Monday, March 21, 2016

The 1st Day of (Astronomical) Spring?

The vernal equinox took place at 8:30 PM Alaska Time Saturday, which is theoretically the end of winter and the start of spring. In more practical terms, Southcentral Alaska got several inches of snow dumped on it from Saturday on into Sunday morning. It didn't start falling here in Sterling until about 8 PM Saturday, but we still got something like 6 inches; they got much more in Anchorage and further north, so perhaps it's not time to start planting flowers just yet. Still, even if I had to fire up my snowblower one more time, it should all melt pretty soon. Hopefully the real beginning of spring isn't too far away.

In the legislature, there is still the possibility that our esteemed lawmakers might follow the governor's suggestion and double our alcohol taxes, including the tax on beer. As an illustration of just how flat-out stupid that would be, here's a nice graphic that I was sent by the Tax Foundation:

Click to enlarge. Courtesy of the Tax Foundation.

As you can see, at #2, Alaska already seems to be part of the Bible-Belt South, where consuming alcohol is still considered a sin, along with dancing and not being a Southern Baptist. And now Walker wants to double our taxes? Another thing I noticed: states that are famous for their craft breweries tend to have low beer taxes, like Oregon (#45), Colorado (#45), and even normally-tax-happy California (#28). At a time when the state's economy is already shrinking, it seem incredibly stupid to think about trying to choke off one of its few bright spots with ridiculously high taxes. For more on this subject, you can check out the blog I wrote on 2/12/2016.

More statewide news: Alaska Business Monthly Magazine is doing a survey on best AK businesses, and it includes brewery and distillery categories. Follow this link to the survey: and vote for your favorite!

Speaking of breweries and distilleries, the Brewers Guild of Alaska and the Distillers Guild of Alaska have announced that they will be holding their first joint event, the Alaska Crafted Festival. This premier, outdoor beer and spirits tasting event will take place in downtown Anchorage on Saturday, May 21, from 5-10 p.m., and will specifically feature craft beverages – brews, spirits, mead, wine, and cider –made in the Last Frontier. Scheduled during American Craft Beer Week, the festival will celebrate Alaska brands, bands and artisans with live music, educational seminars and product demonstrations highlighting the emerging craft beverage industry in the state. More than 25 brewers and distillers will showcase as many as 40 Alaska varieties, hailing from Haines in Southeast Alaska to Fox from Alaska’s Interior. In addition to meeting the makers behind the brands, festival-goers can expect a variety of cuisines, live entertainment and even an area featuring lawn games. “We’re looking forward to kicking off the summer season by celebrating the products that are made right here, in the Last Frontier, with the extended community of distillers, brewers and consumers,” said Heather Shade, president of the Distillers Guild of Alaska. “We want to support this emerging Alaska market while emphasizing the importance of buying local.” This outdoor special event is for ages 21 and up and will be held at the Williwaw complex in downtown Anchorage on F St. between 6th and 7th Ave. Tickets are $75 each, or $120 for two tickets, and can be purchased at

Speaking of upcoming events, this Saturday, March 26th, will be Orval Day at Anchorage Brewing Company. Here's what owner Gabe Fletcher had to say about it:

Image courtesy of Merchant du Vin

"There will be 3 different vintages of Orval poured so you can taste the difference the Brettanomyces affects the beer over time. We will have free Orval glasses for the first 160 people to pour your beer into, along with a bunch of other Orval gifts. We will be making a special commemorative t shirt too. That's not all! My friend Menno from DeMolen Brewery in Holland scored some Orval cheese for our meat and cheese board for the event too!!! Is there more?? YES! As always with our events we will have great food from Delicious Dave and live jazz from the ABC Brett Quartet! We have a goal to reach here... The place in the USA that pours the most Orval gets a special 4'x4' porcelain Orval Day plaque. We have 500 bottles to pour, can I get some help drinking all this beer please??? Who's in???"
Image courtesy of Anchorage Brewing

Orval Day starts at 2 PM on Saturday, March 26th. Also, Anchorage Brewing Company has announced that it is looking to hire a full-time person for its tap room. If you're interested, please send your resume and a cover letter expressing why you would be a great beertender for Anchorage Brewing Company to Hours will be around 1 pm-9 pm Wednesday through Sunday.

Another sure sign of the coming of spring is that our seasonal breweries/brewpubs are getting closer to their opening days. Seward Brewing Company will open on May 5th. Its new menu has been posted on line and you can check it out here49th State Brewing in Healy will be opening on April 25th. Gakona Brewing plans to fire off its kettle again on April 20th and has a new website. Icy Strait Brewing has announced that it will be restarting soon, though no specific date was mentioned.

On Sunday, March 13th, Elaine and I made the long run from Sterling to Wasilla to check put Bearpaw River Brewing. I'd been trying to get up there since it opened back in December, but something had always come up to scuttle my plans.  We got into town a few minutes before the brewery opened at noon and  were looking for lunch, so we went into a Thai restaurant, just a couple of doors down from the brewery, called Thai Asian Cuisine. The food there was outstanding, so if you're looking for lunch in Wasilla, I'd recommend getting it to go here and then carrying it to Bearpaw River to enjoy, along with some fresh craft beer. After enjoying our lunch, we walked over to the brewery. Brewer Jake Wade was working that day, but he graciously took a few minutes out to talk with me. The brewery has a 10-barrel system from Global Stainless, four 10-barrel conical fermenters, and 2 brite tanks. There are 10 regular taps and one nitro tap. When we were there, there were eight brews on tap. Jake said that he had only recently sent a couple of kegs to a few select locations, like the Pub House and Fat Ptarmigan in Anchorage and the Eagle River Alehouse, but he was still keeping almost all of his production for sale at the brewery. I sampled the brand-new Dortmunder Export Lager (which really helped douse the fire from my lunch of spicy Thai food) and the 1778 English Ale, an ESB, both of which were excellent. I picked up a growler of the Mat Maid Milk Stout to take home; see my review of it below. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay too long, as we were looking at a four hour drive home. If you are in or around Wasilla, I strongly recommend you make the time to stop by Bearpaw River and check out the excellent beers that are being brewed there!

Here are some photos of the visit, courtesy of my wife Elaine Howell.

Nondescript exterior

The tap room

Looking from tap room through to the brewery

Tap handles and copper bar back

Jake Wade, the head brewer at Bearpaw River

Alaskan Brewing Company has announced a 12-bottle variety pack, the Boundary Range Hop Pack. Named after the mountain range that separates Alaska from British Columbia, it contains Hopothermia Double IPA, Big Mountain Pale Ale, Icy Bay IPA, and Freeride American Pale Ale. So if you are a big hop lover, this one's for you.

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing
Winterlong Brewing in Whitehorse has announced another expansion. Starting in June, it will take over the lease for the entire building in which it is currently located and in July it will take deliver of another five new tanks, which will triple its current production capacity.

Photo courtesy of Winterlong Brewing
Midnight Sun Brewing Company will be hosting a Beer Brunch on Sunday, April 9th from 11 to 3 PM. Four courses, each with a beer, will cost you $45. Here's the poster for it:

Click to enlarge
Odd Man Rush Brewing in Eagle River has announced new hours:

I was contacted last week by Brian Olson of Alaska Berries, the estate winery in Soldotna; he wanted to let me know that they now have two new wines available, a Red Currant wine and a Black Currant wine. I plan to stop by there sometime this week to try them and hopefully to buy some more of the fantastic haskap jam that they make. Alaska Berries is open from 2 to 7 PM, Wednesday thru Sundays.

Kenai River Brewing has taken deliver of its new huge 100-barrel and 80-barrel conical fermenters. Here are some photos of the delivery process in the new brewery, courtesy of Kenai River. I understand they cleared the ceiling with 3" to spare!

That's it for news, so let's turn to reviews.

Stone Brewing's Old Guardian Barley Wine, Dry Hopped with Pekko: I picked this one up at Country Liquors in Kenai. It poured a dark but clear honey color, with a nice cream-colored head. The aroma was a good balance of malt and nice floral notes from the Pekko. Mouthfeel was medium and the carbonation was good, especially for a barley wine. Taste profile is definitely American barley wine, with an assertive 75 IBU hop presence against the big malt elements, but well-balanced. The 11% alcohol adds some warmth on the finish. Another nice beer, and it does a good job showcasing the versatility of this new hop strain.

Kenai River Brewing's Dr. Rudi Single Hop IPA: The latest in KRB's Single Hop series, this beer is made using only Dr. Rudi hops, a new super alpha variety from New Zealand. It poured a light honey color, slightly cloudy but with a nice, off-white colored head that left good lacing. The nose had plenty of bright floral hop notes, plus hints of lemon or perhaps lemon grass. The mouthfeel was good, as was the carbonation. On the plate, there was good initial bitterness from the 70 IBUs, but the substantial malt backbone brings balance, with plenty of hop flavor, before falling away to a nice finish. One of the better Single Hop IPAs of the series, I think Dr. Rudi hops have quite a future ahead of them. 7% ABV.

Elysian Brewing Loser Pale Ale: After its purchase by AB-InBev, I decided that I would no longer purchase Elysian's beers, but I won this  bottle in a raffle at the Kenai Peninsula Brewing & Tasting Society Meeting this month. It poured a slightly cloudy copper color with a off-white head that dissipated to a collar. There were aromas of toffee and light tropical fruit notes in the nose. Mouthfeel was light and carbonation was okay. There were more toffee notes on the palate, along with a balanced malt-hop profile. A perfectly fine pale ale at 7% ABV. Nothing wrong with the beer, but I choose not to give my hard-earned beer dollars to the Evil Empire...

Corporate beer still sucks indeed!

Ballast Point Brewing's Victory At Sea Imperial Porter: This is another brewery that was just bought out (for $1 billion!), though in its case it was Constellation Brands Inc, the same folks who bring you such quality beers as Corona... However, the brewery just began distributing in Alaska, and I saw its beers at La Bodega, so I thought I'd check a couple of them out. I have had its flagship Sculpin IPA while travelling in the past, so I thought I'd try something else. This beer poured very dark with some ruby highlights, and a mocha-colored head. The color is appropriate, as the nose has plenty of coffee notes, along with some vanilla. The mouthfeel is good, as is the carbonation. The beer is rich and slightly thick on the tongue, with lots of coffee bitterness and more vanilla. The coffee continues to be there through the finish. A nice take on the coffee porter theme, though it might be overdoing it slightly for my taste. 10% ABV, 60 IBUs.

Bearpaw River Brewing's Mat Maid Milk Stout: This poured opaque with a small mocha head that dissipated to a collar.The aroma was roasty but with some hints of sweetness. Mouthfeel was good, but carbonation was a little low, possibly due to it being from a growler. The overall flavor profile was good, with the roasty stout notes harmonizing well with the slight sweetness from the lactose, which becomes more noticeable on the finish. A nice, highly drinkable milk stout. 5.7% ABV, 20 IBUs.

Well, that's it for this time. Hopefully spring will make its permanent appearance soon. If possible, I plan to make it to Orval Day on Saturday, so if you're there early, look for me and say hello. Otherwise, keep an eye out for my next blog post.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Winter Makes a Brief(?) Comeback

It's March here on the Kenai, and for a bit it seemed like spring was already here. Then last Friday we got another couple of inches of snow, which snarled traffic all over Anchorage and the Valley, so we'll have to put the spring planting on hold for a while yet. On the plus side, it gives us a few more days to enjoy winter activities like skiing and snowshoeing; haven't been that many days this winter when you could do much of that.

First up this time, I'd like to start with a book review. The book is Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide from the Pairing Pros by Julia Herz and Gwen Conley. As you'd assume from the title, it's focused on pairing beer with food. Ten years ago, when I started developing my college class on beer, there were very few books on this subject; in fact, the only one I could find readily available was Garrett Oliver's classic The Brewmaster's Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food. However, in the last few years, more and more books on this subject have been published, with Beer Pairing being one of the most recent, just released in December. It's also one of the very best to date. The authors are certainly well-qualified to opine on the subject. Gwen Conley has had numerous jobs in the beer industry and is currently Director of Brewery Production, Quality and Interesting Brewery Things at Port Brewing /The Lost Abbey, while Julia Herz is the Craft Beer Program Director for the Boulder, Colorado based Brewers Association (BA) and Publisher of The book itself is lovely, a nice hardback printing, with lots of excellent color photos, interviews from other prominent individuals in the beer world, and plenty of sidebars to keep things interesting. The ideas presented are sophisticated and well thought out, and I found myself fascinated while reading it. If you are interested at all in pairing beer with food, I strongly suggest you check out this awesome book. You can find it in my Amazon Store or via clicking on the title above.

Moving on to news, Alaskan Brewing Company has made a couple of recent announcements. First up, its Jalapeno IPA is back as a Pilot Series release. You can read my review of a previous release in my 3/21/2014 blog.

Second, Alaskan Brewing has announced that its non-profit partner for 2016 will be the National Alliance for Mental Health 's local affiliate in Juneau, NAMI-Juneau. This means that all all tips collected at the brewery gift shop and tasting room, and money raised at brewery-hosted events like First Friday gallery walks and the annual Spring Fling, will go to NAMI Juneau. Additionally, Alaskan Brewing commits to donating beer and auction items for other events benefiting NAMI Juneau.

Finally, Alaskan has announced a new year-round beer: Kicker Session IPA. Weighing in at only 4.5% ABV, this is a beer designed to deliver lots of hop aroma and flavor, while keeping the alcohol level low enough so that you can enjoy more than one. Dry hopping with five varieties brings a high level of complexity to Kicker – both in aroma and flavor. Amarillo, Centennial, Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic hop flavors and bitterness come through boldly, with fruity flavors of strawberry and tangerine notes coming from the Citra and Amarillo, and a grapefruit and pine taste from the Simcoe and Mosaic. This is the first new six-pack beer that Alaskan has introduced since 2013, and it will be available in all 17 states where Alaskan's beers are sold.

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing

Back on Monday, 2/29, Midnight Sun Brewing released an new Milk Stout with Vanilla Bean Beer. Here's the flier for it:

The Loft at MSBC is also accepting donations of non-perishable food items to help re-stock Bean's Cafe through this Thursday, March 10th.

Arkose Brewery released a new beer in its Small-Batch Nitro Series, Vanilla Orange Cream Ale. No growler fills, 12 oz. pours at the brewery only.

Anchorage Brewing Company released a video of the brewing of the next batch of its award-winning A Deal with the Devil Barley Wine. You can see it here. ABC has also announced that this batch will be aged in cognac, whiskey, rum, and apple brandy barrels, with each expression being bottled separately. Don't forget the upcoming Orval Day on Saturday, March 26th; it kicks off at Anchorage BC at 2 PM.

On March 1, HooDoo Brewing in Fairbanks released a Rauchbier.  Here's how they describe it:
"As with all of our German-style beers, the entire grain bill is brought to Fairbanks from Weyermann Malt, Bamburg, Germany. Half of the malted barley, called “rauchmalt” is kilned over an open beechwood smoke fire, lending a smooth, sweet, smokey character to this clean drinkable lager. PROST! 5% ABV 28 IBUs"

Photo courtesy of HooDoo Brewing

Odd Man Rush Brewing in Eagle River is hosting a St. Patrick's Day Pub Run. Here's the flier for it:

Click to enlarge
Moving on to the Kenai, it looks like things are moving along for the soon-to-be newest brewery on the Peninsula, Grace Ridge Brewing in Homer. They have a permanent sign up now, and expect to have the taps flowing in May.

Photo courtesy of Grace Ridge Brewing

Kassik's Brewery was selected as "The Most Underrated Brewery in Alaska" by Thrillist. You can read the entire list here.

It's a sure sign of spring when the Blue Moon Burger food truck returns to the parking lot next to Kenai River Brewing Company. They are currently open Wednesday thru Saturday from 11 AM to 7 PM. Kenai River has also posted pictures of its new 20-barrel brew kettle being fabricated at Specific Mechanical Systems on the West Coast. The new brewery that will house it is also moving right along; they have begun painting the interior walls, and it looks like it's going to be a colorful place! The blue box overlooking everything will be owner Doug Hogue's office.

Photo courtesy of Kenai River Brewing
At St. Elias Brewing Company, there's a new beer on tap: H & H All-American Stout. As with all H & H brews, I had a hand in helping to create this one. It's an adaptation on one of my homebrew recipes, which I originally created as a tribute to the late Bert Grant. Bert Grant opened the first brewpub in the US since Prohibition in 1982 in Yakima, WA. In 1984 he released an Imperial Stout, unlike any that had been brewed before. Grant's version was the first to be heavily hopped with that most American of hops, Cascades. It helped usher in the dominant influence of American hops in the American craft beer movement. Bert Grant passed away in 2001, but this beer is a small effort in remembrance of his massive contributions to American craft brewing. See below for a review. Here's the current tap list at St. Elias.

Okay, let's do some beer reviews.

St. Elias Brewing Company's H & H All-American Stout: This beer poured opaque with a nice tan head. The aroma is rich, with plenty of roasted notes as well as notes of Cascade hops. The beer has a medium mouthfeel and good carbonation. On the palate, there are roasted coffee flavors, which help to balance the malt backbone, plus lots of hop bitterness and flavor for the Cascades. Full disclosure, I helped to brew this beer, but I still think it's excellent. It straddles the border of the American Stout and Imperial Stout style categories at 8.7% ABV and 72 IBUs.

Anchor Brewing's Anchor Barrel Ale: Part of Anchor's Argonaut series, this beer was brewed as a tribute to pioneer craft brewer Fritz Maytag. It is in the style of an English Strong Ale and was aged in Old Potrero Rye Whiskey barrels and on staves from those barrels. It poured a very dark ruby color with a small, mocha-colored head. The aroma was primarily malt and caramel, with some hints from the barrel aging. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. The flavor profile was strong and malty, with hints of rye whiskey on the long finish. The barrel aging is subtle, unlike some beer were it is over-powering. Very nice.

Anchorage Brewing's 2016 Rondy Brew: I purchased my bottle at Country Liquors in Kenai. This is a saison, brewed with Motueka hops from New Zealand and hibiscus flowers, and bottled with brett. It poured a lovely clear light ruby color (from the hibiscus), with a nice, slightly pink head. The beer was fermented in a wooden foudre, then dry-hopped with the Motueka hops and the hibiscus. It's dosed with brett, then bottled and allowed to condition for another two or three weeks. That's sufficient time for plenty of brett to express itself in the nose, along with lime notes from the hops and floral notes from the hibiscus. The mouthfeel was light and the carbonation excellent, giving the beer a spritzy, effervescent quality. The flavor profile was a balance of sweet and tart, with the tartness coming from both the brett and the hibiscus. The beer fell away to a very refreshing finish. Another amazing beer from the ever-amazing Gabe Fletcher; I'd say this is the best Rondy Brew to date! 6% ABV, 30 IBUs.

That's it for this week. Enjoy this last gasp of winter; pretty soon it will be the muddy mess that's Break Up.

Until Next Time, Cheers!