Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The End of September

There are only three days left in September and temperatures have started dropping below freezing at night here on the Kenai, so it's definitely time to start thinking about getting ready for winter. I've had a pretty busy time since my last blog post two weeks ago, so let me tell you what I've been up to.

First, we hit the Denali Road Lottery for the third time this year, so that meant a trip north. Unfortunately, we got the very last day, Tuesday, September 20, so it wasn't really practical to hit both the Talkeetna Beer Fest on 9/17 and be in Denali on 9/20. However, by all reports, it was another great festival in Talkeetna. We drove north on Monday, 9/19, and made a pit-stop along the way at Denali Brewing Company's production brewery, where I was happy to snag a 12-bottle box of its excellent Louisville Sour Ale. I think this brew is only available at the brewery or at the pub in downtown Talkeetna proper, so if you are driving on the Parks Highway and like sour beers, I strongly suggest you stop in and get some.

A delicious sour from Denali Brewing Company

We continued on up the Parks to Denali National Park. Since it was so late in the season, very little was still open; Prospector's Pizzeria had closed on Sunday night, so that wasn't an option. Fortunately, 49th State Brewing's brewpub in Healy was still open, so we ended up dining there on both Monday and Tuesday evening. I was lucky enough to hook up with Vincent LaRochelle, the head brewer in Healy, to talk about how things have been going since 49th State opened its new Anchorage location. The brewery has been very busy; in all of that year, they brewed 78 batches in Healy, while they are already over 84 for this year, with plans to keep brewing for quite some time and likely top 100 batches total for 2016. Batches of Solstice IPA nd Prospector's Gold have been heading south regularly to keep the Anchorage location from running out of either brew, due to the high demand.

Vincent also told me that 49th State has brewed a collaboration beer with Cigar City Brewing from Tampa, Florida. The head brewer from Cigar City, Nick Streeter, came up to Healy and helped brew an imperial stout using birch syrup and spruce tips in the recipe. So that's definitely something to look forward to next year when it's released. I also picked up a crowler of 49th State's The Great One Imperial Stout, which I'll review in an upcoming blog.

After driving around DNP all day Tuesday, we drove back to the Kenai on Wednesday, and then we drove back to Anchorage on Saturday, 9/24, for Bodega-Fest. This was my first time attending this festival, and I had a superb time. Pam and the rest of the La Bodega Team were celebrating their tenth anniversary, and they couldn't have done a better job.  Here's a map of the fest layout, a list of the booths there, and some photos I snapped early in the event.

The 10th Anniversary celebrations will also continue with a Beer Dinner at Kinley's Restaurant next Wednesday, October 5th, at 6 PM. The menu and beer pairing have just been announced:

 *Sonoma Pitchfork Pear Cider, 6% ABV

 First Course 
*Unibroue Blanche de Chambly, 5.0% ABV
 Pan Seared Halibut Cheek, Pancetta and Pea Risotto, Lemon Brown Butter, Basil Oil, Balsamic Reduction

 Second Course
 *Pinkus Munster Alt, 5.1% ABV
 Spinach Salad, Bell Pepper, Red Onion, Tomato, Chevre, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, Tortilla Strips, Raspberry-Chipotle Dressing

Third Course
 *St. Louis Fond Tradition Gueuze, 5.0% ABV
 Lamb Slider, Open Faced on Toasted Pita, Seasoned Ground Lamb, Tzatziki Sauce, Feta Cheese, Tomato, Red Onion

 Fourth Course
 *Gigantic Vivid Imperial IPA 8.5% ABV
 Boneless Beef Short Rib, Coconut-Chili Braising Sauce, Gingered Jasmine Rice, Grilled Baby Bok Choy, Pickled Daikon Radish, Basil, Cilantro, Mint

 Fifth Course
 *Wells & Young’s Courage Russian Imperial Stout, 10.0% ABV &; *Tozai Snow Maiden Nigori Sak√©, 14.9% ABV
 Flourless Chocolate Cake with Pumpkin Sauce and Praline Crumble

Call Kinley's at 644-8953 for Reservations.

Click to enlarge

Another upcoming event which I have written about in previous blogs is Zwanze Day at Anchorage Brewing Company, which will take place this Saturday, October 1, starting at 2 PM.

Though you wouldn't know it from its Facebook page, I have it on good authority that Cynosure Brewing Company is open at last. You can find it at 144 E. Potter DR., Unit E, in Anchorage. I don't know its hours yet. Word is that there are three brews on tap, a wit, a steam beer, and a dubbel.

In other beer news, Bearpaw River Brewing Company has signed on with Specialty Imports, who will now be distributing its beers around the state. The beer selection that they are beginning distribution with consists of Sluice-Box Belgian Ale, Mat Maid Milk Stout, and Frontiersman IPA. I'm told that the brewery hopes to begin selling 22 oz. bombers by Christmas and cans in 1 to 2 years. Keep your eye out for a double chocolate version of Mat Maid, planned for release at the brewery's 1st Birthday Party on 17 December.

At Midnight Sun Brewing Company, the cooler weather has brought on the annual release of its Termination Dust Belgian-style Barley Wine as well as the release of a new beer, AutumnFest Marzen. Here's the description:

Midnight Sun's Panty Peeler Tripel also took home a silver medal at this year's Can Can Awards.

Here on the Peninsula, Seward Brewing Company closed for the winter on September 18.

Zach Henry of St. Elias Brewing is just back from his annual moose hunt, so you can expect some new brews on tap there soon. Here's the latest tap list:

Over at Kenai River Brewing, besides its usual flagship brews, here's what's on tap:

That's it for news, so let's do a few reviews.

Prairie Artisan Ales' Prairie Noir Imperial Stout: Another Culmination leftover, this beer poured opaque with a small tan head. The aroma had plenty of bourbon notes, as well as the typical roasted malt elements. Carbonation was okay, and the mouthfeel was heavy. The flavor profile was quite thick and rich, with notes of chocolate, coffee, as well as bourbon and oak. Overall, a nice barrel-aged imperial stout, though not as good as many which are produced here in Alaska. 11% ABV.

Kenai River Brewing's Session IPA: It poured a hazy gold color with a nice, cream-colored head. Lots of Citra hops in the nose. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. The initial bitter attack was respectable but not excessive, followed by lots of Citra flavor and aroma. At only 4.5% ABV and 62 IBUs, the beer is designed to be highly drinkable, and it hits that target perfectly. If you enjoy hop flavor and aroma and want to be able to enjoy more than one beer, this one is the perfect choice for you.

Deschutes Brewing's Black Butte XXVIII: It poured opaque with a mocha-colored head. The aroma had notes of cocoa, molasses, and coffee. The carbonation was good, and the mouthfeel was medium. On the palate, there were lots of roasted porter notes, plus sweeter elements from the cocoa nibs. It gradually fell away to a long, nice finish. Another excellent entry in this long-running series of superb imperial porters from Deschutes. 11.5% ABV, 51 IBUs.

That's it for this time. Remember, while you're getting your home and vehicles ready for winter, don't forget to lay in a good stock of nice, warming brews as well. There's nothing like enjoying a nice imperial stout or barley wine by the wood stove to help pass those long, dark winter evenings!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trying to Keep Up

One of the biggest problems I have as a beer writer/blogger is just trying to keep up with the plethora of beer events/news/brewery openings. You'd think, given how small the Alaska beer scene is when compared to someplace like Portland or Denver, that it would be so simple to keep abreast of all the goings-on, but it's not. Frankly, I don't know how the guys who cover the beer beats in places like Washington State or Colorado manage it. All I know is, I seem to spend half my time scouring social media sites and twitter feeds for news, and still I miss stuff.

Case in point, Rough Woods Inn and Cafe, a brewpub in Nenana. I first heard about this nanobrewpub from a tourist last year, but was unable to find out anything about it, even after searching the Alcohol Control Board's website. I consulted with the Dean of Alaska Beer Writers, Jim Roberts, AKA DR. Fermento, and he came up dry as well. We weren't able to confirm that there was a brewery operating in Nenana until last month, when Ed Miner of Gakona Brewing happened to be passing through and confirmed its existence for both of us. Not only was there a brewery there, but it had been brewing since 2013! If you'd like to learn more about Rough Woods and its tiny brewing operation, I'll refer you to Dr. Fermento's excellent Anchorage Press article, which you can read here. My point is, despite our best efforts, a brewpub managed to operate for three years without either of us knowing about it.

The other challenge I face is that almost as soon as I write something, it's obsolete. The Alaska craft beer scene is such a fast-changing one that little stays the same for very long. Case-in-point, I published the first volume of Beer on the Last Frontier: The Craft Breweries of Alaska back in 2012. Four years later, it was woefully out of date. Seward Brewing Company had a new owner/brewer, Kenai River Brewing had moved to a new facility, other breweries had made significant changes, and Grace Ridge Brewing had opened its doors in Homer. It was time to bite the bullet and publish an update, and I have finally found the time to do so. The revised and updated version of Volume I is now available on Kindle, and the paperback version should be available in a few weeks. If you have already purchased a Kindle version, I believe you can download the updated version for free. If you haven't bought it already, you can purchase it for $6.99 on

The cover of the 2nd Edition
Of course, now that I've updated Volume I, it's time to start trying to get Volume II up-to-date. Sigh...

On a bit of a side note, friend and fellow author Doug Vandegraft will be selling and signing copies of his book A Guide to the Notorious Bars of Alaska this Friday, 9/16, at The Bow Bar in Kenai from 5 to 7 PM. The book is a great read, so if you'll be in town then, I recommend you stop in.

Enough about writing; let's talk beer news. This weekend is a big one for beer events, as I've been writing in previous blogs. To summarize, events taking place include:

Hopefully by this late date you have already made plans for which one you'll be attending. If you need more details, click on the links above or check out my previous couple of blogs.

Coming up next weekend, on Saturday, September 24th, is Bodega-Fest 2016. I posted quite a bit of info about this in my last couple of blogs as well. FYI, I'm planning to attend that one, so look me up if you are there and say hi. La Bodega is also holding another of its Beer 101 events tonight at its Northern Lights store, from 5:15 to 6:30 pm. $15 gets you a flight of six beer samples plus small bites from Hearth. Finally, the leftovers from The Culmination have gone on the shelves there and at other beer stores around town, so this is your chance to check our beers which aren't usually distributed here in Alaska. See below for my reviews of a couple of beers from Prairie Artisan Ales out of Oklahoma.

Click to enlarge

Alaskan Brewing is celebrating its 30th Anniversary with a new release of its Perseverance Ale. It first released this beer to mark its 25th Anniversary in 2011. See my blog on 9/7/2011 for a review of it fresh, and my blog on 10/2/2014 for a review of it with three years' cellar time. Congratulations to Geoff, Marcy, and all the rest of the folks at Alaskan for reaching this historic milestone. Here's to the next thirty years!

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing Company

Anchorage Brewing Company will be releasing a new beer this Friday, September 16th. It's called Love and the Death of Damnation. It's an IPA brewed with Mosaic and Equinox hops.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company

I've heard from Denali Brewing Company that more cans of its Slow Down Brown hit the shelves last week. Also, the Beer/Wine Dinner this Friday night before the Talkeetna Brewfest is sold out.

Photo courtesy of Denali Brewing Company

Tickets are now on sale for the annual HooDoo ChooChoo on October 1. You can get more info or tickets here.

Here on the Peninsula, St. Elias Brewing Company has its Oktoberfest Lager back on tap, and it's being served in 20 oz. glasses. Kenai River Brewing is having its parking lot paved with asphalt. Here's the tap list from Grace Ridge Brewing from my last visit on 9/2.

Grace Ridge tap list on 9/2/2016

Moving on to beer reviews, I have three for this blog:

Deschutes Brewing's Black Butte XXVII: Bottled on 7/20/2015, this one had been in my cellar for over a year. It poured dark with ruby highlights and a nice, mocha-colored head. The aroma was of cocoa, molasses, and bourbon notes. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. On the palate there was a complex flavor profile with lots of coffee, chocolate and oak/bourbon elements. A bit of alcohol heat on the finish. Overall, Deschutes continues to deliver an excellent imperial porter with this series. 11.6% ABV, 60 IBUs.

Prairie Artisan Ales' Apple Brandy Barrel Noir (2016): A beer from The Culmination that I picked up at La Bodega, this imperial stout was aged in used apple brandy barrels. It poured opaque with zero head. The nose was difficult to detect with no carbonation to lift it, but what I could get was mostly roasted malt and oak notes. Zero carbonation and a heavy mouthfeel. The initial impression was of chocolate notes in a heavy, almost oily brew, with some alcohol heat on the finish. The apple and oak elements are fairly subtle. Not bad, but it could have used at least a little carbonation to open things up a bit. 12% ABV, 70 IBUs.

Prairie Artisan Ales' Pirate Noir Imperial Stout: This time round, the stout is aged in used rum casks. It poured opaque but with a small tan-colored head that dissipated quickly to a collar. The aroma was rich with malt notes. Carbonation was low but present, and the mouthfeel was heavy.  Thick and rich, the rum notes added an interesting counterpoint to the malt and coffee elements from the base imperial stout. Even the modest carbonation in this beer made it much more appealing than the completely flat apple brandy version. Different but very enjoyable. 11% ABV, 60 IBUs.

That's it for this week. Choose wisely amongst all the upcoming beer events and keep drinking good local craft beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!