Monday, November 28, 2016

The End of November

Like most people, I've had a busy couple of weeks. Looks like the snow is on the ground to stay, and the wood stove is burning to keep things cozy. Big brews, suitable for sipping by the fire are hitting the beer store shelves. Thanksgiving is now in the rear view mirror and Christmas is looming larger and larger ahead. Time to get serious about Christmas shopping. To that end, my next blog will be a special one, focusing on beer-themed gifts you can buy for your beer-loving friends, or that you can ask someone to buy for you. So if you don't blow through your shopping budget on Cyber Monday, you might want to check it out in a week or so.

I want to congratulate the team at King Street Brewing on celebrating their 5th Anniversary last Wednesday, November 23. I couldn't make it up to Anchorage for it, but I understand the party included the release of a new beer, an Oak-Aged Cherry Saison, as well as this year's release of King Street's excellent Winter Warmer. Five successful years is nothing to sneeze at, so please keep up the great work! Here's an old  photo from King Street's 1st Anniversary, at which they gave away free wort to local homebrewers, including yours truly.

On the subject of anniversaries, Bearpaw River Brewing will be celebrating its 1st on Saturday, December 17th. Not sure if I'll be able to make it up there, but if you can make it to Wasilla that day, I strongly recommend checking it out, along with the excellent Thai food restaurant, a couple of doors down from them. Bearpaw River has also started a growler club; you can read the details here.

As our local breweries continue to mark these milestones, I'd like to point out that we have not had a brewery in Alaska fail (as in go out of business permanently) since the Borealis Brewery shut its doors in 2002. Great Bear Brewing closed in 2009, but then re-opened as The Last Frontier Brewing in 2011. So that's fourteen years of continuous growth for craft beer in Alaska, which is quite an achievement. It speaks both to the quality of the beer being produced up here, as well as the level of community support that our local breweries receive. So again, well done to all concerned!

Speaking of local breweries, my wife and I stopped in at Kenai River Brewing yesterday (Sunday) evening to try some samples of the new menu for its tap room. Owner Doug Hogue told me that they are just about ready to open the kitchen to the public. The food will likely start flowing tomorrow (11/29), or later this week at the latest. It looks like the menu will focus on classic pub grub. We tasted chicken wings (two flavors: spicy and honey teriyaki), hamburgers, reuben sandwiches, mac & cheese, and french fries. There was also a salad, but we didn't have any of that. Here's a quick photo that I snapped of some of the food on offer:

Everything was uniformly excellent. My wife considers herself a bit of a mac & cheese connoisseur, and she loved their take on this classic comfort food. My favorite was the reuben sandwich, though the burger (pictured above) was a close second.

Alaskan Brewing Company's Kicker Session IPA took the Gold Medal in its category at the Brussels Beer Challenge.Over 1100 beers were entered into the competition this year, taking three days to judge. Also recognized in the category for Session IPAs was a fairly new Italian brewery called Birrificio della Granda, and Firestone Walker with its Easy Jack. Congratulations to the team at Alaskan on this impressive award!

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing Company

I've learned from Brandon Hall of Resolution Brewing Company that he is looking to sell his current brewery lock, stock, and barrel as a turn-key operation. To be clear, he's only selling the location and the equipment, not the brewery's name or recipes. He told me that there is no space left at the current location for any additional tanks, which he needs to meet the ever-growing demand for his beers. He's working on plans for a new location, but doesn't have anything "super concrete" yet. So if you're looking to get into the business, here's your chance to pick up a fully-operational brewery. Just bring your own name and recipes.

Would you buy a brewery from this man? I would...
I just heard today from Mike Healy of Skagway Brewing that he has purchased a 4-head filler and the brewery has begun bottling its beers in 22 oz. bombers. Here's what else he had to say:

"This is a pilot program to work out the kinks before our new facility, with 10-barrel brew house, opens in Spring of 2018. Currently, these bombers are only for sale at our pub. This pilot bottling program will end sometime in May, when we run out of excess capacity, and will pick up again in September when capacity opens up. Once our new facility is completed we will bottle more of our beers, and on a year-round basis. The beers currently being bottled are: Spruce Tip Blonde Ale Prospector Pail Ale Chilkoot IPA Boomtown Brown Ale."
That's all great news, especially the part about getting a new facility. If, like me, you've ever had the chance to tour Skagway's tiny brewhouse, shoe-horned into a cramped space above the bar, you know how desperately needed that expansion is!

Skagway Head Brewer Trevor Clifford and Owner Mike Healy

That's it for the major news items. If you want to keep up to date on new beer releases and other beer news, be sure to follow me on Twitter at billhowellauth and/or like my Facebook news page, Beer on the Last Frontier. News hits them much quicker than it does this (semi-) weekly blog.

I haven't been tasting many new beers over the last couple of weeks, as I've been mainly enjoying old favorites. However, I did taste and review three big brews.

Stone Brewing's Double Bastard: This beer is an old friend, but one I've never reviewed before. It poured a clear, dark honey color, with a persistent cream-colored head. The aroma had notes of toffee and plenty of American hops. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. On the palate, there was a nice bitter attack, followed by lots of deep malt flavor, and then some alcohol warmth on the long finish. A classic American barley wine, perfect for the season. 11% ABV.

Midnight Sun Brewing's Berserker Imperial Stout, 2016 vintage: Just released on Halloween, this is the return of a personal favorite. This year's version poured opaque with a tan head that dissipated to a collar. The nose had notes of bourbon, oak, and roasted coffee. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was heavy and luscious. As usual, the flavor profile was rich and complex, with elements of chocolate, coffee, bourbon, and oak taking turns in dancing across my palate. The strength of the beer makes itself felt in some warmth on the finish. Perfect for drinking now, or lay down as many bottle as you can afford for a couple of years in your beer cellar. 12.7% ABV, 30 IBUs.

Boulevard Brewing Company's Imperial Stout, 2016-vintage: I've always been impressed with the beers coming out of Boulevard Brewing, and this one was no exception. It poured opaque with a mocha-colored head. The aroma was of roasted malt and some subtle whiskey notes. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. The flavor profile was mostly nice roasted malt notes, with the whiskey barrel-aging making a very subtle contribution, before the beer turns just the least bit sweet on the finish. An excellent beer, subtler than MSBC's Berserker, but equally delicious. 11% ABV, 63 IBUs.

That's it for this blog. As I mentioned above, my next one will focus on Christmas gift ideas for the discerning beer lover. Until then, I hope stay warm on the outside and on the inside. You can ensure the latter by drinking lots of good, local craft beer!

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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