Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Getting Ready for the Summer Solstice

We're getting close to the summer solstice here in Alaska. For a scientific explanation of what that means, see my blog way back on 6/22/2010. From a beer perspective, it means that there will be plenty of solstice festivals being held around the state, most of which will feature beer in some capacity.

We just had the Kenai River Festival last weekend here on the Peninsula. Elaine and I spent the majority of the festival manning our booth (and trying to stay dry during the intermittent showers), but I did pay a quick visit to the beer garden on Saturday. They were pouring beers from Kassik's Brewery, St. Elias Brewing, and Kenai River Brewing; about a dozen beers all told. The garden seemed to be quite popular.

Speaking of festivals, there will be a big one in Healy this Friday and Saturday, June 17 & 18, called Euphoria. It is being combined with 49th State Brewing's Annual Summer Solstice Festival. Here's what the press release from the brewery has to say about it:

The 49th State Brewing Co - Denali's annual Solstice Brewfest has merged with Euphoria. On June 17th and 18th, the international destination festival will be bringing a multi-genre festival with an electronic flare. Euphoria - Denali, Celebrating Solstice Brewfest has already begun the week-long pre-party with informational beer events at the neighboring Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse. The official pre-party called Surge at the Denali Park Salmon Bake (6/16 - 11pm) will give a taste of the music to come. One thing is certain, when the gates open on Euphoria, the music, beer, and atmosphere will be epic.
Euphoria began in Texas and has blossomed into an international destination festival that is reaching the shores of Australia, South Africa, and the Philippines. Now, Euphoria has reached Denali Park, Alaska and will be celebrating in conjunction with Solstice Brewfest at the 49th State Brewing Co.
Headliners are Muzzy Bearr and Blunt Force. Muzzy Bearr brings his Detroit, Electronic Soul Funk. His big guitar sound dips in and out of the electronic mix he produces on stage. You often find him partnered with GRiZ at festivals but Muzzy also plays his special brand of guitar with George Clinton.
Blunt Force is out of Austin and plays future funk, glitch-hop, livetronica. Live guitar and drums mix into Blunt Force’s dj set. Other EDM performers are Clark After Dark (Denali favorite flying in from the mid-west), Willgood, and Rupert the Duke. Live band infusion is coming from the legendary Denali Cooks, Jasper Chili, and Frank Beaumont.
Rounding out the festival are fire dancers, aerial performing artists, special beer releases from the 49th State – Denali, and beer seminars on Grilling with Beer, Intro to Brewing, and Transitions in Brewing (no additional fee for seminars). Week-long pre-parties include the daily (M-Th, 4pm) Brew Chats at Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse where attendees receive an informal lecture from a professional brewer and loads of beer for only $7 and the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) pre-party, Surge, at the Denali Park Salmon Bake (Thurs, 11pm, no cover, 21+).

Here's the schedule for the Brew Chats:

So if you'll be in Healy this week or weekend, you should check out Euphoria.

This Saturday, June 18th will also be the 10 Anniversary for Kenai River Brewing Company and the official Grand Opening of its new brewery. Here is the invitation that was sent out:

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Midnight Sun Brewing has a new brew called Feast, brewed by Chef Chris Hilliard and local artist Scott Clendaniel. It's a bock that been aged in whiskey barrels. Here's a photo of the label.

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun Brewing
It will be a limited bottling, so get yours before its gone.

I have also heard that the date for this year's The Culmination Beer Festival has been set. It will take place on Saturday, August 20, at the Anchorage Brewing Company. Mark your calendars and start saving your pennies now!

Denali Brewing Company has released its Agave Gold in cans. You can find them at La Bodega in Anchorage, and other places around the state. La Bodega will also be holding a tasting titled "IPA in the USA"  at its Northern Lights location on Tuesday, July 5, at 5:15 pm.

At Grace Ridge Brewing in Homer, there are currently four beers on tap: Sadie Peak IPA, Oystercatcher Stout, Kayak Beach Blonde, and Otter Bay Alt.

Photo courtesy of Grace Ridge Brewing

Winterlong Brewing in Whitehorse has expanded its hours. It's now open noon to 6 PM, Wednesday thru Sunday.

That seems to be about it for news, so let's move on to reviews. All of my reviews this time are of beers I either drank in or brought back from Washington state, so they may not be available here in Alaska.

PFriem Family Brewing's Belgian Strong Blonde Ale: It poured a clear gold with a huge white head. The aroma had both fruity and spicy notes from the Belgian yeast used. Carbonation was excellent, and the mouthfeel was good. On the palate there were some fruity notes, plus nice hop bitterness, very similar to Duvel, the classic example of this style. Overall, a very nice beer. 7.5% ABV, 30 IBUs.

Uinta Brewing's Hop Nosh IPA: It poured a clear copper color with a big off-white head. The nose had plenty of fresh American hops in it. Carbonation was good as was the mouthfeel. The initial bitter attack was good but not excessive, followed by a decent amount of hop flavor on the back end. A very balanced and drinkable IPA. 7.3% ABV, 82 IBUs.

Epic Brewing's Elder Brett (Release #10): It poured a clear gold with a small white head that dissipated to a collar. The aroma was nondescript, but with some slight notes of brett funk. Mouthfeel was light and the carbonation was good. On the palate the beer was quite dry and had quite a bit of brett tartness, enhanced by oak elements from the aging in wine barrels. No perceptible alcohol, despite the 9.4% ABV. Overall, a very well-made brett beer.

Logsdon Farmhouse Ale's Seizon Bretta: It poured a slightly cloudy gold with a white head that dissipated to a collar. The nose has notes of brett tartness and funk. The mouthfeel was light and the carbonation was good. The flavor profile was that of a saison, with the addition of brett elements. Very tasty and refreshing. 8% ABV.

Black Raven Brewing's Second Sight Scotch Ale: It poured a translucent ruby with a nice, cream-colored head that left good lace on the glass. The nose was of caramel and malt. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was a bit on the dry side for the style. The flavor profile was malt forward, as you'd expect for a wee heavy, with no perceptible hop bitterness. Overall, a good wee heavy, though I would have preferred a bit higher finishing gravity, I think. 6.9% ABV, 34 IBUs.

Well, that's it for this time. Get out and enjoy this nice summer weather while it lasts, and celebrate the summer solstice. Remember, once it's come and gone, the days will start getting shorter...

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Back from Edmonds, WA

I just got home on Tuesday evening, after a few days visiting my daughter, son-in-law, and grand-kids in Edmonds, WA, a suburb of Seattle. Elaine and I were there to help celebrate our granddaughter's 1st birthday. So the trip was focused primarily on spending time with family, but I did find time to check out a couple of breweries and try some local brews, as well as hit a bottle shop in order to grab a few beers to bring home with me. I'll be reviewing those beers in future blogs, as I get around to enjoying them; this one will focus on the two breweries I visited on the trip.

The first brewery I visited was the American Brewing Company, at 180 W. Dayton Street. It, had a strong industrial vibe. In fact, the main train tracks through town ran just a few feet from its entrance door. There was free popcorn and other food for sale, like pizzas. I didn't get an exact count, but there looked to be at least a dozen different beers on offer. Here are a couple of shots of the tap room that I took.

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A couple of the differences between what Washington allows its breweries to do and what Alaska allows are immediately apparent. First, note the seats at the bar; that would be illegal in Alaska, as breweries are only allowed "serving counters" (meaning no seats) with "bars"  being allowed only in brewpubs or places with a Beverage Dispensary License (i.e. a full liquor license). Note the big screen TVs, tuned to sports; these would also be illegal in Alaska, as they would be considered "entertainment," which is also forbidden in brewery tap rooms. There brewery was also open until 10 PM; in Alaska, they must close NLT 8 PM. These things may seem minor, but I'm trying to make a point, which is this: Washington state has a much more friendly regulatory environment for brewing than Alaska does. Washington has about 9.5 times the population of Alaska ( 7 million to Alaska's 740,000). However, Washington has over 320 breweries, while Alaska still has less than 30, despite recent openings. If we had the same number of breweries per capita as Washington, we'd have something like 34 operating breweries right now.

I know it's a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, but it still illustrates the cumulative impact of things like clumsy liquor licensing laws and excessive state excise taxes. Speaking of excise taxes, brewers is Washington pay $0.26 per gallon of beer in state taxes, while in Alaska it's $1.07 (and Governor Walker is still pushing to double it!). In short, it seems to me that Washington understands what a valuable resource it has in its craft brewing industry; Alaska, not so much...

Anyway, back to my visit to the brewery. We got there fairly late, at about 9 PM, so I only had one beer, a pint of Revolutionary IPA. It's 6% ABV, 80 IBUS. I didn't do a full review, but my overall impression was that it was an average IPA, nothing wrong with it, but nothing spectacular either.

Revolutionary IPA

The second brewery in Edmonds is Salish Sea Brewing Company. It's also on W. Dayton Street, about four blocks north of American Brewing, at 518. Those four blocks make a big difference, as Salish Sea is in the downtown area of Edmonds, which is shops and restaurants, rather than the more industrial location of American Brewing. Here are some photos taken by my wife Elaine:

Exterior of Salish Sea Brewing

The brewhouse is in the tap room!

The left-hand side of the tap room.

The low wall on the right is movable, to allow space for brewing

Salish Sea Brewing has a very unusual layout, in that the brewhouse is literally in the tap room! In order to brew, the tables must come out of the right-hand portion of the tap room, along with a movable half wall that separates the tables from the brewhouse when the latter isn't in use. I'm not sure how efficient it is, but it's a clever way to maximize the tap room seating when actual brewing isn't taking place.

There were twelve taps with nine beers currently on offer when we stopped in. There was also a food menu, with staples like sandwiches, soups, and pretzels on offer. I decided to have a Drop Anchor IPA. At 6.7% ABV, 65 IBUs, this is a medium-bodied IPA. It's hopped with Citra, Mosaic, Amarillo, and Simcoe hops, including dry-hopping with the first three varieties. Late hop additions, gave it lots of hop flavor and aroma without excessive bitterness. A very enjoyable IPA.

Drop Anchor IPA

So that's my report on the two breweries I visited in Edmonds. It's always fun to visit new breweries and try out what they have to offer, so I encourage you to do so as well, whenever you travel.

I plan to get a blog out next week, to get back up to speed on what's happening here in Alaska. However, if you will be in Soldotna this weekend, I will be at the Kenai River Festival in Soldotna Creek Part on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, signing and selling copies of my beer books. Please drop by and say hello; I'll be in Booth #1.

Until Next Time, Cheers!