By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter
The 2016 Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival took place Jan. 22 and 23. For the second year in a row, a brewery from here on the Kenai Peninsula took first place in the Barley Wine Competition at the festival.
The panel of judges tasted barley wines from more than 30 breweries from across Alaska and Outside before awarding the gold medal to Kassik’s Brewery’s Buffalo Head Barley Wine. Two barley wines from Outside tied for second place, Old Gnarleywine Barley Wine from Lagunitas Brewing of Petaluma, California, and Old Birdbrain 2012 from Black Raven Brewing of Redmond, Washington. This is a real statement on the excellence of craft brewing here on the peninsula, coming as it does on the heels of St. Elias Brewing’s taking the gold last year with its Moose Juice Barley Wine. Congratulations to Kassik’s Brewery on taking home the prize.
But that was January. Now it’s February, which means it’s time to start getting ready for this year’s Frozen River Fest! The festival will take place from 3 to 6 p.m. Feb. 20 at Soldotna Creek Park. Yes, we are crazy enough to do it again and hold a festival outdoors in February. 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 in attendance: 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; Kassik’s Brewery, Nikiski; Kenai River Brewing Co., Soldotna; King Street Brewing, Anchorage; Midnight Sun Brewing Co., Anchorage; Specialty Imports, Anchorage; and St. Elias Brewing Co., Soldotna
In addition, our two Soldotna breweries, St. Elias Brewing Company and Kenai River Brewing, have created another special beer in honor of the Frozen River Fest. They have each brewed a Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. This style of beer was created as Scotland’s answer to the barley wines of England and has its roots in the strong ales of the 1700s and 1800s. The term “wee heavy” means “small strong” and traces to the beer that made the term famous, Fowler’s Wee Heavy, a 12 Guinea Ale. They have strong malty sweetness, with little or no hop bitterness, and occasional roasted or smoked notes from caramelization during the boiling process. Strength typically falls between 6.5 percent and 10 percent alcohol by volume.
Tickets for the Frozen River Fest will only be sold at the gate. Admission for nondrinkers is free, though everyone must be 21 or older or be accompanied by a parent or guardian, so don’t forget to bring your ID. If you wish to consume alcohol, the charge will be $25 per person, which will get you a 16-ounce commemorative stainless steel mug, wristband and four drink tokens. Additional tokens are $2, and each token entitles you to a 4-ounce pour of the beer of your choice. All proceeds from the Frozen River Fest go to help support the Kenai Watershed Forum and Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race.
There will be four food vendors on site, Davis BBQ, Wok ’n’ Roll, Feast on the Fly and Hot Dogs a la Carte. There will also be free water, coffee and hot chocolate available. Frozen River Festival is a family friendly event with activities for kids, including archery and dog-mushing demonstrations.
No festival would be complete without live music. Three bands will be performing at the Frozen River Festival. Connor Larsen will kick things off from 3 to 3:30 p.m., followed by Troubadour North from 3:45 to 4:45 p.m., and the Ledgers will come on at 5 p.m. and play until the festival closes at 6 p.m.
Besides the Festival itself on Saturday, there will be a Meet the Brewers dinner at The Flats Bistro at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Seats are $50 and there will be a set menu of several courses, each paired with a beer specially selected to complement the dish from one of the breweries and wineries 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. Call The Flats at 335-1010 to reserve a seat, if any are still available.
Finally, on a personal note, I wanted to say that I have been writing this column for over six years, and I am extremely gratified at how the craft beer culture on the peninsula has grown and matured in that time. The success of our breweries and our beer festivals are a testament to that. I see nothing but more good times in the years to come.
Until next time, 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.