Monday, August 31, 2015

The End of August

Well, it's been almost three weeks since my last blog. Sorry for the long dry spell, but I've been rather busy, first due to going Outside for ten days, then with getting ready for and starting to teach my class for the fall semester at Kenai Peninsula College. I spent most of the time I was Outside in Maine. While this was primarily a family trip, it did give me time to check out a bit of the Maine beer scene for the first time since 1996.

Marshall Wharf's Taproom Menu

Marshall Wharf's Food Menu

In many ways, Maine's craft beer scene today is what I'd love to see Alaska's become someday. Granted, Maine has more population and is considerably more compact than Alaska, but it currently has some 60 craft breweries, is growing hops locally and producing barley and malting it within the state. I only made it to one actual brewery, Marshall Wharf Brewing Company in downtown Belfast, but good, locally produced craft beer were easily available in every grocery store I went into. I got reacquainted with an old friend, Geary's Pale Ale, produced by D.L. Geary Brewing Company in Portland. When I visited Maine regularly in 1994 to 1996, stopping to pick up a six-pack of Geary's Pale Ale was a routine part of each trip. I'm happy to say that the beer tastes just as good as it ever did. D.L. Geary Brewing is the oldest craft brewery east of the Rockies, and continues to brew amazing beers. I also enjoyed other local beers like Allagash's White Ale and Sebago Brewing's Frye's Leap IPA.

 Another advantage to being in Maine was the availability of some beers which, while not local to Maine, aren't distributed in Alaska.  Here are a couple I picked up and enjoyed.

So all-in-all it was a pretty good trip, beer-wise. However, the downside of the trip was that it kept me from attending this year's Culmination Beer Festival on 22 August. However, I have heard from several attendees that it was another great festival. You can review the list of beers that were on offer at the festival's webpage. Of note, the bottles which were not used at the festival have been sent to certain liquor store across the state, so if you missed the fest but would like to try some of the beers, here's your chance.  The stores that received the leftover beers are:

In Anchorage:

La Bodega
Gold Rush
Brown Jug Warehouse

Plus the Brown Jugs in Seward & Fairbanks.  Get them while you can; I hit La Bodega on Saturday myself and purchased several bottles.

The reason I was in Anchorage on Saturday was for a signing of Alaska Beer at Barnes & Noble. Of course, that meant I also missed the Midnight Sun Cooper Landing Campout which took place on Friday and Saturday. By all reports it was also a great time, with plenty of vintage beers being consumed. I did get to stop at Cafe Amsterdam for lunch before the signing; here's a shot of its current offerings and see below for a review of what I had to drink.

Cafe A on 8/29. Click to enlarge.

One upcoming beer event which I do intend to be at is the Talkeetna Brewfest on Saturday, September 19th. I've been trying to get to this fest since it began three years ago, but something has always gotten in the way, until now.

The date of the 5th Annual Bodega-Fest has also been announced: Saturday, October 10th, at the Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage. The theme is Alaska Harvest, so look for the brewers to be offering beers made with local ingredients or with the Alaska Fall in mind. There will be food vendors and local bands as well. Tickets are $35 and will go on sale very soon.

As long as we are talking about upcoming beer festivals, tickets are on sale for the Yukon Beer Festival, being held in Whitehorse at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Center on Friday, September 26 and Saturday, September 27th. Also on Friday, September 26th, in the 4th Annual Capital Brewfest in Juneau.

Seward Brewing Company has announced its 1st Fall Beer Dinner, to be held at 6:30 on Saturday, September 12th. Seating is limited to 25 people, and there will be six courses by Chef Sean Mac, each paired with a beer. Tickets are $75 and are on sale at the brewery.

In other beer news, I'm told by Jim "Dr. Fermento" Roberts that Gakona Brewing and Supply Company has finally jumped through all the required hoops to be licensed, and that owner Ed Miner should be brewing soon.

Dr. Fermento also told me about a proposed brewery in Girdwood. Here's a link to the Turnagain Times article which mentions the future Girdwood Brewing Company. Finally, he also tossed this little tidbit my way:

The Icy Strait Brewing Company?
As long as we are talking about breweries opening, let's do an update on Haines Brewing Company. Paul & Jeanne Wheeler hope to open the new brewery on 4th and Main in a little over two weeks: September 12th. Then as tanks empty at the old location, they will be moved to the new one.  Here are a couple of photos that they sent me of the new building.

While Haines Brewing is almost finished, Kenai River Brewing Company is just getting started on its new brewery. Ground was broken on Friday, August 13th, and the site preparation work is just about finished. Here is a photo I took last Wednesday, August 26, of the work in progress.

The future home of Kenai River Brewing Co.

Finally, here's a shot of St. Elias Brewing Company's taplist a week ago:

St. Elias on 8/24. Click to enlarge.

Let's move on to beer reviews.

St. Elias Brewing Company's Colonial Porter. I first reviewed this beer back on 2/1/2011, but Zach Henry just re-released it, so I thought it merited another look. It poured opaque with a nice light mocha-colored head that left good lace on the glass. The aroma had a nice mix of roasty and sweet notes, like a coffee with sugar in it. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was nice. The flavor profile is classic robust porter, roasted notes and a touch of malt sweetness, just like the nose. A very delicious porter, one which George Washington would have approved of.

Firestone-Walker's Easy Jack IPA: One of the best in the new breed of "session" IPAs, this beer is designed to be hoppy yet drinkable. It poured a clear gold with a nice white head. The nose had plenty of citrus hop notes. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. There is good but not overwhelming bitterness up front, followed by lots of bright hop flavors. This is the IPA to have when you are planning to have more than one. Fairly low alcohol at only 4.7% ABV. Outstanding!

Alaskan Brewing's Hot Scotch Ale: Part of Alaskan's Rough Draft series, I has this one at Cafe Amsterdam in Anchorage. In the glass it was a dark ruby color, with a small cream-colored head that dissipated to a collar. The aroma was good, sweet malt, like you'd expect from a Scotch Ale, and the flavor profile was also all about the malt. I picked up a little warmth on the finish, which I thought might be from the 7% ABV, but when I questioned my server Adam, he told me that the beer was made using habanero peppers, which was likely what I was getting on the finish. I am not a big fan of hot pepper beers, but the pepper element was so subtle in this one that I didn't mind it at all. A very nice Scotch Ale.

BrewDog's Libertine Black Ale: Another beer I had at Cafe Amsterdam, this import from Scotland is a black IPA. It poured completely black, with a nice off-white head. The nose was fairly hoppy, but not insanely so. The overall flavor profile was actually more balanced than I expected; hoppy, yes, but with enough malt backbone to keep things mostly in balance. Overall, a pretty good brew. 7.2% ABV.

Well, that's it for this blog. You shouldn't have to wait so long for the next one. Meantime, good luck trying to avoid from the deluge of pumpkin spiced and flavored beers hitting the shelves....

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Another Great Beer Festival in Soldotna

As you may or may not have noticed, I delayed this blog for a few days. I chose to do so for two reasons. First, because I wanted to be able to write about the Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival which took place on Saturday. The second reason is that I won't be writing another one until the last week in August, as I will be busy with some family events. So this will be it for a couple of weeks from me.

Before I talk about the festival, I need to mention a piece of news that hit the wire yesterday: Fred Eckhardt passed away at the age of 89. I never had the pleasure of meeting Fred, but I did read many, many things he wrote on the subject of beer and was always impressed, both by his style and his substance. He is another of the legendary pioneers of beer writing, the dean of American beer writers, and his absence will be keenly felt by all of us. I will be raising a glass in his honor tonight.

Photo courtesy of All About Beer

Moving on to happier news, the Fifth Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival, which took place from 5 to 10 PM on Saturday, was another great success. From a pure numbers standpoint, it sold out again this year, with over 1300 attendees. Baranof Island Brewing Company from Sitka attended for the first time. The weather wasn't as gorgeous as it has been in past years, but it wasn't pouring down rain. 49th State Brewing Company won the People's Choice Award for Best Beer for the second year in a row, with its Double on Tundra Dubbel taking home the prize (see my review of this beer on 5/15/2015). Kenai River Brewing Company took home the People's Choice for Best Brewery for the third year in a row, possibly due to its continuing last year's plan of offering three different beer for each of the first four hours of the fest. Here are a few snapshots of the festival.

Besides all the great beer, there were eight different food truck at the festival, and five different live music acts performed. Plus, there was live action foosball, which you had to see to believe! All-in-all, another great production from the Soldotna Rotary, and I'm sure it raised lots of money for local projects.

I was on KDLL's Conversations radio program last Wednesday, along with Doug Hogue and Zach Henry. We had a pretty interesting discussion on the current state and future of craft brewing on the Peninsula. If you weren't able to listen to us live, you can hear the entire show be clicking on this link.

Moving on to other news, Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company let me know that The Culmination Festival, which will be happening on Saturday 8/22, still needs more volunteers. If you have a TAPS/TAMS card and would be interested, here is a flier with the info:

Click to enlarge

Resolution Brewing Company released a new beer last Friday. Wet Hot Anchorage Summer, a light (4% ABV) saison.

King Street Brewing Company also has a new beer on tap. This one is Australian Sparkling Ale, brewed with 100% Galaxy hops. Look for it on tap at the brewery.

Odd Man Rush Brewing has nine days left to go on the Kickstarter campaign to finish its taproom. If you haven't contributed to it yet, you can do so via this link.

Arkose Brewery still has some seats left for its latest Beer Meets Chocolate event this Friday, 8/14. It starts at 6 PM and costs $25 per person. Call 746-2337 for reservations. Pairings include:

New Colony Hefeweizen + Banana
Bitter Earth ESB + Fleur de Sel Caramel
Palmer Extra Pale Ale + Lemon Caramel
Boxcar Porter + Peanut Butter

At St. Elias Brewing Company, here is the tap list as of yesterday:

 You can see that there are a couple of new ones on: Half Moon Wit, Colonial Porter, and the Queen of Hearts Lambic. I haven't had a chance to review any of them yet, but I did get to sample each of them. I found them all to be delicious examples of their respective styles.

That's about it for beer news. Let's do some reviews. Two imports from Belgium this time around.

Brasserie De Silly's Cognac-Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale: I picked this beer up during my last visit to Seattle. It poured a translucent ruby color with a small-cream-colored head. The aroma was essentially malt, with a few hints of cognac. Carbonation was good, but I thought the mouthfeel was a little on the thin side, especially for a Scotch Ale. The flavor profile was also lacking the big robust maltiness I look for in a Scotch Ale, with little to offer except some alcohol warmth on the finish. Disappointing. 11 % ABV.

Chimay's Doree Wit: This beer is a new addition to Specialty Imports' line-up, and I received a sample bottle from them. Apparently this is the table beer which the monks at the abbey drink with their meals. It poured a cloudy gold with a small but persistent white head. The traditional wit spices were evident in its nose: coriander and orange peel. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. On the palate the spices used were again evident, but well-integrated into the overall flavor profile. A very refreshing beer, this would be a great thirst-quencher. As you'd expect from the table beer of monks, it is fairly low alcohol at 4.8%. A first-class wit beer.

That's it for this time. Look for a new blog in two weeks or so. Until then, enjoy this summer weather and keep drinking good beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!