Saturday, March 18, 2017

Girdwood Brewing Is Open!

It's been years in the making, but Girdwood Brewing is finally open to the public. The new brewery at 2700 Alyeska Highway opened its doors at 4 PM on Thursday. I'm not sure what it's final operating hours will be but it's open noon to 8 PM thru this Sunday if you want to stop by and check things out. I drove up yesterday to see it for myself.

The brewery is in a great location, right off the main road, with a nice view of the ski slopes from the parking lot. The tap room is beautiful, with lovely timber-framing and a gorgeous bar top made from a huge piece of Costa Rican hardwood. It's decorated with plenty of skis and skiing stuff. Here are some photos my wife Elaine took which should give you a feel for the place. Click on each to enlarge.

Brewery exterior
Brewery tap room
The brewhouse

Brite tank and three conical fermenters

When I was there, owners Brett & Rory Marenco and Josh Hegna were behind the counter, so I talked to them for a few minutes. They plan to take things slow at first, getting the feel for their production process and tap room demand. Eventually, they'll likely begin to self-distribute to local bars and restaurants, but they want to be careful not to get ahead of themselves. As Rory told me, "We want to make sure we can meet tap room demand before we start branching out. The worst thing would be to go into an outlet, and then have to pull back because we couldn't meet demand." Currently, Girdwood has three 20-bbl conical fermenters and one 20-bbl brite tank, but the brewery was built and plumbed to make adding up to three more fermenters a relatively easy affair; bravo to them for thinking ahead. But for now, if you want to taste Girdwood's beers, you're going to have to make the trek to the brewery.

And what about those beers? There are currently three on tap (along with Zip Kombucha), and I sampled each yesterday. While I never do a formal review based only on a sample, here are my "first impressions" of each of the three beers on offer.

L to R: AK-IPA, Down the Chute Kolsch, & Hippy Speedball Coffee Stout

Down the Chute Kolsch: An easy-drinking, clean tasting beer, with mild hoppiness. Nothing here that should scare away the Bud drinker, so this is the perfect beer for someone who's unfamiliar with craft beers. 5.3% ABV, 16 IBUs.

AK-IPA: This unfiltered IPA is cloudy in the glass, with plenty of hop aroma in the nose. While it may resemble some of the newest IPAs made with Mosiac and other hip new hop varieties, AK-IPA doesn't have the tropical fruit notes that come from those hops. Instead, it's brewed with Amarillo and other more familiar American hops, giving it a bright citrus aroma and flavor, along with its bracing bitterness. 6.4% ABV, 78 IBUs.

Hippy Speedball Coffee Stout: Black as midnight with a nice mocha-colored head, this beer lives up to its name with plenty of roasted flavors, both from the grain and the cold-steeped coffee. If you like coffee stouts (and I do), this beer is an excellent example of the style. 6.7% ABV, 24 IBUs.

So in conclusion, congratulations to Girdwood Brewing on opening its doors. I'm sure it will do a fantastic amount of business, especially when the tourists return with the warmer weather. Near as I can tell, this brings the brewery count in Alaska to 32, pushing us even higher in the breweries per capita rankings.

Before I wrap up this blog, I want to make sure everyone is aware of the upcoming Talkeetna Beer Trippin' Event. This event is organized each year by the Great Northern Brewers, Anchorage's homebrew club. This year it takes place from 3/31 to 4/2. Here's the schedule of events:

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Here's the menu for the Korean-themed beer dinner that will be held on Friday at the Denali Brewpub:

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The Talkeetna Beer Trippin' is always a great event, so I strongly recommend attending, if you can.

That's it for this blog. I hope everyone had a good St. Patrick's Day and did not drink any green beer. Green beer is a crime against nature, and any brewer who dyes his or her beer green should be beaten silly with a giant shamrock...

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Dreaming of Spring

It's almost the Ides of March here on the Peninsula, and everyone is dreaming of spring. For the first time in a few years, we've had a "real" winter, with consistently cold temperatures and lots of snow, which was great. However, I think now we're all more than ready for the temperatures to start climbing and the snow to start melting away. At least I know I am.

This seems to be the time of the year for breweries to expand their tankage in preparation for the coming summer crunch. Both Denali Brewing Company and 49th State Brewing - Anchorage have posted pictures of new tanks going in.

Photo courtesy of Denali Brewing Company
Photo courtesy of 49th State Brewing Company
Denali Brewing added two 120-barrel conical fermenters, while 49th State - Anchorage added a new 20-barrel tank. 49th State Brewing - Denali has also announced that it will open for business on Friday, April 28th, 2017.

Speaking of Denali Brewing,  award-winning Celestial Meads will close its Anchorage location on March 25th, and all production will be moved to Denali’s Talkeetna location. Michael R.Kiker, who started Celestial in his garage, will be working with Denali to continue producing the numerous popular mead varieties that he has made in the past. With its acquisition of Celestial, Denali Brewing Company becomes the only business entity in Alaska to hold licenses to produce beer, distilled spirits, and wine (mead).

And while we're on the subject of expansions, Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing Company has announced plans for the construction of an additional building, connected to his current 7,800 square-foot brewery, which opened in March of 2015. The new structure will provide an additional 3,800 square feet for the production of the brewery’s non-brettanomyces beers, as well as space for a canning line for those beers. Fletcher plans to release primarily IPAs in 4-packs of 16-oz. cans, with all sales taking place at the brewery or in select local stores to ensure freshness. The new structure will be joined to the current brewery via a corridor large enough to allow forklift access between them. Hard piping will be installed to connect the current brew kettle to the stainless steel fermenters in the new addition, which will also house the barrels used to age some of Anchorage Brewing’s non-brettanomyces brews, like A Deal with the Devil and The Darkest Hour. The new building will have a rooftop beer garden, accessed via an external stairway. The current small beer garden will be expanded behind the existing brewery to include fire pits and heated walkways and will provide the public access to the stairway to the rooftop. This new beer garden will be planted with about 100 apple and cherry trees, and in their midst will be a small wooden building with louvers to house the brewery’s coolship. Finally, the brewery’s parking lot will be expanded as well. Fletcher hopes to have these new additions completed by this August. Anchorage Brewing has also released its 2017 Rondy Brew (reviewed below), a beer produced each year to celebrate the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous, which has been held annually since 1932. The brewery also released limited editions of its The Darkest Hour Imperial Stout, aged in Spanish Brandy and bourbon barrels, as well as its first off-site bottle release of its Time Waits For No One Imperial Stout, aged in port barrels from Portugal.

Looking ahead, Anchorage Brewing will be releasing a limited number of cans of Lines, a 100% Lupulin Powder Double IPA that was brewed in collaboration with Monkish Brewing in Los Angeles. It will also be releasing a saison hopped with Nelson Sauvin hops. The brewery will be hosting another Orval Day on Saturday, March 25th, just as it did last year. Finally, Gabe has announced the date for this year's The Culmination Festival: Saturday, July 29th. Tickets this year will be $100 and will go on sale in May.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing

Last year Resolution Brewing announced that it was looking to sell the brewery as a turn-key operation. Not the name or recipes, mind, but just the physical brewery. When I talked to owner Brandon Hall about it, he told me he was looking to raise capital to move to a different location which would allow him to expand production. Since then, it appears the brewery has moved in a different direction, with two new partners, Grant Yutrzenka and Morgan Vail, buying into the business. I spoke to Mr. Yutrzenka via phone a couple of weeks ago, and he told me that currently, there are no plans to relocate. Instead, Resolution will be working to maximize output in the current location in Mountain View. He said that for the future, the brewery plans to keep 8 to 10 beers on offer at all times, including its very popular The Neighborhood IPA, brewed with Mosaic hops. So if you haven't been into Resolution Brewing lately, it's probably worth stopping in again to check things out.

Baranof Island Brewing in Sitka is expanding in another way. It is currently selling shares to the public to finance further expansion; the goal is to raise $1 million by selling 10,000 shares at $100 each. Here's its notice:

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Haines Brewing Company is also trying to expand, only it wants to do so via a FedEx grant. In order for them to be in the running, they need votes for the public. You can vote for them via this website, and you can actually vote every 24 hours if you're so inclined. It only takes a moment of your time and it for a great cause!

Bearpaw River Brewing has begun bottling and distributing its Frontiersman IPA and Mat Maid Milk Stout in 22 oz. bottles. Starting on Monday, Specialty Imports should be stocking them on store shelves from Fairbanks to Kenai, so keep an eye out for them. The labels are designed by Jamie Wade, the wife of brewer Jake Wade.

Photo courtesy of Bearpaw River Brewing.

At Girdwood Brewing Company, they are carbonating the first three beers in its lineup - IP-AK (the house IPA), Down the Chute (an easy-drinking K├Âlsch), and Hippy Speedball (a coffee stout)- and putting the finishing touches on the tasting room. I expect we'll see a soft opening within the week.

Kegs of Down the Chute Kolsch. Photo courtesy of Girdwood Brewing.

I've seen some of the numbers for last month's Frozen River Fest. As a volunteer and an attendee, I can tell you that both the festival itself and the two beer dinners preceding it were great successes. Both the dinner at Kenai River Brewing on Thursday and the dinner at The Falts Bistro on Friday were sellouts. The food was fantastic and the company superb. The Frozen River Fest itself had over 1400 attendees (up from 1050 last year), 800 of whom paid $15 to drink beer (650 last year), plus $3000 in additional beer token sales. This was the first year that the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce took over the running of the festival, and it did a super job. Here are a couple of photos that I snapped early on, before things really filled up:

This festival keeps getting bigger and better every year, so mark your calendars for February 17, 2018!

Winterlong Brewing in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, has just released a new beer: Divine Intervention. It's a Belgian-style tripel aged in whiskey barrels from the Port Chilkoot Distillery in Haines. The brewery describes it as "a miraculously smooth, complex golden ale. The overall sweetness of this beer is complimented by prominent notes of oak and whiskey." 11.5% ABV

Photo courtesy of Winterlong Brewing

Well, that covers the news, more or less, so let's do some reviews.

Baranof Island Brewing's 2016 Barley Wine: This beer poured a deep ruby color, with a small but persistent cream-colored head. The aroma was primarily malty notes, as you'd expect from an English-style barley wine. The carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. On the palate, there were lots of malt notes, tasty and smooth, mixed with some oak and bourbon from the barrel aging. The beer finished well, with a slight alcohol warmth. 11.5% ABV, 60 IBUs. A very tasty barley wine.

St. Elias Brewing's Heller Bock: You can't get much more traditionally spring than a bock, and Zach Henry's latest offering is an excellent example of the style. It poured a deep, clear gold with an off-white head that dissipated to a collar. The nose was loaded with clean, malty notes. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was between light and medium. The flavor profile is what you'd expect from a bock: good, clean maltiness providing a deep, rich flavor, with only a touch of bitterness for balance. An excellent choice for a long-anticipated spring.

Kassik's Brewery's Smoked Porter: I picked up a bottle of this at the brewery; first time I'd seen it for sale anywhere. It poured opaque with a nice mocha-colored head.The aroma was noticeably smoky and roasty, a good sign. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. On the palate, there were good smoke flavors, but I thought the rest of the beer came across as a bit thin, allowing the smoke to dominate rather than compliment. Not a bad beer, but slightly out of balance for my particular taste; your experience may be otherwise. 6.6.% ABV.

Anchorage Brewing's 2017 Rondy Brew: After a couple of years of saisons, this time around Gabe Fletcher has brewed a New England-style IPA, using Nelson Sauvin hops. The beer poured cloudy gold with a nice white head that left good lacing on my glass. The nose was full of tropical fruit notes from the hops. Carbonation was excellent and the mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile was packed with juicy hop flavors, without a lot of bitterness. I believe I read that Gabe used only late addition hops to make this beer, which explains the excellent hop flavor with reasonable hop bitterness. An excellent example of this very popular style of IPA. 6% ABV.

That's about it for this blog. Keep you finger crossed that spring comes soon, but stay warm in the meantime and keep drinking good, local craft beers.

Until Next Time, Cheers!