Friday, January 31, 2014

Selling Beer

For all brewers -- except homebrewers, of course -- despite whatever else it may be, brewing beer is a business.  Some may be looking to get rich, some may be looking to get by, some may not care if they lose money at it, but on some level, every commercial brewer is trying to sell the beer they make to the public.

I was reminded of this recently by a couple of things.  First, as we get ready for the Super Bowl this weekend, the big beer companies have been trotting out their new ads.  Here's the one from AB-InBev:

Obviously this is a fantastic commercial, in the sense that it's cute and heartwarming, but it begs the obvious question: What does this have to do with the beer they sell?  Other than playing into the  old joke about Budweiser being the product of a diabetic Clydesdale, I fail to see the nexus between this commercial, cute as it is, and the product it is advertising.  Best Buds?  You could sell marijuana in Colorado with that slogan...

And therein lies the problem with most mainstream beer ads: they talk about everything except the beer.  A cute puppy and a clever pun in an ad campaign are no more likely to attract someone who drinks beer for the taste than is a clever beer name.  It doesn't hurt to have a memorable name, but no one drinks Russian River's Pliny the Elder or Dogfish Head's 90 Minute IPA because they think the names are cool.  They drink them because they are exceptional beers, produced by exceptional breweries, with tremendous reputations.  That's why craft beer sales are growing, while beer as a whole is losing market share.

In my book, that's better than all the cute puppies and magnificent horses in the world.

But then again, I'm not the marketing director for AB-InBev...

And just to show that I'm not playing favorites, we had a Miller-Coors fiasco this week with regards to their upcoming release of Miller Fortune.  This 6.9% ABV beer is explicitly designed to try to win back some of the drinkers who have switched from beer to spirits.  Unfortunately, the mainstream press who tried to report on it are so totally clueless about beer (thanks in no small part to decades of the big producers treating beer as being nothing but a commodity) that when Bloomberg News Service ran a story on it (MillerCoors Seeks Spirit Fans with Bourbon-like Lager), follow-up stories in other outlets totally dropped the ball as to what was going on, stating that the new beer actually contained bourbon, forcing MillerCoors to issue a clarifying press release.  All this begs the question as to why mainstream media outlets can't be bothered to hire someone who knows something about beer to write about it.  Time, for example, assigned their Health reporter to write about Miller Fortune.  I guess they never heard of the North American Guild of Beer Writers; let me suggest that the next time they need a beer story written, they pay one of us to do it!

At least what they print will make some sense...

Let's say, just for the sake of argument, you wanted to make a beer commercial that was actually about the beer.  Then you might come up with something like this:

Green Bench Brewing "Journey of Beer" from Momentum on Vimeo.

Well, after all that national news and opnion, what's up on the Alaska beer scene?

Silver Gulch Brewing has their Lowbush Cranberry Belgian Saison on tap.  It's described as: "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."

HooDoo Brewing has announced that they have begun barrel-aging their 2014 Barley Wine in Dry Fly Whiskey barrels.  The plan is to keep the beer on the wood for 6 to 12 months.  As part of the UAF Chancellor's Gala, HooDoo will be holding a beer & food afternoon from 3 to 4:30 pm on Sunday, March 30.  All proceeds go to support charity and tickets are $55 per person, available on the Gala's website.

I received an email from Shawn Standley at Denali Brewing the other day.  In part, it said that February would be a quiet month in Talkeetna, making it a great time to visit.  If you need more encouragement, here's the current beer list at the Twister Creek Restaurant:

Click to enlarge

While February will be slow, March looks to be hoppin'.  Here's the list of events:

March 1-2:  Iditarod
March 8: The Trio - a fat tire bike race sponsored by Speedway Cycles and Denali Brewing Company.Here's the poster for it:

March 15: Oosik Classic
April 4-6: Beer Trippin' in Talkeetna with the GNBC home brew competition

Arkose Brewery in Palmer will be having another of their excellent Beer Meets Chocolate events on -- wait for it -- Valentines Day!  Here's the poster for that one:

Click to enlarge
At King Street, they are still pouring their Bock and their Barrel-aged Breakfast Stout.

Over at Glacier BrewHouse, they have a new Baltic Porter on tap, courtesy of assistant brewer Bart Chelmo.  Here's how they describe it:

"Medium body, low bitterness, and smooth lager characteristics combine with flavors of chocolate and roast perfectly. Deep, dark ruby in color. Alcohol:6.56% by volume."

Sleeping Lady has announced their next Beer Dinner, taking place on Wednesday, February 26th at 6 PM.  Tickets are $55 each and are on sale now.  Here's the menu:

Click to enlarge

Midnight Sun's Beer Ambassador Darcy will be in Seattle tonight, pouring their Arctic Devil Barley Wine at Chuck's Hop Shop.

Last Saturday, Kassik's Brewery held their 2014 Vertical Barley Wine dinner.  Unfortunately, it was the same night as the Beer & Bacon Festival at the Challenger Center, so I couldn't make it, but I understand it was sold out and a great time, as was the Beer & Bacon Fest.

Over at Kenai River Brewing, they have a new brewer, Devin Wagner.  You can read more about that in my next Redoubt Reporter column, which will be out next Wednesday.  Meantime, the last of the Winter Warlock Old Ale went on tap today at the brewery.  If you haven't tried it yet, or just would like to have some while watching the Super Bowl, this is your last chance.

Finally, let's do a couple of beer reviews.

21st Amendment's Lower De Boom Barley Wine:  I was eager to give this one a try, if for no other reason than it was packaged in a 8.4 oz. can, which is pretty unique.  It poured a deep honey color, with a small, cream-colored head that dissipated rapidly to a collar.  The initial aroma had some hops, but they were somewhat subdued, compared to a typical American Barley Wine (like Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot, for example).  The carbonation was fairly low, and the mouthfeel was medium.  There was some initial hop bitterness, but once again it seemed subdued, and there was some heat from the 11.5% ABV on the finish.  The label listed 95 IBUs, but it did not taste close to that.  In searching for an explanation, I happened to turn the can over.  That's when I noticed the packing date on the bottom: 02/05/2013.  Now it made sense; after a year in the can, I'm sure the beer had lost a lot of its hop character.  I'll try to find a fresher sample to try next time around.

The Lost Abbey's Saint's Devotion Belgian Pale Ale:  I picked this one up last October when I was down in the Bay Area.  Since it was bottled with Brett, I was giving it some time for the funkiness to develop.  It poured a lovely crystal-clear gold with a big white head.  There was plenty of Brett funkiness in the nose.  Carbonation was excellent, and the mouthfeel was light and refreshing.  The Brett flavors were present but not excessive, giving it nice, crisp flavors.  It finishes quite dry.  Overall, slightly tart and very refreshing.

That's it for this week.  More news and reviews next week.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, January 24, 2014

AK Beer Week: The Aftermath

So I survived another Alaska Beer Week, more or less intact.  While it is no where near the scale of some of the beer weeks in the Lower 48 - the ones that have 300+ events - Alaska Beer Week has become quite the extensive (and intensive) experience.

I'm not about to give you all a beer-by-beer account of my time in Anchorage, but let me hit a couple of highlights.

The Humpy's and Sub-Zero Belgium Beer Dinner of Wednesday Night - I've attended this dinner in years past, but this year I must say that Billy Opinsky and his chef outdid themselves. Here is a copy of the menu:

As you can see from the menu, the only dish which did not contain king crab was the dessert!  Not to mention all the fabulous beers which were served with the various dishes.  The event went from 6 PM to almost 11 PM, and I could barely make it back to my hotel, I was so stuffed with good food and good beer!  Kudos again to Billy for a superb evening; even at $100 per person, I'm sure he lost a ton of money on the affair.

On Thursday afternoon, I took in the annual Specialty Imports Trade Show.  As always, it was a total class act, with a nice buffet and plenty of interesting new brews to sample.  Here are a couple of things that jumped out at me:

Arkose Brewery in Palmer has signed on with Specialty, so now we can have some hope of seeing their fine beers down here on the Peninsula on occasion!

Ben Love of Gigantic Brewing in Portland was there, pouring several new brews, including a wicked Russian Imperial Stout. I'm looking forward to snagging bottles of all his latest releases.

Kenai River Brewing was pouring their famous Gummi Beer Tripel.  Here's their new graphic for it:

Plus, there were several new artisanal cider makers and meaderies there.  Both of those sectors are growing rapidly.  By the way, if you are interested in cider, I highly recommend this book:

World's Best Ciders: Taste, Tradition, and Terroir by Pete Brown and Bill Bradshaw.  I read it over the holidays and learned a tremendous amount about traditional & artisanal ciders from all over the world.

Thursday Night was the joint event between the Great Northern Brewers Club and the Brewers Guild of Alaska at The Snow Goose.  This year's event was organized a bit differently, with lots of excellent food and plenty of great beer.  To avoid the gatecrashers we've suffered from in the past, this year tickets and IDs were required at the door, which seemed to produce a much more mellow atmosphere inside.  The guest speaker were Peter Bouckaert and Kim Jordan from New Belgium Brewing Company in Ft. Collins, CO. and Dick Cantwell from Elysian Brewery in Seattle, WA.

Saturday at the Connoisseurs Session of the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival proper, the winners were announced for the various categories.  The Winter Seasonal Award went to Shmaltz Brewing (I missed exactly which beer). Anchorage Brewing Company's A Deal with the Devil Barley Wine (last year's winner) took 3rd place in the Barley Wine contest, Firestone-Walker's Sucaba took second, and Alameda Brewing's Ol' Alger was chosen as the best of the barley wines.  Congratulations to all of this year's awardees.

Speaking of ABC's A Deal with the Devil, the beer they were pouring at the fest was from last year's batch, because all of this year's release went into bottles.  By the time you read this, every bottle that hit the shelves in Anchorage will be gone.  In fact, they disappeared so fast, even with a one-bottle-per-customer-max rule, that Pamela Hatzis and her crew at La Bodega saved the last dozen bottles and held a drawing for a chance to buy one.  However, I think that the drawing was this morning, so if you haven't scored a bottle yet, I'm afraid you are out of luck.  I understand that 63 cases of this beer will be heading south in about three weeks, so if you are reading this blog Outside, you'd best check with your local beer store to see if they'll be getting any.

Oh, and by the way, it sells for $30 a bottle, and it's worth every penny...

I wrote above that Kenai River Brewing was pouring their Gummi Bear Tripel up in Anchorage.  As of today, Friday, 1/24, they have it on tap at the brewery.  Also new at the brewery are two brand-new 40-barrel fermenters.  Here are a picture of one of them arriving, and then both in place, courtesy of Doug Hogue:

These new vessels pretty much fill all the available brewery space.  If Kenai River wants to expand anymore, they are going to have to get themselves a bigger building!

While I was in Anchorage, I had lunch one day at Flattop Pizza + Pool, the new venture located between Humpy's and Subzero, on the corner of 6th Ave and F St.  I was there quite early, so there wasn't much going on, but that gave me good chance to check the place out.  Lots of big screen TVs give it the sports bar feel, several nice pool tables, and about 12 to 15 local beers on draft (I forgot to count the exact number).  I had a nice Anchortown Pizza for lunch, and a glass of Flattop Pale Ale, the house beer brewed for them by Denali Brewing Company

The beer poured a deep copper color, crystal clear with a white head that left good lacing on the glass.  The aroma was nice, with plenty of good, citrusy American hop notes.  Mouthfeel and carbonation were both good, with a decently bitter attack up front, that gradually feel away to a nice, clean finish.  Very well done, and an excellent accompaniment to the pizza.  If you are in the downtown corridor and looking for pizza and beer, Flattop should definitely be on your short list of choices.

I also finally got around to reviewing St. Elias Brewing Company's Matushka Imperial Stout.  This is a beer that Zach Henry has brewed before, but I think he has really hit the bulls-eye with this version. It poured opaque with a big brown head.  The aroma was of roast malt, vanilla from the oak, dark fruit, and I swear I was getting notes of pears from it as well!  Nice carbonation and excellent mouthfeel - chewy and oily, just the way I like my RIS.  The flavor profile was rich and complex; I picked up coffee, lots of malt, more oaky vanilla, even some chocolate.  Best of all, no hint of how strong the beer is, none of the solventy alcohol heat you sometimes get on beers this big.  An excellent brew, probably in the top ten beers I've ever had from St. Elias.

Well, that's about it for this week.  I should a have a longer blog next week, along with more beer reviews.  Until then, get out and drink some good beer!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, January 10, 2014

AK Beer Week Is Upon Us!

Hello and welcome to 2014!  I hope everyone had as nice a holiday break as I did, but we're back at it now, hot and heavy!

AK Beer Week starts today and the number of different events happening over the next ten days is simply staggering.  I can't even begin to list all the different releases, tastings, beer dinners, and other events scheduled both in Anchorage and at breweries and brewpubs around the state.  The AK Beer Week Facebook page is simply overflowing, while the events section of the AK Beer Week webpage is packed as well. I counted 32 different events, not counting daily specials. If you are going to be in Anchorage or anywhere else in the metro areas of the state between now and next Sunday, you should definitely check out what's available in your area.

And if you see something you are interested in, I'd suggest making reservations right away, as many events are already booked up/sold out!

Moving past AK Beer Week, there has been some other pieces of news since my last blog before Christmas. Alaskan Brewing Company has announced the return of their ESB as a seasonal release. From 1995 to 2008, this beer was one of Alaskan's flagship beers, but it has not been available in a bottle since then. It will be available through the end of March.

Alaskan has also added Hopothermia Double IPA, formerly one of its Rough Draft series, to its line-up of year-round brews available on draft or in four-packs of 12 oz bottles.This beer is brewed with Nugget and Apollo hops to provide bittering in the kettle, then late additions of Amarillo, Citra, and Centennial hops to add notes of spicy grapefruit and orange. HOPothermia has 8.5% ABV and 70 IBUs of bitterness. Alaskan has also released a new beer in the Rough Draft Export Series, Taku River Red Ale. Made with four different caramel malts and using Apollo, El Dorado, Summit, Meridian, Centennial, and Citra hops, this hoppy red ale comes in at 5.7% and 55 IBUs.

They are sort of AK Beer Week events, but each of these new releases deserves its own mention. Midnight Sun Brewing will be releasing this year's Arctic Devil Barley Wine at 3 PM tomorrow at the brewery.  They are also releasing their new Pleasure Town IPA at 5 PM today at the brewery, while Broken Tooth Brewing will be releasing this year's Darth Delirium at the same time at the Moose's Tooth.  And last Tuesday, King Street Brewing released their Bock, which weighs in at 6.8% ABV.

Given all these great new beers being released, I wanted to mention a cool new gizmo I got for Christmas: The Growler Saver.  Here's a video that shows how it works:

As I said, I got one and I've used it and it works quite well.  If you're the sort who ends up pouring out half-full growlers of flat beer, this is the solution to your problem.  You can find more info on their website here.

 At St. Elias Brewing Company, H & H Winter Warmer is now on tap.  Since I helped brew this beer, I won't write a review (since that would be a bit self-serving).  I'll just say that I'm extremely happy with how it turned out.  For more info on what we were trying to accomplish with this brew, check out my 12/12/2013 blog.

I realize that I have fallen quite far behind with my beer reviews, so let's try to make up some ground, before I have a bunch more to do from AK Beer Week.

Kenai River Brewing's Pacific Gem Single Hop IPA is still on tap.  The beer pours a clear honey color with a nice, cream-colored head.  To my nose, the aroma had plenty of piney notes, and good bitterness on the palate.  The Pacific gem hops reminded me a bit of Chinooks.  Very nice. 7% ABV and 70 IBUs.

Oakshire Brewing's Watershed IPA: This brew pours a clear deep gold with a big, white head.  The nose was full of bright citrusy hops.  On the palate there was good bitterness, followed by tropical fruit notes, without being overwhelming.  The beer had a nice clean finish.  Another quality American IPA. 6.7% ABV, 70 IBUs.

Rivertowne Brewing's Maxwell's Scottish Ale:  I received a can of this beer from Wendell Dutcher of Kenai River Brewing.  Looking at the can, I thought that perhaps Kenai River should sue them, since the label design is so similar to their Skilak Scottish Ale!  The beer wasn't too different either, pouring a deep ruby with a cream-colored head.  The aroma was of caramel with a touch of smoke.  The carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was nice.  Definitely malt forward, with clean flavors and no discernible hop bitterness.  Smooth finish.  Nice beer, though I think Skilak Scottish is better. 5.1% ABV.

Alaskan Brewing's 2014 Barley Wine:  This year's version of this perennial favorite was released before Christmas. It poured a clear, deep honey color with a nice, cream-colored head.  Unlike many barley wines, this one actually had some hops in the nose, along with the massive caramel sweetness.   On the palate there was a nice balance between malt and hop bitterness, with a touch of heat from the 10.7% ABV on the finish.  Great now, but perfect for cellaring, it's worth picking up multiple bottles of this one.

Deschutes Brewing's 2010 The Abyss Imperial Stout: I pulled this beauty from my cellar to open over the holidays. It poured opaque with a small brown head. The aroma was rich and decadent, full of coffee, vanilla, & molasses notes.  Carbonation was light, but mouthfeel was excellent, with plenty of chewiness.  The flavor profile was extremely rich and complex, with coffee, dark fruit, vanilla/oak, and molasses all making their presence felt.  The 11% alcohol reveals itself during the nice, long finish with some warming notes.  An exceptional beer, one of the best Deschutes brews, in my humble opinion.

Gouden Draak 9000 Quad from Van Steenberge: Another brew that I was saving for the holidays.  This strong Belgian beer poured lighter than most quadruples, as it was a deep honey color with an off-white head, rather than being brown.  The aroma had the spicy, peppery notes characteristic of Belgian yeasts.  The 10.7% alcohol was apparent from the start, with a rich and warming flavor profile.  There was some honey-like sweetness, but balance with good hop bitterness.  Overall, it was lighter than the typical quad, but very nice. Almost a Belgian barley wine, if such a thing existed.

Well, that's it for this week.  I'll be in Anchorage for a good part of next week, so don't expect a blog, but if you are at any of the Alaska Beer Week events, keep an eye out for me.  I'm always happy to talk to anyone who actually reads this stuff that I write.

Until Next Time, Cheers!