Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!

Hello again and Happy Halloween! We seem to be getting a slight reprieve from the start of winter here on the Peninsula, with temperatures in the upper 40s, but we all know that won't last. Besides, every one I know keeps hoping for a "real winter" this year, unlike the last couple. We'll see if that enthusiasm still lingers come February.

Some interesting stories are percolating on the "National Beer News" Desk. The first one is the announcement by Stone Brewing of significant layoffs. Somewhere between 50 and 100 employees, some of whom had been with the company for quite some time, were given their walking papers. This is the same Stone Brewing which is busily expanding by opening new breweries in Richmond, VA and Berlin. So we have a craft brewery that seems to be behaving more or less like one of those big, industrial breweries that its founder, Greg Koch, loves to rail against. What does it mean for Stone's beers? Beats me, but it does give me pause when I'm standing in the bottle shop, trying to decide how to dispose of my limited beer budget. For when a craft brewery (whatever that is; insert your own definition here) begins acting just like a big corporate brewery (ditto), is it still a craft brewery? It take some thinking on...

Speaking of big corporate breweries, here's a link to an article in which Carlos Brito, the Brazilian banker who is head of the Belgium-based AB-InBev, opines that the American beer drinker is "tired of choice." I'm not sure where and when he developed his keen grasp of the American psyche, but I guess we should thank him for doing his level best to ensure we are never again confronted with an over-abundance of choice. If Brito had his way, there would be no choice required on our part, as the only beers we'd be able to purchase would come from his company, even if they were tarted up with different names. It would be laughable, if it wasn't so damn serious...

The face of the enemy, Carlos Brito

Moving on to more local news, Midnight Sun Brewing's trademark dispute with Sockeye Grill & Brewery in Boise, ID is still on-going. I confirmed late last week that the status was still the same as reported in my last blog, i.e. a Cease & Desist Letter has been sent, but the two breweries are still trying to work things out between them. As soon as I hear anything differnt, I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, today is MSBC's Halloween Horde Beserker Release Party, starting at 4 PM at The Loft.  There will be flights of vintage Berserkers (2008, 2013, Nitro 2014 and 2016) for $12.On Saturday, Anchorage legend Mr. Whitekeys stopped bye and helped Head Brewer Lee Ellis brew up the first batch of Christmas in Spenard Spiced Brown Ale. Mr. Whitekeys is evidently a big fan of MSBC's Kodiak Brown Ale, so he was happy to help put his own unique spin on this new brew. Finally, MSBC will be releasing a new batch of Buzzwinkle Sour Wheat Ale next week.

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun Brewing

Speaking of Halloween parties, today is also HooDoo Brewing's 4th Anniversary, and they will be celebrating at the Thanks Fairbanks, We're Four Event, starting at 3 PM. Congratulations to Bobby and the rest of the team there; keep brewing those great beers.

More beer event news: Here's the schedule for La Bodega's Winter in the Wood Tasting Series at Jack Sprat Restaurant in Girdwood:

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Also coming up this weekend is the Beers by the Bay event at the Sea-Life Center in Seward. Here's the flier for that one:

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In additional new beer release news, Denali Brewing Company will be releasing its Big DIPA Double IPA soon, and cans of its Schwarzbier should be replacing its Slow Down Brown on store shelves soon as well.

Last Saturday, Anchorage Brewing Company released a new batch of its excellent The Tide and its Takers Tripel. This beer was last released in July of 2014, and to celebrate the new release, the brewery tapped a keg from that previous batch as well.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company

Here on the Peninsula, St. Elias Brewing Company has released another new beer: Czar's Gone Wild, a Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels with Brettanomyces. See my review of it below. Here's the current tap list:

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Okay, let's review some beers:

St. Elias Brewing's Czars Gone Wild Imperial Stout: As mentioned above, this RIS is barrel-aged with Brettanomyces. It poured opaque with a tan head that dissipated to a collar. The aroma was rich with malt and bourbon notes. Carbonation was low but acceptable (I poured it from a growler, which could account for this); mouthfeel was heavy and viscous. The flavor profile held lots of rich malt notes, bourbon elements, with hints of brett funk. It will be interesting to watch the brett influence change over time. An unusual but excellent take on the standard Russian Imperial Stout.

Anchor Brewing's Old Foghorn Barley Wine: When it was first brewed in 1975, this beer became the first modern barley wine brewed in the US. I have enjoyed it many times over the years, but never got around to formally reviewing it, so here goes. It poured a clear ruby color with a small, cream-colored head that dissipated to a collar. The nose had caramel and toffee notes; a classic English-style barley wine, this beer had no discernible hop aroma. The malt-forward flavor profile is also characteristic of that style. Only 8.8% ABV, which seems pretty tame by today's standards, and 52 IBUs. Like many of Anchor's beers, Old Foghorn broke trail for all the craft beers that followed it, and illustrates the tremendous debt owed by all modern beer lovers to Fritz Maytag.

Sierra Nevada Brewing's Estate Homegrown IPA: All the barley and hops for this beer were produced in Chico, CA, from the Sierra Nevada complex. It poured a clear, very pretty copper color with a big, off-white head that left good lace. The aroma was of American hops, primarily Cascades. Carbonation was excellent, mouthfeel was light. There was a nice initial bitter attack, then hop flavor and aroma, but the beer still maintained excellent balance. 6.7% ABV, 67 IBUs.

Well, that's it for this week. Happy Halloween to you all, and good luck making your final preparations before winter arrives in full force.

Until Next Week, Cheers!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Pumpkin Beer Season is Upon Us

It's almost the end of October, which in the past has meant it's time for a deluge of "pumpkin beers". For a while, it seemed just about every brewer would pump out some brew flavored with pumpkins, or more accurately, the spices associated with pumpkin pies. However, the industry hit saturation last year, and a lot of pumpkin beers went unsold, leading to a re-evaluation this year. Here's a Forbes article which discusses the nation-wide pumpkin beer glut last year and this year's response by brewers. Here in Alaska, Midnight Sun Brewing still released its classic T.R.E.A.T. and Trickster beers, but Alaskan Brewing chose to re-release it Heritage Coffee Brown Ale rather than its Pumpkin Ale. Is craft brewing's love affair with pumpkin beers over? All I can say is: DEAR GOD, I HOPE SO!!!!

Not this year!

Speaking of Midnight Sun Brewing, its trademark dispute with Boise-based Sockeye Grill and Brewery is still on-going. KTUU picked up on the story (five days after I broke it in this blog, but hey, who's counting?) and published this article. While Sockeye refused to comment to me, it did respond to KTUU: “It has caught us off guard,” said Janice Skinner, Sockeye Brewing’s business manager. “I do have my attorney looking into some of the legal ramifications.” Current status seems to be that the breweries are trying to work something out, but Midnight Sun's attorneys have also sent a Cease & Desist letter to the Idaho brewery, putting them on legal notice that MSBC intends to defend its trademark in Alaska. I'll keep you updated as things develop.

Those of you who have read this blog for any length of time probably are aware that I was fortunate enough to win the Wynkoop Beerdrinker of the Year Contest back in 2010. This annual event went on hiatus a couple of years ago, due to a restructuring at Wynkoop, but thanks to a lot of hard campaigning by former BDOTYs ( most notably 2009 BDOTY Cody Christman), the event is now back and better than ever. Instead of taking place in February, the Finals are now being held in conjunction with the Great American  Beer Festival each fall in Denver. This year's winner (and 18th annual BDOTY) was Shawna Cormier of Denver. You can read all the details here. If you'd like to compete for the 2017 title and free beer for life at Wynkoop Brewing in Denver, watch for the brewery's call for resumes early next year at .

Enjoying the sweet taste of victory back in 2010

HooDoo Brewing in Fairbanks is in the process of getting a new German fire truck ( a Feuerwehr, in German) from the Lower 48. Bobby and Paul were driving it up the Alcan to Fairbanks, but they hit a snag about 15 miles south of Fort St. John in B.C. in the form of a big rock that took out their windshield. They are both okay, but it looks like the Feuerwehr will be making the rest of the trip on a flatbed trailer...

...and After. Both photos courtesy of HooDoo Brewing.
HooDoo will be celebrating it 4th Anniversary on Monday with its Thanks, Fairbanks, We're Four event. As part of that event, HooDoo will also be holding it annual limerick contest.  Here's the flyer with the info:

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Also coming up this weekend in the Mighty Monster Brewfest (AKA the Mighty Matanuska Brewfest) on the state fairgrounds in Palmer. It's on Saturday, October 29, from 6 to 10 PM, at Raven's Hall.Tickets are $35 and include 20 3-0z. samples.

Haines Brewing Company has its excellent Black Fang Imperial Stout back on tap!

I was at Kenai River Brewing Company last Friday, signing copies of my latest book. Here's what was on tap:

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At St. Elias Brewing, Vanilla Bean Porter and Defiance Black IPA are now on tap.

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That's it for the news. I've got two beer reviews for this week:

Deschutes Brewing's The Abyss Imperial Stout (2007 Vintage): After nine years in my cellar, the label was falling off the bottle. However, when I chipped away the wax seal and opened the crown cap, I got a reassuring hiss of carbonation. It poured opaque with a nice tan head. The aroma had notes of cocoa, molasses, and roasted coffee. Carbonation was still good, and the mouthfeel was heavy. On the palate, the beer was nice and thick, almost chewy in its texture, with flavors of coffee, licorice, and dark chocolate. The only evidence I could see from its long aging was that it seemed a bit drier than the fresher vintages, and that the flavors were a bit better integrated. Even after almost a decade in the bottle, there was no hint of degradation. In fact, it was superb! 11% ABV.

Gigantic Brewing's Vivid Imperial IPA (#43): It poured a cloudy honey color with a big, off-white head that left good lace. The nose had plenty of tropical fruit notes from the New Zealand hops used. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was on the light side for a DIPA. The initial bitter attack was good, but not overwhelming, then decent hop flavor and aroma followed. Not a bad beer; if you like Imperial IPAs you'll probably enjoy this one.8.5% ABV.

That's it for this week. I'll be back next week with more news and reviews. Meantime, enjoy your Halloween and keep drinking good beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Legal Matters

A story which appeared in the Peninsula Clarion & Homer News has caused quite a stir here on the Peninsula. The article dealt with the proposed re-write to the portions of Title 4 which cover the issuance of alcohol licenses in Alaska. Senator Peter Micciche, who represents the Central Peninsula in the state senate, is the chairmen of the committee in charge of the overhaul. You can read the article in its entirety here, but before you begin sharpening your pitchforks and lighting torches, there are a couple of things you should know. To make sure I had the latest and most accurate info, I talked to Ryan Makinster, the Executive Director of the Brewers Guild of Alaska, and someone who is intimately involved in the re-write process. Here's what he had to say.

First, Ryan pointed out that the article is based on SB 99, which was submitted last session, but went no where in the legislative process. This year's bill will likely be pre-filed in January, and should have some significant changes from SB 99. Second, while Public Convenience Licenses will likely be going away, current holders will transition either to seasonal licenses (for truly seasonal operations, open six months or less a year) or to Restaurant/Eating Place Licenses. Third, the administrations of both Wasilla and Soldotna are involved in the process and are pushing for a mechanism which would recognize the fact that cities like them service a much larger population base than just residents within city limits, so the number of licenses able to be issued needs to reflect that. Public meetings are still taking place to try to hammer out all the details, which should be reflected in the new bill to be filed after the first of the year.

So in summary, this is certainly something anyone who enjoys consuming alcohol should pay attention to, but it's not yet time to storm the Bastille. Rest assured, I'll do my best to keep you all informed of developments, and when it's time to make our voice heard to Senator Micciche and the rest of the legislature, I'll definitely sound the trumpet. Until then, we can remain calm and keep our powder dry.

In another legal matter, Barb Miller, one of the owners of Midnight Sun Brewing, made the following post on Facebook on October 13th:

"So a brewpub named Sockeye Grill and Brewery in ID has just begun to move some product into the AK market. We discovered them a few years ago and decided to be respectful and not push our Sockeye Red IPA into ID. (Our beers are distributed in AK, WA, OR, CA, HI and NY.) Their labels are predominantly "SOCKEYE" then IPA or Porter, etc. Naturally, we are going to defend our territory, namely AK. We've been here since 1995. We now have our attorneys involved because we called them and they declined to retreat. I know this situation is not uncommon in our industry but we/MSBC always play respectfully with names/beers in our and others' distribution areas.
What are YOUR thoughts on this situation?
Supporting MSBC and not supporting this ID brewpub is any easy way to drive them out of AK. They are being distributed by the Odom Corporation, which is part of Southern Wine and Spirits. (And they definitely have attorneys on the payroll.)
Oddly, I was just talking about Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential book this week, which focuses on the underbelly of the culinary industry. YeaH, so welcome to the underbelly of the brewing industry."
I'm told that the beers from Sockeye Grill and Brewery began being distributed in Alaska on October 1st, so you can expect to see them on local shelves. I'm working to research more information on this dispute from all the parties involved, so look for more updates in the future, "as they develop."

Moving on to other, happier beer news.

Midnight Sun Brewing has announced that it will be holding a release party for its super-popular Berserker Imperial Stout on October 31st. The Halloween Horde Event will take place from 4 pm October 31st to 8 PM on November 1st. Besides the release of this year's Berserker, there will also be flights of previous vintages. In addition, anyone who comes dressed in "Ancient Norse Clothing" will receive 10% off their Berserker bottle purchase.

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Over at 49th State Brewing, they will be celebrating Halloween on Saturday, October 29th, with a combination Yoga & Halloween Party. Here's the flier with details:

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Glacier BrewHouse released a new Wet Hop IPA and a new Coconut Porter last week. Neither brew will likely last long, so try them while you can.

Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse
Photo courtesy of Glacier BrewHouse

KTUU in Anchorage had a news report on the opening of Cynosure Brewing. You can read it here. Cynosure has also released a new beer, Cynosure Dark Lager, a German-style schwarzbier.

Photo courtesy of Cynosure Brewing

Alaskan Brewing has released a Wet Hop Pale Ale as part its Rough Draft series.

Photo courtesy of  Alaskan Brewing Company

Seward Brewing Company's Rockfish Tacos were selected as one of the top fish tacos in the country by The Food Network. You can read the entire article here.

Here's the latest tap list for Denali Brewing Company's pub in Talkeetna:

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Specialty Imports will  be holding a Beer Tasting at Mykel's Restaurant in Soldotna on Saturday, October 29th, focusing on German beers. It starts at 6:30 pm and includes the beers and an appetizer buffet. Call 262-4305 for reservation or more information.

Grace Ridge Brewing in Homer has released another new brew, Rocky River Orange Wheat.

Here's the latest tap list from St. Elias Brewing. Look for the return of the popular Vanilla Bean Porter within the next few days.

At Kenai River Brewing, I'll be holding a Book Signing this Friday, October 21, from 4 to 6:30 pm. Come in and get a copy of my latest book.

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That's it for news. I've got reviews of two beers this week, both from out of state:

Firestone-Walker's Oaktoberfest Marzen: I will confess to initially being confused about this beer. From its name, I had assumed it was aged on oak, and then was surprised when I could not taste any. The brewery straightened me out: the name is in reference to the brewery's hometown, so there's no oak in the beer itself. It poured a clear gold with a nice, white head. The aroma was nothing but good, clean malt notes. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile was spot on for a marzen, with lots of clean malt flavors, and only enough hop bitterness to balance things. A top-notch marzen. 5% ABV, 24 IBUs.

Two Beers Brewing Company's Forester Double IPA: This was my first beer ever from this Seattle-based brewery; I picked it up on a whim at Country Liquors in Kenai. It poured a light, clear copper color with a big, cream-colored head. The nose had a mixture of citrus and piney notes from the Simcoe, Centennial, and Super Galena hops used. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was between light and medium. The initial bitter attack was good, though not as aggressive as the claimed 92 IBUs would lead you to expect. That was a good thing, in my book. Following the initial attack, the hop flavor and aroma came through, but was somewhat balanced by the big malt backbone. More drinkable than the average DIPA, I liked it quite a bit. In the future, I'll be keeping my eye out for other beers from this brewery. 7.8% ABV

That's it for this week. I hope to see you at my Book Signing on Friday.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Small Minds, Sensitive Souls

I usually endeavor to steer clear of politics and the culture wars in this blog, unless they directly impinge on the subject at hand, that being craft beer in Alaska. Frankly, I find both the Left and the Right fairly loathsome these days. So unless some ass is proposing to double the tax on alcohol (I'm looking at you, Walker) or the neo-prohibitionists start banging the drum about "demon liquor", I generally give it all a pass here and try to focus on more interesting and pleasant subject.

However, be that as it may, I felt I needed to toss my two cents in on the latest kerfuffle regarding Midnight Sun's Panty Peeler Tripel.  Let's review some history on the brew. It was first brewed back in the 1990s and sold under the name Epluche-culotte, which is "Panty Peeler" in French. In 2008, the brewery decided to Anglicize the name (along with its dark counterpart, Monk's Mistress), and produce some updated label art. In fact, the second blog I wrote, way back on 7/30/2008 was about this change. Here's the label:

The older version featured essentially the same artwork, just with the name Epluche-culotte. While the name might be slightly risque, it certainly doesn't seem particularly offensive, at least to my admittedly somewhat old-fashioned sensibilities. Panty Peeler has chugged along without incident under the new label since 2008. However, this year the brewery decided to add the beer to its canned line-up in 4-packs, which resulted in the beer winning a Silver Medal at this year's Can Can Awards (another risque name?), as I reported in my 9/28/2016 blog. This competition advertises itself as "the premiere beer competition focused solely on canned craft beers," so this award was quite a feather in Midnight Sun's cap.

Apparently, winning this award brought the beer to the notice of the culture police, who decided that any beer which had "panty" in the name must be promoting rape. Never mind that the beer label (designed by a woman, by the way), shows a strong, empowered woman enjoying herself, without a man anywhere in sight. Never mind that it's been around for almost two decades without anyone taking offense before. Never mind that, if you're the sort of sleazeball who thinks of getting a woman drunk to take sexual advantage of her, a quality craft beer would probably be your least likely choice, given how many cheaper and more potent forms of alcohol there are available. Never mind common sense. No, this sort of "drive by shooting" via the internet is becoming a hallmark of how people express their personal prejudices.

If you're curious as to who these self-anointed keepers of the culture are, I'd refer you to this KTUU article, which names them. It's true we have a serious problem with sexual violence here in Alaska, but I'd suggest these would-be Comstocks are barking up the wrong tree when they try to place the blame on a beer label. If you agree, I'd suggest you go out and pick up a 4-pack of Panty Peeler. You'll have the dual pleasure of drinking a great craft beer and also giving a metaphorical middle finger to the pecksniffs.

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun

Now on to more pleasant subjects.

I've learned of another new brewery working to open here on the Kenai. Cooper Landing Brewing Company hopes to have its federal brewing license by the end of the year; it submitted an application in June. Recipe development is underway, with plans to continue through next April. It seems the goal is to be open for business prior to next summer's tourist season. According to what I know, it seems the plan is not to have a tap room initially, but to sell kegs to local establishments until the brewery can afford to expand to a 10-barrel brewhouse. Looking at the photos posted on its Facebook page, it appears Cooper Landing Brewing will be starting a fairly small system; I'm guessing 1/2-barrel. Wish them luck and I'll do my best to keep you all informed of progress.

I mentioned last week that Cynosure Brewing was finally open. Here are its hours:

Thursday 4 to 8 PM
Friday      4 to 8 PM
Saturday  2 to 8 PM

The brewery is at 144 E Potter Dr, Unit E, in Anchorage. I haven't had a chance to stop in myself, but hope to do so soon.

Girdwood Brewing Company seems to be making good progress. Here's picture just posted on its Facebook page:

Photo courtesy of Girdwood Brewing

Winterlong Brewing Company in Whitehorse has finally gotten its new tap room open. You can read all about it and see pictures of it here.

Alaskan Brewing has now released its Hopothermia Double IPA in 6-packs instead of 4-packs.

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing

There are some beer events coming up:

La Bodega will be holding another in its 10th Anniversary Tastings series; this one is Sour Beers. The tasting will happen tomorrow night, October 11, from 5:15 to 6:15 PM at its Northern Light location. Read more about it here.

Midnight Sun Brewing will be having Lagers at the Loft from October 17th thru the 23rd.

Arkose Brewery will hold its Anniversary Beer Meets Chocolate Event on Saturday, October 21.

Also on October 21st, I will be doing a Book Signing, with copies of my newest book, the 2nd edition of Beer of the Last Frontier: Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island Breweries, at Kenai River Brewing from 4 to 6:30 PM in Soldotna.

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On October 31st, HooDoo Brewing will be holding its Thanks, Fairbanks, We're Four event, from 3 to 8 PM. HooDoo has also released a new beer, Mosaic Pale Ale, with 5% ABV, & 45 IBUs.

Photo courtesy of HooDoo Brewing Company

Speaking of new releases, Grace Ridge Brewing has released Beluga Lake Lager, a Munich Helles.

That it for news this week, so let's do some reviews. I have three new beers this week.

Kenai River Brewing's 2016 Winter Warlock Old Ale: This year's version of this classic poured a deep honey color with a small but persistent cream-colored head. The aroma was loaded with caramel and toffee malt notes. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. On the palate, there was a deliciously deep malt profile, with just enough hops for balance. The flavors linger before falling away slowly to a long, pleasant finish. The year-long cold-conditioning shows in the cleanliness and depth of the flavor profile. Outstanding. 9% ABV, 70 IBUs.

George Gale & Co.'s Prize Old Ale (2005): It poured a dark, semi-translucent ruby color. No head at all, quite flat. The nose had some sherry notes, plus a hint of cardboard. No carbonation and medium mouthfeel.  On the palate, there were more sherry notes, but the beer clearly showed signs of being over-aged. Eleven years was obviously too much for this bottle, I think, 9 % ABV.

Central Waters Brewing's Brewer's Reserve Scotch Ale (2016): This beer poured a deep ruby color with a cream-colored head that dissipated to a collar. The nose was full of rich, sweet malt notes, with no hint of the bourbon-barrel aging. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. On the palate, I tasted caramel, burnt sugar, and a very subtle contribution of bourbon and oak. Overall, I thought this beer was superb, a truly outstanding Scotch Ale. Unfortunately, this Wisconsin-based brewery doesn't distribute to Alaska; I received this bottle as a gift from a friend. That's too bad, as I'd love to drink this one regularly. 9.5% ABV.

That's it for this week. It won't be long before winter is upon us, so lay in your supplies now and don't forget to go out and buy some Panty Peeler.

Until Next Time, Cheers!