Category Archives: Brewing

Life Is Short, Drink Good Beer, and to Get Good Beer, Buy Local!

I have made a new commitment to myself to only buy beer directly from breweries in order to get the freshest product.  Not just for on-site consumption, but also for savoring at home.  I’ll probably still order a beer occasionally at local bars and restaurants, although I will still seek out local offerings.  When I travel I will do the same thing — buy beers directly from local breweries in the area.  While traveling I have definitely picked up some shelf turds at the local grocery store.  No more!  From now on it’s from the brewery direct!  I have three main reasons for doing this.  The first is to get the freshest beer possible, especially of the IPA variety.  The second reason is driven by economics — my money is going directly to the breweries, and I strongly believe in supporting local businesses.  Lastly, I’m doing my small part to reduce waste by using re-usable containers to purchase my liquid nourishment.

Scott Clendaniel enjoying an IPA at Turnagain Brewing

Enjoying a fresh-hop IPA at Turnagain Brewing

Nothing is more disappointing to taste than a seven-month old IPA that has been left next to the heater on the liquor store floor.  When I was doing the Year of Beer project I came upon such beers fairly frequently.  A stale cardboard-like malt backbone with a cheesy, vegetative hop aroma is not how the artisans who made the beer wanted their product to taste.  All the local breweries in Anchorage store their beer properly, and the overall flavor is so much better!  IPA always tastes great directly from the brewery!

Celebrating Cynosure Brewing's third birthday

Celebrating Cynosure Brewing’s third anniversary!

Aside from getting the freshest product available, I like that my hard-earned money is going directly to the breweries, helping to keep the product more affordable, and stimulating our local economy.  Not many products available in Alaska are made here, but beer is definitely one of them.  I always get a smile from brewery employees and management when I tell them about this new policy of mine.  I’ve been spending a bit more, but I am not upset with my purchases.  In the pre-prohibition era, people had to buy locally as distribution was not up to the current capabilities.  Every town had its local brewery and its local flavor.  A growler used to be a wooden bucket with a lid.  The 20th century’s automation and big business homogenized, packaged, and marketed mass produced macro-brews, resulting in a lack of a local brewery scene.  Beer is available from all over the world, not just Europe.  Today I can buy beer from Zimbabwe if I feel like it.  Although, the last African beer I drank was pretty stale, and not much better than an AB inBev product.  I say drink beer really brewed “the hard way,” and drink straight from the brewery! 

Local beer artist Scott Clendaniel with one of his paintings that 49th State Brewery bought

I buy local beer, 49th State Brewing buys local art!

In addition to being good for our economy, buying a local product that is often sold in reusable containers is a win for the environment.  Grain comes in big bags, so do hops.  The heaviest ingredient, water, is locally-sourced, and we are lucky to have very good water here in Anchorage for making beer.  Mother Earth is smiling every time you get a growler filled and don’t have any waste material.  If we all bought locally brewed beer, less fuel would be spent shipping beer from all over the world, less water would be drained from dried-up aquifers, and less waste would be left in our local landfill!  If you don’t want to consume a whole growler in one evening, and you don’t like drinking leftover oxidized beer the next day, opt for a half growler (howler) fill.  You could also splurge at the local home-brew shop and buy a U-Keg one gallon CO2 charged growler, which holds ~12 servings and keeps beer fresh for a long time.  Or go big and get a whole home-brew style draft setup and buy at the gallon price-point.  Anyway, there are many container options out there, just find the right one for your drinking habits.

Simply stated, “life is short, drink good beer!”  And to get good beer, buy local.  There are so many great options right here.  King Street Brewing and Midnight Sun Brewing have six packs for about $10.  Glacier Brewhouse offers growlers for as low as $6 every Tuesday, which is cheaper than many out-of-state options per ounce.  Anchorage Brewing is putting out world-class four-packs and amazing bottle releases.  Turnagain Brewing, 49th State Brewing, and Cynosure Brewing all fill growlers, and l love stopping in for a glass in house.  Anchorage produces barleywine, IPA, stout, hefe, lager, pilsner, saison, spruce-tip ale, and many other interesting-flavored malt beverages that are on par with anything available worldwide.  The closer you consume to the brewery, the fresher your beer will taste!  Cheers to Anchorage, our breweries, and to drinking locally!

This Alaskan Summer Has Been Smoky, So Why Not Smoke Some Meat?

pork bbq

Pairs well with a sour beer!

Alaska has had a dry and hot summer, and that’s a recipe for wild forest fires, which have made the air smoky for most of the summer.  So we decided, we might as well start smoking meat!  I smoked salmon in my Big Chief electric smoker this year, which keeps the temperature colder than a Texas-style BBQ, making it more suitable for fish.  Although, I suggest barbecuing some pork — it is my current favorite!  What could pair better than an ice cold brewski with a pile of delicious BBQ?

A couple of years ago I was over at my friend’s house and he had just pulled a brisket off his Traeger smoker.  I was amazed at how delicious this otherwise nearly-impossible-to-cook piece of meat was, and he told me how he slowly smoked it for over 12 hours in the pellet smoker.  Since then, I have been obsessed with real BBQ.  I can tell you what it is not: steaks, sausages, burgers, salmon, chicken, or anything else that is cooked over high heat.  That would be grilling.  A hot grill is the antitheses to BBQ.  Now there is nothing wrong with grilling, it’s a good way to cook the meat fast and produces delicious outdoor cooked treats, but it ain’t BBQ.  Grilling happens at 400 – 600 degrees and sears the meat.  BBQ needs to be done slowly and at low heat.  It involves cooking less desirable cuts of meat for several hours, which then makes them highly desirable.

The word barbecue comes from the Caribbean native people Taino’s word Barbacoa and refers to the process of burying meat in a pit oven wrapped in agave leaves.  Texas-style BBQ is a bit more complicated, and needs a specific tool to achieve the desired effect.  Whether it be a computer-controlled Traeger smoker, or a stick smoker, you need a way to produce smoky heat that can be kept at an even 200 – 250 degrees for many hours.  Ribs and roasts are normally preferable, but you can BBQ a suckling pig or larger cuts of meat.  

I have a stick smoker in McCarthy where I prepare my BBQ.  It has a lower compartment for burning the fire, and a larger chamber above where the smoke filters through and exits through a smokestack chimney.  I use oak lump charcoal to keep my fire going and I use chunks of wood to produce the smoke.  I prefer mesquite for that real authentic Texas flavor.  It takes about an hour per pound of meat, so a 3lb boneless pork shoulder takes about 6 hours to BBQ.  The smoker is big enough to handle larger cuts of meat, so you can either make two at once, or smoke for a lot longer with bigger cuts of meat like that brisket I mentioned earlier.  Since you are cooking the meat at low temperatures for a long time, that breaks down all the proteins and makes what would be a tough grilled meat a tender smoked delicacy.  The meat looks blackened and it is the black part, referred to as the bark, that is really good.  Make sure you get to try a piece with some BBQ bark — it has the most smoky flavor that is sooo good.  I like to wait an hour after pulling the meat from the heat, and I use a meat thermometer to make sure it hits 180 degrees — the perfect time to pull the meat.  I like to have some fresh buns ready to make pork sandwiches.  You will probably need some BBQ sauce.  Don’t buy the BBQ sauce with liquid smoke in it.  You only need some sweet tangy sauce to add to your already smoked meat.  Oh, and don’t forget to pair your meat with your favorite beer!  The only beer I wouldn’t use to pair with perfect BBQ is a smoked beer.  There is already enough smoke in the meat!  I would go for a tasty fruity sour ale, or a killer hoppy IPA, but there ain’t nothing wrong with a Euro or American pale lager either.  

Cheers to BBQ!  Meat and beer are really, really tasty! 

pork bbq

A pork shoulder right off the heat — resting for one hour.

Hours of chill time!

Product Review – uKeg 128

ukeg growlerwerks

In 2014 I was really into craft beer, well I guess I should be honest — I am still really into craft beer.  I might just know more now about it than I did five years ago, which means I realize how much more there is to learn!  Anyway, in 2014 I was releasing a new beer painting every day, and so 2014 was the “Year of Beer” for us.  We entered a giveaway on Twitter for a uKeg pressurized growler by a new company called GrowlerWerks in Portland, OR, and actually won!  We were really excited, and I remember telling everybody about it.  Well, the uKeg didn’t show up in 2014.  In 2015 we contacted GrowlerWerks inquiring about the contest, but apparently the company was struggling with production delays, so it didn’t arrive in 2015.  A few months ago I started seeing these things all over the place: the local home-brew shop (Arctic Brewing Supply), Zymurgy Magazine, and at the homebrew club meetings as well.  So we decided to ask whatever happened to our uKeg one more time.  Well, we received a very nice and apologetic reply from GrowlerWerks, and a few days later, the uKeg, along with a bonus insulated steel pint cup arrived!!!  Better late than never.

A uKeg is a fancy insulated stainless steel growler with a cap that houses a CO2 cartridge.  It has a pressure gauge, a sight glass, and a mini-tap allowing beer to be poured without the beer oxidizing.  I have had a draft system in our house since 2006, and I’ve enjoyed home brewing for quite a bit longer than that.  A 5 gallon keg can be a bit much (the 2014 me would be shocked to hear me say that), and I’ve lately been making 1 gallon batches — part of my house yeast and coolship project.  I brewed two one-gallon batches this week and now I can use the uKeg to dispense my homebrew.  I wanted to test the system so I made a trip to my favorite beer store here in Anchorage, Alaska — La Bodega. It has many draft beers available for sale, and when I asked if I could fill the 128oz uKeg they said, “Of course!”  

I had it filled with an exclusive IPA brewed by Midnight Sun Brewing Co. for a restaurant called The Potato, located in McCarthy and also Valdez.  The beer is called Hop Potato IPA, brewed with (no, not potatoes) Idaho 7 hops.  This is a one batch beer at this time, so you can only get it at The Potato restaurants in Valdez, or McCarthy, but there is also only one keg at La Bodega because the owner is friends with owners of The Potato.  I enjoyed this beer greatly two weeks ago at the release party in McCarthy, so naturally I filled the uKeg with this IPA.  So my house might be the only place in Anchorage to get a draft pint of Hop Potato from a CO2-charged dispensing growler keg, thanks to my uKeg!

Using the system is pretty easy.  I first cleaned and sanitized the uKeg with just an iodine rinse and a second rinse with plain water.  Then the fill at the growler bar.  Put the cap together with the CO2 cartridge, adjust the pressure and pour away!  There is a cute little button to lock the tap closed so it won’t pour out while in transit.  The gooseneck on the faucet swivels in order to fit better in a backpack. The people at GrowlerWerks really designed this product well!  It holds two growlers, so expect to pay double, but you won’t have to feel obligated to finish the beer in one session, since it will stay fresh in the uKeg. 

Cheers to GrowlerWerks for inventing the uKeg and bringing draft beers to the nano scale!  

ukeg growlerwerks

Would You Drink Whatever Lives in the Air in Anchorage?

Have you ever wondered how a spontaneously-fermented beer is produced?  Well, they don’t just put the wort (unfermented beer) into a regular fermenter and wait for something to happen.  It’s a bit more complicated than that.  There are biological critters in the air — bacteria and yeast.  These microbes are safe to humans and necessary to life as we know it.  I have been studying beer extensively for over a decade now and part of that study has been brewing beer at home.  I wouldn’t call myself a zymologist, as I tend to leave the scientific method out of my practices.  I’m more of a beer artist when it comes to the brews I make at home, focusing more on the process and outcome than knowing exactly which variables cause the results.  I like to think about monks brewing in a monastery — it’s not like they had microscopes and pH strips hundreds of years ago.  An interesting piece of hardware that the brewers of old did have is a Koelschip, or Coolship, which sounds a lot more high-tech than it actually is.  A Coolship is simply a flat open fermenter that resembles an enormous baking pan, or a small swimming pool.  The hot wort is pumped into this open fermentation vessel and allowed to cool overnight and naturally become inoculated with wild yeast and bacteria that live in the air.  It is then subsequently pumped into barrels, or a secondary fermentation vessel.  

I decided this would be fun to try at home on a very small scale — about 2 bottles.  What did I use for my Coolship?  Well, a baking pan, of course.  I have done this several times now with mixed results.  I make a small batch of wort with dry malt extract (DME), and add a hop pellet or two (I like to use Citra, one of my favorite hop varieties).  Then I set the Coolship next to an open window in my condo in downtown Anchorage, Alaska.  Spring and Fall seem to be better times of year for this when I have heard there is more yeast in the air, and the air temperature is neither too hot, nor too cold for the wort to start spontaneously fermenting.  I left the Coolship out for 4 nights and then poured the contents into a growler and capped it with an airlock (no need to make vinegar here, I was trying to make beer).  The results have been… very interesting. I definitely made a wild beer.  The original two bottles were nearly unpalatable (I heard it described as prison beer), but when I made a second generation of the stuff, it started to become a lot more palatable, and arguably delicious!  I think the yeast in my Coolship was strained and just needed to become a little more domesticated (and I also added more hops).  

Pouring the beer from the “Coolship” into my tiny fermenter.

Looks good enough to drink.

There is a fun relationship between hops and yeast.  The hops themselves don’t make the yeast start tasting good, it’s the collaborative efforts of the yeast working alongside the hops that make beer tasty.  Hops provide nutrition for the yeast.  So, I invite you to try this yourself, if you are getting bored of your current beer making procedures.  See what kind of flavors live in your part of the ‘hood.  I suggest you start your own yeast ranch.  All you need is a baking pan!  Cheers!

Sober October

~ by Maria Benner

In 2012 Scott and I spent most of October in McCarthy, housesitting a neighbor’s tiny cabin with two huskies, while building our own log cabin near by.  We decided not to drink that month, because we imbibed a bit too much during the summer at endless parties that happen almost every night in McCarthy during the summer season.  Scott had read somewhere that the human liver can regenerate in one month, so we decided to give our livers a break for 30 days, while working on our cabin, going for walks with the dogs, and watching Netflix after dinner in the cozy dark cabin.  We jokingly started referring to that month as sober October.  Then in 2013 I took a break from drinking again in October, and this year we’re both doing sober October, five years later.  Scott decided to do a semi-sober October, meaning that he can have four drinks total every weekend.  I, on the other hand, haven’t had a drink in 15 days.  So why October?  For us this is the only month without birthdays, anniversaries, summer shenanigans, and major holidays.

This year I realized that many other people are also doing sober October, and turns out that it’s a “thing”, and maybe even a growing movement.  Of course, this is the month that breweries seem to be coming out with their most delicious offerings.  Anchorage Brewing has been releasing a new imperial stout, or hazy IPA almost every four days, while King Street Brewing now has a birch Russian imperial stout on tap, and Turnagain Brewing has a sour rhubarb ale that I would love to try.  Not to mention all the pizza parties, wedding parties and homebrew club meetings that I’ve been going to all month and watching my friends drink verticals of Bigfoot Barleywine and Smoked Porter dating back to 2000, while I sip on my La Croix.  Yes, Alaska has amazing beer, and is a tough place to do sober October, but I hope the benefits are worth the effort.

The most noticeable benefit has been more money in my bank account and a smaller credit card bill.  At the end of this month, I’ll have a pretty good idea about how much I spend on craft beer.  The second benefit is that I’ve lost three pounds so far without changing my workout routine, or altering my diet.  In fact, I’ve noticed that I’ve been eating more sugar lately, as my body craves more carbs.  I’ve been sleeping much better.  I used to wake up several times during the night, and sometimes couldn’t go back to sleep for two hours, before falling into a deep sleep and then waking up groggy.  Now I’m sleeping through the night.  I’ve also read that abstaining from alcohol for a month has a positive effect on blood pressure, insulin levels, and ever risk of cancer!

I’m half way done, and I can’t wait until November 1st when I can enjoy my first cold, refreshing beer!  Will I do this every year?  I don’t think so.  My goal is to cut down my drinking to just weekends, and if I do drink at social occasions during the week, I’ll only have one drink.  Moderation is key.  Which beer will I drink first?  Probably a barrel aged imperial stout.

We bought two cases of La Croix to get us through sober October.

Small Batch Brewing in a Condo Kitchen

I’m brewing a big batch of beer right now, which is taking up my whole day, but I have a few minutes of down time while the mighty enzymes break down the protein strains and starches from the grain, and turn them into beautiful grain sugars.  I’d like to take this respite from my brew day to talk about small batch brewing.  I have been working on a yeast project for over a year now, keeping a strain of yeast alive by brewing small batches almost every week.  My house yeast strain is a hybrid of a Wyeast Belgian Witbier strain and a yeast I propagated from the bottom of a Trappist Orval bottle.  I blended them together and keep them in a growler. When I told Gabe Fletcher of Anchorage Brewing about the project, he told me I created a Solera.  I feed the yeast the day before I need to use it by making a small amount of wort (unfermented beer) and adding it to the yeast growler.  The next day I brew a small batch consisting of six pints of water and about a cup of malt extract.  I don’t even need to boil this stuff for longer than 5 minutes because I don’t want this beer to be bitter, just floral.  I do add lots of hops, but basically no bittering hops for this particular style.  I have experimented using dry malt extract vs the liquid goo you can purchase in bulk at Arctic Brewing Supply.  I found that although the liquid goo is annoying to work with, it is more affordable than doing everything with the dry powder.  You do have to use a little more, and it likes to go everywhere.  I cool down the wort and put it in a gallon glass jug, add about a pint of my yeast slurry and cap it with an airlock.  A week later I dry hop it with about 1/4 to 1/2 ounce of pellet hops.  I have used all kinds of different hop varieties but the one that consistently tastes the best with this yeast is Citra — a very fruity hop in an orange/grapefruit kind of way.  I then let it sit another week before I bottle it, adding 4 charging tablets to each 11 oz bottle.  I get between 5-7  bottles in a  three weeks cycle.  If I brew weekly that makes about a six-pack a week, which is just enough home brew to keep myself stocked and to have a few to share with friends.

I found that it is really fun to experiment this way.  I don’t take too many notes, so this is more like an art project than science.  Dates and hops are about all I record, but I have a really good feel for what this yeast will do and how it will taste after making about 30 batches.  Small batch brewing requires less time but you also get less beer.  I spend about 90 minutes a week to make my six-pack, mostly bottling time and wort chilling.  It is my fun kitchen time, and I enjoy it thoroughly.  The best part is sharing it with friends in 3-4 oz tasters, and comparing the different batches.  Well, I have to attend to my mash so that the West Anchorage ’98 high school reunion has some of my homebrew to drink.  “Peace, Love, Happiness!” That is my brewery’s name, and motto.