Tuesday, January 8, 2019

New Year's Resolution: 2019

So it's a new year and my resolution is to make blog posts here more often than every six months, which has been my rate for the last year or so. I could give you readers a litany of excuses, but what's the point? Let's just move on and talk about craft beer.

If you're one of the folks out there who reads my Alaska column in the Northwest Brewing News, then I've got some bad news for you. My column (along with the one for British Columbia) has been permanently cut from that publication. The past few months have been very rough for print publications about beer: Celebrator has ceased print publication, All About Beer has folded, and even Beer Advocate has gone from a monthly to a quarterly format. In the case of Northwest Brewing News, ad revenues are down and pages had to be cut. Apparently, Alaska and B.C. don't produce much ad revenue in the best of times (which these certainly aren't), so ours were the necks to feel the axe. On the plus side, if no one is willing to pay me to write, I guess that means I'll have more time to do it for free in this blog...

The last issue you'll find my Alaska column in...
It's a shame that the readers outside Alaska won't be getting news from up here anymore, given how active our craft beer scene has been lately. In the last few months, Cooper Landing Brewing has broken ground on a new brewery, with an eye toward being open in the spring of 2020. Skagway Brewing is in the midst of a massive and long-overdue relocation/expansion, which will give them a 200% increase in seating and a 400% increase in brewing capacity. A new brewery, Black Spruce Brewing Company, opened last month in Fairbanks. Barnaby Brewing in Juneau should be back open almost any day now in its new location. Baleen Brewing and Bawden Street Brewing opened this summer in Ketchikan. Midnight Sun is now operating Williwaw in downtown Anchorage. King Street Brewing moved into its new home and Turnagain Brewing opened in its old one. Many other breweries have added tankage and expanded production capacity. Craft beer in Alaska just continues to grow and improve.

Photo courtesy of Black Spruce Brewing Co.

While 2018 was certainly a positive year for craft beer in Alaska, it certainly wasn't all smooth sailing. In fact, it often seemed that craft breweries were successful in spite of all the roadblocks that the state and federal governments saw fit to build in their path. On the state level, the antics by the Alcohol Beverage Control Board and its "no fun at breweries" policy created lots of angst and uncertainty, none of which was relieved by the fiasco with SB 76 in the state legislature. On the national level, Trump's aluminum tariffs have helped drive up the cost of aluminum cans, and the current partial government shutdown includes the TTB, which means no breweries anywhere can get the labels approved for any new beer! Still, our local craft brewers soldier on, trying to produce good craft beer for us to drink, no matter how much stupidity flows out of Juneau and D.C.

Alaska Beer Week starts this Friday, January 11th, and runs through Sunday, January 20th. There are going to be a ton of events, so the best places to find out about them are the AK Beer Week Facebook page and the AK Beer Week webpage's Event Calendar.

I've got a few reviews to post as well. These are by no means all of the beers I've had recently, but these are a few from the last six months or so that I particularly enjoyed.

Midnight Sun Brewing's 23 American Barley Wine: Brewed to celebrate the brewery's 23 anniversary and released in cans, this beer poured a deep honey color with a nice cream-colored head. Hop notes were fairly prevalent in the nose, as you'd expect from an American barley wine. Carbonation was good and the mouthfeel was medium. There was plenty of upfront bitterness, which lingered on through the rich malt notes that followed, all the way to a nice finish. An excellent example of this style. 10% ABV, 100 IBUs.

Bearpaw River Brewing's The Great Bear's Valley Trash Imperial Blonde Ale: The Wade brothers at Bearpaw River went to a great deal of trouble to recreate this iconic Wasilla brew, evn trucking in city water to ensure that this replica beer would be as close to the original as possible. Have never tasted the original, I can't speak to how close they came. It poured a deep clear gold color with a decent off-white head. The aroma was of clean, crisp malt. Mouthfeel was light to medium and carbonation was good. The beer had plenty of malt backbone, okay hop balance, and a touch of alcohol heat on the finish. Overall, I would call it a workman-like blonde ale, but nothing to write home about. Of course, I'm not feeling any nostalgia when I taste it. 10% ABV

Broken Tooth Brewing's Hopbility English IPA: As a lover of good English beer, it almost a certainty that if you put English or Scottish in your beer's name, I will at least try it. Of course, having lived in Britain for three years, I have pretty high standards when it comes to "British" beers, so that might be a double-edged sword. This beer poured a hazy honey color with a nice white head. The nose had the floral hop notes that I always associate with real British ale. Carbonation was good, the mouthfeel was light, and the beer left superb lacing on the side of my glass. On the palate, there was nice but balanced bitterness and more floral hop notes. It certainly displayed the "moreish" quality that British brewers strive for. An excellent brew, and one of the best efforts in this style that I've had on this side of the Atlantic! 7.3% ABV, 65 IBUs.

Anchorage Brewing's Time Waits for No One (Batch #3) Imperial Stout: Gabe Fletcher certainly knows how to brew big, burly beers, and this one was no exception. It poured thick and dark, with little to no head. The nose was rich in malt and bourbon aromas. Its mouthfeel was thick and viscous, like used motor oil, with low to no carbonation. On the palate, it was thick, rich, and oily, with a flavor profile full or sweet and roasted malt, plus chocolate notes. The finish was long and smooth, with no alcohol heat at all, despite the 15% ABV. A truly superb barrel-aged imperial stout marred only by the very high price. I can't say that it's not worth it, but I also can't say that it was a beer I could afford to drink more than once or twice.

St. Elias Brewing's Whipsaw Imperial IPA: This beer is a bit of a throwback; given the current fascination with hop varieties that produce tropical fruit flavors, to find a brew that harkens unashamedly back to the piney Pac Northwest hops is quite a pleasant surprise. It poured a deep copper color with a nice cream-colored head. The aroma is loaded with those resiny, piney PNW hops. Carbonation is good, and the mouthfeel is light. There a nice bitter attack, followed by clean hop flavors, before falling away to a nice finish. Surprisingly drinkable for a 7.8% ABV, 100 IBU beer.

St. Elias Brewing's H & H Oak-aged Pale Ale: Full disclosure: I helped design and brew this beer, so you have to take my review with a grain of salt. This beer was our attempt to recreate an extinct style of beer from Britain, known as a stock pale ale or a "yard" ale. These were strong pale ales that were aged in oak barrels for over a year; they were nicknamed yard ales because they would sit in the brewery's yard and experience the change of seasons. Obviously, doing this in Alaska was a non-starter. however, we did brew the beer in September of 2017, then rack it into oak barrels in January 2018. At that time we dosed it with Brettanomyces claussenii at 200,000 cells per ml and let it rest until mid-December. The final result is quite dry still retains some hop bitterness; it also displays oak notes and plenty of brett funk. It's more than a little reminiscent of a bottle of Orval that's been aged for 12 to 18 months, at least to my palate. All-in-all, it was a fairly unique experiment and one that we're proud of but unlikely to repeat anytime soon. So if you'd like to taste it for yourself, you'd better head into St. Elias Brewing before it's gone.

Well, I think I'll wrap this post up now. However, in closing, I'd like to remind you that I am still doing my monthly radio show about beer on KDLL 91.9 FM. It's broadcast the fourth Saturday of each month and is available via podcast at https://www.kdll.org/programs/drinking-last-frontier.
During the December show, I interviewed Barb Miller of Midnight Sun about the upcoming AK Beer Week and Mike Healy, owner of Skagway Brewing about his relocation and expansion. You can listen to that show here.

Until next time, Cheers!

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