Friday, November 20, 2015

Another New Beer Tour

I wrote in last week's blog about a new bicycle & beer that will be offered next year here in Alaska by a company out of Florida. Given how strongly I advocate buying local to support Alaska businesses,  it seems only fair that I should give some time to our local Alaskan beer tour company, Big Swig Tours out of Anchorage.

Big Swig Tours was founded in 2014 by Bryan Caenepeel, a ten-year veteran of the Alaska tourism industry. Tour size is limited to twelve, so you really get an individual experience. It currently offers two year-round tours, the Anchorage Brews Tour and Hops on the Rail. The Anchorage Brews Tour takes about 3.5 hours and hits King Street, Midnight Sun, and Chilkoot Charlies. The Hops on the Rail, the newest tour, starts with a train ride to Talkeetna, then visits to Denali Brewing Company, Arkose Brewery, Odd Man Rush Brewing, and finishes up at Resolution Brewing. You can find tour schedules, prices, and lots of details on Big Swig Tours' website. These are year-round tours, with others available during the summer only. As I wrote in my last blog, I'm always excited to see new opportunities for people, tourists and locals alike, to experience the exceptional craft beers we are lucky enough to have made here in Alaska!

Also of interest, I received an email this week about a new craft beer web series on YouTube. It's called All Hopped Up and follows a couple of guys as they try pairing craft beers and dishes at local restaurants. The only downside is that they are based in upstate New York. However, it's still an interesting idea and one that someone here in Alaska might want to take on. I might have given it a go myself, if I lived in Anchorage and had lots of restaurants to chose from. Below is their most recent video:

Let's move on to news from the breweries.

King Street Brewing Company released the next beer in its Imperial Series, the Imperial Pilsner, on November 11. Most of this batched was bottled, but a limited amount was offered on tap at the brewery. Not sure if there is any still left. Here's how they described it:

"If you like our Czech style Pilsner you may just love our Imperial version. This Pilsner intensifies Czech hop aroma and flavor while amplifying European malts. Spicy and flora aromas of Saaz hops slowly give way to the bread-like grain of Central European 2-row barley."

Photo courtesy of King Street Brewing

La Bodega has a couple of pieces of good news. First, there are several new beers on offer; the list includes Denali's Slow Down Brown, Sierra Nevada's classic seasonal Celebration Ale, Arkose Brewery's Bitter Earth ESB, Boxcar Porter and Steed Rye IPA  in 22oz bottles, Deschutes' Hop Trip and Chasin' Freshies, Two Beers Fresh Hop, and Bridgeport's Hop Harvest. Also available are a new doppelbock from Maui Brewing Co., The Doppel Shot Double Bock, New Belgium's Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale, Hopworks Urban Brewery's new winter ale Abominable, and Denali Brewing's One Tree Birch Beer. In addition, La Bodega just announced that they will be opening a third location, on Northern Lights between R.E.I. and the Middle Way Cafe. It will be a small place, with only a six tap growler bar and a limited selection, and the soft opening is schedule for this Wednesday, November 25th. Congratulations to Pamela and the rest of the La Bodega team!

There are a couple of beer events in Fairbanks, tonight and tomorrow. Tonight's event will be at 7 PM at the Blue Loon and will have a $20 flat fee. Tomorrow's event is at The Pub on the UAF Campus and charges $1 per ticket to taste a beer. To learn more on tonight's event, click here. The event at The Pub runs from from 6 to 9 PM, and you can learn more about it here.

Midnight Sun Brewing Company will be featured at both events, and will be releasing this year's versions of a couple of its classic beers next week. On Monday, November 23, this year's Arctic Devil Barley Wine will be released, while on Friday, November 27th, MSBC will release Barfly Smoked Imperial Stout. The Loft will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, of course. Both of these beers are absolutely amazing (see my reviews in previous blogs) and are not to be missed!

Anchorage Brewing Company has announced that it is working on a new batch of its outstanding Time Waits For No One Imperial Stout. Where the last batch was aged in used Laphroaig Scotch whisky barrels, this new batch will be aged in used 600 liter tawny port casks from Portugal. Also, today a limited quantity of ABC's Darkest Hour Imperial Stout goes on tap at the brewery; get it before it's gone.

The guys at Bleeding Heart Brewery in Palmer have finally received their federal brewing license. Now they get to start threading their way through the state's bureaucratic maze to get their state license.

Kodiak Island Brewing Company has received a top rating on's Trip Advisor site. Congratulations to Ben and the rest of the Kodiak Island team.

Photo courtesy of Kodiak Island BC

I mentioned above that Arkose Brewery's new bottled beers were available at La Bodega in Anchorage. The are also available at Country Liquors here on the Kenai. I picked some up there on Wednesday.

 Also here on the Kenai, construction of the new home of Kenai River Brewing Company continues at a rapid pace. Yesterday and today, they were setting the roof trusses into place.

Photo courtesy of Kenai River BC

Meanwhile, at the current brewery, Gummi Bear Tripel is back on tap. Here's the latest tap list:

Over at St. Elias Brewing, both the Queen of Hearts Lambic and the 2013 Moose Juice Barley Wine have kicked, but they have been replaced by the Kriek Lambic and the 2014 Moose Juice, which won 1st Place in the Barley Wine Competition at the last Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival. Next up is Green Giant Double IPA. Also, if you haven't gotten in and tried the Pizza of the Month, the Achilles, you really should. I had one last weekend and it was delicious!

St. Elias tap list

St. Elias Seasonals
The Achilles, the November Pizza of the Month

As far as reviews go, I haven't actually been drinking much new over the last few days, as I've been hitting local brews like St. Elias's Czech Pilsner and H & H East India Porter, along with Kenai River's Winter Warlock Old Ale pretty hard. But I do have one beer to mention.

Guinness Brewing's Foreign Extra Stout: While the standard bottle of Guinness Draught is nothing special (better than having to drink a typical macro lager, but not that much better), this beer is truly something else.  For many years, it wasn't even imported into the US; most Americans got their first exposure to it in the Caribbean, where it is extremely popular. However, a few years ago, likely in response to the growing popularity of craft beers, Guinness started importing here, and you can find it in 4-packs in better beer stores, like Country Liquors in Kenai or La Bodega in Anchorage. It pours and looks very similar to a regular Guinness, but looks are deceiving. For starters, it's 7.5% ABV instead on Draught's meager 4.2%. Second, on the palate it is thick, rich, and luscious, almost like drinking rich chocolate milk, but with enough roasted barley notes and hops for balance. In short, it tastes like I think Guinness did a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago, before it started it's long, slow dumbing down. If you like Guinness or any other dry stout, you really owe it to yourself to give Foreign Extra Stout a try.

Well, that's it for this week. Don't look for a blog next week, what with Thanksgiving and all. If you are here on the Peninsula, I'd like to let you know that I'll be at Kenai Fine Arts Guild Arts and Crafts Fair at Kenai Central High School on Friday, November 21, and Saturday, November 28, selling and signing my books. A book with a personal inscription from the author makes a great Christmas gift for family and friends! Even if you don't need any books, be sure to stop by and say hi if you're at the fair.

Until Next Time, Cheers.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Snow on the Ground

There's snow on the ground here on the Kenai, but we still haven't gotten any really bitter cold yet, though the forecasters are promising us some of that for the end of the week. Fortunately, the weather doesn't seem to be slowing brewery construction down very much; more on that below.

First up, I got a very interesting press release from an outfit in Gainesville, Florida called Pedalers Pub & Grill, about a new tour they will be doing next year in Alaska.  Here's the press release in its entirety:

 Craft Beers & Roadhouses: A new 10 day bicycling and beer tasting tour in Alaska from Pedalers

The bicycle touring company with a rather unique name - Pedalers Pub & Grille - recently announced a new bicycle tour that fits well with the company's name. Craft Beers & Roadhouses combines two of cyclists' favorite pastimes into one grand adventure - cycling through awe inspiring landscapes and relaxing with extraordinary craft beers after wards. The 10 day tour takes cyclists and adventurous travelers from Anchorage up to Denali National Park then across the Denali Highway, rated as one of the most beautiful highways in the world, before looping around to its conclusion at Sheep Mountain where guests enjoy a glacier walk. Each evening before dinner, guests will sit down for a beer tasting featuring a different one of Alaska's great craft breweries. The 10 day trip offers departures through the summer months and the per person price is $4250.

Highlights of the bike and sip experience include a visit to eclectic Talkeetna, the inspiration for the town of Cicely in the TV series Northern exposure, truly a town of characters and home to Denali Brewery. Bed down in a lodge on a homestead that was one of the first near Denali and enjoy a layover day at Denali National Park. Visits to three different micro-breweries are built into this first cycling leg, along with tastings of beers from as far away as Baranof Island located in Alaska's panhandle and as nearby right down the street.

The cycling is all about magnificent landscapes during the second leg, starting off with a traverse of the Denali Highway, frequently voted in the top spot for most scenic highway in the world. Guests will roll through vast areas of tundra with its lakes and diminutive trees, past the towering volcanoes of the Wangrell Range. The cycling winds down along the Glenn Highway snaking between the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountain Ranges capped off with a walk across the icefields of the Matanuska Glacier led by local glacier hiking guides. Of course each night will provide tastings of more Alaskan micro-brews from around the 49th state. And will be capped off with a final dinner and sampling at one of Anchorage's award winning brewpubs.

According to Tom Sheehan, Pedalers' founder and head Tour Imagineer "We have been organizing tours in Alaska for near 20 years and have watched the local brewing scene evolve from hobbyists to award winning small breweries. And as cyclists we have enjoyed sampling these beers while touring, and wanted to bring this experience to the forefront of one of our cycling trips. Craft Beers & Roadhouses fits perfectly with today's focus on experiential travel."

Guests cycle on average 60 miles daily along paved roads with some stretches on dirt. While the terrain is mountainous, the roads follow gentle grades as they cross the ranges, tend wend through the valleys in between. Traffic is light to moderate at times.

Except for air the trip is all inclusive of accommodations, most meals, evening beer tastings, professional guides, daily route directions and maps, sightseeing and cultural activities, rental bikes. Personal departures may be scheduled for private groups and bike clubs. More details can be found online at:

Pedalers Pub & Grille Background: Annually, PP& G offers multiple set departures and custom trips to 19 exotic destinations in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and Alaska. The company has been conducting cycling tours of these regions since the 1980's and is known for creating spontaneous, up close and personal cultural encounters along its well-researched cycling routes. Asia's most seasoned bicycle tour operator, Pedalers Pub & Grille specializes in sag wagon supported road bike tours. They organize rides that are geared toward cycling enthusiasts, featuring longer daily rides designed to fill the day with adventure, while still allowing sufficient time for "off the bike" exploration at fascinating stops along the route. Accommodations are carefully chosen to provide modern western amenities, a comfortable night's rest and an immersion in the local culture and lifestyle. Meals are a celebration of local cuisine and beverages. Trips are led by either a bi-lingual international guide living in the area or a native born guide fluent in English, complimented by an English speaking support crew from that country. All levels of riders are welcome, from energetic beginners to elite cyclists.

National Geographic Adventure magazine selected PP& G as one of the "Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth". And National Geographic Traveler has selected some of Pedalers Pub & Grille's tours for the 50 Tours of a Lifetime honor. For more details you can visit Pedalers Pub & Grille online at their new website .

I'm glad to see that this tour company has recognized what a unique combination of superb beer and spectacular scenery that Alaska has to offer, and I hope these cyclists have a wonderful time when the visit our great state. It's things like this that should remind our local and state politicians what a valuable asset Alaska's craft brewing industry is.

Alaskan Brewing Company will be holding a beer dinner on this Thursday, November 12th, in Anchorage at The Lakefront Hotel on Spenard. It starts at 6 PM and cost $50 per person. Here is the flier with the beer list and menu:

Click to enlarge
Also on Thursday, from 5 to 8 PM Resolution Brewing Company will be donating 20% of its beer sales to The Great Land Trust. Here's the flier for that event:

Click to enlarge
 Speaking of charity events, Odd Man Rush Brewing will be hosting Fill the Keg for Maddy this Saturday from noon to 8 PM. Maddy is a local 5th grader battling a rare form of cancer. All tips go to help her family pay her medical costs.

I wrote in my last blog about the release event for Denali Brewing's Slow Down Brown in Talkeetna. Cans of this spiced brown ale should be on store shelves around the state this week.

Photo courtesy of Denali Brewing Company

King Street Brewing Company will be releasing the next beer in its new Imperial Series, the Imperial Pilsner, this Friday, November 13th. See my last blog for a review of the Imperial IPA and below for a review of the Imperial Hefeweizen. The Imperial Stout is scheduled for release on December 1st.

Up in Palmer, Arkose Brewery took delivery of a new 20 bbl fermenter last week. The brewery also has another Beer Meet Canvas Event scheduled for this Saturday, November 14.

Photo courtesy of Arkose Brewerey

Here on the Peninsula, there's quite a bit of brewery activity. At Kenai River Brewing Company, construction on the new brewery continues on schedule. Doug Hogue tells me he has ordered his new 20-bbl brewhouse from Specific Mechanical, along with an additional 80-bbl and a 100-bbl fermenter from Premiere Stainless. For any of you aspiring or expanding brewers out there, this means he'll be looking to sell his current 10-bbl Specific Mechanical brewhouse in the April-May time frame. Contact Doug if you're interested.

At St. Elias Brewing, Zach Henry put a keg of 3.5 year old Barley Wine on tap last week as a prelude to the release of this year's Moose Juice Barley Wine, which will go on tap soon. The Oktoberfest Lager is gone, but Zach has brewed another batch of the excellent Czech Pilsner, so that one should be around for a while.

No more Oktoberfest until next year.

At Kassik's Brewery, they were bottling Cherry Chocolate Stout on Saturday. The specialty beers on tap were Imperial Spiced Honey Wheat, Big Nutz, Caribou Kilt Scotch, & 2014 Barley Wine.

However, the biggest news on the Peninsula is that construction is underway on a new brewery in Homer, Grace Ridge Brewing Company. Back in my 7/17/2015 blog, I mentioned that Don Stead and his wife Sherry were working on starting a new brewery in Homer. Well, things are finally coming to fruition. The building which will house the brewery (along with a UPS office) is under construction at 1495 Ocean Drive, and should be finished in December. According to Don, the brewery expects to receive its final license from the ABC Board about the same time. The brewery's portion of the building will be 1500 square feet, split evenly between the brewery proper and the tap room, which should allow for an occupancy of about 25 customers. The brewing system is on order, a 3-barrel direct-fired system from Stout Tanks and Kettles of Portland, along with three 3-barrel conical fermenters and two 3-barrel brite tanks, very similar to the set-up at Resolution Brewing in Anchorage. Don is planning to do the brewing himself, with an assist from his son Scott. He plans to have six beers on tap continuously, focusing primarily on English-inspired styles. Besides retail sales at the brewery, Grace Ridge will self-distribute to select restaurants around Homer. As of now, Don plans to be open at least five days a week year-round. Currently, the target opening date is sometime in March or April.

This all sounds very exciting to me. Grace Ridge will be the sixth brewery operating on the Peninsula (at least in the summers when the Seward Brewing Company is open). I am very gratified to see the craft brewing culture continue to expand, both here on the Kenai and across the rest of the state. The golden age of brewing in Alaska is still in front of us, I think!

Now let's do some beer reviews. Just two new beers to cover this time, and plus a renewal of an old acquaintance. First up, my old friend Kassik's Brewery's Smoked Russian Imperial Stout. I reviewed this beer back on 4/5/2011, but I picked up a bottle as part of a column I was writing for The Redoubt Reporter on smoked beers. I found it to be excellent, with no perceptible change from the draft version I thoroughly enjoyed 4.5 years ago. Highly recommended for fans of smoked beers or imperial stouts. 8.5% ABV.

The second beer is the 2015 release of Alaskan Brewing's classic Smoked Porter. This beer has won more gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival than any other, and deservedly so, as it is the granddaddy of every American smoked beer sold today. This year's vintage poured opaque with ruby highlights and a nice mocha-colored head. The nose was a blend of alder wood smoke and malt. There was good carbonation and nice mouthfeel. The flavor profile had lots of smoke, as these porters always do when young, plus some good, roasty malt flavors. Very good now, and destined to become outstanding with a few years in the cellar. 6.5% ABV.

Finally, something completely new, King Street Brewing's Imperial Hefeweizen. This beer poured a cloudy honey color with a very nice off-white head. The aroma had the banana and clove notes of a hefe brewed with a proper Bavarian yeast. The  carbonation was excellent and the mouthfeel was fairly light. On the palate, there were plenty of the banana and clove notes, along with the spicy flavors you expect from a wheat beer. There was a touch of alcohol heat on the finish. Overall, a very nice amped up hefe. 7.5% ABV, 30 IBUs.

That's it for this blog. Notice, it didn't take me two weeks to get this one out, just ten days! Meanwhile, it's time to start shopping for Christmas. I'd remind you that a signed copy of my book Alaska Beer: Liquid Gold in the Land of the Midnight Sun makes an excellent gift. If you are local, I'll be selling and signing copies at the Christmas Craft Fair at Kenai Central High School, November 27th and 28th. If you're not local but would like a signed copy, contact me at and we'll work something out.

Until Next Time, Cheers!