Tag Archives: Anchorage

Termination Dust

Termination dust on the Chugach mountains

Happy Fall Equinox! During our five-mile run this morning we marveled at the gorgeous termination dust on the Chugach mountains that arrived overnight. For those of you who are not up on Alaskan lingo, “termination dust” refers to the first dusting of snow on mountain tops, signaling the termination of summer. This means something to the beer drinking crowd of Anchorage.  When we see that first snow, we know that Midnight Sun Brewing is about to release Termination Dust Belgian Style Barley Wine.  It is only released when Lee Ellis, President of the brewery, sees snow on Flattop mountain.  Well, I looked up at Flattop today, and the snow stopped right above Flattop mountain.  So, I assumed the brewery would hold out, but to my surprise, I saw on social media that the release is happening today!  I have a bottle of this beer in my beer fridge from two years ago, so maybe it is time to drink that one as well, since it is Equinox, and I feel celebration in the air.

When Alaskans see termination dust, some take a big sigh of relief, and others start feeling depressed, depending on how one feels about the impending winter. I personally like winter more than summer, so I get very excited about longer nights, cozy evenings around a fire, movie nights without FOMO, football season, fat-biking, and most importantly, alpine ski season.  I love skiing, and I especially love skiing at Arctic Valley Ski Area!  I am a lifetime member of the Anchorage Ski club. Maria and I already bought our season passes, so seeing termination dust on the front range on Equinox makes me feel hopeful for a great upcoming ski season! I am certainly glad to live in Alaska! Now, I’m off to Midnight Sun Brewing to sample this year’s Termination Dust. Cheers!

Prints of this beer portrait are available at my Etsy shop

Vending in Alaska

My wife, Maria, who is the Business Manager for our art business, was traveling in August for 17 days out of the last 25, which made me realize that I really rely on her for basically everything. When she is gone I have to do double the work I normally am expected to do. She also does the stuff that I don’t do as well on my own.  She was supposed to be back on Thursday last week, but my brother has been very ill and Maria volunteered to take my niece to Princeton, NJ to start college, so she was gone for most of this weekend too.  

While Maria was at Princeton, I was scheduled to set up my vending tent at the fabulous Chugachfest at my favorite ski area, Arctic Valley, on Friday and Saturday. Maria had one day in town between trips, and had spent it helping me get set up for vending at the festival. I was concerned, since there was a weather advisory for the weekend, because my merchandise is made from wood, canvas, and paper. It’s not that delicate, but wind and rain is not necessarily good for art. I decided not to bring my vending stuff up the bumpy Arctic Valley road, just to hurry back down with a billowing tarp and huge risk of damaged equipment and merchandise.

I drove up there on Saturday to see my favorite musician Michael Kirkpatrick play a short set, and saw the carnage from overnight. The Mountain Manager told me that every E-Z Up tent had flipped over and a few were halfway up the valley. The wind was still blowing, but we still had an awesome time listening to music.  The sound guy was doing a great job making the musicians sound their best!  So, I was really glad I made the decision not to set up my booth, eventhough Maria and I had spent so much time getting it ready. After Maria got back from Princeton, we went to Seward to catch Michael play at the Yukon Bar, and then followed him to Hope, like a couple of groupies, to see him play at the Seaview Cafe.  So much fun!  I love his new song Wrangell Mountain Rendezvous.

Not a good day to be a vendor at Arctic Valley!

This Saturday we have another opportunity to set up our vending tent — at the Alaska Craft Brew Festival! This is an event not to be missed!  The Delaney Park Strip comes alive with live music, and a huge amount of Alaskan craft beer, and some from the Lower 48, as well.  I love this event, because I never have to explain why I paint beer to the people there.  This is my crew! And most of the people already know who I am from Alaska Beer Nerds.  I have a good feeling about this weekend.  The weather is wonderful out right now, and historically this is the one weekend of August that has a break from the rain. I know, because Maria and I got married 19 years ago this weekend. It didn’t rain then, and over the last 18 years, normally doesn’t. So let’s hope for good luck, and at least a lack of wind!  Cheers to the upcoming Fest, I hope to see you there!   

Arctic Comic Con 2022

Have you ever watched Tim Allen’s Galaxy Quest?  You know how they are sitting at the Comic Con, signing photographs, before they leave the planet with the aliens? I wonder what it would be like to be the aliens who took off with famous actors.  I never thought I would attend a Comic Con, but always thought they kinda looked like fun.  This weekend was my first ever, and I was lucky enough to go to Arctic Comic Con as a vendor. I knew that Tom Arnold was going to be there, but  I didn’t expect to see Bai Ling, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Michael Biehn, Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, Wallis Day, and Keith Coogan.  The event was postponed a couple times due to the pandemic, and a lot of people had been waiting for it, and had extra time to work on their costumes. 

Before the event picked up, there was a VIP time period and very few people were there. I decided I would go and say hi to the stars.  I didn’t talk to everyone, but I did talk about hockey with Tom Arnold and told Keith Coogan I have been quoting his most famous line from Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter is Dead, “The dishes are done, man!”  every time I finish doing the dishes.  I asked what their plans were for getting out and seeing Alaska.  I was surprised to find out they had not made any plans, they didn’t have a car rented, and they were flying out right after the convention.  One of my patrons, Sig Larsen, was in attendance. He said he was rallying the troops to go to Whittier, but didn’t have a car. I made a lot more sales than I expected, so I had to make more prints, pack cards and frame pieces for my booth, so I couldn’t offer to take anyone anywhere, but I bet Keith Coogan and Wallis Day would have gone with me to Girdwood and back, if I had offered. 

What was awesome about Comic Con, other than bringing my product direct to market, was the welcoming attitude and friendly atmosphere that this particular culture presents.  You could tell a complete stranger you liked their costume, shirt, shoes, or whatever bling they were toting, and get an enthusiastic “thank you!”.  I talked to people until my voice was worn out and then I had a beer and kept on going.  I was amazed at the creativity of the costumes, but I didn’t recognize about 40% of the anime references.  If you can tell me what comic character looks like Princess Jasmine on the top and Aladdin on the bottom, with a samurai sword, I would be very happy to know.

By the end of the second day my brain had turned to mush, and my inventory was low.  I traded a print of Mando drinking a beer with baby Yoda (yes I know his name is Grogu) for a copy of Richard Griffith’s, Bubba Ship 1 A Redneck Adventure. Then, Keith Coogan came over and brought me a free signed plate and took a selfie with us.  I was thinking of buying one, but I just didn’t know what I would do with a signed plate. Well, it looks great in my glass display case that I just got for the studio, and I will always remember that he is a good guy.  Maria gave them a print of Pac-Man drinking beer, because Keith’s wife was wearing a Pac-Man dress and shoes. She said it would look great in their arcade room. 

Cheers to doing something different, meeting new friends, and getting product to market!  I’ll go to Comic Con again next time.  

And the Winner of the Tart Side Challenge is… Me!

Turnagain Brewing graciously hosts a contest each year for members of the Great Northern Brewers Club called the Tart Side Challenge. Ted and Mary Rosenzweig, owners of the brewery, give each club member one gallon of wort containing the brewery’s proprietary sour culture from the solera tank we all affectionately call Big Bertha. Our task is to flavor the wort any way we wish, and to ferment it into beer. The entries get judged at the GNBC annual summer campout, and then Turnagain Brewing brews the winning recipe. Last year, Maria won the contest. When I created the recipe for my entry this year, I referred to my experience making small batch beers. I had been mixing beer and fruit for a couple of years now, and I know how much fruit to add to make a beer explode with flavor. I wanted to bottle-condition this beer, since oxidation is one of the easiest and worst things that can happen to a beer at this stage.  I also know that people generally tend to like slightly stronger beers over weaker ones. Since this was a beer tasting committee I was aiming to please, I added a 1/2 cup of malt extract to not only slightly increase ABV, but also to restart fermentation. I also added some of my own yeast from my yeast ranching project, since bottle-conditioning doesn’t work without yeast present.

I was unsure what fruit I wanted to put into the beer. Last year Maria won with a blueberry recipe, so I knew blueberries were a crowd pleaser. I also love the Piña Colada beer Ted has been making for Serrano’s Mexican Grill. It all became clear to me when I was making my morning smoothie with a healthy dosage of sour yogurt, pineapple, and blueberries.  Blueberries and pineapple would play the starring roles in my beer.

Ted didn’t have enough space to ferment my beer, so he used a French oak barrel, which added Brett to the equation. Ted and I were sipping on the finished beer at the brewery and I suggested that he bottle my beer, so we could cellar it to allow the Brett to develop. Since I’m the local beer artist, I also offered to make a label design for my beer. 

I had to design the label quickly, and I think best when I am out running on the trail. The next morning I figured it all out when doing my five mile loop.  I came up with the name, “Solera Eclipse” and decided upon a design inspired by the yin yang of T&C Surf Designs.  Ted’s solera is where the wort originated, and an eclipse is a noteworthy astronomical event.  The yin yang showed off the the contrast of the blueberries and pineapple perfectly.  Since it was fermented in Ted’s favorite old wine barrel, I included some barrel parts in the design making a sun. 

I am very excited to try the commercial version, I have one bottle left of my homemade version, and I look forward to sampling them back to back! The beer will be released at my art opening at Turnagain Brewing tomorrow (12/03/2021)! I’ll be there 5-8pm, and hope you’ll stop by to try my beer, check out my art, and buy a couple bottles to cellar.

Cheers to Turnagain Brewing for doing this fun contest for GNBC!

Ted taking a small sample of my beer from the barrel to see if the Brett flavor had sufficiently developed.
My design for the bottle label.
Solera Eclipse sour ale with blueberries and pineapple.

First Snow Day of the Year!

The first real snowfall of the year covers the grass and leaves, and provides winter light during the long, dark nights. Last night I was excited to see the tips of the stalks of grass obscured from view. The entire city illuminates from the reflective properties of the falling snow. This morning I was surprised to see eleven inches on our back porch. We went for a lovely 3-mile walk to the Helen L. McDowell Sanctuary, breaking trail the whole way! Upon our return, Maria and I spent a little over half an hour shoveling our driveway and walkways. There was about a foot of light and fluffy snow, so it wasn’t that hard. It’s still snowing as I write this, and all the clearing we did is now under another two inches.

I get really excited about the first day of snow, because I love winter! Skiing, fat-biking, ice skating and winter walks are all things I enjoy in winter.  Don’t get me wrong, I also love summer.  The hectic pace that ensues with all the daylight, the out-of-state visitors, and the insidious mosquitos that come along with the warmer weather make it a second best to me.  Third, comes late fall when it is cold, dark, and there is usually freezing rain.  Last, is early spring, when the meltdown makes everything ugly, and going outside is difficult due to half-frozen swampiness. 

Winter is my favorite.  There is a special quality to winter, especially in Alaska.  I mentioned the light from the snow. I can easily navigate at night without a headlamp, if a blanket of snow is reflecting any bit of moon or starlight.  My favorite thing about winter though, is semi-hibernating.  Nobody expects you to answer your phone after 9pm, and if you say you can’t make it because the roads seem too dangerous, people completely understand. In the summer people want you to go to work for 10 hours, then expect you to climb a mountain.  In the winter, if you spend 4 hours riding a chairlift, people might expect you to fall asleep while watching a movie afterwards. 

Snow is great! It makes winter real! Let it snow! I will shovel the driveway again this evening, right before I climb into bed at 9:15pm.

We Bought a House and Moved out of the 4th Avenue Market Place Studio!

Moving everything from the studio to the new house, including large paintings. Good thing it wasn’t raining!

When we moved into my studio space at the 4th Avenue Marketplace, we were ecstatic to be downtown, and to have extra work space!  I loved the view, and I loved working there.  Having people come by for open studio events during First Fridays, Fur Rondy, and the Iditarod was always a great experience, and we usually made enough money during those events to cover our lease payments. Making the move to 4th Ave really cemented that I am a professional artist.  However, I missed working at home. Packing a lunch was a drag, the bicycle commute across downtown was annoying (especially in winter), and the local street people seemed to always be present to greet me at the door to the building (when they were awake).  I always seemed to have left this tool here, or that tool there, right when I needed it, and I was making another traffic-heavy bike trip back to one of the two locations.    

I am happy to say that last weekend we moved out of the studio, and I am setting up my new studio on the first floor of our new house! It is a huge mess right now! I need permanent storage for tools, supplies, and paintings. I hope to be back to work by Monday, taking a week to move the condo and studio to our new house, and to get the condo ready for sale!  The house is “not perfect,” as my father told me, but to us it is so amazing!  It is quiet at night, there is more space for living and for the studio, and best of all, it has an oversized two car garage!  No more carrying the table saw down stairs to work in blizzards for me!  I can park my truck inside when it is cold out! Not to mention, the obvious home-brewing improvement!  I brought my big smoker grill home from my parents’ house, and I’m going to smoke a brisket when I have everything set up. When brew day rolls around in the new garage, I’ll brew a big batch for a big housewarming celebration.  

Until then there is a lot of work… Anybody want a cute little apartment-style condo in West Fairview? It would make a great Airbnb rental!

Cheers to making life better!  May your day be brighter today than yesterday, and tomorrow be even better than that!    

Sad the downtown studio is closed?  You can still meet me for a beer at Midnight Sun Brewing. My art is there until the end of June!  I will be having more out-of-the studio shows, so keep following Real Art Is Better on this blog, or on social media and we will keep you informed where and when we will be having in-person events!

Spring is in the Air!

You can smell spring in the air!  That means pollen, dust, dog poop, and lots of muddy puddles here in Anchorage, Alaska.  This is the time of year when I start to really miss our cabin in McCarthy, and looking forward to escaping there.  We’re planning to head out there the day after Mother’s Day. That’s right, you still have a little time to order a present for your mom, before May 9th!  I’ve gone to MXY (the airport code for McCarthy) earlier in the year, but the driveway to our cabin gets really swampy during meltdown, so I’ve found it’s better to wait until the second week of May. This year will be especially swampy, considering the heavy amount of snow. I hope the wood shed is still standing! On big snow years, piles of snow are still sitting around through Memorial Day weekend!

I love the first trip in spring to the cabin, because we no longer have to do too much building, mostly just opening up the cabin, setting up the rain-catchment system, and seeing my MXY friends. I always bring my painting supplies with me, so I can keep working in my little studio out there, which was formerly our shelter while we worked on the cabin. This year I hope to go on a couple over-night backpacking trips into the National Park, and plant a big garden. My mother-in-law came to visit last year, and decided that we needed a garden, so she ripped out a lot of bushes, and cleared a nice spot for it. Then I cut down a few trees, tore out the stumps, and rototilled the dirt. We just need to build a fence to keep the critters out, and then we can plant the seed potatoes we’ve been saving all winter, and the little starts that are growing nicely in our condo right now.

Summer isn’t even here, and I’m already planning out the entire season. We all kind of go nuts here in Alaska in the summer with all this daylight. Here’s hoping for plenty of sunny days, but also enough rain to keep the forest fires at bay.

Brand new leaves on the aspen trees on our property.

Pandemic Art Show #2

I’m currently having my second art show during a pandemic! The first one was in June at Midnight Sun Brewing Co., right after the brewery was allowed to open for on-site, indoor dining/drinking following the first shutdown. Right after that show ended, the Mayor limited restaurants and breweries to outdoor on-site consumption only. So I got pretty lucky on my timing. The show was surprisingly successful given the circumstances!

Fast forward six months, and I’m doing another art show during this pandemic, this time at Turnagain Brewing Co. I didn’t get as lucky on my timing for this one, because during December, we’re only allowed to drink beer outside per the latest hunker down order. Despite this obstacle, we decided to go ahead with the art show, but scaled it down just to the downstairs wall of the taproom, because people can still see the art while they go inside to order their beers. I hung original, one-of-a-kind oil paintings on the wall, and brought limited-edition prints and Beer Art Coloring Books to sell at the brewery. So far, I’ve actually sold some books, and prints, which is more than I was expecting.

I could have used this new hunker down order as an excuse to cancel the show, but I decided to push through this thing, and keep doing what I do, because I still can. Drinking beer outside by a fire pit is nothing new for Alaskans. Most of the breweries adapted quickly to the new restrictions, and put several fire pits outside, in festive beer gardens. I’m about to have my third pandemic art show, back at Midnight Sun Brewing Co., but in January I expect everything to open back up at reduced capacity, so maybe everyone can admire my art while eating and drinking inside.

My pandemic art show at Turnagain Brewing Co.
Oh look! You can see my paintings from the outdoor beer garden!

Zip Kombucha Taproom Review

~ by Maria Benner

I try to find places to hang out before they get discovered by everyone else, and become too crowded for my comfort.  Mostly because I dislike waiting in line (like a typical Alaskan), and prefer less noisy environments where I can easily communicate with my friends.  The Zip Kombucha tap room is one of those places that is still mostly under the radar.  I shouldn’t even tell you about it, but at the same time, I want it to prosper.

I prefer brewery taprooms over bars, because they offer a comfortable setting without the meat-market/sketchy vibe that most bars have.  This taproom is unique in that it offers draft beer in a brewery-taproom setting, but can stay open past 8pm.  It can also have live music and games.  The craft beer selection is really top-notch.  Last week it was the only place in Anchorage that had No Woman No Cryo IPA by Girdwood Brewing on tap.  The price is a very reasonable $5 per pint!  For those who don’t want to drink alcohol, or are gluten-free, kombucha is on tap in several delightful flavors like blueberry, ginger, or mint.  Wine is also on the menu.  Delicious and healthy food is available as well.  Recently, Glacier Bowl teamed up with Zip to offer poke bowls.  Several nights a week there is live entertainment including open-mic night, and music by local musicians.  The large space in the brewery even has enough room for dance lessons.  The taproom also exhibits art by local artists.  In April the featured artist is Scott.  His oil paintings and limited-edition prints are on display and available for sale through Zip until May 2nd.  This place has it all!

What is kombucha?  It’s a beverage produced by fermenting sweet tea with a culture of yeast and bacteria.  It tastes sweet and sour at the same time, but the flavors are not overwhelming.  The yeast eats most of the sugar, so this beverage won’t rot your teeth, and it’s loaded with probiotics.  Added flavors like ginger, berries and mint really shine in this clear and fizzy drink.

So next time you’re looking for a quiet, yet hip space to meet your friends where you can get food, craft beer, and non-alcoholic, gluten-free beverages, along with entertainment, and art, check out the Zip Kombucha taproom at 3404 Arctic Blvd.  The location in midtown is convenient, with plenty of parking.  Open every day 4-9pm.

Kombucha and draft beer menu.

Live music in the Zip Kombucha taproom.

Ahi poke bowl by Glacier Bowl.

Mint kombucha.

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #159. La Potato Restaurant in Spenard.

We’ve been taking a week-long break at our cabin in McCarthy, and this morning I rose before daylight at 7:30 AM here in the Wrangell Mountains.  We have been doing some fat biking around the roads and trails that connect key places in the Kennicott Valley.  On our ride from our cabin south of McCarthy to the town of Kennicott, the glaciers and mountains were spectacular, Mt. Blackburn looming in the evaporating clouds, and the Root and Gates glaciers glistening in the distance like diamond encrusted jewels.  Our route took us past the new and ever popular The Potato Restaurant in McCarthy.  It is slumbering like all the bears out here with a “Closed for the Season” sign and all the picnic tables put away for the winter.  Meanwhile in the big city of (Los) Anchorage, a new hipster hangout has popped up like a mushroom in the sun after a fall rain shower.  La Bodega teamed up with McCarthy’s Potato crew to make a pop-up restaurant called La Potato, located in Mr. Whitekey’s old haunt, the Fly By Night Club.  If you are newer to town you might know this place as the Taproot, or the most recent, and briefest occupant, Route 33. 

Pamela Hatzis, the proprietor of La Bodega, the cool liquor store where you can get boutique wines and by-the-bottle beers, wanted to have a place of her own where she could host tasting events.  She has been doing a righteous job running the ever popular liquor store with two new locations springing up in the last four years, one in Girdwood and a second Anchorage location at the Northern Lights Center Mall.  Rebecca Bard, one of the owners of the McCarthy and Valdez Potato restaurants has been wintering in Anchorage and working for Pamela at La Bodega for a while.  She has endeavored to school the Bodega team on how to run a successful restaurant.  The end result is a spectacular success with the pop up restaurant everyone is raging about, La Potato.  Raging is the word.  Maria and I attempted to go there on Saturday late afternoon, on the second day in business, and the parking lot was overflowing like Moose’s Tooth during a First Tap event.  We came back when we thought it would be less busy Thursday last week.  We easily found parking and came in to find a lovely draft menu, as well as great canned and bottled beer offerings.  I am sure there was some good wine and saké offerings as well, I just neglected to search them out.  I ordered some rosemary garlic fries and the duck egg kimchi plate, and I recommend both.  Watch out though, the garlic fries are a litmus test for how much your date really likes you…  Better if you both consume that much garlic in one sitting.  I ordered My 85th Rodeo IPA from Woodland Empire Ale Craft in Idaho (pictured in this painting in front of the iconic Spenard sign that hangs next to the stage) and a Solid Gold from Founder’s Brewing Co.  I exited right before a secret show began featuring The Lucky Chops, because I didn’t bring hearing protection, and I’m just too old to handle loud music at this point.  The place went from being modestly busy to teeming with people for the music.  It’s like Anchorage has been starved for a hangout that isn’t a bar and people are finally finding their fix.  We have Koot’s and Van’s Dive Bar, and even the newly revamped Carousel Lounge, but La Potato is different because it is a restaurant first. 

As I pack up my bags tonight and make the grueling drive back to the big city tomorrow, I am not sorry to leave, because the fun is in Spenard where the spirit of McCarthy is alive and well.  I will pass the slumbering Roadside Potato as I drive out and will look forward to its glory in the summer months, but this winter is all about Ancho“RAGE,”!

Cheers to Pamela and Rebecca’s brainchild that is rocking the socks off the block in Spenard!

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

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #159.  My 85th Rodeo by Woodland Empire Ale Craft, pictured at La Potato in Spenard, Anchorage, AK. 6"x12", oil on panel. By Scott Clendaniel.

Thirsty Thursday Beer Painting #159. My 85th Rodeo by Woodland Empire Ale Craft, pictured at La Potato in Spenard, Anchorage, AK. 6″x12″, oil on panel. By Scott Clendaniel.