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!

No comments: