Thursday, October 2, 2014

Down in the Cellar...

A few weeks ago I finally broke down and decided to reorganize my beer cellar. I've been buying beers to keep off-and-on since I picked up my first bottle of Thomas Hardy Ale in 1991, but bouncing around the world as a naval officer really isn't conducive to having a beer collection of any size. So it wasn't until I retired and moved to Alaska in 2004 that I could really put away beers in any significant numbers. So that's when I started cellaring beers in earnest.

Of course I made all the rookie mistakes. I cellared the wrong kind of beers. I didn't keep good track of what I had, so things got forgotten. I didn't cellar enough bottles of each beer, so I couldn't taste the beer regularly to see when it was at its peak.  I didn't have any sort of shelf plan, so finding bottles was difficult. You get the idea.

So a few weeks ago, I reorganized my entire cellar and spread-sheeted  my inventory, including dates in, target dates out, and actual dates out. Hopefully, this will allow my to keep better track and ensure I stay on top of when a specific beer is at its peak.

Click to enlarge
In hindsight, I wish I'd had some sort of guidebook to cellaring, so I wouldn't have had to learn things the hard way. In 2004 no such book existed, but today there is one:Vintage Beer by Patrick Dawson. If you're at all interested in cellaring beer and don't want to make the same rookie mistakes as I did, I strongly recommend picking up a copy.

As part of the great cellar reorganization, I pulled up a couple of brews to open. The first was a bottle on Meantime Brewing's Naval College Old Porter, which had been resting comfortably down there since the fall of 2012. Here's my review of the fresh version of this beer in my 10/19/2012 blog:

 It poured a deep, almost opaque ruby color in the class, with a nice tan head.  The nose was of chocolate, dark malts, and perhaps a touch of peat smoke from the barrel-aging.  On the palate there was tremendous mouthfeel, thick and rich, like melted ice cream.  The flavor profile was very complex and deep- chocolate, coffee, smokiness, vinous notes from the wood, with the barest touch of brett funk; be interesting to cellar a bottle for several months to see if the brett flavors increased.  Long, slow, finish, with more smoke at the end.
So what had changed in this beer in the course of two years? Surprisingly little. The beer had perhaps dried out a bit, and the brett notes had perhaps increased a bit. I also did not detect the smokiness this time. However, it was still an excellent beer, clearly none the worse for wear after two years in the cellar.

The second beer I tasted was a bottle of Alaskan Brewing's Perseverance Ale from 2011. Brewed to celebrate Alaskan's 25th anniversary, this was a seriously sweet brew when fresh.  Here's how I reviewed it on 9/7/2011:

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell
Perseverance Ale pours totally opaque, with a small tan head that dissipates to a collar.  The aroma has a hint of smoke, plus plenty of sweet notes battling it out with roasted flavors.  On the palate the story is much the same, with 50 IBUs of bitterness to balance the big malt bill and the syrup and honey additions.  The beer is deep, rich, and complex; the finish is long, with some sweetness making itself felt, then a touch of alcohol heat from the 9% ABV at the very end.  It will be interesting to cellar the beer for a year or more, to see if these sweet flavors dry out over time.

After three years in the cellar, I am happy to report that the sweet flavors have indeed dried out a bit, allowing the roasted and smoked malt elements to become more prominent and bringing the beer's flavor profile into much better balance. It's a much better beer today than it was in 2011, and it may get better still with another year or two. I've still got some left in the cellar, so we shall see.

Moving on to current beer news, Silver Gulch Brewing in Fox has a brand-new beer on tap: Red Flag IPA. It's an unfiltered red rye IPA that's been dry hopped.

At HooDoo Brewing Company, they are continuing their Oktoberfest celebrations through this Saturday, October 4th. They have also announced a new Beer Train event in partnership with the Alaska Railroad and Lavelle's Bistro: the HooDoo ChooChoo.

Similar to the Beer Train which has run for several years from Anchorage to Portage and back, this train will run from Fairbanks to Nenana and back, with HooDoo providing the beer and Lavelle's Bistro the food. By the way, Elaine and I ate at Lavelle's during our last visit to Fairbanks and their food was AWESOME! The train departs at 4 PM on Saturday, October 18th. If you're interested, click here for details and tickets.

Things are slowing down a bit at 49th State Brewing as they get ready to go into winter hibernation. Currently, they are open from 4 PM to Midnight, and their last day will be Friday, October 17th. However, they will be going out with a bang, with a Halloween Party that night.

Denali Brewing has released their Slow Down Brown Ale and their Purple Haze Blueberry Wheat Ale; look for it on draft at various taps around the state.

In The Valley, the Mighty Matanuska Brew Fest is fast approaching. It will take place October 17th & 18th, in Raven's Hall at the State Fairgrounds in Palmer, from 6 to 10 PM.  Tickets are $30 for each night.

On Friday, October 10th, the Eagle River Brew Fest will be held at the Eagle River Lions Club at 16630 Eagle River Road, from 6:30 to 9:30 PM. The price includes a high-end buffet style dinner, a commemorative pint glass and samples from Alaskan Brewing, Arkose Brewing, Broken Tooth Brewing, Celestial Meadery, Denali Brewing, Glacier BrewHouse, Midnight Sun Brewing, and Sleeping Lady Brewing.Tickets are being sold at the Boys' and Girls Club in Eagle River and all proceeds got to benefit that club.

Over at Midnight Sun Brewing, Lee Ellis had finally officially declared that there is termination dust on the mountains, so Termination Dust Belgian Barley Wine has been released on draft and in bottles! MSBC has also released their Son of Berserker Stout in bottles.

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun Brewing Company

Glacier BrewHouse has another new beer on tap, a Black IPA.  Here's how they describe it:

Black IPA (BLIPA) - All of the hoppy and fruity goodness of an American West Coast IPA combined with the gentle and supportive darkness from the special debittered black malts. Darkly hopalicious. Alcohol: 7.67% by volume. Starting Gravity: 18.60 Plato (1.076 S.G.).

Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse

I've mentioned this before, but it's worth mentioning again: Bodega-Fest will soon be upon us. This year it will take place on Saturday, 1 November, from 5 to 9 PM. Besides moving later in the year, this year's fest will be held indoors, at the Alaska Aviation Museum. The $35 ticket gets you a commemorative glass and 15 tasting tickets. On the Wednesday before the fest, October 29th, there will be a Beer Dinner at Kinley's in Anchorage. I've been to a Kinley's beer dinner in the past, and they are always top-notch.

Baranof Island Brewing Company in Sitka is also celebrating Oktoberfest.  Here's the poster:

Seward Brewing Company closed for the season on September 29th.

On October 1st, Kenai River Brewing Company released this year's version of the outstanding Winter Warlock Old Ale. I got an early taste of the 2014 Warlock at the Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival in August, and it was excellent. So be sure to stop by and pick some up before it's gone.

St. Elias Brewing Company has their excellent Oktoberfest Lager back on tap, for sale in 20 oz glasses, and also a new beer, called Grasshopper, described by owner Zach Henry as a "session IPA". I had a couple of pints and found it deliciously hoppy, but not too strong to have more than one of. A real session beer indeed!

I've already reviewed a couple of brews above, but let's do a few more:

Kenai River Brewing Company's Smores Beer: I wrote in my 9/5/2014 blog about how this beer was made, but how does it taste? In a word, very much like a smore.  If you like smores, that's a good thing. Sadly, I don't much care for them, so this brew isn't really my cup of tea. It has a pronounced coconut aroma and flavor, presumably from the graham crackers, and plenty of chocolate notes from the nibs added to the brite tank. It's a well-made brew, so if smores are to your liking, be sure to check it out.

Scuttlebutt Brewing's Hoptopia Imperial IPA: I picked up a bottle of this beer on my recent trip to Seattle; the brewery is located in Everett, WA. It poured a deep, slightly cloudy gold with a big, off-white head that left good lacing. The nose was surprisingly well-balanced between malt and hops; most imperial IPA are straight hop bombs. Carbonation was good, as was the mouthfeel. On the palate, the sense of balance continued, with a nice upfront bitterness being eventually restrained by a good malt backbone. There also some nice toffee notes.  All-in-all, this beer had a very "English" feel to me, despite its use of American hops. A very nice brew and one that makes me eager to try other offerings from this brewery. 8% ABV.

Firestone-Walker's Opal Dry-hopped Saison: I picked this up in  Seattle also, though it may be available in Alaska, as we do get some of this brewery's releases. This beer poured a clear, very light yellow color with a nice white head. The nose had the spicy, earthy notes I always associate with a Belgian yeast. Carbonation was excellent, and the beer was very dry, like a classic saison. Hoppiness was good, and the flavors were very clean. An outstanding example of a classic dry saison, in the style of Saison Dupont. 7.5% ABV.

Elysian Brewing's Split Shot Espresso Milk Stout: I actually did not bring this one back from Seattle, but was given it as a gift. It poured opaque with a big-mocha colored head. As expected, the nose was a combination of roasty flavors and sweet malt notes. Carbonation was good, as was the mouthfeel. On the palate the beer presented a nice balance between the sweet malt elements and the roasted, coffee-ish notes. The only thing that I feel could have been done better was the finish, was a little abrupt. Still, a very nice take on blending a coffee and a milk stout. 5.6% ABV.

That's it for this week. Get out and enjoy this beautiful fall weather while it lasts.  All too soon that white stuff is going to start falling from the skies...

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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