Our little log cabin.

What We Do in McCarthy

~ by Maria Benner

We bought property in McCarthy, Alaska 13 years ago, and built a log cabin on it.  We love spending time at the cabin, but the problem is that it’s 6.5 – 8 hours of driving to get there, depending on road construction and the condition of the 60-mile, mostly unpaved McCarthy Road.  So it’s not really an ideal weekend destination, and when we come here, we usually try to stay for about two weeks.  People often ask us what we do in McCarthy.  So we explain that we’re self employed; Scott is an artist, and I’m the business & marketing manager for our art business.  Now that we have access to LTE, we can work from our cabin.  Scott has a small studio in the little shack that we originally built as a place to stay warm and dry while we worked on the cabin.  I work on my laptop, and can use the Personal Hotspot feature on my iPhone to connect my laptop to the Internet.  When we first came here we had no cell phone service at all, so technology has come a long way since 2005, and now allows us to work while we’re here.

So this is how a typical day in McCarthy goes.  We drink coffee in the morning while checking e-mail, and catching up on the news and social media.  After breakfast Scott works in the studio painting commissions, or Thirsty Thursday beer paintings, or new pieces for an upcoming art show.  I work in the cabin on my laptop promoting Scott’s art, booking future art shows, working on grants and 1% for Art applications, and managing the business.  After lunch we usually work on cabin and property improvement tasks such as building a wood shed, improving the driveway, framing windows, tiling the kitchen counters, etc.  In the evenings we go for walks, burn brush in the big fire-pit, or play ping pong on the new table Scott made for his birthday, or we’ll bike or ride the 2 miles to McCarthy for a party, or to hear a band at the Golden Saloon, or at the Potato.  On weekends we try to go on an adventure like searching for an ice cave in the Kennicott Glacier, hiking up to an abandoned mine, or biking to Nizina River.

This afternoon we did some Real Art Is Better work in the morning, and then walked to town to visit a friend at the museum, and to buy a few items at the store.  Now Scott is painting while I’m writing this blog post.  Tonight we’ll probably stay home and play Yahtzee, or burn some more brush, which is never-ending around here.  We’re here for a couple more days, and our goals are to dig a deep hole for a French drain for our kitchen sink, to finish leveling the bumps in the driveway, and to cut down and cut up a couple dead trees.  The list of projects is never-ending!

During my first few trips to McCarthy I met people who had lifestyles that allowed them to spend long periods of time here, and I wanted to change things in my life so that I could also come here for longer than just a three-day weekend.  So we both quit our jobs, and started our art business, and I credit McCarthy for motivating me to change my life.  We’re still not completely location-independent, since we lease studio space in Anchorage, and have to mail orders ourselves, but we get enough time here to justify the time and money we spent on building our cabin here.

The Solstice party in McCarthy.

The Solstice party in McCarthy.

An ice cave in the Kennicott Glacier.

An ice cave in the Kennicott Glacier.

Advertisements

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #144. Solstice in McCarthy, Alaska.

On this Thirsty Thursday I am lucky enough to be in McCarthy, Alaska celebrating summer Solstice.  I painted the Ma Johnson’s Hotel with a Sockeye Red IPA that I was drinking on the deck of the Golden Saloon.  I took a bit of creative license when I made this one to show off more of the experience than what you can only see in one direction.  I love that Neil Darish, the owner of the hotel and bar, bought a Model T Ford for the lodge, it really makes the place resemble its 100 year old origins.  When I bought this Midnight Sun Brewing beer I thought it would be perfect for the Solstice Thirsty Thursday painting, because of the sun logo, and the brewery’s name.  What’s in a name anyway?  Actually a lot, especially when it is backed up by 23 years of brewing experience.  I hope you all have a beautiful Solstice tonight and enjoy the midnight sun.  Tonight sunset is at 11:16PM, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop partying!  Cheers to the longest day of the year!  Grab plenty of beer to last you the whole day.

The original oil painting sold.  Limited-edition prints are available at our Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #144. Sockeye Red IPA by Midnight Sun Brewing Co. at the Golden Saloon in McCarthy, Alaska. 11"x14", oil on panel. By Scott Clendaniel.

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #144. Sockeye Red IPA by Midnight Sun Brewing Co. at the Golden Saloon in McCarthy, Alaska. 11″x14″, oil on panel. By Scott Clendaniel.

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #143. Homebrew in Humpy Cove, Alaska.

“Life is Short, Drink Good Beer.” That’s quality advice printed on my steel pint cup.  You might not always get a great beer, but the least you can do is try.  This little painting tells a story.  For three years now I have been trying to correlate a time to go with my collectors and friends, the Kirkpatricks, to their cabin in Humpy Cove on Resurrection Bay.  After totally missing it for two summers in a row I finally nailed down a time when I wouldn’t be in McCarthy, dip-netting, or flying to a wedding somewhere out of State.  Alaska summers are nuts, but also a blast.  I try to just relax and let the insanity flow around me without letting it disturb my inner peace.  This is hard to do when the midnight sun is pulling you to do more and rest less.

Our trip to the cove was amazing!  After loading up the boat we stopped right outside Seward’s boat harbor to watch a pod of Humpback whales.  We actually saw whales every day on this adventure.  Then after arriving to the cove in the fast red boat we hung out on the dock and sipped delicious keg beer from our steel pints, while soaking in the sun.  After Taiya the Siberian Husky attacked a porcupine, and had to have a dozen quills pulled out of her paw and snout (could have been much worse), we went for a hike up the hill where the bay vistas were unbelievable.  Then Taiya went swimming and I got to play lifeguard, and got an armful of shivering wet husky.  Good thing I didn’t spill my beer!  I had to be careful around that pooch, because she likes to drink beer, so if I set my pint on the deck, it was likely to get the dog tax.

We went fishing and caught a halibut about the size of a chicken.  Maria got one that was so small, we all agreed it was the size of a large keychain.  After fishing I sat on the dock and made this painting while the boat took guests back to Seward, and Maria and Colleen went kayaking.  Yes, I drank some beer while I painted.  Overall a very noteworthy trip!  Whales, waterfalls, bluebird skies and three draft beer options made for a very exciting weekend!  Resurrection Bay is one of those places in Alaska that is definitely beautiful!  I left this painting at the cabin as a gift to our hosts for being so gracious!

Plein air oil painting of Humpy Cove in Resurrection Bay, Alaska.

Plein air oil painting of Humpy Cove in Resurrection Bay, Alaska. 8″x10″, oil on panel. By Scott Clendaniel.

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.

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #142. Moon Juice Galactic IPA by SanTan Brewing Co.

What happens when you go to Arizona?  If you’re from Alaska, probably a sun tan, but what about the beer you ask?  Well, you might end up drinking a delicious beer from SanTan Brewing Co.  This beer known as Moon Juice Galactic IPA is a great version of IPA with enough hops and strength to make sure you feel satisfied.  My mother-in-law winters in Surprise, Arizona, and I was pleasantly surprised when I found Moon Juice readily available at Fry’s grocery store when we were visiting her in February.  I’m beginning to really like the desert the more time I end up spending in the Grand Canyon State.  The desert, despite making one feel like being on the moon, has way more life than an Alaskan guy would expect.  More culture is growing in the form of breweries too.  Eight breweries have sprung up in Flagstaff and at least 29 in Phoenix recently.  SanTan is located in Chandler, AZ, but is opening a second location in Uptown Phoenix.  SanTan not only makes Moon Juice, but also brews a grapefruit version of its über popular IPA.  They also make a pineapple wheat beer among many other creative offerings.  SanTan is leading the AZ canning revolution and only has its products available in 12oz, 24oz and onsite 32oz cans!  While I was working on this painting I was listening to a Sci-Fi book about war on the moon.  I totally felt like I was that guy in the pressure suit pictured on the can!
Cheers to an unearthly beer!  Great work SanTan, and keep up your well-crafted Arizona ales!

This original oil painting, and 52 limited-edition prints are available at our Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #142. Moon Juice Galactic IPA by SanTan Brewing Co. 8"x10", oil on panel.  By Scott Clendaniel

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #142. Moon Juice Galactic IPA by SanTan Brewing Co. 8″x10″, oil on panel. By Scott Clendaniel

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #141. Grand Opening of King Street Brewing Company 2.0

King Street Brewing Company’s amazing pop top IPA tastes even better when you are on top of Bird Ridge, where you can chill your beer in the snow.  Bird Ridge is a grueling 4.6 mile (each way) hike with several false summits, so nothing is better than a tasty craft beer once you get to the top!  Oh, and the view is pretty good too.
King Street opened its doors in 2010, and I remember the two home-brewers, Shane and Dana, standing up at our local home-brew club meeting and proudly stating,  “We are going to open a brewery!”  They have been doing a bang up job, and their 10 barrel brewhouse just hasn’t been big enough due to popular demand.  They are going big and built a new KING sized brewery!  Other good news is that it is now much closer to Anchorage Brewing Company, so if you feel like a Brett-forward saison after a traditional King Street West Coast Style IPA, you can simply walk on over!  Unfortunately, still too far to walk to both Cynosure Brewing, or Midnight Sun Brewing, but totally an easy bike ride.  I love the Anchorage tetrahedron of breweries!
I didn’t know when the new King Street brewery was going to open, but I knew it had to be soon.  Luckily, I have Shane Kingry’s phone number, so I gave him a call this morning.  He told me that the new facility opens up at noon this Saturday, June 2nd!  Shane said the new place will be open, clean, and they will have tables and beer.  They also plan to have a food truck.
The month of June is starting out beertastic with my First Firkin Friday art opening at Midnight Sun Brewing.  I will be tapping the firkin at 5pm this Friday, June 1st.  Then on Saturday I will definitely be going to King Street Brewing’s grand opening.  I can’t wait to check out the new three-story building!
Cheers to growth and success!  Way to be King Street!  You are doing it the right way!

The original oil painting sold.  Limited-edition prints are available at our Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #141. King Street Brewing Company IPA. 8"x10", oil on panel. By Scott Clendaniel.

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #141. King Street Brewing Company IPA. 8″x10″, oil on panel. By Scott Clendaniel.

First Firkin Friday Art Show at Midnight Sun Brewing Co.

Twice a year I get to have art shows at Midnight Sun Brewing Company in Anchorage.  Once in January, and also in June.  There are a couple perks to showing my oil paintings at this venue.  First, I get to tap a firkin (a small keg) at 5pm of opening day to kick off the month-long show.  Usually the firkin is filled with one of MSBC’s delicious brews cask-conditioned with special ingredients.  For example, at my upcoming art opening this Friday, June 1st, the firkin will be Panty Peeler Belgian-style ale cask-conditioned with tequila-soaked oak spirals and lime!  That sounds festive and refreshing!  Another benefit of having an art show at a brewery is that every time I go there to check on the show, I order a beer, which is tax deductible!

I’ve been working on several new pieces for this show, including paintings of the Homer Harbor, a K2 plane flying by Broken Tooth Mountain, a tandem bicycle, and a 5ft x 4ft piece of birch trees that is for people who have big empty walls.  I’ll be posting pictures of these paintings each day for the rest of the week on my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter feeds.

Click here for details about the event, and please invite your friends!  I hope you can be there at 5pm on June 1st to watch me tap the firkin, but if not, we’ll be there until 8pm on Friday, and my art will be on display and available for sale until July 5th.

I hope that when I tap the firkin, this happens, because a beer shower is always fun, although I don’t want to waste too much beer.