By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter
I hope you all had a chance to attend Frozen River Fest on Feb. 7. In spite of everything Mother Nature could throw at us, we still had a great festival, with 871 folks in attendance. Given that everyone was so pleased with the results, I think it’s safe to say that you can mark Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, on your calendar as the date for the second Frozen River Fest.
There is big news from Anchorage, with two new breweries planning to open this month. Anchorage Brewing Co.’s new standalone brewery at 148 W. 91st Ave., under construction since June, will open at 2 p.m. March 14.
Owner Gabe Fletcher has spared no expense to create a truly exceptional craft brewery. From the radiant-heated floors to the walls paneled in reclaimed wood, state-of-the-art brewhouse from Newlands Systems and hewn tree-trunk bar tops in the tasting room, you can tell this brewery is a labor of love.
Patrons in the tasting room will have an open view back to the brewhouse through two rows of giant, wooden foudres, five on a side. The aging room has sufficient space to house some 800 barrels for secondary fermentation. Fletcher has already earned a world-class reputation for the beers he brewed by renting time on Sleeping Lady Brewing Co.’s equipment. Now his outstanding brewery will at last have a home of its very own.
The second new Anchorage brewery planning to open this month will be on a much smaller scale. Resolution Brewing Co. (originally to be named the Chugach Brewing Co.), is located in a strip mall at 3024 Mountain View Drive. Last week I stopped by to speak to owner/brewer Brandon Hall, check out the new space and taste a couple of his Belgian-inspired ales.
The focus of Resolution will be direct retail sales in its taproom. Hall plans to self-distribute kegs of his brews to about five restaurants around Anchorage, but will reserve most of his production to support sales at the brewery. Resolution’s brewing equipment is a three-barrel, direct-fired system from Stout Tanks and Kettles of Portland, Oregon, along with three, three-barrel conical fermenters and one three-barrel brite tank. Initially, Hall plans to only be open Thursdays through Sundays until he’s confident he can meet customer demand at the brewery.
“The last thing I want to have to do is close because I’m out of beer!” he said.
When I stopped by last week, Hall was working his way through various final inspections by local government agencies, as well as brewing batches of beer and working to put the finishing touches on his taproom. The front potion of the taproom is occupied by a serving counter, while the back area runs parallel to the brewery proper, separated by a leaning bar where patrons will be able to set their drinks while watching the brewer at work. Farther back in the taproom are booths and café tables where patrons can sit and chat. Eventually, Hall hopes to replace the back wall of the taproom with a glass, roll-up door, enabling drinkers to enjoy an excellent view of the Chugach Mountains on pleasant days.
There are eight regular taps and one nitro tap installed, and currently Hall has five separate beers either finished or in various stages of brewing. A tripel and a pale ale were still fermenting, but three beers were complete enough that I was able to taste them. The first was a saison, as yet unnamed, which had been hopped with Sorachi Ace. This hop variety is famous for the lemony notes in both its flavor and aroma, and it worked extremely well with the spicy flavors generated by the Belgian yeast, resulting in a delicious and extremely refreshing farmhouse ale.
The second beer was called Father Dyer Belgian Brown Ale, named for a Methodist preacher who was famous in the frontier days around Leadville, Colorado. The influence of Belgian yeast was evident in this beer, but there were also some nice roasted flavors from the malt used, as well as good bitterness from the American hop strains.
Finally, I tasted Rewind IPA, which is designed as a classic West Coast IPA, bursting with hop aroma and flavor. Hall told me that 90 percent of the bitterness in this brew came from hop additions in the final 15 minutes. Based on how difficult it was to make, this beer will probably not return often, so you will want to try it before it’s gone. Expect Resolution Brewing to be open for business by March 15.
It’s encouraging to see new breweries continuing to open in Anchorage and elsewhere in Alaska. Variety is the spice of both life and craft beer, so the more we have to choose from, the better.
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.