Friday, January 30, 2015

Breaking News: Bottled Beer Release at HooDoo Brewing

I got the email announcement for this release just after I'd posted my last blog, and since it's happening tomorrow, Saturday, January 31st, this news won't wait.  Here's what the brewery had to say about the release:

Fresh Local Beer - it’s what we pride ourselves on at HooDoo Brewing Co. Almost every beer we make is best consumed as soon as possible after it is packaged in kegs.
There are exceptions to every rule, and our delicious barleywine blend “Mammoth" is one of those exceptions. 

With much anticipation, we are pleased to announce the release of our 2015 Mammoth Barleywine Blend. The blend, which is packaged in 750mL bottles, is a first for our 2-year old brewery. Hand-packaged, waxed and numbered, the Mammoth will be available for in-state sales ($28/bottle, limit one case per customer) at the brewery starting Saturday, January 31. To celebrate, this Saturday we will be re-releasing the Mammoth, the 2014 Barleywine and the 2013 Barleywine for glasspours and growler fills. It will be a great day to be in the Taproom!

How does Mammoth taste now? Incredible. The majority of this delectable concoction was aged in Dry Fly Wheat Whiskey barrels for 11 months, then blended with a small amount of 2014 and 2013 steel-aged Barleywines. It's a big beer, weighing in at 10.6% ABV. Rich malty flavors and aromas, with light whiskey notes - all smoothed out by spending almost a year in toasted American Oak. Drink one fresh?  Absolutely. 

For an opportunity experience this beer in another flavor dimension, put a bottle away for a year. While you’re at it put a bottle away for 2 years. 5 years. Even 10+ years.

When aging hoppy beers, the hop components will degrade quickly and leave a resiny, muddled flavor.  Hoppy beers are best drank fresh.  HooDoo’s English Barleywine, released every January, is unique in that although we use hops to bitter the beer and balance out the malt sweetness, we use very little finishing hops for flavor and aroma.

This beer is a showcase of delicious Maris Otter malt.  Mammoth’s deliberate lack of finishing hops allow the malt flavors to stay at the forefront as they change and develop with time.  Dark fruit flavors will become more prevalent over the next few years and the beer will be delicious, rich, and very comparable to a fine port.

We would like to thank everyone who helped with this big project by staying after-hours, volunteering their time and energy so we could get these available. We touched each bottle through hand-filling, crowning, labeling, waxing, then hand-numbering. Each one is unique. We'd also like to extend a thanks to the ever-talented, local artist Brianna Reagan for creating the great artwork for the label.
Photo courtesy of HooDoo Brewing.
I know if I was in Fairbanks tomorrow, I'd definitely pick up a bottle!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Big Fish Eat Little Fish and So On Ad Infinitum...

Before moving on to the primary topics of this week's blog, I wanted to share an exciting bit of personal news. Take a look at what will be the cover of my upcoming book from The History Press, Alaska Beer: Liquid Gold in the Land of the Midnight Sun:

Click to enlarge

I realize I may be a bit biased, but I think the cover looks spectacular, especially since all the images were taken by my wife, Elaine. The current publication date is set for May 11th, and obviously I will have more info as we get closer to that date, but in the meantime, you can join me in admiring this lovely cover!

Now that the good news is out of the way, on to the bad news, which comes in two flavors: Outside Bad News and Alaska Bad News. We'll start Outside.

The online beer world has been shaken by the news that one of the stalwarts of craft brewing, the Elysian Brewing Company of Seattle, has been sold to AB-InBev.  Hence the title of this blog, though to be honest, you can't really find a bigger fish than AB-InBev...

The right-hand fish is definitely AB-InBev...

The idea that Elysian Brewing could be purchased by the company that many craft beer lovers view as The Evil Empire has gotten a lot of folks quite upset. I'm a bit more sanguine about it than many, I must admit. First off, Elysian has never been one of my go-to breweries. I visited it once, maybe a decade ago, during a trip to Seattle, and I've had its beers on occasion, but that's about it. I'm sure if I lived in Seattle and drank at Elysian regularly, I might be more upset. Secondly, I think it's inevitable that we will see more and more such buyouts as the founders of more and more breweries reach the age when they are looking to cash out some of the years of blood, sweat, and tears they have invested in their breweries. Absent a family member who wants to take up the reins or some sort of employee buyout like New Belgium's, what else is there except to sell to a big company with lots of cash? I'm too much of a capitalist to begrudge someone selling the company they built with their own hands for a profit.

All that being said, I don't plan to purchase any beers produced by Elysian Brewing in the future. This isn't because I think they will not be well-made, tasty beers; far from it. I expect that Elysian's brews will continue to be just as good as they ever were, at least for several years. The reason I won't buy Elysian's beers is that I have only a limited amount of money to spend on beer (more's the pity) and I want my dollars to go to support independent, local brewers. I'd rather plunk down my $9 or $10 for a six-pack from a brewery here in Alaska than have it help fatten AB-InBev's bottom line. But I realize that's a purely personal decision on my part, so if you want to keep drinking Elysian or Goose Island or 10-Barrel or whatever the next acquisition by AB-InBev or MillerCoors turns out to be, go ahead. I won't think any less of you. Well, not that much less...

The Bad News from Inside is that the politicians in Anchorage have had the bright idea to slap an 8% (or maybe more) tax on alcohol to help fund their efforts to deal with the chronic drunks camping out along that city's streets. Never mind that Alaska already has the second highest beer taxes in the country. Never mind that the state rammed through a 10-cents-a-drink tax just a few years ago, supposedly for the same purpose. Of course, once the tax was passed, the state rerouted the money, but hey, that's what politicians do, right? The old bait and switch...

No, what get me so mad is that so many politicians regard the vast majority of people who drink alcohol responsibly as someone being the cause of the few who are chronic drunks. They must believe this or they wouldn't keep trying to make us pay for the care and feeding of said drunks. But it seems to me that the "chronic inebriates" are no more the fault of the responsible drinkers than people who take prescription medicine should be held responsible for those who abuse drugs. Is the Anchorage City Council likely to pass a sales tax on prescription drugs to fund drug treatment centers? I don't think so. So why try to lay the entire cost of this social ill onto the folks who consume alcohol? And don't tell me that this tax will be paid by anyone except the consumers. Everybody who wants to have a glass of wine with their supper or a beer after work will get stuck paying the tab.

I don't live in Anchorage, so I don't really have a say in this, even though I'll get stuck paying the tax on the beer I buy up there to bring back to the Kenai with me. But if you do live in Anchorage, I'd urge you to contact your representative on the City Council and tell them not to vote for this. If the City of Anchorage wants to spend more money on its social problems, that's fine. But it should tax all its citizens to pay for it, via property or sales taxes. Singling out one group and requiring them to shoulder the whole burden is just wrong.

Alright, let's move on to some good news. First up, congratulations to Denali and Alaskan Brewing Companies for winning medals at the 2015 Best of Craft Beer Awards. Alaskan took Gold in the Smoked Beer Category with its 2013 Alaskan Smoked Porter, while Denali Brewing took Silver in the Blonde Ales category with its Mother Ale and Bronze in the Irish Red Ale category with its Single-Engine Red. Well done! If you are curious, here's the complete list of winners:

Click to enlarge

There are now more details about the beer event taking place in Soldotna on Friday, February 6th, that I mentioned in last week's blog. It will be a Meet the Brewer’s Tasting at Mykel’s Restaurant in Soldotna. It starts at 6:30pm and will be a chance to meet the brewers and vintners who are participating in the Frozen River Festival. Tickets are $40 and are on sale at the Kenai River Brewing Company. Participants will get to enjoy a diverse appetizer buffet, sample beer/wine/mead from 9 different companies, and chat with the folks who made them!! A perfect warm-up for the Frozen River Fest, which will be the next day, from 3 to 6 pm in Soldotna Creek Park.

Another bit of good news, Resolution Brewing in the Mountain View neighborhood of Anchorage had a soft opening last Friday. Still no beer for sale yet, but they had some folks in to check out the new brewery and taproom. The intrepid James "Dr. Fermento" Roberts was on hand, as was a reporter for the Mountain View Post. You can check out her interview of him here. Hopefully, Resolution Brewing will be able to start selling its beer real soon.

Resolution Brewing Company. Photo courtesy of Mountain View Post.
Finally, I got a piece of big news from Doug Hogue. It seems that Lasse Holmes down in Homer has managed to grow some hops using a high tunnel and actually got them to produce cones. He lost a lot of the harvest due to not having enough people to harvest them quickly enough (something that Doug is going to help out with this year), but he did get enough to actually use in making a commercial beer. Since supplies are limited  the plan is to brew a 4.5 barrels on an English Pale Ale at Kenai River Brewing on March 18, and then brew 4.5 barrels of a lager style at St. Elias Brewing on March 22. The hops are a mixture of Chinooks, Cascades, and Centennials. What makes this so significant is that to the best of my knowledge, these beers will be the first commercial beers ever brewed utilizing only hops grown in Alaska. And that's a pretty big deal, if you ask me. Stay tuned for more details as they become available.

I only hope they look this good...

Since that's about it for news, let's move on to reviews.

Castle Brewery's Gueuze Fond Tradition: I'm always a sucker for a new gueuze and this was one I'd never had before. It poured a slightly cloudy orange color with a nice, off-white head. The aroma was sharp and tart. The carbonation was good and the beer was effervescent on the palate. It was not as tart as some lambics I've had, and it was well-balanced. There was no discernible brett. Overall, I'd call it an acceptable but not superb gueuze. I think I prefer Boon's or Cantillon's version to this one.

Midnight Sun Brewing's Matanuska Thunder Funk: Sticking with the sour theme, this beer poured a light orange color with a small but persistent white head that left good lacing. There was some brett funk in the nose, but it was light. Carbonation was good and the beer was light on the palate. In the flavor profile, the brett funkiness was evident, along with a slight tartness that lingered for quite a while on the finish. A very refreshing beer, it will be interesting to see how this one evolves as the brett continues to work on it. 5.9% ABV, 20 IBUs.

King Street Brewing's Portage Weizenbock: Another bottle release from King Street, this beer was aged in used wine barrels. It poured a deep, semi-translucent ruby with a small, cream-colored head that dissipated rapidly to a collar. The barrel-aging was very evident in the nose, which had lots of oaky, vinous notes. Carbonation was good and mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile seemed to be dominated slightly by the wine elements, which made the beer's contribution a bit difficult to discern. Still, a delicious and well-made brew. 7.4% ABV.

Well, that's it for this week. Keep fighting the good fight and drinking good local beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Alaska Brewers Rule!

Hello again out there in the blogosphere! Got lots of great beer news to report this week. First up, AK Beer Week was another smashing success. Each year we seem to have more and better events, and 2015 was no exception. I'm already looking forward to 2016, especially since I couldn't make it up to Anchorage for all the fun last week...

Part of each year's Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival, the anchor event for AK Beer Week, is the Barley Wine Competition. This year a panel of judges conducted blind-tastings of barley wines submitted by 31 different breweries. In the last few years, entries from within our state have not fared terribly well, with breweries from the Lower 48 taking home most of the trophies. But not this year! The Silver Medal went to Midnight Sun Brewing Company's Termination Dust Belgian-style Barley Wine, while St. Elias Brewing's Moose Juice Barley Wine took home the Gold! Senator Lisa Murkowski was even on hand to present the trophies to the winners. Third place went to Lagunitas Brewing's Old Gnarleywine, while Fremont Brewing from WA state won for Best Winter Seasonal with its Bourbon Abominable, a barrel-aged Winter Warmer.

Midnight Sun takes home second place. Photo courtesy of MSBC.

Zach Henry and his sister Jessie Kolesar receive their trophy. Photo courtesy of Senator Murkowski.
Congratulations to winning brewers Lee Ellis of Midnight Sun and Zach Henry of St. Elias. Great job, guys!

In other news, Alaskan Brewing Company has published its beer release schedule for 2015, in a very handy graphic.  Take a look:

Click to enlarge

Looks like we are going to have a new year-round beer, Alaskan's Imperial Red, formerly part of the Pilot Series, and three new Pilot Series beers, an Imperial Rye IPA in the spring, an Imperial IPA in the summer, and a Coffee Brown Ale in the fall/winter. The canned Amber and Freeride available dates refer to the Lower 48, I presume, since we Alaskans have had them for quite some time. The one thing I don't see on this graph is Alaskan's Barley Wine. Not sure if that means we won't see any in 2015, or if it just didn't make the graphic. Hopefully the latter...

Given how busy everyone has been for AK Beer Week, there isn't a lot going on amongst the breweries this week, but Arkose Brewery has announced a Valentine's Beer Meets Chocolate Event for February 13th. Four hand-crafted artisanal chocolates from JB Chocolatier are paired with Arkose's artisanal ales. $25 per person. You must reserve in advance at 907-746-2337.

Click to enlarge

Also coming up soon is the Frozen River Fest, as I mentioned in last week's blog. It looks like there will be one more brewery attending, as King Street Brewing Company has decided to throw its hat into the ring as well. By next week I should have the details on the Brewers Dinner being held on Friday, Feb 6th, at Mykel's Restaurant in Soldotna, so stay tuned for that. For now, check out these neat commemorative pint glasses which are now on sale at various beer bars around the central Kenai Peninsula.

Front of glass

Back of glass

That's it for news, so let's do some more reviews:

Epic Brewing's Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout: Brewed with coffee and cocoa nibs and aged in whiskey barrels, this is one formidable brew! It poured opaque with a small tan head that dissipated to a collar. The aroma reminded me of a black, sweet cup of coffee. Carbonation was good and there was plenty of mouthfeel, as the beer coated my tongue with a thick, rich sensation. The flavors of the coffee and cocoa blended nicely with the roasted malt, and there was a touch of alcohol heat from the 11.7% ABV. A delicious imperial stout, well-worth seeking out. Unfortunately, I got this bottle down in Seattle and haven't seen it for sale anywhere in Alaska.

Cigar City Brewing's Invasion Pale Ale: I received a can of this beer courtesy of Doug Hogue, who muled it all the way back from Florida, where he and his family were vacationing. I'd had some of Cigar City's brews at the GABF in Denver in 2010, and found them to be uniformly excellent. This is another great brewery whose beers we just don't get here in Alaska. This beer poured a cloudy orange-gold in color with a nice off-white head. The aroma had plenty of nice, citrusy American hops. Carbonation was good and the flavor profile was full of good, clean hop flavor, but without the bitterness of an IPA. A good American Pale Ale, spot on for the style.

Denali Brewing's Milepost #3 Belgian-style Dark Ale: This is one I've been wanting to try since I heard it had been released. Both previous entries in Denali's Flag Stop series were excellent, so I was expecting the same from this beer, and it did not disappoint. It poured opaque with a big mocha-colored head that left excellent lacing on the glass. The nose had tons of dark fruit notes - raisins, plums, cherries - plus oak and wine notes from its aging in Cabernet barrels. Carbonation and mouthfeel were both good. The flavor profile was right in the wheelhouse for a classic Belgian quadruple, like Rochefort 10 or St. Bernardus Abt. Loads of dark fruit notes, hints of tobacco, spices, and brown sugar. Very rich and warming, despite only being 6.9% ABV. Another excellent beer from Sassan Mossanen and the boys up in Talkeetna.

Finally, you may have noticed a bit of a change to the layout of this blog. Specifically, at the top of the right-hand sidebar, there is now a button that says Feed The Writer. Over the years, I have deliberately refrained from selling ad space on this blog, as I wanted it to be a place where readers could focus on beer, without being bombarded by the latest pop-up ad for whatever Google thought they might buy, based on its analysis of their search history. Still, while the blog may be a labor of love on my part, a man's gotta eat. Or buy beer, at least. Hence the new button.

If you've enjoyed this blog and found it to be worthwhile, and you are financially able to do so, I'd like to humbly suggest you consider kicking a couple of bucks my way. You can click on the button, and it will take you to a page where you can send me $2, $5, or $10 via Paypal. You can even do so anonymously, if you so choose. Or you could click on one of the links lower down on the page and buy one or both of my books. Cost you a bit more, but you'd get something tangible in return, along with the satisfaction of helping me support my beer-writing habit.

Regardless, I hope to see you here again next week, when there will be more beer news and reviews and perhaps even a sneak peak at the cover of my upcoming book from The History Press, Alaska Beer: Liquid Gold in the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Return of the Blog: Alaska Beer Week 2015

So back on December 9, I said this blog was going on hiatus for a month. It's the middle of January, so it's time to get back in the saddle. In case you are keeping score at home, I did indeed get the manuscript for Alaska Beer: Liquid Gold in the Land of the Midnight Sun finished and shipped off to my publisher, The History Press, all 40,900 words of it. The book is currently scheduled to hit store shelves on May 11th. I will of course post more details when it gets closer to that date, including where you can pick up a copy, should you be so inclined.

Meanwhile, Alaska continues to be the land that winter forgot, with next to no snow on the ground and temperatures well above normal. The Tustumena 200 has been postponed in the hope that we might eventually get enough snow around here to run the race, but I wouldn't bet on it. The Frozen River Fest is still going to happen as scheduled on Saturday, February 7th, from 3 to 6 PM in Soldotna Creek Park, even if the Kenai River isn't frozen. There should be ten breweries, wineries, and meaderies offering their wares.  Here's the list:

  • Kenai River Brewing
  • St. Elias Brewing
  • Homer Brewing
  • Midnight Sun Brewing
  • Denali Brewing
  • Broken Tooth Brewing
  • Arkose Brewery
  • Baranof Island Brewing
  • Celestial Meads
  • Bear Creek Winery
Plus Specialty Imports will be pouring beers as well. It's $10 general admission (kids 12 and under get in free). An additional $5 gets you the commemorative 16 oz. mug and wristband, allowing you to drink alcohol, and tokens for 4 oz. of beer/wine/mead are  $2 each. Buy as many or as few as you want. There will be free coffee on offer, along with hot chocolate and food vendors. There will also be live music and other activities.

Kenai River Brewing and St. Elias Brewing have each produced a special brew for the Fest, a doppelbock. Look for it to be on tap at each location in the week leading up to the Fest, as well as at the event itself. There will also be a Beer Dinner the Friday night before the Fest at Mykel's Restaurant, featuring beers from all the out-of-town brewers. More details on the dinner - time, cost, menu - soon.

Right now, pretty much all the brewers from across the state are either in Anchorage or on their way there for Alaska Beer Week. In the past, I've tried to post the events, but the sheer number of them has gotten so large that I can't really keep up, and that's a good thing. If you'll be in Anchorage anytime between now and Sunday, you should definitely check out the list of events on the Alaska Beer Week website, Barb Miller of Midnight Sun Brewing Company does a stellar job compiling all the many events on offer, so take advantage of her hard work and check out the events page. There are also events and beer releases at other breweries across the state.

During my hiatus, I spent two weeks down in Seattle, celebrating Christmas with my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson. While beer was certainly not the focus of the trip, you can't go to a beer town like Seattle and not have a few! Besides beers picked up in stores, I did stop at one brewery/brewpub: Big E Ales at 5030 208th Street Southwest, in Lynnwood, WA.

The food there was excellent, and I tried two of its beers: 12 1/2 Man IPA and Scotch Ale. The IPA weighed in at 6.5% ABV and a serious 98.4 IBUs, though it did not taste overly bitter. It was brewed with Centennial, Columbus, Cascade & Chinook hops for flavor and dry hopped using Citra hops. I liked the Scotch Ale even more than the IPA. It was 7.2% with some great flavors from the caramelization produced by long boil. Looked nice in the glass, too:

Big E Ales' Scotch Ale

I picked up a couple of other interesting brews while down in the Seattle area. The first of  these was Hair of the Dog Brewing Company's Doggie Claws Barley Wine. Hair of the Dog is one of the many great craft breweries whose brews simply aren't sent to Alaska, so I seldom get to sample any of them. Unfortunately, I think the bottle I picked up hadn't been treated as well as it should or else had some other problem.It poured a very dark honey color with zero carbonation. The nose was nothing but malt, despite the beer having 70 IBUs and being described as being made "in the West Coast style", which implies to me that it should be a hoppy American Barley Wine, a la Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot. On the palate, there was some alcohol heat from the 11.5% ABV, but nothing to balance the overwhelming malt sweetness. As I said, the brewery has a great reputation, so I'm going to assume I just got a bad bottle, until proved otherwise.

No head on this one...

I also had a bottle of Pelican Pub & Brewery's Mother of All Storms (2014). This is the bourbon-barrel-aged version of the brewery's Stormwatcher's Winterfest Barley Wine. It poured opaque with a very small tan head that dissipated to a collar. Carbonation was on the low side, but the mouthfeel was very thick and rich. The nose had lots of roasty flavors, along with the malt and bourbon notes you would expect. I liked the beer very much, but found it to be very odd for one that claims to be an English-style barley wine; it reminded me much more of a Russian Imperial Stout. However, if you can get past that dissonance, it's excellent.

I'll have some more beer reviews from this trip in upcoming blogs.

There have been a lot of new releases in the last month from breweries here in the state; too many to recapitulate here. I have tried to keep up to date on my Beer on the Last Frontier Facebook page, so if you are curious, check them out here.

I did get a chance to sample one recent new release on Monday, when I stopped by The Loft at Midnight Sun Brewing Company for lunch and had a glass of the brewery's new Sloper Baltic Porter. This 9% ABV brew had lots of clean flavors and a good mouthfeel, and was delicious alongside my Ancho Beef Dip Sandwich.  I give MSBC high marks for this one. The brewery will also be releasing a salted caramel porter soon, but no name for that one yet.

MSBC's Sloper Baltic Porter

Midnight Sun also announced another new release today: Suicide Run Flemish Sour Red Ale. This brew has been aged in Malbec barrels with both brettanomyces and lactobacillus. Sound plenty funky.

Photo courtesy of MSBC

Here on the Peninsula, Doug Hogue of Kenai River Brewing has released another batch of his Skilak Wee Heavy Ale, an amped up version of his flagship Skilak Scottish. It's unfortunate that he brews this beer so rarely, as I think it is among the best he makes, right up there with his Winter Warlock Old Ale. You can read my review of a previous release of this beer in my 2/9/2009 blog, and this batch is very similar and quite excellent. Here's a photo of the latest release.

Kenai River's Skilak Wee Heavy Scotch Ale

Kassik's Brewery will be pouring its new Statny Statny Stout at the GABBF in Anchorage this weekend and releasing it in bottles soon. It's brewed with licorice and molasses.  Here's the label:

At St. Elias Brewing Company, there was a Snow Cap Lager on tap last month, but it has been replaced with a White Cap Lager. Still on tap at last report was the Baltic Porter, aged in bourbon barrels and Jaques Trappe Brune, a Belgian-style brown ale. I had some of this beer last month, just before heading to Seattle, so here's my review: It poured a cloudy brown with a decent off-white head. The aroma had notes of raisins, plums, cherries, and spices. Carbonation was good, as was mouthfeel. On the palate the dark fruits were still there, along with some hints of candi sugar and spicy yeast notes, falling away to a respectable finish. A very enjoyable interpretation of a classic Belgian style.

Well, that's about it for this week.  It's good to be back in the saddle again here at Drinking on the Last Frontier, and my New Year's Resolution is to be better at getting this blog out weekly in 2015, so wish me luck. Hopefully, you will get a chance to enjoy Alaska Beer Week and the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival in all their glory. Just remeber to stay hydrated and be sure you've got a way home that doesn't involved getting behind the wheel yourself.

Until Next Time, Cheers!