Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Home From Travel

If you've been wondering why there's been no blog for the last three weeks, the tittle of this blog should give you a clue!  Yes, I've been doing quite a bit of travelling over the last three weeks, and none of it was directly related to beer.  However, that doesn't mean that I didn't have some interesting beer encounters along the way...

The first trip was up to Denali National Park, to take advantage of the road lottery. On the way, Elaine and I made a quick pit stop at Denali Brewing Company's production brewery at Mile 2 of the Talkeetna Spur Highway.  I wanted to see its newly-opened Tap Room and find out if there was any other news.

The Tap Room is open seven days a week, and as of 1 October, its hours will be from 2 to 8 PM. It's a very nice place to stop for a beer or two, especially on a nice day when the big roll-up door is open, as you can see from these photos:

Denali Brewing Company. Photo by Elaine Howell

Interior of DBC's Tap Room. Photo by Elaine Howell.

Luckily, Owner Sassan Mossanen was there and could take  a few minutes to chat with me.  He took me out back to see the latest of several recent expansions to the brewery. This one is adding another 6,000 square feet to the existing 16,000 square foot facility.  It will house the brewhouse which is currently located in very cramped quarters at the pub in downtown Talkeetna.  Once the project is completes, all brewing will take place at this one site, with the main production brewhouse focusing on meeting the demand for Denali's flagship brews, in kegs and cans, while the smaller brewhouse continues to produce more esoteric beers, like Denali's Flagstop series of brews and its sour ales.

Sassan and I next to the new addition to Denali. Photo by Elaine Howell.

Besides the coming relocation, Denali has also recently added two new 120-barrel conical fermenters and another 120-barrel brite tank for the main production brewery and is buying two used open fermenters from Kenai River Brewing for use in the smaller brewhouse. Things are obviously booming for Denali Brewing Company!

In light of the above, what I learned the next day was very surprising: Boe Barnett, who founded Denali along with Sassan Mossanen, announced via Facebook that he had left the company and was on his way out of Alaska!  This came as a real bolt from the blue for me. I have been in touch with Boe via email (he and his family are driving south), and here's what he had to say in answer to my questions:

Boe Barnett. Photo by Elaine Howell
Why are you leaving Denali?

"The reasons I left DBC have to do with wanting to spend more time with my family, as well as spend more time on my other creative pursuits. I was never able to achieve a sustainable work-family balance in such a fast growing business." 
Why now?

"Why now? Well, I just couldn't let the situation continue. Also, DBC is in a solid place with regards to viability. I was fortunate enough to have been able to build a small, tight crew that will continue on and grow in my absence." 
What's next for you?

"At this point, my wife and I have no plans for our next step. We are going to take as much time as possible and travel. Along the way, we'll be looking for the next great place to settle down and into something new."
"I look forward to watching DBC and the AK beer industry grow and prosper. I also look forward to more great Alaska beer some day in the future."
I know everyone out there would want to join me in wishing Boe and his family fair winds and following seas, as they head off on their next adventure.  Who knows, maybe the winds will blow them back to Alaska some day...

While visiting Denali National Park, I made it a point to check out the local beer scene, of course. On Thursday, our first night in town, Elaine and I dined at the Overlook Restaurant, just reopened under new management a few weeks ago. It is now owned by David McCarthy and Jason Motyka,the same folks who own 49th State Brewing Company and Prospectors Pizzeria & Alehouse, and it showed.  The food was amazing (I had a rack of lamb that was absolutely spectacular) and the beer list was relatively small but excellent.  Besides several beers from 49th State, there was a nice selection of several excellent imports. The Overlook closed for the season on Sunday, September 14th, but if you'll be passing through Glitter Gulch next summer, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

On Friday evening, after a long day of driving the Park Road and photographing wildlife, including almost a dozen grizzlies, we had dinner at Prospector's Pizzeria and Alehouse. We ate there last summer, on our way home from Fairbanks, and the food  this time was just as good as it was last year. I was in the mood for something different, so I was happy to take advantage of the evening special to drink one of my all-time favorite beers in the world, Saison Dupont, on draft at a reduced price. Prospectors was just named one of the 25 Great American Beer Bars for 2104.  This is the second year they have earned this honor; read the full story here.

Finally, on Saturday, we paid a visit to 49th State Brewing itself. Once again, the food was outstanding-- I don't think I ever eaten yak before-- as were the two beers I ordered: Seward's Folly Russian Imperial Stout and a Smoked Marzen (see the reviews below). 49th State will be closing for the season sometime in October, so stop in before then if you can.

After a few days at home, Elaine and I left again, this time to fly to Seattle for our grandson's first birthday party.  Unfortunately, this meant I had to miss the Talkeetna Brewfest, which took place last Saturday, September 20th.  All reports indicate it was a great time, so I'm hoping to make it there in 2015. If you'd like to read the blog of someone who did make it there this year, you can check out this post by my fellow beer blogger Kristi Trimmer.

While beer wasn't the focus of my trip to Seattle either, I did manage to enjoy some while there and pick up a few interesting ones to bring back with me a savor over the next few days.  I particularly enjoyed a couple of beers from Fremont Brewing, which is located not far from where my daughter and son-in-law live.  I had bombers of Universale Pale Ale and Interurban IPA, and liked both beers very much. We purchased said bombers off the shelf from inside a Safeway, by the way.  Washington does not have our stupid requirement that beer can only be purchased from a liquor store, yet they seem to have avoided the drunken rioting which the state of Alaska seems to think would immediately ensue if you could buy your beer at the same cash register that you use to buy your frozen tacos...

Alaska & Delaware: Holding the line against beer in grocery stores...

I also visited an excellent beer store/ beer bar, called Special Brews, to purchase beers to bring back with me. Naturally I grabbed stuff which we can't readily get here in Alaska, and I'll write about it in the coming weeks.  However, I was very impressed with both the layout and the friendliness and knowledge of the staff at Special Brews; it's a combination bottle shop, growler bar, and regular beer bar.  Imagine if La Bodega and Cafe Amsterdam were combined, minus the food.  I'm pretty sure you couldn't have anything like that under Alaska's ridiculously cumbersome alcohol laws, unfortunately.  No doubt as soon as I left Special Brews another drunken riot broke out...

Anyway, if you find yourself on the north side of Seattle, I strongly recommend stopping at Special Brews.  You can learn more about them here, and even sign up for an email newsletter.

So that's the story of my recent travels.  What other news has there been in the world of Alaska beer?  Let's see..

The Capital Brewfest took place in Juneau on Saturday, September 13th; by all accounts it was a great time for all concerned, with over 800 in attendance, and raised a nice amount of money for the worthy causes supported by the Juneau Rotary.

HooDoo Brewing has just completed its first expansion since opening in 2012.  The brewery now has three new 30-barrel brite tanks, for a total of five such tanks. HooDoo is also in the midst of  Oktoberfest, with the celebration continuing until 4 October.  See their website for a schedule of events.

On the way back from Denali National Park, Elaine and I paid a visit to the site of the new Anchorage Brewing Company building on King Street. It was a Sunday afternoon, so no one was there, but we still managed a look around. Construction looks to be proceeding quite well, with the roof having been completed back on September 13th.  Hopefully they will still make their target of a November opening. ABC has also hired a new brewer to replace Jeremiah Boone, who is now the head brewer at King Street Brewing.  The new brewer is Bart Chelmo, formerly one of the brewers at Glacier BrewHouse. Here he is, hard at work at his new job:

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company

Speaking of King Street Brewing, owner Shane Kingry sent out a press release last Thursday, 9/18/14, on their Oktoberfest plans.  Here's what he had to say:

That’s right, Oktoberfest is back!  Our fall seasonal lager will make its debut tomorrow (Friday the 19th) in the tap room.  You may remember this smooth malty amber Marzen from last year.  Be sure to stop by and fill your growlers up before it’s gone…I think we ran out before October last year.

And speaking of Oktoberfest…King Street will be having its annual Oktoberfest Celebration on Saturday, September 27th.  We have been working on this event for the entire year and will showcase five Authentic German Beers on the 27th: Oktoberfest Marzen (of course!), German Bock, German Helles, Bavarian Hefeweizen, and a sneak peak of our German well as our blends such as our Dunkleweizen!

To celebrate this date, we have put together a special offering which includes:

  1. 36oz of authentic German beer (including those listed above), served in
  2. A commemorative .5 Liter Glass Stein decorated with King St’s logo, and
  3. Two German Brand Bratwurst from Alaska Sausage and Seafood along with traditional side dishes.

All for $25!

A few notes on the beers that will be available only during the Oktoberfest Party:

Munich Oktoberfest – An amber lager that has been brewed with all German malts (including Munich and Vienna), Noble hops, and Munich Lager yeast.  Traditionally brewed in the spring and stored in caves during the summer, this beer is used to celebrate the autumn harvest.  Grab some pretzels and a stein full of this!

German Bock – This dark lager with notes of grape and plum was released in February.  It has been aging nicely in our cellar.  The fuller flavor of the Bock is just perfect for these recent days that seem to have just a hint of chill in the air.

German Helles – Released as our Golden lager mid-summer and sold out a couple of of weeks ago.  Good thing we saved one keg for the party!  It is the perfect beer to quaff down with a spicy sausage.  This is our last keg and once it’s gone…you’ll have to wait until next summer to enjoy it again.

Bavarian Hefeweizen - Premium German wheat and Pilsner malts burst with flavor and perfectly compliment the rich clove and banana aromas in this authentic German Wheat Beer.  Unfiltered and perfect for this occasion….pass the rye bread and mustard please!

German WeizenBock – A dark and malty version of a strong German wheat beer, this beer comes in at 7.4% ABV.  We brewed this beer several months ago and most of it has been aging in Port wine barrels.  However we put a little to the side before “going into the oak” and although it has not been released yet, you will have an opportunity to enjoy it before anyone else does!

Looking forward to seeing you FRIDAY for the Oktoberfest release and NEXT SATURDAY (the 27th) for the party! 
Sounds like they'll be having a super time at King Street.

Over at Glacier BrewHouse, there are two new beers on tap.  Here's how they describe them:

Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse
Plum Saison - French style Saison with fruity and spicy flavors supported by a soft malt character and slight tartness. Made with special French Saison yeast and infused with Italian Plum. You’ll go plum crazy over this one!
Alcohol: 7.02% alcohol by volume. Starting Gravity: 14.65 Plato (1.060 S.G.).

Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse
Oktoberfest - This festive beer is medium bodied, sweet, malty, and supremely smooth. The color is a brilliant light copper. The beer was brewed using only the finest German Pilsner and Munich malts along with very subtle German hops.
Alcohol: 6.06% by volume. Starting gravity: 15.26 Plato (1.062 S.G.)
And don't forget that the Great Alaska Beer Train rolls out of Anchorage to Portage and back in just over a week!

It always sells out, so get your tickets now via this website.

At Midnight Sun Brewing Company, there's a new beer coming, but no one knows exactly when.  Termination Dust is the next beer in the Alaskana Series, a Belgian Barley Wine (13% ABV, 70 IBUs) and will be released when Head Brewer Lee Ellis declares that he can officially see termination dust on Flattop from the brewery.  Judging by how cold its been in the mornings lately, I doubt we'll have to wait much longer,,,

Arkose Brewery in Palmer just released a new beer today: Autumn Serenade Harvest Ale, 4.5% ABV, 12 IBUs.

To celebrate their 3rd anniversary on Saturday, October 11th, Arkose will re-release their Blue Skies Organic Ale.

Skagway Brewing Company is shifting to their fall hours starting this Saturday: they will be open for dinner nightly from 4:30 to 9:30 pm. The brewery also recently received a nice review on The Travel Blue Book website.  You can read it here.

Alaskan Brewing Company is partnering with Teton Gravity Research (TGR) and Jones Snowboards to bring the film "Higher" to thirty premiere locations.

“So much of these films are shot in the extreme backcountry of Alaska, that it seemed like a perfect match for Alaskan to be the beer poured at the premiere of the film, and more showings throughout our western states,” said Will Race, Promotions Manager for Alaskan Brewing. “An added bonus for us is the number of Alaskan riders featured in the film, including Lucas Merli of Juneau and Ryland Bell from Elfin Cove and Fairbanks. It’s great to see this next generation of extreme snowboarders coming to the forefront, and we are excited to be a part of it.”

Baranof Island Brewing Company in Sitka is planning an Oktoberfest celebration at the brewery from 3 to 8 PM on Saturday, October 4th.

Seward Brewing Company has announced that they will be closing for the season this Saturday, September 27th.  So this week is your last chance to stop by until next year!

Doug Hogue of Kenai River Brewing tells me that he's brewed up a killer English Old Ale using spruce tips added 15 minutes before the end of the boil. No name yet, but look for an early December release.  Meantime, one week from today is October 1st and you know what that means: the release of the 2014 Winter Warlock!  Mark you calendars!

Zach Henry of St. Elias Brewing told me this morning that he's got some lagers in the pipeline. After his Oktoberfest, look for another of his excellent pilsners...

One final bit of news: if anyone out there is reading this blog in or near Las Vegas, I received an invitation to a beer fest this Saturday at The Cosmopolitan.  It's called Desert Hops and sounds like a pretty nice one. Vegas is a bit much for me right now, but if you'll be in Vegas, you might want to check it out...

OK, let's do some beer reviews. This blog is already running long, so we'll limit it to three this time around, all from 49th State Brewing Company in Healy:

Solstice IPA: This brew was a clear gold with a nice white head that dissipated slowly to a collar.  There was an excellent hop aroma, with more floral and less citrus notes than you see in the typical American IPA; very inviting. There was an excellent clean, fresh bitterness to the attack, followed by delicious hop flavor, before falling gradually to a fine finish. All-in-all, this was a wonderful IPA, served in perfect condition; very satisfying and delicious! 6,8% ABV, 65 IBUs.

Seward's Folly Russian Imperial Stout: One of this year's Hibernation Series. In the glass this beer was totally opaque with a small tan head that dissipated fairly quickly to a collar. The nose was very deep and complex, with notes of sweet and roasted malt, coffee, and dark fruits. The mouthfeel was delightfully chewy. The flavor profile was also complex, with elements coming forward, then stepping back to let others take their place. I picked up coffee, plums, dark chocolate, tobacco, and raisins.  There's no trace of the 9.5% ABV in the profile, and the beer has an amazingly long finish.  This is an excellent Russian Imperial Stout and a testament to how much a long, cold conditioning can improve a beer. Get it if you can. 70 IBUs.

Smoked Marzen: In the style of the classic rauchbiers from Bamberg, Germany, this brew is a translucent ruby color with a cream-colored head that left good lacing on the glass. The aroma was of smoke and malt, with nary a trace of hops, as is proper for the style. Carbonation was good. The smoke flavors persisted from start to finish, dropping away a bit as the good clean malt flavor asserts itself, but returning again in the finish. I haven't been to Bamberg, so I don't what they're like on draft, but this beer is as good as anything I've ever had in a bottle from Germany.

Well, that's it for this time. No more travel in the offing, so I should be able to get these blogs out on a more regular basis, which will make them a bit more timely and not so long!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Friday, September 5, 2014

With All This Rain, It Must Be Autumn...

We have quite  a bit of rain here on the Kenai in the last few weeks, which is a sure sign that summer's over and fall is here. Time to start laying in firewood and battening down the hatches, in preparation for the inevitable arrival of winter.  Still, before we get the white blanket and move into full hibernation mode, there are still some beer events to enjoy.

First up, on Friday and Saturday of next week, September 12th & 13th, Silver Gulch Brewing will be celebrating Oktoberfest.  Here's the poster for that:

Also on Saturday, September 13th, will be  the 3rd Annual Capital City Brewfest; see details on their website. On Friday, September 12th, there will be a beer dinner at Salt in Juneau.  Here's the menu:

Click to enlarge

Also on September 13th, Arkose Brewery in Palmer will be having another of their Beer Meets Canvas events, from 2 to 4 pm.

HooDoo Brewing will be observing the traditional Oktoberfest dates, from September 20th through October 4th.

Also on September 20th, the Talkeetna BrewFest will be held, from 4 to 6 pm.

On the Friday evening before the Brewfest, there will be a beer dinner at the Denali Brewpub in downtown Talkeetna.  Here's the menu:

Click to enlarge
This looks like a really exceptional beer dinner, and a steal at $69.

Speaking on beer dinners, another one will be taking place at Kinley's Restaurant in Anchorage on October 29th, prior to Bodegafest on 1 November.  Details are still be worked out, but there will be five food courses and six beer courses. However, each beer course is actually TWO beers, one of which will be a "classic" from Merchant du Vin's prestigious portfolio and the other will be from a brewery here in south-central (Sleeping Lady, Broken Tooth, King Street, Midnight Sun, Denali and Kenai River). I was lucky enough to attend a beer dinner at Kinley's a couple of years ago which was fantastic, so I know this one will be exceptional as well.

As mentioned above, this year's Bodegafest will take place on 1 November at Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage.  Mark your calendars.

Click to enlarge
I recently received the following list of upcoming events from Roy Chapel, the manager of the Brown Jug at 9200 Old Seward:

Calendar of Events:

September 10th, Wednesday - 6-8PM Black Raven! AND WICKED PIES FOOD TRUCK!!!!
September 17th, Wednesday - 6-8PM Elysian Pumpkin Roadshow
September 24th, Wednesday - Oktoberfest tap takeover!!
~ Tasting Break ~
October 11th, Saturday - 12-5PM Thomas Family Farm Beer in the Barn 2014!
October 15th, Wednesday - Firestone Walker/Jake's day of birth
October 29th, Wednesday - 6-8PM Ninkasi Toasted Cheese Sandwiches and Halloween Costume Contest!
November 12th, Wednesday 6-8PM Ballast Point with Jarred
November 19th, Wednesday Bison Brewing

In other news, HooDoo Brewing is releasing a new beer at noon tomorrow: an American Pale Ale.  Here's how they describe it:

Our American Pale starts with a light but complex base of five different barley malts, then is hopped in the boil kettle with two unique, Oregon grown hop varieties. After fermentation the beer is dry-hopped with one of our favorite hop varieties, Centennial, also grown in Oregon. The result is a distinctively delicious beer with a rich hop character, but with a little more drinkability than an IPA. ABV: 5.1% // IBU: 42
Since it's getting close to the end of the season, 49th State Brewing in Healy  has some killer deals on growler fills:

Smoked Marzen $12    Golden Dahl $21  Dunkelweizen $16
Hefeweizen $13  Bullinerweisse $12  Vagabond Saison $18

Baked Blonde $12  Solstice IPA $12  Augtoberfest $12  Vienna Lager $12.
Also, get a $5 fill of your choice with the purchase of any new stainless steel growler
Fill up while you still can.

In Anchorage, King Street Brewing has released a very unique brew, that they are calling a Breakfast Hefeweizen.  Here's how Shane Kingry describes it:

Some of you know that we have been experimenting with some new hops.  Last year we stumbled upon Mosaic.  She has a rich hop heritage, including Nugget and Simcoe.  Mosaic hops have a complex array of enticing aromatics including pine, tropical, citrus, and in our new seasonal, a distinct orange/tangerine component.  Inspired by what we found, we added orange juice to our Hefeweizen and dry hopped it with Mosaic, creating a completely unique beer that is both very tasty as well as incredibly refreshing.  We wouldn't call this a Radler, as this beer has quite a bit more flavor and is a bit higher in alcohol, coming in at 8.0% abv, but it is certainly unlike anything we have tasted before.  A very limited amount of this beer was crafted, so come and get it while it lasts!
More King Street news: David Short, who has been the Lead Brewer at King Street for the last three years, has taken a job with K&L Distributors, replacing Matt Rohloff, who had to leave to deal with some family issues.  I just heard yesterday that David had been replaced at King Street by Jeremiah Boone, former Head Brewer at Midnight Sun and most recently the #2 man at Anchorage Brewing Company, under Gabe Fletcher. Best of luck to both David and Jeremiah in their new jobs!

Glacier BrewHouse released a new beer yesterday: Hungarian Oak Black Rye Bock.  Here's he they describe it:

This beer has a distinctive bitter chocolate palate and black color. Aged one year in Hungarian oak barrels rendering flavors of vanilla, coconut, caramel, and more. The spiciness from the rye malt shines through with the smooth malty sweetness. Our brewers combined characteristics of three winter beer styles to create this black beauty. All three of these styles traditionally come from the colder harsher areas of Europe. The styles include: (1) Black Beer (aka Schwartzbier) originating from Bad Kostritz in Thuringia (former East Germany); (2) Rye Beer which at one time was only made in hardier areas of Eastern and Baltic Europe; and (3) Bock Beer which is widely known as the higher alcohol lager of Northern Germany. Alcohol: 6.50% by volume. Starting gravity: 16.50 Plato (1.068 S.G.)
Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse
Here on the Peninsula, I finally made it back over to Seward on Labor Day, so I stopped into the Seward Brewing Company for lunch.  The food was excellent, especially the lamb fries, and their were four brews on tap:

Pin Bone IPA - 7.9% ABV, 66 IBUs (reviewed below)
Marathon Summer Ale - a 7.5% ABV, 10 IBU wheat beer
Rockfish Red Ale - 8% ABV, 13.5 IBUs
Fishtown Brown - 6.5% ABV, 19 IBUs

I had a pint of the IPA, but I was a bit surprised that there was nothing on offer with less than 6.5% ABV.  No session beers here! Of course, if you wanted something lighter, they had several other craft brews from around the state on offer. Seward Brewing Company will likely be closing soon for the winter, so get over there while you still can.

Finally, Doug Hogue of Kenai River Brewing tells me they will be releasing a new brew next Friday: Smores Beer.  Just like the traditional campfire treat, this beer is brewed with marshmallows (20 lbs in the brewkettle), graham crackers (60 lbs in the brewkettle), and dark chocolate nibs (16 lbs in the brite tank). For the release, the brewery will have mini-hibachi grills set up on the tables in the Tasting Room, so folks can make their own smores while they taste the new brew.  Look for things to kick-off at 5 PM on Friday, September 12th.

Now let's do a few beer reviews:

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing
Anchorage Brewing Company's Thank You German Hefe w/Brett: The beer poured a crystal clear light straw gold with a nice white head. There were a few of the traditional banana and clove note sin the nose, plus significant Brett funkiness.  Carbonation was good, and the beer was lively and refreshing on the palate. I got much more Brett and not much hefeweizen with this brew, but it was quite delicious and an excellent brew for a warm day. 6% ABV, 30 IBUs.

Seward Brewing Company's Pin Bone IPA: Served with a decent white head that left good lacing, this brew was a slightly cloudy gold. The aroma had lots of citrus and grapefruit notes from the American hops used. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was nice.  There was plenty of clean bitterness up front, then nice hop flavor, before falling away to a good, lingering finish. An very nice IPA, though at 7.9%, and 66 IBUs, you'll likely only have the one.

No-Li Brewhouse's Wrecking Ball Imperial Stout: I've heard a lot about this Spokane, WA brewery lately, so I picked this up at Sak Town Liquors on the outskirts of Seward. Keep an eye on Sak Town, as they are int he process of expanding and installing a growler bar! The beer poured almost opaque with ruby highlights and a tan head that left good lacing. The nose was full of black currants and other dark fruits notes, plus some roastiness.  The mouthfeel was good and the flavor profile was classic imperial stout: Roast malt, a hint of alcohol, dark chocolate, a hint of tobacco, falling away slowly to a long, deep finish.  Very nice. 9.5% ABV, 100 IBUs.

Well, that's it for this week.  Try to stay dry and start laying in supplies; fall is here and winter won't be far behind.

Until Next Time, Cheers!