Saturday, May 23, 2015

Memorial Day Weekend

This weekend is the unofficial start of summer, and judging by the traffic I saw yesterday here on the Kenai, I'd say a lot of folks in Anchorage got an early start on it. That's good news for all our local breweries and brewpubs, as more visitors mean more demand for their beers. Of course it also means they have to serve fruit-laced brews like Island Girl and Kumquat Kolsch Ale, so it's not all beer and skittles as our British friends would say. Still, it's good to see tourist flocking in to enjoy our fine local beers.

And let's face it, our local brewers can use all the business they can get, to help pay the heavy taxes the state of Alaska imposes on them. In case you don't know, Alaska has the second highest state beer taxes in the nation. We were #1 for the longest time, until a couple of years ago when Tennessee jacked theirs up significantly and finally passed us.  Here's a graphic from the Tax Foundation which shows just how big a bite of state government (you know, those buffoons who can't even pass a budget) take from our hard-working local brewers.

Click to enlarge
As successful as craft beer has been in Alaska, I can't help wondering how many more excellent breweries we'd have if we taxed them like Wyoming, at $0.02 per gallon, instead on $1.07. Just to be clear, by far the single most expensive component in the retail price you pay for a beer is the combined federal and state taxes on it, to the tune of over 40%. So the next time you want to gripe about the price of beer, be sure to remember whose fault it is!

Let's move on to happier thoughts. Last night was the Brewers Dinner in Haines and today is the Beer Festival. I was able to attend both in 2012 and 2014, and hope to make it there again next year (what's with the even numbered years? Beats me.). After our local festivals, it's easily my favorite one. Here's the menu from last night courtesy of Dave Short:

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Photo courtesy of Denali Brewing Company

Based on my prior experience, I'm sure it was delicious. The festival today is sold out, so if you are planning to attend, I hope you already have your tickets.

Speaking of festivals, it's not too soon to mark your calendar for this year's Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival. It will be held from 5 to 10 pm on Saturday, August 8th, at the Soldotna Sports Center. This festival just keeps getting better and better each year, and all profits go to support local charities. I have been to every one so far, and have no plans to miss this one. Tickets are on sale on the website.

And if you are dwelling in Southeast and think Soldotna is too far to go for an August festival, how about the 4th Annual Capital Brewfest? It will be happening on September 26th.

More news: Last Saturday, Bobby Wilken of HooDoo Brewing announced that the brewery is releasing its beers in cans. HooDoo is going with 16 oz. "tall boy" cans and is using the "360End" design, meaning the entire top of the can comes off when it is opened. The cans feature a photo of downtown Fairbanks in 1916, and are designed to the labels can be easily modified for different beers. The first beer on offer is HooDoo's excellent Kolsch. The cans are being sold in four-packs at the brewery taproom. When I asked Bobby about possibly distributing cans elsewhere in the state, he replied: "Only on site for now.  We'll be playing it by ear as far as distribution.  In the short term, I suspect the demand in the taproom will take anything we can package.  A little further out and hopefully we can build enough inventory to share with more of the state!" Congratulation to Bobby and the rest of the HooDoo gang on reaching this milestone.

Photo courtesy of HooDoo Brewing

From Midnight Sun Brewing Company, Darcy Kniefel reports that the tickets for the Big Stout Camp-out will go on sale next Saturday (5/30) at 2 PM at the brewery.  The camp-out will take place on the nights of Friday 8/28 and Saturday 8/29 in Cooper Landing. There are a total of 50 tickets available with packages for RVs and campsites. The ticket price includes 2 nights of camping, and dinner, stouts and cigars on Saturday night. Read more about it in my 4/4/2015 blog. She also reports that the brewery will be releasing a new beer, Powerline Pilsner, soon.

Speaking of pilsners, St. Elias Brewing Company has a new one on tap, AK Pilsner. This brew is the counter-part to the AK ESB brewed by Kenai River Brewing Company and reviewed by me on  5/5/2015. Both beers were brewed using only Alaska Grown hops, the first commercial beers ever to be produced that way. See below for my review, but I know that Zach only brewed a half batch of this beer, so if you want to taste this historic brew before its gone, don't delay. St. Elias Brewing is also finishing up an expansion of its outdoor patio seating, just in time for summer.

Beers on tap at St. Elias on 5/22/2015

As mentioned above, Kenai River Brewing Company also has a new brew on tap, Kumquat Kolsch Ale. If you have it at the brewery, you can get it infused with even more fresh kumquat flavor.

Photo courtesy of Kenai River Brewing Company

Snow Goose/Sleeping Lady has two new beers on: its Honey Cream Ale is back, along with a firkin of Scotch Ale aged on vanilla beans and American oak chips.

Photo courtesy of Snow Goose/Sleeping Lady

Alaskan Brewing Company picked up two more awards, this time at the 2015 Australian International Beer Awards. Hopothermia earned a silver medal, and its Smoked Porter took home a bronze.

Bearpaw River Brewing only has three days left in its Kickstarter campaign. As part of the campaign, the brother Wade posted a video describing the beers they plan to brew. You can check it out here.

Finally on the news front, I wanted to give you an update on the availability of my new book, Alaska Beer: Liquid Gold in the Land of the Midnight Sun. For reasons which aren't worth going into here, the book won't be arriving at the Alaska distributor, Todd Communications, until next Thursday, May 28th. Hopefully, it should reach the retail outlets around the state the following week. So if you have been holding off buying a copy from Amazon because you want to support local Alaskan businesses, you should not have to wait too much longer. Jim Roberts, AKA Dr. Fermento, wrote a very nice review of it in The Anchorage Press, which you can read here.

I have already planned some signing events in June. You can either purchase a book at these events or bring a copy you have already bought, and I'll be happy to sign it. For the latest info, check out my Amazon author page, but here is a list of what I've scheduled to date:

  • June 17th Soldotna Wednesday Market          11 am to 5 pm
  • June 19th Kenai River Brewing Company      4 to 6:30 pm
  • June 24th Midnight Sun Brewing Company   4:30 to 6 pm
As I schedule more events, I'll update my author page, so if you can't make one of these, keep checking it for others.

Now let's move on to some beer reviews.

I had to go down in the crawlspace in my home the other day, which is always the signal for me to review my "Beer Cellar" Book, to see if there are any beers aging down there which are ready to drink. I brought up several, and I will review them in this and future blogs as I get around to drinking them.

Alaskan Brewing's 2006 Smoked Porter: Over 8.5 years old, this beer is still in very good shape. Most 6.5% ABV porters would have crashed and burned years ago, but the smoke seems to keep these wonderful brews fresh. It poured opaque with a small tan head that dissipated to a collar. There was still a little smoke in the nose, along with some faint roasted malt notes. The carbonation was on the low side, but the mouthfeel was still good. The smokiness on the palate was muted but still present. Flavor profile was good, with no hints of oxidation. A real tribute to the brewer's skill to have a beer this old, which such low alcohol, taste so good.

Alaskan Brewing's 2007 Smoked Porter. A year younger, this beer tasted much smokier than the
2006. It also poured opaque with a small tan head that dissipated to a collar. Much more smoke apparent in the aroma, along with the roasted malt. Carbonation was also better than the 2006, with mouthfeel about the same. More smoke on the palate and a flavor profile closer to the fresh beer. Hard to believe that it's just the difference of one year, so I surmise that for whatever reason, the 2007 was made slightly differently than the 2006, which caused it to retain its smoky notes better.

Midnight Sun Brewing's 2012 Berserker Imperial Stout: Over 2.5 years on this beer. It poured opaque with a small but persistent brown head. The aroma was of sweet and roasted malt, with hints of the bourbon barrel-aging. Mouthfeel was excellent, and carbonation was still good. The flavor profile was rich and complex, as you'd expect, with notes of chocolate, coffee, and molasses. The elements from the bourbon barrel seemed to have reduced over time, which actually brought the beer into even better balance than when fresh, in my opinion. The 12.7% alcohol was slightly noticeable on the finish. This is a beer that definitely seemed to improve with at least two years of cellar time.

St. Elias Brewing's AK Pilsner: As mentioned above, this beer was brewed solely with AK Grown hops. It poured a crystal clear gold with a small white head. The nose was balanced between biscuity malt and hops. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. There were good clean malt flavors, balanced by a decent hop bitterness. I'd call it more in the style of a German than a Czech pilsner, but its an excellent summer beer and a historic brewing achievement for our state. 5% ABV.

Well, that's it for this week. Enjoy your Memorial Day Weekend and the start of summer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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