Friday, April 28, 2017

The End of April

The month of April is almost finished and spring has definitely come to the Kenai Peninsula. Most of the snow has gone and plants are beginning to awaken from their long winter sleep. Breweries across the state are doing the same, with the seasonal ones opening their doors again, while the others begin ramping up production in order to be ready to slake the thirsts of the hordes of tourist who will soon be descending upon us.  It's a busy time.

I'll be on the radio again tomorrow, Saturday, April 29th, at 11 AM. My new radio program, Drinking on the Last Frontier, will be on KDLL 91.9 FM Kenai. If you miss it live, a recording of the broadcast will be posted on the station's website in a few days. I'll be on the air the last Saturday of every month, at 11 AM. I'm always interested in feedback and suggestions, so give it a listen and tell me what you think.

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

As I mentioned in my last blog, 49th State Brewing's Healy brewpub is opening its doors today, while Seward Brewing Company will open for business next Thursday, May 4th. The third seasonal brewery in Alaska, Gold Rush Brewing located just outside Skagway, seems to be undergoing a bit of a metamorphosis. I haven't been able to get anyone there to respond to my queries, but based on the brewery's website, it appears that it has changed its name to Klondike Brewing Company and moved into downtown Skagway. Rumor has it that it's under new ownership. I'll keep trying to get more information and let you know if I do.

Earlier this week, I received the following press release from Arkose Brewery in Palmer:

Arkose Brewery’s logo and label designs recently won Gold in the 2017 Hermes Creative Awards competition in the packaging category. “We wanted to put the emphasis on the brewery name and to create a classic yet modern and minimalist design that is eye-catching and easy to read” says Co-founder & Creative Director June Gerteisen who is responsible for the design.
The driving force behind the design was the launch of two new beers to their lineup of 22oz bottles. Mandarina Moose Grapefruit IPA and Ovis Belgian-Style Golden Strong will join No 5 Boxcar Porter, High Ridge Double Red, and Steed Rye IPA on store shelves this summer. To support the impact of the new look & feel, all five bottled brands were redesigned.
 June explains “We wanted to increase brand recognition of the brewery itself, increase sales in Alaska and elsewhere, address the trend that consumers are loyal to categories of beer, and implement a modern minimalist design to make it easier to find our products when scanning shelves.” She describes the Bauhaus principles of style and design are what inspired the design of the logo. Those principles include a minimalist approach which features clean lines with bold, simple coloration. The new Arkose logo combines a modern font with a cursive font along with a stylized icon representing ingredients used in brewing.
 As for the bottle label imagery, the handcrafted nature of brewing was the inspiration for the labels which were hand-drawn then screen printed directly onto the bottles. “I hand drew the imagery to support the whole idea of just how hands-on our craft is and that brewing truly is a work of passion and an art form both inside and out” says June.
Mandarina Moose Grapefruit IPA features Mandarina Bavaria hops which lends fruity and citrus tones, plus grapefruit adds just the right amount of fierce brightness. It is deep copper in color with an ABV of 6.2% and an IBU of 72.
Ovis Belgian-Style Golden Strong features characteristic floral spiciness from Belgian yeast with the addition of Perle and Hallertau hops with a highly attenuated dry finish. Sparkling gold in color with an ABV of 9% and an IBU of 35.

Congratulations to Arkose Brewery on earning this award. I'll be looking to score bottles of these two new beers to sample and review.

The new award-winning logo of Arkose Brewery

Founders Brewing Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan has announced that it will begin distributing its beers in Alaska through Odom Corporation, making Alaska the 46th state to receive its beers. This is welcome news, as Founders produces some world-class beers, such as Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale (reviewed in my 6/1/2011 blog) and All Day IPA Session Ale (reviewed in my 8/1/2014 blog). Now that we'll be able to find them locally, I'll no longer have to beg my friends to mule them back up here for me to try! According to the press release, the beers will go on sale on Monday, May 8th. It also claimed that launch events will be taking place all that week and referenced the brewery's website for details. Unfortunately, when you go to it, the website has no mention of any events in Alaska. Will there be any? Your guess is as good as mine...

Back on Thursday, April 20th, La Bodega celebrated the 5th Anniversary of it's move from University Center to its current location in the Metro Mall. Hard to believe it's been five years already. Congratulations to Pamela and the rest of the team there and keep up the great work that has made you far and away the best beer store in Alaska!

I mentioned in my last blog the charity event A Cellar Tasting for Roxy that will be taking place tomorrow, Saturday, April 29th, starting at 2 PM at Anchorage Brewing Company. Owner Gabe Fletcher will be emptying out his personal beer cellar, as well as offering beers sent to him by breweries all around the country. All proceeds will be going to support the cancer treatments of his friend Roxy Wills. Instead of giving you all the details, I'd rather point you toward the excellent article from Jim Roberts in this week's Anchorage Press; you can read it here. Admission is $100 and there will be food and live music as well as amazing beers on offer. You can purchase your tickets at This event will be like a mini-Culmination, Fletcher's annual five-star beer festival, so if you can be in Anchorage tomorrow, get your ticket now. Remember, every penny is going to support a good cause.

Photo courtesy of James Roberts
On Friday, May 12th, 49th State Brewing in Anchorage will be conducting a bit of an experiment. At 4:30 PM, the brewery will tap two cask-conditioned firkins of its Solstice IPA. One has been dry-hopped with the new Cryo-Hops from Hopunion (I wrote a bit about this new product back on 3/11/2017). There other is dry-hopped with Alaskan spruce-tips. Stop in and taste the two beers side-by-side, then tell 49th State what you think.

Congratulations to Baranof Island Brewing Company. It's Medvejie Stout took Best Dark Ale and  Best in Show at the Leavenworth Ale-Fest in Washington state last weekend.

Photo courtesy of Baranof Island Brewing
It looks like Anchorage will be getting another alehouse soon. It appears that the owners of the Eagle River Alehouse and Palmer City Alehouse will be opening the Anchorage Alehouse in the location formerly occupied by the Crossbar.

Photos courtesy of Palmer City Alehouse
Here on the Peninsula, Kenai River Brewing's kitchen is now open seven days a week. The brewery also has two new brews on tap: Resurrection Summer Ale and an Oak-aged Russian Imperial Stout.

Photo courtesy of Kenai River Brewing.

St. Elias Brewing has announced that it will soon have its popular Fair Trade Coffee Porter back on tap.

Photo courtesy of St. Elias Brewing

That wraps the news, so let's do some beer reviews. I've only got two for this blog, both big barrel-aged imperial stouts.

Deschutes Brewing's The Abyss Aged in Rye Whiskey Barrels (2015): This beer came with a Best After Date of 12/18/2016. It poured opaque with a nice tan head. The aroma had elements of molasses, licorice, and whiskey. The carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium to heavy. On the palate, it was smooth and slightly boozy, with the molasses and licorice appearing again to contribute to its deep and complex flavor profile. There was a touch of alcohol warmth on the finish from the 13.2% ABV. As I've come to expect from The Abyss, this is a top-flight Russian Imperial Stout. The rye whiskey aging seems to work pretty well with the underlying beer.

Anchorage Brewing Company's The Darkest Hour (Batch #3 Whiskey Barrel Aged): The beer was brewed in December of 2016 and spent a year in the barrels, I believe. It poured opaque with a nice brown head. The nose was of chocolate, sweet malt, and whiskey. The carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium to heavy. The beer also had a rich and complex flavor profile, with elements of chocolate and roasted coffee. The whiskey elements were very well-integrated (even better than those in The Abyss); this can often be a flaw, IMHO, when the whiskey seems to just be overlaid on top of the beer. However, in this case, it was deeply intertwined with the other flavor elements. An outstanding beer. 13% ABV, 40 IBUs.

That's it for this blog. Please try to catch my radio show tomorrow, and I'll be back in another week or two with more beer news and reviews.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Tax Man Cometh...

We're well into Break Up here on the Kenai Peninsula and it's April 15th, traditional tax day, though our overlords have generously decreed that the peasants may delay submitting their tributes until April 18th this year. Speaking of overlords, it appears that the Alaska Legislature will be too busy squabbling over the budget to take any action on SB 76 for the second year in a row. For those of you who don't remember, SB 76 is the complete re-write of Alaska's liquor laws, the first one in over 30 years. It has the potential to be either a very good thing or a very bad thing, depending on what actually gets passed. That's true of most laws, I guess, but especially true in this case, as small changes can have huge impacts on the ability of new breweries to open. If you're interested in reading the bill (fair warning: it's a long slog), you can find the current text here. If it looks like anything's likely to happen on it, I'll let you know.

On a more upbeat note, SAK Town Liquors held its Grand Opening yesterday. The liquor store is located on the Seward Highway, just across from the Pit Bar. It's been closed since last summer, but new owner Jared Wallace has the doors open and is enthusiastic about bringing in lots of good stuff. I stopped by about 1 PM yesterday to see how things were going and sign up for the prize raffle. Here are some photos I snapped:

Exterior of Sak Town

Not a huge interior...

But it does have a 14-tap growler bar!
And plenty of good craft beer!
So let's wish Jared every success, and make a point of stopping in whenever you're heading into or out of Seward.

There's a new nanobrewery opening next weekend in Juneau. Barnaby Brewing will be opening for business on Friday, April 21, though for the first two days you will need to get a ticket in order to get in the door. This is due to the small size of the tasting room (only 250 square feet), so the owner, Matt Barnaby, wants to limit it to 16 folks per hour during the initial crush after opening. After 3 PM on Sunday, April 23, it's officially open to the public, no ticket required. If you want to visit on Friday, Saturday, or earlier on Sunday, call 419-0916 to reserve a spot. The brewery is located at 206-1 N. Franklin Street in downtown Juneau.

I talked with Matt a few days ago by phone. He told me that he's brewing on a 1-bbl, all-electric system from Spike Brewing; it's a Heat Exchange Recirculating Mash System (HERMS), which is very practical for him, given the small size of his brewery (only 800 square feet). He's using 1-bbl Speidel fermenters, then on to a 1-bbl brite tank for carbonation, and finally into half-barrel kegs for dispensing. Given the small size of his system, he has no plans to distribute any of his beer off-site. He will be offering four standard beers, ten rotating seasonals and five imperial brews that will also rotate. You can check out some of the beers that he intends to offer on the brewery's website. According to Matt, his brewing philosophy is to produce mostly typical American ales, but to also mix in some of the less orthodox ones, like steam beers, cream ales, and American lagers. This brewery represents the first time we've had another brewery in Juneau besides Alaskan Brewing since the Dillo Brewery, located in the Armadillo Tex-Mex Restaurant operated for a brief period in the late 1990s. If you can't make it to Juneau to sample Matt's beers, he told me that Barnaby Brewing will be pouring at the Haines Beer Fest on Memorial Day Weekend.

While we're on the subject of new breweries, Alex MacGillivray has applied for a state license to open Baleen Brewing in Ketchikan. I know that Alex has been working toward this goal for years, so it's great to see him getting close to the finish line. The brewery will be located on Mizzen Lane, off North Point Higgins Road. The press article I read seemed to indicate that there would be no objections to the license being issued, so hopefully, Alex can get things up and running soon.

In two weeks, Anchorage Brewing Company will be hosting a major charity beer event. Gabe Fletcher will be opening up his personal beer cellar, as well as bringing in other rare brews. The event is called A Cellar Tasting for Roxy. Here's what Gabe had to say about it:

This is a fund raiser to help our friend Roxy Wills with the costly out of state cancer treatment she will need. There will be food provided by 49th State Brewing Company, live music by Brandon Cockburn and the Brett quartet and many hard to find beers to taste. 100% of all money will be donated to the Wills Family.

Ther's a huge list of rare beers on offer (see Anchorage Brewing's Facebook page for the list) and your money could not be going to a worthier cause. The event runs from 2 to 6 pm on Saturday, April 29th and is limited to 200 attendees. Tickets are $100, and you can purchase them by clicking here. If you'll be in Anchorage that weekend, I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Glacier BrewHouse will be holding a beer dinner on Wednesday, April 26th. Here's the poster for it:

Click to enlarge

Alaskan Brewing has announced that Big Mountain Pale Ale will be joining its year-round beer lineup. Big Mountain was originally released as part of the Boundary Range Sampler Pack, and is brewed using the popular Simcoe and Mosaic hop varieties. Alaskan has replaced Big Mountain in the Boundary Range pack with a new beer, Ridge Hop IPA. This beer is brewed using a single hop variety: Azacca hops from Australia. These hops give it notes of citrus, pine, and grass. Ridge Hop IPA will only be available in the sampler pack.

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Brewing Company

A website called The Daily Meal is asking people to vote for the best craft brewery in America, so why not go and vote for your favorite local brewery? Click here to vote.

Bleeding Heart Brewery in Palmer is celebrating its 1st Anniversary today from noon to 8 pm. Congratulations to them on reaching this important milestone!

Denali Brewing Company has released a new brew in canned six packs: Big DIPA, a double IPA weighing in at 8.6% ABV and 100 IBUs!

Here on the Peninsula, St. Elias Brewing Company has its very popular Green Giant Double IPA back on tap. The brewery is also sporting a new tap list display:

Finally, though some folks seem to have thought it was an April Fools prank, I really am doing a monthly radio show about beer on KDLL FM 91.9 Kenai. The show is broadcast the last Saturday of each month, from 11 am to noon. Eventually, the shows will also be available online as a podcast, but for now, you'll need to listen to it live, either over the airwaves or via an app like Tune-In. The next one will be in two weeks, on Saturday, April 29th. Please tune in and tell me what you think; any and all feedback is welcome.

That about covers the news, so let's do some reviews. I have three for you this time:

Deschutes Brewing's Mirror Mirror Barly Wine (2014): Another beauty from my beer cellar, this classic English-style barley wine poured a deep, slightly cloudy honey color with a good, cream-colored head. The aroma was primarily of malt notes, but there were still a few hints of hops. The mouthfeel with thick and coating and the carbonation was good. The flavor profile was rich, deep, and complex, with layerings of malty goodness, barely kept in balance by hop bitterness. Quite delicious, and an outstanding example of a straight ahead English-style barley wine. 11.2% ABV.

Lagunitas Brewing's Davey Murray's Best Scotch Ale: As anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, I'm very partial to Scotch ales. It's definitely one of my favorite beer styles, going all the way back to when I first started drinking craft beers thirty years ago. So when I saw this new and limited release from Lagunitas at La Bodega, I had to try it. It poured a clear, dark ruby color with a nice, off-white head. However, when I nosed it, I immediately realized that this was not a traditional Scotch ale, as I could pick up quite a lot of hops in the aroma. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light to medium. The flavor profile was primarily hops and some smoke notes; the traditional malt-forward wee heavy flavor profile was nowhere to be seen. If you are a hophead who doesn't like the traditional malty wee heavy, you might enjoy this beer, but as someone who loves a good Scotch ale, this "re-imagining" of the style was not to my taste. 9.5% ABV.

St. Feuillien Brewing's Saison: A saison in a can? Why not? The unfiltered beer poured a slightly cloudy gold with a nice white head, though not as big as some saison heads. The aroma had the spicy, peppery notes I always associate with a Belgian yeast strain. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was light. The flavor profile had all the classic saison elements: earthy, spicy, and on the dry side. Overall, a very nice brew and wonderful to have available the options of cans available. 6.5% ABV.

That's it for this time. Enjoy the wonderful sunshine we've been having lately and keep drinking good craft beers.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

"It's the Latest Thing From Q-Branch. It's Called Radio."

Thanks for the hint, Mr. Bond. Yes, I've decided to take Drinking on the Last Frontier into a new bleeding edge field of communications: National Public Radio. On the last Saturday of each month, I'll be broadcasting from 11 am to noon on KDLL FM 91.9 Kenai. The show is called -- wait  for it -- "Drinking on the Last Frontier." Pretty cunning, huh? The first installment went out over the airwaves last Saturday, March 25th, and the next one will go out on Saturday, April 29th. We're still working out the technical details, but soon the shows will also be available via podcast; I'll let you know when they are up on the web.

On the national craft beer scene, the Brewers Association has published its annual statistics on the growth of craft beer as of the end of 2016. Here's the infographic with the numbers:

As you can see, the overall growth rate has slowed, mainly because acquisitions have caused several successful breweries to lose their "craft" designation. It also looks like the BA's stated goal of "20 in 20", i.e. that craft beer have 20% market share by 2020 ain't happening. Still, the numbers keep growing steadily, so that a good thing.

In more local news, as mentioned in my last blog, Anchorage Brewing has released a limited amount of Lines DIPA, a canned beer brewed in collaboration with Monkish Brewing of L.A. and using 100% lupulin powder. The release took place yesterday, but there are still some cans left for sale at the brewery today.

Photo courtesy of Anchorage Brewing Company

Gabe Fletcher has also announced that he has ordered a canning line from Codi Manufacturing, out of Golden, Colorado. The 5-head counter-pressure system should be able to handle 120 cans per minute. Gabe hopes to have it in operation by the end of May, producing 16 oz. can 4-packs of various IPAs for sale at the brewery and select local stores.

Photo courtesy of Codi Manufacturing

Just today, Anchorage Brewing also psoted the labels of two soon to be released beers:

Midnight Sun Brewing Company has announced that it is going to be adding a pilsner to its line-up of flagship brews. The brewery staff has been taste-testing various recipes. They have narrowed it down to two possibilities, which were both offered to the public a week ago, so stop by the brewery, give them both a try, and let the folks at Midnight Sun know which one you want to have on tap year-round. I'm not sure when the final decision will be made.

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun Brewing

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun has also announced that it will be releasing three of its canned beers in 12 packs soon.

Photo courtesy of Midnight Sun

At recently opened Girdwood Brewing, they have announced new operating hours:2 pm to 8 pm on Friday, and noon to 8 pm on Saturday and Sunday, closed Monday thru Thursday.

Seward Brewing Company has announced that it will be opening for the 2017 season on Thursday, May 4th.

Also in Seward, Kassik's Brewery will be holding a Meet The Brewers dinner tonight at The Cookery.

Click to enlarge

At noon on Friday, April 14th, Sak Town Liquor in Seward will celebrate its Grand Opening under new management. As part of the celebration, it will also be holding a free raffle for a 3-liter bottle of Stone Brewing's Double Bastard Ale. One ticket per customer and you must be 21+. There will also be free hot dogs for the first 50 people. The store will have a growler bar and a nice selection of local craft brews, so stop by and check it out if you can.

Click to enlarge

Come by and win me at Sake Town Liquors!
Cooper Landing Brewing Company announced on Thursday that it had received its federal brewery license; now comes the bigger hurdle of satisfying the state of Alaska.

I've heard that starting in May, Kenai River Brewing plans to have its tasting room kitchen open seven days a week for the busy summer season. Currently, the kitchen is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Kenai River is also offering its excellent Oak-Aged Russian Imperial Stout on nitro at the brewery. It's definitely worth your time to stop in for a glass.

At St. Elias Brewing, the extremely popular Green Giant Double IPA should be back on tap sometime this week.

Current tap list at St. Elias Brewing.
Moving on from news to reviews, this time around I have four big beers to talk about.

Denali Brewing's Hibernale (2016 Sour Barrel): This beer poured a clear, dark honey color with a nice, cream-colored head. The aroma was plumy, with plenty of Belgian-yeast notes. The carbonation was good, and the mouthfeel was light. On the palate, there were some tart notes, plus the classic dark fruit notes of a Belgian quad. A sour Belgian quad -- a very unusual but excellent combination. 9.3% ABV, 20 IBUs.

Alaskan Brewing's 25th Anniversary Perseverance Ale (2011): I was reorganizing my beer cellar and came across this five-year-old gem. I originally reviewed it back on 9/7/2011 and again on 10/2/2014. This will be my last entry, as this was my final bottle. Looking back at my prior reviews, I thought the beer was a little too sweet at the start but had come into a nice balance at the three-year point. So what's it like after 5.5 years? It poured opaque, and still had enough carbonation to form a nice tan head (I hadn't waxed the top, but probably should have). The nose was more subdued than at 3 years, but still had hints of sweetness and smoke. Carbonation was acceptable and the mouthfeel had lightened a bit, thanks to the beer drying out. The flavor profile was smooth and well-integrated, much drier and less sweet, but still fairly smoky. I think I could detect the beginnings of oxidation so this beer may be about as good as it's going to get. If you still have any in your cellar, I'd suggest careful monitoring on a 6-month basis at this point. Still delicious now, so don't let it go to waste. I'm looking forward to seeing how the 30th Anniversary version of this beer develops in the cellar. 9% ABV, 50 IBUs.

Anchorage Brewing's Time Waits for No One Imperial Stout (Batch #2, Portuguese port barrel aged). I tasted Batch#1 of this beer (aged in Laphroig Scotch Whisky barrel) at the second Culmination Festival and was absolutely blown away by it. (See my review on 5/30/2014.) This batch poured opaque with a small, brown head that dissipated to a collar. You could tell as the beer poured just how thick it was, like 40 weight oil! The nose was heavy with deep, rich malt notes. The mouthfeel was super thick and viscous; carbonation was okay. The flavor profile was that of a Russian Imperial Stout turned up to 11: heavy malt flavors and colossal roasty notes, plus some notes of sweetness from the port barrels. Given how partial I am to Scotch whisky, I must admit that I preferred Batch #1; however, Batch #2 is some super stuff as well. And you can take it home to drink or cellar, which you couldn't do with Batch #1. My advice is to share the bottle with a friend or two, as this is a big league beer! 14: ABV, 60 IBUs.

Anchorage Brewing Company's The Darkest Hour Russian Imperial Stout (Batch #2, Aged in Spanish Brandy Barrel): Another recent release, this beer poured opaque with a nice brown head. The nose was rich with notes of both malt and roasted coffee, plus hints of alcohol. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was thick and chewy. Again, we're talking huge RIS flavor profile here, with a tremendous amount of sweet and roasted malt elements, yet somehow they balance each other nicely. The brandy notes from the barrel come in on the finish and add a further intriguing element. Another kick-ass stout from Gabe Fletcher. 13% ABV.

Well, that's it for this blog. Looks like we might finally be starting Break-Up, so perhaps when next we meet spring will actually have come to here in The North Country. But for now, keep your snow tires on and keep drinking good craft beer.

Until Next Time, Cheers!