Drinking on the Last Frontier: Warm up to a frozen festival — Soldotna plans cool new event

WebBy Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter

February is usually a pretty slow time in the world of craft beer in Alaska. January is always a whirlwind, with Alaska Beer Week and the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival in Anchorage, while March is typically when breweries across the state begin ramping up their production schedules to meet the greatly increased demand for their beers during the summer tourist season.

February, though, is usually a slow month.

All that is set to change this year, however. A brand-new festival will be taking place right here on the Kenai, and beer is at the heart of it. The Frozen River Fest will be taking place from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Soldotna Creek Park.

Yes, you read that correctly — there will be an outdoor festival in February (with warming fires, but dress appropriately for the weather).

There will be live music and food vendors, plus activities for the entire family. But this column is about beer, so let’s focus on that part of the festival. The following producers will be at the festival:

  • Arkose Brewery, Palmer
  • Baranof Island Brewing Co., Sitka
  • Bear Creek Winery, Homer
  • Broken Tooth Brewing, Anchorage
  • Celestial Meads, Anchorage
  • Denali Brewing Co., Talkeetna
  • Homer Brewing Co., Homer
  • Kenai River Brewing Co., Soldotna
  • King Street Brewing, Anchorage
  • Midnight Sun Brewing Co., Anchorage
  • Specialty Imports of Anchorage
  • St. Elias Brewing Co., Soldotna

In addition, our two local participating breweries, St. Elias and Kenai River, have created a special beer in honor of Frozen River Fest. They have each brewed a doppelbock. This style of beer was created centuries ago by Bavarian monks from the abbey of St. Francis of Paula, located in Munich, who wanted to be able to fast through the 40 days of Lent.

To sustain themselves for 40 days with no solid food, they brewed a rich, heavy beer, with enough residual sugar to keep body and soul together. Because of this, doppelbocks earned the nickname “liquid bread.” Since this beer allowed them to fulfill their vows, the monks named their brew Salvator (“savior” in English). Ever since, in Germany all doppelbocks have been given names ending in “-ator” in honor of this first brew.

Modern versions contain much less sugar and more alcohol than the beer that sustained the monks of old. Doppelbocks are very strong and rich, with the clean taste characteristic of lager beers. They have strong malty sweetness, with little or no hop bitterness. Some of the darker versions will also have some roasty flavors, and most fall in the range of 7 percent to 10 percent ABV.

Tickets for the Frozen River Festival will only be sold at the gate. Admission is $10 per person, with kids 12 and younger admitted for free with a paying adult. If you wish to consume alcohol, there will be an additional charge of $5 per person, which will get you a commemorative plastic mug and a wristband. Tokens for drinks are $2, and each token entitles you to a 4-ounce pour.

Aside from the festival itself Saturday, there will be a Meet The Brewers Tasting at Mykel’s Restaurant at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Admission is $40, and there will be a diverse appetizer buffet and samples from nine of the wineries and breweries that will be at the festival. This is your chance to talk to the brewers and vintners one on one in a relaxed and convivial environment. Advance tickets are available at Kenai River Brewing.

Finally, I must mention the recent success of our very own St. Elias Brewing Co. at the 2015 Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival. Zach Henry entered his Moose Juice barley wine in the Barley Wine Competition at that festival, and it took first prize.

Henry tells me that this year’s version was a blend of his 2011 barley wine, which had been aged in four bourbon barrels, and his 2014 barley wine, which had only been aged in stainless steel tanks.

The panel of judges tasted barley wines from 31 breweries from across Alaska and Outside before awarding the Gold Medal to St. Elias’ entry.

Midnight Sun Brewing’s Termination Dust Belgian-style barley wine finished second, while Lagunitas Brewing of Petaluma, California, took third with its Old Gnarleywine barley wine. This is a real feather in Henry’s cap and a great day for brewing in Alaska. It’s been many years since breweries from our state took both top slots. So come to the festival or stop by St. Elias and try this award-winning brew.

Until next month, cheers!

Bill Howell is a homebrewer, teaches a beer appreciation class at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus and was named the 2010 Beerdrinker of the Year by Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver. He and his wife, Elaine, have authored “Beer on the Last Frontier: The Craft Breweries of Alaska,” available via Amazon.

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