Friday, May 30, 2014

A Tale of Two Festivals

Well hello again!  I know, it been a while (four weeks!) since I got a blog out.  Been a busy time for me, end of the school year and all.  Plus Elaine and I went on a ten day road trip to Southeast Alaska, doing research for Volume III of Beer on the Last Frontier.  So much for excuses/explanations; let's get to it.

I've titled the post "A Tale of Two Festivals" because that trip I mentioned above was book-ended by two festivals: The Culmination in Anchorage on Saturday, May 17th, and the 22nd Annual Great Alaska Craft Beer and Homebrew Festival in Haines on Saturday, March 24th. Each festival was a wonderful experience, despite them being about as different from each other as possible.

Let's start with The Culmination.  For a dedicated craft beer lover like myself, it was an absolutely amazing experience.  The beers on offer were simply superb, brews hand-selected from some of the finest breweries across the country and the world, most of which are not available in Alaska.  With  tickets costing $100 and limited at 300 total, you know all the people attending were there because they were seriously into craft beer.  Plus the venue was outstanding, and there was catered food and live music.  In spite of many (most?) of the beers being offered being of greater than typical ABV, I didn't see a single person who seemed to have overindulged in a significant way.  In summary, it's the sort of festival that beer geeks fantasize about attending.  Here's the beer list:
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In many ways, the 22nd Annual Great Alaska Craft Beer and Homebrew Festival in Haines was the opposite of The Culmination.  Instead of 300 attendees, there were 1400. Waiting in the (long!) line to get in, it was obvious that many of the young folks around me had already started "pre-loading" and were looking forward more to the quantity, as opposed to the quality, of the beers they were going to consume.  When we finally made it into the fairgrounds, thirsty drinker were already swarming the 16 different beer tents.  Almost all the breweries in the state were either present or sent some beer: Alaskan, Haines, Skagway, HooDoo Kenai River, Midnight Sun, Silver Gulch, Broken Tooth, Homer, King Street, Arkose, Sleeping Lady, Baranof Island, Denali, and Gold Rush were all there.  Plus booths manned by the three distributors, one split between Elysian Brewing out of Seattle and Sierra Nevada, and finally one tent from Yukon Brewing out of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. None of the beers on offer we extremely rare or hard to find, at least on their home turf, but it was obvious that the crowd was having a great time drinking them.  Plus the weather was very nice, which is always a plus for an outdoor festival!

Between the two of them, these festivals illustrate the balancing act that most craft beer events try to do, between focusing on the beer aspect and focusing on the festival aspect. Neither emphasis is right or wrong; both are great, despite being very different, and I enjoyed them both.

Another part of Haines festival, one that leans more toward the beer side of things, is the Brewers Dinner the Friday night before the Saturday festival.  With only 250 attendees, this is a much more intimate affair, featuring a five course gourmet meal, with each course paired with two beers from the breweries at the festival.  It also features speeches by those brewers, describing their beers, as well as a speech by the guest of honor.  The year's GOH was none other than Charlie Papazian, the founder of the American Homebrewers Association, making his first ever visit to our great state.  With outstanding food, excellent beer, and interesting company, it made for an evening to remember.

So while I was charging around Southeast, what else has been going on around the state?

The big news out of Silver Gulch Brewing is that they are switching distributors.  They are going the Specialty Imports stable of brews.

HooDoo Brewing's founder Bobby Wilken was at the Haines Fest, so we got to chat for a few minutes.  They had a very successful American Craft Beer Week and are ramping up for a busy summer.

At Denali Brewing, the Tasting Room of their production brewery at Mile 2 of the Talkeetna Spur Road is finally open!  Hours are 1 to 7 pm.  I saw the space while it was udner construction last summer, and it should be a nice place to grab a drink without having to go into downtown (?) Talkeetna.

Photo courtesy of Denali Brewing

Arkose Brewery released a new beer as part of American Craft Beer Week: High Ridge Double Red:

Photo courtesy of Arkose Brewery

Sleeping Lady Brewing in Anchorage has two new brews on: Peach Wheat is an American Wheat ale aged on peaches and apricots and there is a cask of their Urban Wilderness Pale Ale, dry hopped with spruce tips, on offer.

Glacier BrewHouse also has a new wheat beer on offer, called simply White.  Here's how they describe it:

This unfiltered wheat beer is a smooth drinking white beer spiced with orange peel, lemon peel, juniper, coriander, and more. Citrus aromas abound. Light and refreshing. Alcohol: 6.20% by volume. Starting gravity: 13.00 Plato (1.053 S.G.)

Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse
With regards to Midnight Sun Brewing Company, I got a nice data dump from their Beer Ambassador, Darcy Kniefel just yesterday.  Here's what's coming up there:

Bike to Work Day - Wednesday June 4th
     The tradition carries on, Midnight Sun Brewing Company will be handing out inspired water (sorry, we are not allowed to give out beer) for bikers next to the Bacon Station and hosting the Ultimate Biker After Party in the afternoon at The Loft. This is traditionally one of the wildest days of the year and we will be giving away a set of VIP passes to the Glacier Pilots Games for the whole season, regular tickets for the Glacier Pilots games and a pair of tickets for the Capitol Cities Concert at Humpy's on June 6th.

Keep On Humpin' Belgian Double IPA 8.2% and 80 IBU
     It's no secret that Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse has been an amazing supporter and pioneer in the Alaskan Craft Beer Scene. Over our 19 years of business with them they have been an amazing ally, business partner and drinking buddy. Our Sockeye Red IPA was originally brewed for Humpy's with Billy Opinsky standing behind them yelling "More HOPS!". We wish to honor Humpy's and their unique style with a beer worthy of their name. Keep On Humpin' celebrates 20 years of Beer Amazingness! We will tap the first keg and raise a glass next Thursday, June 5th at 6pm. The beer will be available at Humpy's, The Loft at Midnight Sun and select growler bars around town.

Capitol Cities Concert - June 6th at Humpy's
     Sure you can get a cocktail at the concert, or you can grab a refreshing Midnight Sun Brew while you jam out to the first of Humpy's Big Spawn Concert Series. Pleasure Town IPA, Midnight Sun Golden (previously known as Kolsch), Oosik Amber and Snowshoe White Ale will all be on tap. We will have our beer squad pouring and handing out summer swag (sunglasses!) through out the night.

Fairy Dust - June 6th, It's being brewed!
     After many years of sending our brews to Girdwood for the Girdwood Forest Fair, the Forest Fair Fairies have asked to have a turn at the kettle. The infamous SJ Klein leads a team of Girdwoodians in brewing the first ever batch of a beer just for Girdwood and the Forest Fair. Stay tuned for details on the official release party and grab a glass as you saunter through the beer garden at the Girdwood Forest Fair this July.

Barfly Smoked Imperial Stout - Monday, June 9
     YES!!!! It has been dangling there, we have been begging for it. It's baaaaaack! The sultry, smokey mouth tease is finally ready to hit the shelf. Bottles and draft will be at The Loft on Monday, June 9 at 11am with further distribution starting the following Monday, if there's any left. I plan on getting my fill!

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun Brewing

At Kassik's Brewery, their award-winning Caribou Kilt Scotch Ale is back on tap.

Seward Brewing Company is now open for the summer.  I haven't gotten over there yet to check it out, but their menu looks great!  You can look it over here. They have four brews on offer: Rockfish Red Ale and Inked Out Stout (which I believe are made to the same recipes as the beers offered in the past) along with Pin Boned IPA and their Liquid Sunshine Farmhouse Ale, a saison.  I'm looking forward to trying both their food and new brews.

I haven't been into St. Elias Brewing for a couple of weeks, but I understand they have a new beer on tap: TurmOil Cascadian Dark Ale.  Here's how Zach Henry describes it:

It's dark with a toffee malt body and a wonderful plethora of American and Australian hops. 6.9% ABV - 62 IBU
I think I'll grab a growler of that this weekend...

A few weeks ago, Kenai River Brewing offered up a new Kumquat Wheat Ale.  Now they have a Kumquat Kolsch on offer as well.  Plus, for glass sales at the brewery, they are running the beer through a kumquat infuser on occasion, giving it even more kumquat flavor!

Photo courtesy of Kenai River Brewing
Okay, let's do some reviews.

First off, I was enjoying myself much too much at the two festivals to actually do any formal beer reviews.  However, I did want to mention one beer, as it was just too spectacular not to.

Anchorage Brewing Company's Time Waits for No One Imperial Stout: This 14.6% ABV imperial stout was aged in a Laphroaig Scotch Whiskey cask.  Gabe Fletcher brewed it as a 60th birthday present for his partner in the brewery, Steve Marshall. It will not be sold.  Which is a damned shame, since I want to buy at least a case!  It was thick and chewy, rich and complex, loaded with smoky flavor.  I'd love to put a case in my cellar, as I think a year or perhaps two will make this beer into an absolute masterpiece.  Given it's limited production, I feel privileged to have gotten to taste it at all.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company

Midnight Sun Brewing Company's 9TEEN Saison: Brewed to celebrate MSBC's 19th Anniversary, I picked up a growler of this in early May. It poured a slightly cloudy honey color, with a small white head that dissipated slowly to a collar. The aroma had all the earthy, spicy notes I look for from a good Belgian yeast. Carbonation was good, giving it a nice, spritzy mouthfeel. There was a nice spicy note to the initial attack, followed by clean hop and malt flavors, well-balanced, before the beer fell away to a long finish.  Very nice.

Wells & Youngs Courage Imperial Russian Stout: Once one of the greatest names in British brewing, Courage no longer brews beer.  The names and recipes of their former brews were purchased by Wells and Youngs, including their archetypal imperial stout.  I found a bottle at La Bodega in Anchorage.  It poured totally opaque with a nice tan head.  The nose had plenty of espresso and malty notes.  Carbonation was nice, and the beer had an excellent thick, chewy mouthfeel.  The flavor profile was incredibly complex, full of espresso, pear, and roasted flavors, without the hop bitterness you often see in American versions.  It gradually falls away to a long, slow, deep finish, which has a touch of alcohol heat from the 10% ABV.  Drinking this beer was like touching a piece of history.  Kudos to Wells & Youngs for keeping it available.

That's it for this time.  I promise it won't be another month before I blog again.  Meanwhile, get out and enjoy the summer while it lasts.  After all, winter in coming.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Beer Events Galore

May is here in all its splendor, and things are beginning to green up here in Alaska.  Soon we will be inundated with the seasonal flood of tourists, but before that happens we are seeing quite a slew of beer events taking place.

Homer Brewing Company will be having a beer dinner at The Homestead Restaurant this Saturday, May 3, at 6:30 pm.  Here's the menu:

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I've eaten at The Homestead and their food is nothing short of phenomenal, so this is would be a great one to choose if you will be on the Southern Peninsula this weekend.

Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Company has announced that they will be opening their Beer Garden next Saturday, May 10th.  They will also be releasing their Paystreak Hefeweizen and having a fire circus as well.  Here's the poster:

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Meanwhile, HooDoo Brewing has announced that their beers are now on tap right across the street from Silver Gulch at The Howling Dog Saloon in Fox.  They will also be releasing a Maibock for American Craft Beer Week, May 12 to 18 and having numerous other events during the course of the week.  Check their Facebook page for a complete listing.

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Denali Brewing Company is also having a beer dinner:

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Boe Barnett from Denali has also been down in this neck of the woods, working on a collaboration brew with Zach Henry of St. Elias.  Zach was up in Talkeetna early last month, and now Boe came south.

In the St. Elias brewhouse. Photo courtesy of Denali Brewing.

Anchorage Brewing Company reports there are only 25 tickets left out of 300 for The Culmination on May 17th.  If you plan to attend, you'd better grab one while you can.  ABC also reports that they have finished brewing 85 barrels of A Deal With the Devil Barley Wine, which is now aging in cognac barrels.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company

At Glacier BrewHouse, they are celebrating the coming of spring with the release of the traditional spring beer: a bock. Here's their description:

A medium bodied, malty lager, balanced nicely with German hops. Classic German Pilsner malt and Munich malt were combined with a touch of specialty malt to render the great malty character. The color is a brilliant dark ruby. 6.67% ABV.
And a photo:

Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse
At Midnight Sun, they continue counting down to their anniversary, and tonight is First Firkin Friday.  Here's the poster:

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At Broken Tooth Brewing, the released their Godly Imperial Stout, aged in Alaska Distillery whiskey barrels, last Friday.  I don't know if there's any left, as I'm sure it went fast, but you might be able to grab some before it's all gone.

Photo courtesy of Broken Tooth Brewing

At King Street Brewing, they have begun releasing their brews in 16 oz. wide mouth cans, for those of you who don't like to use a glass.  Check them out below:

Photo courtesy of King Street Brewing

Kenai River Brewing Company reports that their new Cask SAM Canner has really sped things up.  They were able to can 412 cases in one (long) shift.

Photo courtesy of Kenai River Brewing
That's an awful lot of cans!

Tomorrow at 2 PM, Kassik's Brewery will be releasing Black Jack Stout, the 2013 Kenai Chamber of Commerce winner.  It's brewed with licorice root and black strap molasses. Stop and enjoy a glass while visiting with Scott Hamann as he shows off his Black Jack Bike, one of the most premier bikes in the US.

Moving on to beer reviews, I haven't had the chance to try too many new brews this week, but I did have a couple:

Midnight Sun Brewing Company's Pleasure Town IPA: This is the fourth beer in MSBC's canned line-up and presents quite a contrast to their  Sockeye Red IPA, also available in cans. Pleasure Town pours a slightly orange gold, with a big white head that left good lacing.  Where the aroma from Sockeye Red is very dank and piney/resiny with Pacific Northwest hops, Pleasure Town is much lighter, with fruity notes.  Bitterness is moderate, with plenty of good, clean hop flavor.  As I said, this is a lighter, brighter take on making an IPA, but still excellent.  Highly drinkable at 6.3% ABV, 61 IBUs.

New Belgium's RyePA: As the name implies, this is an IPA with rye in the grain bill.  It poured a deep copper color with a big off-white head that left good lacing.  The aroma was of American hops, and the carbonation was good.  The upfront bitterness was nice and clean, followed by some peppery rye notes and nice hop flavors.  The beer was well-balanced and it dropped away to a nice finish.  Very enjoyable twist on your standard IPA. 7.5% ABV.

Well, that's it for this week.  Get out and enjoy this great spring weather while it lasts and try some new brews if you can.

Until Next Time, Cheers!