Friday, September 17, 2010

Back In Action: Alaska Brewery Tour

Yes it's true. I have decided to come out of retirement and post again to my blog. How long has it been? Ah, the last post was supposedly in April. Don't know if I disappointed anyone by failing to continue to post regularly, but in all honesty, I had no idea if people were reading what I was putting out, or if my words fell short and were lost amongst the millions of other blogs floating around cyber space. We'll see if my pageviews and comments pick up after I begin posting regularly. In any case I installed a little analytics (thanks to google), and was able to see how many people viewed my page, and where they were from worldwide. I've had views from people in India, Brazil, UK, Belgium, Germany, Finland, and Spain. Ironic that I know people in each of those places? Perhaps. Only time will tell. And so without further adieu, I am back, and unveiling something completely different and new...

I am currently typing from my good friend: Thomas Schultz's home outside of Anchorage, AK. Something we talked about doing in the past was a brewery tour around Alaska. While at the time it seemed like a distant, unreachable dream, we're actually doing it. And we've the first selection of breweries out of the way. And as a result I am going to attempt to write about them. I have photos. I have tasted all they have to offer. And I have collected what I deem, adequate information in my head. So here we go, the first attempt at writing about a brewery (something I thought I'd be doing much more of when I first began writing in this blog)....

The Brewery: St. Elias Brewing Company
The Location: Soldotna, AK, USA
Beers on Tap: 5 Regular Handles
4 Rotating/Seasonal/Specialty

The brewery itself is located in a rather nondescript location nestled in the trees next to the highway. The patio out back grabs your attention first, and then the large tanks inside the windows.

Upon entering the actual brewery you are met with a lovely interior reminscent of a Belgian Abbey and a large brick wood-fired oven. The bar top is quite nice, overall a very pleasing atmosphere. And as it was sunny, we elected to sit outside. As our waitress asked what we'd like, I immediately selected the sampler, which as I was hoping, included all of their beers. She informed me of two extra beers, a very strong Belgian Style Tripel (Nimbus Belgian Tripel), and the ever popular: Black IPA. I was excited.

In order from right to left: Even Keel Kolsch, The Farmers Friend Rye Ale, Puddle Jumper Pale Ale, Mothers Milk Irish Stout, Williwaw IPA, Hefeweizen, Nimbus Belgian Tripel, Calypso Red Ale, and lastly the Black IPA. It quickly became apparent that they knew how to brew beer here. Working my way through all of the intial lighter bodied ales, I was satisfied with the flavor profiles of each. Of course what I was really after was coming later.

The first beer that caught my attention was the Hefeweizen (German for: Unfiltered Wheat), but as opposed to most american Hefeweizen, this one reminded me more of a Belgian Wit. It was very light, crisp and refreshing. The spice was there and I really enjoyed this (granted one of my all-time favorite beers is Hoegaarden), it reminded me very much of this beer.

The next beer of note was in fact the Calypso Red Ale, which was brewed with tart cherries. Very distinctive in this ale, but not the sole focus. I liked it very much (but please note: I am a huge fan of cherries). I thought this beer was very well balanced and enjoyed the cherry flavor on the finish.

The Belgian Tripel really intrigued me. They used traditional belgian yeast, and purportedly included 100 lbs of Belgian Candy Sugar into each batch. Lots of sugar, lots of alcohol (at 10.75% they weren't joking around with this one). After traveling through western europe, most notably Holland and Belgium, I felt I had a pretty good knowledge of beers from that region. I was admittedly skeptical beforehand, but after smelling the aroma and taking a few sips I was impressed. If I was in europe drinking one of these, I'd have no idea it was brewed in Alaska. A very well done belgian style ale. I enjoyed this one a lot.

The last: the Black IPA (or as it is becoming known: CDA (Cascadian Dark Ale)). I was skeptical with this one as well. Now don't get me wrong, I love dark ales, and I love IPA's, but to combine the two has always been a difficult thing. How do you blend dark chocolate, coffee, and roastiness with the pungency, flavor, and bitterness of an IPA? The task is made more difficult because all of those initial flavors associated with dark ales imparts its' own bitterness into a beer. The Black IPA's I have had in the past have never quite achieved a well balanced beer where each party is equally represented. This one however, did just that, in my opinion at least. Initial is the dark roasty flavors, midway through there is a burst of smoke, and the finish is somehow hoppy and lingering. This is the first Black IPA I have really enjoyed. I love the unique splash of smoke midway through, and was impressed by the great job done by the brewmaster to achieve this.

During this time of beer sampling, the experience was also enhanced by a great menu. Their pizza is all brick oven wood-fired and delicious. They offer lots of options for pizza, sandwiches, large salads, and offer suggestions for beer/food pairings as well. Overall my experience at St. Elias Brewing Co. was an excellent one. I had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed sampling the unique and delicious beer. This place gets my stamp of approval :]