Friday, February 5, 2016

A Long Time Coming

So, yeah, it's been almost a month since my last blog. The main thing keeping me away from the keyboard was that I took on a temp job, back at my old haunt, Kenai Peninsula College. Between doing data monkey work there and teaching two classes (including my Art & History of Brewing course), I really haven't been able to squeeze out enough time (or energy) to write a post. The good news is that my temp job is finished, so now I've got the time again to try to get this blog out on at least a semi-weekly basis again.

Temp Work: I remember now why I retired...

Of course while I was not writing, lots of cool stuff was happening on the Alaska beer scene. Alaska Beer Week came and went, with even more outstanding events than last year's. Kudos to the Brewers Guild of Alaska in general and Barb Miller of Midnight Sun in particular for making AK Beer Week truly spectacular, with over 60 different events. The Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival happened again, but for the first time in several years, it did not completely sell out. Perhaps some folks are beginning to lose interest in attending a fest full of drunken 20-somethings, and this will be Aurora Productions wake-up call to make some long-overdue improvements. Or maybe not...

One big piece of news from the GABBF was the results of the annual Barley Wine and Winter Seasonal competitions. Broken Tooth Brwwing took home the Winter Seasonal trophy with its always-excellent Darth Delerium 2016 Belgian-style Stout. In the Barley Wine Competition, the results were unusual in that there was a tie for second place, so no third place winner was chosen. The two second places finishers were Old Gnarleywine from Lagunitas Brewing and Old Birdbrain 2012 from Black Raven Brewing. First place went to Buffalo Head Barley Wine from Kassik's Brewery in Nikiski. That's two years in a row that the winner has come from a brewery right here on the Kenai Peninsula. Congratulations to Frank & Debbie Kassik on their win. A final thought: with the announcement that Toronado is no longer holding its Barley Wine Competition as part of SF Beer Week, shouldn't the GABBF Competition now be considered the premiere competition for barley wines in the country? I'm just wondering...

Photo courtesy of Kassik's Brewery
As long as we are talking about awards, I should mention the Kassik's Brewery also took a Gold Medal at the World Beer Championships with its Statny Statny Barrel Aged Stout.

More award news: Rate Beer has announced its Best Beer, Best Brewery, and best New Brewery by state. For Alaska, A Deal with the Devil Barley Wine, and Anchorage Brewing Company took the first two categories, while Resolution Brewing Company took Best New Brewery. You can see all the winners by state here. Rate Beer also published its list of The 100 Best Brewers for 2015, and Anchorage Brewing and Midnight Sun Brewing both made the list! You can see the complete list here.

Brandon Hall of Resolution also tells me that the brewery is now be open seven days a week and has a couple of big events planned. Here's what he said is coming up:

Feb 26 (Saturday): Belgian beers from other Alaskan and international breweries will be available at a Belgian Beer Showcase we're having in our taproom. Live tunes, catered food for sale, and some incredible beer!

Mar 25 (Friday): our one-year anniversary Birthday Bash! We'll be celebrating in style with H3 Hawaii Reggae Band, catered food, and of course some of the freshest and consistently top-rated beer in Alaska by Resolution Brewing Co.

Sounds like a great time, so mark your calendars!

In other good news, the construction of the new brewery for Kenai River Brewing Company in Soldotna looks to be right on track. Owner Doug Hogue was kind enough to show me around the new facility yesterday, as things are far enough along to get an idea of what it will look like when finished. Here are some photos, all courtesy of my wife Elaine Howell:

Standing in what will be the canning line, with Doug's Office above.

Looking at the upper level grain storage.

View from grain storage. Brew kettle & mash tun will be right in front of the windows.

Looking towards the taproom from the grain storage area.

In the taproom, with bar on the left. Doug is pointing toward patio door.

After walking the facility, all I can say is "Wow." It's going to be a wonderful place to make and drink beer; I just hope we locals can still squeeze in during the summer!

Over at Anchorage Brewing, the next Rondy Brew is almost finished. This year's version will be a Spelt Saison Brewed with Motueka hops and Brett. It is also dry hopped with Hibiscus and Motueka hops. The official release will be at the brewery on Friday, Feb 19th.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company

49th State Brewing has announced that its Healy location will open this year on April 25th. Renovations continue at its new Anchorage home; no official opening date had been announced there yet, though it appears some special events will continue to take place, like Nerd Night.

Finally, The 2nd Annual Frozen River Fest is just over two weeks away. This is an outdoor(!) festival, held in Soldotna Creek Park, from 3 to 6 PM on Saturday, February 20. There will be live music, food vendors, free coffee and hot chocolate, games for the kids, and twelve breweries/wineries from around the state, offering their products. Admission for non-drinkers is free, though you must be 21+ or be with a parent or guardian. If you want to drink, $25 gets you a wristband, 4 drink tokens, each good for a 4 oz. pour, and a 16 oz. commemorative stainless steel mug. Here's a picture of the mug:

Additional drink tokens are $2 each.  All proceeds from the Fest go to the Kenai Watershed Forum and the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race. Here's the poster that lists all the breweries that will be there:

Click to enlarge
In addition to the Fest itself on Saturday, there will be a Meet the Brewers Beer Dinner on Friday, at The Flats Bistro in Kenai. The menu is still being finalized, but there will be five courses, each paired with one or more beers from the breweries attending the fest. Tickets are $50 and you can reserve a spot by calling 335-1010. It's a great chance to talk to the brewers one-on-one in a relaxed setting.

That should be most of the big news, so let's move on to some beer reviews.

Kenai River Brewing's Spruce Tip Ale: This beer is a Winter Warmer, hopped with Fuggles and dosed with Peninsula spruce tips. It poured a dark red in color, with a small, cream-colored head. The aroma is mainly malt, but the spruce tips are also noticeable. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was nice. On the palate it was rich and malty, plus hints of pine or resin from the tips. An excellent example of a truly unique beer style, very Alaskan. 9.4% ABV, 34 IBUs.

Spoetzel Brewery's Shiner Birthday Beer 107: I saw a six pack of cans of this beer at my local Fred Meyer and decided to give it a try. This is the famous Shiner Beer Brand of Texas, and celebrates the 107th anniversary of the brewery. It poured a clear, light gold color, with a large white head. The nose had some noble hop notes, but not an overabundance, plus some biscuity malt notes. Carbonation was excellent, and the mouthfeel was light. the flavor profile a fairly crisp and snappy. Overall, a nice, middle-of-the-road German pils. 5% ABV.

Alaskan Brewing's Hop Turn IPA: This new seasonal from Alaskan is supposed to be a German IPA, which obviously has no traditional model. The idea was to use German malts and hops to produce a beer in the style on an IPA. It poured a clear gold with a big white head. The aroma was full clean, floral hop notes, without the citrus you would get from American hops. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile had the balance Alaskan is known for in its IPAs; plenty of nice, clean hop bitterness and flavor, but enough malt to balance things out. My overall impression was a beer that's hoppy, but not bitter. An excellent beer, and one I hope we see a lot more of from Alaskan. 7.5% ABV.

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing

King Street Brewing's Imperial Stout: The last beer in King Street's new Imperial series, I actually got to taste this brew after Christmas Dinner with friends, but that was hardly the time or the place to write a review, so when I saw it on the shelf at my the Soldotna Fred Meyer, I picked up a bottle. It poured opaque with a large tan head, like a good imperial stout should. The nose was excellent, full of delicious roasty notes. Carbonation was good, and it had a nice, chewy mouthfeel. The flavor profile was classic imperial stout, roasted noted battling it out with malt and alcohol warmth on the finish. And excellent beer, and my favorite of King Street's four imperial beers, I think. 10% ABV, 72 IBUs.

Midnight Sun Brewing's Toklat Blonde: This beer has been out for quite some time, but this was my first chance to snag a bottle. It's a blonde ale aged in chardonnay barrels. It poured a cloudy gold with a small off-white head that dissipated to a collar but left good lacing on the glass. The nose seemed to be primarily oaky notes. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile had lots of oak, with little detectable hop bitterness. I kept wanting to find brett funkiness as well, but there no mention of that in the beers description, so perhaps the wine-like oakiness was cross-wiring my brain.  Regardless, it's a very wine-like beer. It's supposed to be a one-shot affair, so if you'd like to try it, you'd better hurry before it's all gone. 8.2% ABV, 40 IBUs.

Well, that's it for this time. I promise to do my best to get this blog out on a more regular basis. Meanwhile, keep drinking that good, local craft beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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