Friday, May 15, 2015

Back from a (Denali) Road Trip

Hello again, faithful readers. No Friday blog last week, as Elaine and I were on travel. We decided to visit Denali National Park. This time of year, before the tour buses begin running, the park allows people to drive the Park Road as far as Mile 30. Since we had only ever visited the park in the autumn, during the road lottery, we decided it would be fun to check it out during the spring. Of course we couldn't go all the way to Denali and not check out the breweries up that way.

On the way up, we detoured two miles up the Talkeetna Spur Road to meet Sassan Mossanen at Denali Brewing Company's brewery. The expansion that I saw in progress last fall is now complete and the small brewhouse formerly located at the beer garden in downtown Talkeetna is happily ensconced in its new home at the brewery. That doesn't mean that all construction work is complete; far from it. Denali is in the process of putting in a new outdoor grain silo to hold its 2-row barley malt, and another silo to hold its spent grain until local farmers can pick it up. The brewery also has plans to install three 240-barrel outdoor conical fermenters, and has already added a whirlpool vessel to its brewhouse. Along with the lauter tun, mash tun, and kettle, this fourth vessel effectively means Denali can brew batches of beer 24/7.

Denali Brewing Company. Photo by Elaine Howell.

DBC's tap room. Photo by Elaine Howell.

On the new beer front, Denali also has some interesting stuff coming down the line. Sassan and I sampled a beer currently aging in some Jack Daniels whiskey barrels. The base beer is Twin Engine, an imperialized version of Single Engine Red, and once it has had enough time in the wood, Sassan plans to blend the barrels together for a fall release. Another future beer is One Tree, a Belgian Golden Strong Ale made with locally-produced birch syrup. Finally, Denali will be bottling its classic Louisville Sour, in 12 oz. stubbie bottles. The beer and bottles are ready to go, but there have been problems sourcing decent six-pack carriers. Look for 400 cases to go on sale in Talkeetna in July; I predict they will go fast.

Photo by Elaine Howell

After finishing at Denali Brewing, it was time to head another 150 miles north to Healy and 49th State Brewing Company. The brewery opened for the season on April 25th and the co-owned Prospector's Pizzeria opened on May 9th, while we were in town. Unfortunately, head brewer Jay Bullen was out of town, but brewer Vincent Larochelle, owners David McCarthy and Jason Motyka, and head chef Todd Podborny made us feel extremely welcome. 49th State conducted a significant expansion in the spring of 2014, and this was my first time getting to check out there new 15-barrel, three-vessel brewhouse. Of course, the original 1/2-barrel Sabco Brew Magic system is still tucked away in a corner; it's being used for pilot brewing now. Another new addition is a crowler machine, which was waiting to be installed behind the bar when we were there. Finally, 49th State has plans to eventually install a bottling line to produce 22 oz bombers. No bad for a place that only had one beer on offer when I fist visited in September of 2011. Elaine and I also ate dinner twice at 49th State Brewing and once at Prospector's Pizzeria, and the food was, as always, superb.

49th State's new brewhouse. Photo by Elaine Howell

L-R: Vincent Larochelle, Jason Motyka, David McCarthy, & Todd Podborny. Photo by Elaine Howell
49th State's beer board. Click to enlarge.

I have some reviews of the beers at 49th State Brewing later in the blog, but now let's move on to other beer news. It's just been announced that SABMiller is purchasing Meantime Brewing Company in the United Kingdom; link to the full news story here. I've always been impressed with Meantime's beers, and even used them in my college course as examples of classic British Ale styles. Let's hope Meantime can maintain its quality under its new overlords.

Click to enlarge

Another big piece of news, at least to me, is that my new book, Alaska Beer: Liquid Gold in the Land of the Midnight Sun,  has officially been released. The Alaska distributor, Todd Communications, is still waiting on them to arrive from the publisher, so there are no copies yet in any local stores, but I received a couple of complimentary ones directly from the publisher, and I am well pleased with them. If you are the sort of person who retails books and would like to order some, please contact Kyle Forbush at Todd Communications (907-929-5508 or As soon as I receive my pre-ordered copies, I hope to set up several signing events around the state.

Passing through Anchorage on our way home on Sunday, I made it a point to stop at Anchorage Brewing Company and pick up a bottle of the just-released Mosaic Saison. See my review below. Here's what the brewery had on offer then:

Click to enlarge
As I mentioned in my last blog, this week (May 11-17) is American Craft Beer Week. I'd like to tip my cap to HooDoo Brewing Company of Fairbanks for being the only brewery in the state to get its ACBW events listed on the national events calendar on, the Brewers Association website. Sounds like you guys did some fun stuff; well done!

Speaking of Fairbanks, next Saturday, May 23, there will be a Beer and Bacon Tasting at Griffin Park, as part of a bigger two-day 1st Annual Fairbanks Bacon Festival. The Beer and Bacon Tasting takes place between noon and 3 pm. Admission of $40 gets you 10 total samples of either beer or bacon, and extra samples cost $2. There will be 30 local chefs offering bacon concoctions and beers from HooDoo Brewing, Alaskan Brewing, and Silver Gulch Brewing on offer, plus a souvenir sampling glass.

Glacier BrewHouse will once again be offering the first Copper River Salmon of the season:

Click to enlarge

Winterlong Brewing Company, the brand-new nano-brewery in Whitehorse, YT, will be having a pre-opening today from noon to 6 pm. Now there will be two places to stop for good beer when you are driving the Al-Can!

Photo courtesy of Winterlong Brewing

Speaking of new breweries, Bearpaw River Brewing's Kickstarter campaign has hit its $25,000 goal to help finish the new brewery's tap room, so now they've added a stretch goal to $35,000. The extra 10 grand will let them buy a forklift for the brewery. If they hit this stretch goal, they will be sending stainless steel cups to everyone who contributed. If you still haven't contributed, there are about 10 days left in the campaign and you can check it out here.

Over at Odd Man Rush Brewing in Eagle River, three new 20-barrel conicals have arrived:

Photo courtesy of Odd Man Rush Brewing
Finally, Gold Rush Brewing just outside of Skagway has just taken delivery of a new brewhouse and should be putting it to use very soon.

Photo courtesy of Gold Rush Brewing

At Kenai River Brewing Company, the big news was about their plans to build a new brewery. I reported on it in my last Redoubt Reporter column. Just today Doug Hogue told me that KRBC beers will be gracing the sides of two Specialty Imports delivery trucks, with Homer's Bear Creek Winery on the other side.  Here are some photos, courtesy of KRBC:

That's about it for news this week, so let's do some beer reviews.

49th State Brewing's Golden Dahl Tripel: It poured a slightly cloudy gold with a large white head that left excellent lacing on the glass. The aroma was classic Belgian tripel, with bright, fruity notes and a touch of spicy yeast elements. Carbonation and mouthfeel were both very good. Crisp, fruity flavors are very light on the palate, and the beer conceals its alcohol strength very nicely, before falling away to a pleasant finish. 8.7% ABV, 32 IBUs. Since I last had this beer in 2014, the recipe has been tweaked slightly to reduce its sweetness; I heartily approve, as the beer is even more finely balanced than before.  A truly excellent interpretation of this classic style.

49th State Brewing's Double on Tundra Dubbel: The dark yin to Golden Dahl's yang, this beer poured opaque with a nice off-white head. The nose was full of dark fruit notes, like raisins and plums. Carbonation and mouthfeel were both good. Flavor profile was spot on for a Belgian dubbel, with spiciness and dark fruit elements blending together in harmony before ending in a nice finish. 8% ABV, 22 IBUs.

49th State Brewing's McCarthy's Stout: This was the first beer I ever had at 49th State, back in 2011, so I thought I would taste it again and see how it was tasting these days. Answer: excellent! I poured opaque with the massive, creamy head that you expect from a stout served on nitrogen. Nice roasted barley aroma. Smooth, creamy mouthfeel from the nitro. Very nice classic Irish dry stout, smooth, roasty, and extremely drinkable. Puts the average Guinness to shame. 4.8% ABV, 35 IBUs.

Sierra Nevada Brewing's Scotch on Scotch Ale: I had this beer at Prospector's Pizzeria . Based on how it was listed on the menu, I've had trouble correlating it to anything listed on the Sierra Nevada website, so I'm going with how it was listed on the menu. It was clearly a Wee Heavy that had been aged in used Scotch whisky barrels, but I haven't been able to determine which whisky. It poured a semi-translucent ruby with a small, cream-colored head. The aroma was what you'd expect, sweet malt and a hint of smoke. The flavor profile was full of clean malt flavor, again with just a hint of smoke from the barrel. Another excellent beer from Sierra Nevada, which I doubt you'll find anywhere else in this state, so get it if you can. 9.4% ABV.

Firestone-Walker Brewing's 2015 Parabola Imperial Stout: Looking at the label, I knew this one was going to be one big beer. 14% ABV, 82 IBUs, aged in bourbon barrels. It poured almost opaque, but with some slight ruby highlights, and a small tan head that dissipated to a collar. The nose was rich and complex, with notes of chocolate, coffee, oak, and bourbon. Carbonation was OK and the mouthfeel was quite chewy and thick. The flavor profile was very similar to the nose, with lots of rich and complex flavors entwining with each other to form a delicious whole. The alcohol makes its presence known with some heat on the finish. An excellent beer, best shared in small snifters amongst several friends.

Anchorage Brewing Company's Mosaic Saison: Brewed exclusively with its namesake hops, this beer poured slightly cloudy with a huge white head that left good lacing on the glass. The aroma had lots of the floral, tropical, fruity, & earthy notes that characterize this hop variety. Carbonation was excellent, and the mouthfeel was light. On the palate there was more of the hop flavors, balanced by a nice malt backbone, and the lightest hint of brett funkiness. An excellent farmhouse ale, light and refreshing. I'd expect the brett notes to increase with time and that the beer will become bone dry, so if that's how you like your saisons, try cellaring this one for  6 months to a year. 6.5% ABV, 30 IBUs.

Well, that's it for this week. See you next week with more news and reviews.

Until Next Time, Cheers!


IT said...


Did you buy the Parabola locally? It's one of my favorites and I had heard rumors it might be available in Alaska.

I'm Bill Howell. said...

I got it at La Bodega. Not sure if they have any left.