner imbued with Belgian Abbey Yeast and finished with Apricot and Blueberry Purees.The light golden hue comes from the use of Plzen malt and offers an effervescence that starts and finishes crisp and clean. Both are distinctly fruity and spicy. The yeast lends a note of clove and in combination with the malt, hints of plum and apricot on the first and slightly citrus and blueberry on the second. The malt itself provides a warm honey quality up front, a round fullness in the middle, and the hops, together with our pure brewing water, lend a clean, dry finish. 5.6% ABV 30 IBU's
On Saturday, December 6th, HooDoo Brewing tapped a firkin of casked American IPA, dry hopped with whole cone Centennial Hops.

Denali Brewing has released Milepost #3 in its Flag Stop series, a Belgian Dark Ale aged in J Lohr cabernet barrels and bottle conditioned with champagne yeast. It's available only at Denali Brewpub in Talkeetna.

Photo courtesy of Denali Brewing

At Arkose Brewery in Palmer, this Friday marks the released on its Olde Colony Winter Ale, as part of the Colony Christmas Celebration

Saturday, December 13th will also be Arkose's last Beer Meets Canvas Event of 2014.

Click to enlarge

At Midnight Sun Brewing Company in Anchorage, there is a new brew on tap. To celebrate the 81st Anniversary of the end of Prohibition, it has released Un-Prohibited Pilsner, 5.9% ABV and 30 IBUs. It is made using only Mosaic hops. It will only be on draft, so look for it at The Loft and at other fine beer bars around the state. Also available is Francoisk, a 6.5% ABV, 18 IBU dark wheat ale brewed for last month's Bodega-Fest and Yo Ho Ho Gold, a 5% ABV, 30 IBU kolsch-style ale brewed for the Pirate Pub Crawl.

King Street Brewing has brewed another batch of its German Bock, first released last January, and it's back on tap for the holidays.  Here's how they describe it:

King Street’s Bock is a dark, malty lager brewed in the German tradition, with European malt and hops to enhance rich and complex grain and caramel flavors.  Our interpretation has an almost plum or grape like flavor with a whisper of chocolate that is so deep that one might think it a Dooplebock (Double bock).  However, like our previous bigger winter releases, this lager beer is oh so easy to enjoy more than one glass of.  The Bock will go equally nice with savory meats and cranberry sauce!

At the Snow Goose's First Firkin Friday last week, the special was a firkin of Fish On! IPA, dry-hopped with Simcoe and Amarillo.

Tonight at Glacier BrewHouse is the Winter Warmer Dinner. Tickets are $80 all-inclusive. I don't know if there are any seats left, so call for reservations ASAP. You can see the entire menu of food and beer here. Even more exciting, tomorrow begins Glacier's annual Twelve Days of Barleywine.  Here's the daily menu:

Click to enlarge

At Kenai River Brewing, a couple of new beers have been on tap.  The first is Chris's-mas Spruce Tip Ale, a English-style Winter Warmer brewed with locally gathered spruce tips by Chris Scudder back in August. I had some of this at the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society's Christmas Party and it was delicious. Not sure if there is any left, as the supply was limited and it was going fast. The other beer is the next in Kenai River's Single Hop IPA series; this one si hopped exclusively with Galaxy hops.

Let's move on to some long-promised reviews of aged beers from my beer cellar.

Deschutes The Abyss Russian Imperial Stout, 2011 vintage: It poured opaque with a big tan head; still plenty of carbonation even after three years. The aroma was of roasted and sweet malt, with the roasty notes beginning  to take a back seat. The mouthfeel was excellent, very chewy and oily. The flavor profile was dark, deep, and rich, with elements of coffee, molasses, and chocolate. Not a hint of the 11% ABV alcohol, and a long, satisfying finish. This beer is exceptional right now; I really don't see how it could get much better, so if you have any in your cellar, I'd recommend at least sampling a bottle.

Deschutes The Abyss Russian Imperial Stout, 2012 vintage: I opened this beer to get a comparison point with the beer above. The taste profile was very similar, except that I thought the flavors had not yet quite come into as perfect a balance as they had with the 2011. Still delicious, but I'd recommend letting it sit for another year.

Alaskan's Barley Wine, 2011 vintage: It poured a deep, translucent ruby with a small cream-colored head that dissipated quickly to a collar. Carbonation was beginning to fade, but was still acceptable. There were still some hop notes in the nose, but these were also clearly on the downhill side. Mouthfeel was good, and the flavor profile was beginning to slip out of balance as the hop bitterness decreased. I also thought I picked up the faintest hints of sherry-like oxidation. To my palate, it seems this beer is just slightly past its prime; if you have any in your cellar, I'd recommend opening a bottle for evaluation, lest you be disappointed in another year.

Sierra Nevada's 30th Anniversary Grand Cru (2010): Here's a lesson for all you would-be cellar masters out there: keep track of your stock. I let this excellent beer get pushed to the very back of my beer frig and then sit there for four long years. It should have been consumed at about the one year point, I think. When I finally opened it, time had taken a toll on its big hop flavors, leaving mostly malt and oak. It was still an okay beer, but in no way comparable to what it was fresh.

Midnight Sun's Arctic Devil Barley Wine, 2011 vintage: It poured a dark, semi-translucent ruby with a small but persistent cream-colored head. The nose was primarily sweet malt and oaky notes; not much bourbon aroma left. Carbonation was still, good, and the mouthfeel was excellent. The flavor profile is still in balance, with plenty of oakiness to balance the honey-like malt sweetness and a bit of alcohol heat. Excellent now, but it might be able to age for another year, as there is no hint of oxidation.

That's it for this blog. As mentioned in the title, Drinking on the Last Frontier will be going on hiatus for one month, until the middle of January. Besides the impending holidays and all that they entail, I am pushing hard to finish writing a book, and I just cannot squeeze out enough time to do that and still do justice to this blog. The book, by the way, will be titled Alaska Beer: Liquid Gold in the Land of the Midnight Sun and is scheduled to be published in late March by The History Press as part of its American Palate series. You can learn more about it here.

Meanwhile, I wish each and every one of your Happy Holidays and a joyous New Year. See you in January.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Breaking News Blog Post

Just after I got my last blog post on the street, I got word from Rob Weller of Specialty Imports that the next release of Anchorage Brewing Company's amazing A Deal with the Devil Barley Wine would be released TODAY, November 21st. Rob was kind enough to send along the list of the stores which will be carrying it. This stuff goes super fast and stores often limit the number of bottles you can purchase, so plan accordingly...

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Alaska Liquor Store - SKAGWAY
Alaska Wine Guy
Breeze In Valley Store #1
Brown Jug - FBX
Brown Jug Bragaw
Brown Jug College Gate/lake Otis
Brown Jug Downtown Wine & Spirits
Brown Jug Eagle River
Brown Jug Indy Park
Brown Jug Minnesota
Brown Jug North Muldoon
Brown Jug Northern Lights
Brown Jug Old Seward South
Brown Jug Red Apple/Mtn. View
Brown Jug Spenard
Brown Jug Tudor
Brown Jug Victor
Brown Jug W. Northern Lights
Brown Jug Warehouse
Brown Jug Wasilla South
Brown Jug Whaler/Muldoon Rd
Cafe Amsterdam
Carrs Safeway Aurora Village #1805
Carrs Safeway Huffman #1813
Carrs Safeway Seward #2728
Country Liquor LLC. #2
Fred Meyer West Fairbanks 485
Gavora's Gavora's #1
Gold Hill Inc.
Gold Rush Liquors
Grog Shop - 2
La Bodega / Isles, Inc.
Little Italy
Newtown Liquor / Clearwater Bay Corp
Party Time Plaza Liquor - LAKE OTIS
Percy's / Oke Rodman
Snow Goose Restaurant
Thibodeau Town Liquor
Wine House - Huffman

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Still Waitin' On The Snow

So here we are in the second half of November with still zero snow on the ground in southcentral Alaska.  Meanwhile, it's snowpocalypse in the Lower 48. Buffalo just got an entire winter's worth of snow in 24 hours. So let's continue to enjoy the relatively warm temperatures and snow and ice free roads for as long as we can. Looks like we might get some snow by Thanksgiving, but who knows?

There are a couple of pretty significant beer events taking place in the next couple of days. First up, tonight at the Snow Goose.  They are calling it Taps and Apps Head Brewer Greg Mills and Chef Jose Diaz have put their heads together and come up with 4 delicious appetizer and beer pairings.  The event will be held in the brewery from 6-7pm tonight, Wednesday, November 19th. Cost is only $25.  The fun doesn't end there.  In the pub from 7-9pm the first of three Gladys firkins (the beer Sleeping Lady brewed just for La Bodega and Bodegafest) will be on tap, plus music by Blaze and Eric.  Call the Goose to reserve your place for the Taps & Apps or just show up in the pub at 7 pm for the second part.

On this Friday, November 21st, Midnight Sun Brewing will be releasing this year's Arctic Devil Barley Wine on tap and in bottles at The Loft. It's time to lay in some bottles for the cellar, as well as enjoying some right now.

Besides the release on Friday, I had an email from the MSBC Beer Ambassador Darcy Kniefel earlier this week, letting me know about some more upcoming events/releases.  Here's what she had to say:

Matanuska Thunder Funk is due out in just a few weeks time. Playing with the name of a high potency strain of marijuana from the Matanuska Valley region of Alaska, we changed one letter to call our beer “Matanuska Thunder Funk.” And funky this beer is! Beginning as a Belgian-style Saison, MTF was transferred to oak barrels and inoculated with Brettanomyces for a long-many months. This batch created a mother funk, which will be blended with a fresh batch of saison to balance and soften the grassy/green apple/sweaty horse blanket character of Brettanomyces. MTF is heavy on the funk in a way laid back way. MTF is being bottle conditioned so the exact date is not set for release but keep an eye out for the first week of December to get a good pull off of this beer.

We have put the word out, just to pause all rumors, Gluttony is officially being brewed again. We finally have enough hops to recreate this monster Triple IPA originally brewed in the 7 Deadly Sins Series. Coming in at 10.5% and 200 IBU's, this is not for the hop weary. We are looking for a December 31st release, so all of our Gluttony fans can have one last hurrah before they give in to their New Year's Resolutions.

Plans for AK Beer Week are in full swing and we can say we are looking forward to another big 10 days of awesome beer fun. This year will include a Strong Beer Cocktail Competition pairing Alaskan Breweries with Alaskan Distilleries for the first time. The breweries and distilleries will put together one recipe including beer and spirit to be judged a week before AK Beer Week with the winner being named as the official Strong Beer Cocktail of AK Beer Week. We met with our partner, Alaskan Distillery, last week and had a great time playing with beer, gin, whiskey and vodka as we worked on our recipe. It really was a great experience and a lot of what we were hoping for when the idea came around. This is a chance for Alaskans to show off great beer and great spirits, and it's an incredible opportunity for partnerships to form as we all continue to promote and support local products. Keep an eye out for the AK Distillery and MSBC friendship to grow and bring you more great pairings.
Sounds like a lot of great stuff is in the offing.  Thanks, Darcy!

Celestial Meads in Anchorage will be having a tasting session this Satruday, from 4 to 8 PM.  Here are their descriptions of a couple of new releases they have on offer. 

Persephone's Fate - 14.0%abv - SPECIAL RESERVE
A sweet melomel made with fresh pomegranate fruit and aged for a full year. This is the first of our SPECIAL RESERVE meads. This is a complex mature mead that is best enjoyed in a brandy snifter late at night. Those lucky enough to get a preview sample have compared it to a "fine VSOP brandy". This second batch received aging in bourbon barrels for additional complexity.

Red Menace - 13.0%abv - SPECIAL RESERVE
A sweet melomel made with raw clover honey and handpicked Alaskan Red Currants. The spicy character of the clover honey really enhances the complex fruit characters of the red currants. The tart acidity of the currants perfectly balances the sweetness of the honey. Try this one by itself for dessert or maybe pour it over french vanilla ice cream?

Up north in Fox, Silver Gulch Brewing has a new beer on tap: Discombobulator Doppelbock.  Here's how they describe it:

‘Discombobulator’ is a Bavarian-style Doppelbock dark lager brewed with Pilsen, Caramel and Munich malts, with a bit of dark-roasted malts to impart of dark red/brown tint. European Hallertau and Saaz hops are added to give a spicy note to the huge, malty body of this festive beer. Brewed to keep you warm on those cold winter nights; the substantial alcohol content of ‘Discombobulator’ is hidden by the malt sweetness and roasted/toffee notes. Beware; this ‘goat’ will kick you! 8.70% ABV / 35 IBU

Sounds delicious. I also believe it's on tap at the Silver Gulch Bar on Concourse C of Anchorage International, so if you happen to be flying south for the holidays, you could try it there.

Based on Facebook posts, it looks like construction proceeds apace at the new brewery for Anchorage Brewing Company. The latest bottling of its Darkest Hour Imperial Stout is on the shelves right now, and the next release of its infamous Deal With the Devil Barley Wine just went onto the bottles.

If like me, you read the beer column of Jim "Dr. Fermento" Roberts in The Anchorage Press, the following will not come as news to you. There's a new brewery working to open in Palmer, AK. The Bleeding Heart Brewery is trying to get off the ground in the spring of 2015. To help with the launch, the folks behind it started a Kickstarter campaign.  The campaign has already raised more than double its initial goal of $7500. Now they are trying to his $20k with three days left. If you are interested in kicking in some shekels, you can do so here. If you'd like more details, be sure to check out Fermento's latest column here. Best of luck, guys; we can always use more good beer in Alaska!

Speaking of good beer in Alaska, the Brewers Association has published its breakdown of craft brewing by state for 2013. With 4.3 breweries per 100,000 adults over 21, Alaska ranks 7th in the US. Our brewers produced 182,530 barrels of beer, which translates to 11 gallons for every adult over 21; by that measure we are 3rd in the US. Total economic impact was $150.7 million. Hopefully, everyone who reads this column was already aware of just how important the industry of craft brewing has become for both Alaska and the rest of the US, but this report should remove any doubt. Feel free to share these facts with your legislators the next time you get a chance! If you'd like to see the report for yourself, you can find it here.

Here on the Peninsula, Kassik's Brewery will be putting some special kegs on tap during the run up to Thanksgiving. On Friday, they will tap a 2012 Barley Wine, a 2013 Chocolate Cherry Stout, a 2014 Smoked Russian Imperial Stout, and a 2014 Caribou Kilt Scotch.  Then on next Wednesday, they will tap a 2011 Barley wine, a 2013 Smoked Russian Imperial Stout, the last keg of Black Jack Stout Imperial Stout brewed with Black Strap Molasses and Licorice root, a 2013 Chocolate Cherry Stout, and a 2013 Caribou Kilt Scotch. Kegs this special won't last long, so get there early to get what you want.

Kenai River Brewing has a keg of their 2013 Russian Imperial Stout on tap. I had some of this 10% ABV beast last night, and I can assure you that it has aged beautifully. Get some of it and the 2014 Winter Warlock Old Ale before they are gone! KRB also has their Christmas sweatshirts for sale.

There are only three reviews this week, as I'm still working on my special blog consisting of reviews of aged beers from my cellar.

The Bruery's Bottleworks XII: The brew was a leftover from The Culmination in May, which has been lurking in my beer cooler since then. I finally decide to tackle it.  It was brewed to commerate the twelfth anniversary of The Bottleworks, a well-known beer store in Seattle. It's a sour imperial wit with raspberries. It was fermented in large red wine barrels, with the raspberries added in toward the end of fermentation. It poured a clear, slightly reddish gold, with a nice white head. There were some spicy, fruity notes in the nose, plus some tartness. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light and spritzy. On the palate it was tart and refreshing with the raspberries input being a subtle rather than a dominate element. A very nice sour wit. 8% ABV.

St. Elias Brewing's Green Giant DIPA: This beer poured a clear, light gold color with a big white head. In the glass it looked more like a pilsner than an IPA. The aroma had plenty of juicy, citrusy notes from the copious addition of American hops. There was significant bitterness in the initial attack, followed by more hop flavor and aroma, then a return of the bitterness on the finish. More drinkable than a lot of the Double IPAs, Green Giant should appeal to the uber hopheads out there.

Kenai River Brewing's 2013 Russian Imperial Stout: Doug Hogue has been conditioning this keg for quite some time, and it shows in the finished product. It poured opaque aith a nice tan head that dissipated to a collar but left excellent lacing on the glass. The nose was full of the roasty notes you expect in a RIS, plus plenty of sweeter, almost dark fruit notes. The mouthfeel was rich and chewy, but also very smooth. The flavor profile was a melody of roasted coffee and sweeter, chocolate-like malt flavors, perfectly integrated and very clean tasting, all falling away to a long, nice finish. No trace of alcohol heat from the 10% ABV. This is a supper RIS and a testament to what patience can produce in a big beer.

Well, that's it for this week. Keep an eye out for my special blog of cellar beer reviews and get ready for the snow. It's got to show up eventually...

Until Next Time, Cheers!