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Alaskan Winter Ale is Released, It’s Spruce Time

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Where the eagles perch, we harvest and drink.

I recently wrote an article about all (well, maybe not all, but most) of the winter ales that are made by Washington brewers. You can find it here.  As much as I was tempted to discuss some of my favorites outside of WA, I censored myself in order to not divert any of the much needed attention on our home state’s winter bounty.  Now I’ve lost all inhibitions, mostly due to Alaskan Brewing’s recent announcement that it’s Winter Ale season.

This is not just any ordinary winter warmer.  No no, this is something much more special.  Who better to tell the tale than Alaskan themselves.

From their website:

 

 

winter_style

English Olde Ale. Traditionally malty with the warming sensation of alcohol, Olde Ales are brewed in the fall as winter warmers.

 

winter_flavor

Brewed in the style of an English Olde Ale, this ale balances the sweet heady aroma of spruce tips with the clean crisp finish of noble hops. Its malty richness is complemented by the warming sensation of alcohol.

 

winter_history

From the seafaring adventurers of the 1700s to the homebrewers of today, adding spruce tips to beer has a rich history in Southeast Alaska.

 

winter_ingrediients

Alaskan Winter is made from glacier-fed water, Sitka spruce tips and a generous blend of the finest quality European and Pacific Northwest hop varieties and specialty malts. Our water originates in the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Ice Field and from the more than 90 inches of rainfall we receive each year.

 

These be the tips

 

I love old ales, and I love pine flavors, so naturally I adore this release and always look forward to it.  I had actually wanted to homebrew a spruce ale recently but didn’t know where to find the tips.  Some homebrew shops carry spruce flavoring but I have heard that it can be very overpowering if not used extremely sparingly.  I guess I could just go out into the wilderness and harvest my own.  According to Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska (who also provided the picture to the right):

 

The key to cooking with the tips of evergreen trees is to harvest them when they first begin to emerge from their brown papery casings. At this stage, spruce tips are very tender and have a fresh flavor that tastes lightly of resin with hints of citrus.

As spruce tips mature, the resinous aspect of their flavor intensifies. When the spruce tips begin to harden, form actual needles, and lose their bright spring green color, I no longer use them for cooking.

Spruce tips are rich in Vitamin C. Spruce tip tea (just dry the spruce tips) has long been used by indigenous peoples to soothe coughs and sore throats, and to alleviate lung congestion.

To harvest spruce tips, pop the tips off the end of the bough as if you’re picking berries. When you’re done picking, remove and discard the papery casings, and discard any hard stem that may have broken off with the tip. The spruce tips are now ready to use.

 

Wow, this sounds very do-able, and healthy!.  It seems that late spring to early summer is the best time to harvest, so I guess I’ll just have one more reason to look forward to the warmer weather in 2011.

 

Arcadia Brewing Co: A Perspective on Michigan Beer

The spread, Michigan style

The beers of Arcadia Ales out of Battle Creek, MI are not available in the Seattle market, or anywhere west of the Rockies for that manner, but that doesn’t mean they are unattainable.  The internet is an amazing tool my friends.

Though they were available at select locations in PA back when I resided there, my experience with the ales of Arcadia has been limited.  After an intimate night with the four beauties in the picture above, I am very hopeful that Arcadia quickly expands its distribution.  There were two of us tasting this night, so my notes on each are a bit of a collaboration of taste buds.  All the better for you to gain knowledge of what these brews have to offer.  If you like the way that one, two, three, or all of them sound, seek them out, and remember, if you are reading and outside of the Arcadia distribution network, you can always say that you are being shipped “yeast cultures suspended in solution”.  Works every time. *wink*

The "double" may be reserved for abv alone.

Hopmouth Double IPA

Rate Beer – 96

ABV – 8.1%

Presentation – 12oz brown glass bottle, capped

Vintage -2009

Commercial Description:

The first in our Brew Crew Big Beer Series, Arcadia Hopmouth Double IPA should be finding its way to a store near you. Huge Maris Otter malt and a generous amount of fresh hops combine to make this extremely balanced ale remarkable.

Notes:

The beer pours a light amber color with an extremely contrasting, off-white head that barely rises on the pour and settles to an almost iced tea like whisp with large bubbles along the circumference of the surface.  I seem to be able to smell the flatness of carbonation, or it is simply sensed in some way or another.  The nose is very balanced.  It doesn’t seem like a double IPA at this point.  The hop presence is very soft.

This beer appears to have been released back in 2009, early in the year. Knowing that, the beer has been aging for close to a year. This means that the abundance of hop aroma has dissipated and it has lost its bitterness. Over time, the maltiness has developed into something attractive, but it just does not match the intended flavor of the beer. Unfortunately, this one was probably really good – and we let it die.

The flavor is very earthy, like a forest after a rainstorm.  Woody and piney.  Though the malts are very present, the sweetness seems minimal.  I sense biscuit malts were used.  The 8.1% does come out in the flavor as it warms, and with everything else going on, or the lack there of, this isn’t attractive.  There is bitterness at play, but is isn’t pleasant.  We will have to give this one another chance when we can get our hands on a fresh bottle.

3...2...1...hop lift off.

Hop Rocket 11th Anniversary

Rate Beer – 98

ABV – 9.0%

Presentation – 12oz brown glass bottle, capped

Vintage – 2010

Commercial Description:

Anniversaries are meant to be celebrated, and as we looked back on 11 years of “balance in beer,” we decided to take a walk on the wild side with this year’s Anniversary Ale. Our brewers were finally turned loose to craft a beer that’s focused on the hops, and the result is Hop Rocket… Arcadia’s 11th Anniversary Ale.

Hop Rocket is a veritable constellation of hops… including some varieties that we haven’t used in other beers, and it’s delivered by the same booster of worldclass malt that our loyal fans have come to know and love with all Arcadia Ales. We appreciate the opportunity to share with you this “launch” of our 12th years, and we hope you’ll enjoy the ride with Arcadia Hop Rocket!

Notes:

After checking with the Arcadia website, we discovered that this beer is now brewed and released quarterly. We received the beer in April and believe that it was from the January 2010 release – so it’s still fresh.

This one pours a light amber color with great clarity.  There is not much head to speak of but a small white ring does persist where the glass, beer and air meet.  Our suspicions of this being a fresh batch are confirmed as soon as our noses detect the odor.  This stuff is teeming with hops and its pungency is powerfully apparent.   It’s like taking a direct blow to the nostril with a club made of hops.  It stings and tingles deep within the olfactory.  Grapefruit, pine and booze are all in attendance.

The flavor is crazy bitter and full of those spunky, biting hops.  We are reminded of Oscar Blues’ Gubna, or vice versa I guess, since Hop Rocket is the predecessor. Unlike Gubna, this beer is drinkable, but still, the hops leave a bad taste in our mouths, literally.  We love our hops, but which are used here?  Is it Summit like Gubna?  Odd.  The pungent citric blast cools once it hits the back of your throat and then dissipates as it is swallowed.  The malts make their presence know here in the aftertaste, which is the redeeming quality.  Booze is strong as well.  This is an assault!

This stout perplexed Timperial Stout so intensely that he forgot to photograph it.

Imperial Stout

Rate Beer – 96

ABV – 8.4%

Presentation – 12oz brown glass bottle, capped

Vintage – 2007

Commercial Description:

Black as coal in color, this bottle conditioned Stout has a velvety rich and sweet malt aroma. After pouring, a dense brown head gives way to a big, full-bodied and creamy texture that has flavors of roasted coffee and black currants, blending perfectly with the malt. A generous amount of hops add balance and complexity to this extraordinary stout that will continue to improve with age. A worthy beer to cellar and enjoy throughout the year.

Notes:

Oil black in color with just a hair of light passing through at the edges creating a gorgeous rust hue reminiscent of the thin head, which, fairly quickly, is lost entirely.

The scent…well, I am at a barbecue.  Tonight we are maple wood smoking some nice venison.  Adding to that, we have whipped up a molasses coffee marinade to slather across this hunk of game.  I awake.  I’m simply drinking beer.  That is what this grog resembles, the corpus of a large BBQ party.  The beer is intense, packing a massive punch of smokey grain and fats.

The flavors are literally of a BBQ, it’s astounding.  Mesquite, burning wood, bacon, maple syrup, even baked beans come to mind.  This beer sends your places.  So unique, and incredibly lovable!  The tail end brings a coffee like bitterness and slight dry finish.  Alcohol only appears deep into the swallow.  The mouthfeel is very slick, slightly vinous, not super thick, but juicy.  If you told me there were carcinogens in this beer I’d believe you.

Well-Endowed Ale

Pappy’s Big Dick Bourbon Barrel Olde Ale

Rate Beer – 82

ABV – 8.0%

Presentation – 12oz brown glass bottle, capped

Vintage – 2009

Commercial Description:

Somewhat of a cousin to Barleywine, Big Dick’s is a classic English-style Olde Ale. Sweet and full-bodied malt flavors are complemented by a fragrant but mild hop bitterness. Sweet, bready malt aromas combine with rich flavors of dark fruit, brown sugar, caramel, and sweet nuts. A beer for keeping, Big Dick’s Olde Ale will age gracefully, while fruity flavors continue to develop and bitterness will subside.

This is not only a BIG beer, it is a Well-Endowed Ale! We took a traditional English-style Ale and made it our own. Delightful on its own or as a digestif with a full-bodied cigar, Big Dick’s is also big enough to stand up to many boldly-flavored foods.

Notes:

An auburn hue fills our glass with an almost yellow, off-white head.  A thin whisp and ring prevails upon settling.  The fluid is quite foggy, as an old ale should be.  Packed full of flavor?  Let’s see.

Nose to glass speaks of caramelized sugars, banana, and dare I say, wet paint (how you mock me).  A nice, smooth mouthfeel is enjoyable.  This one is complex and unique; words to live by.  A bit boozy as it warms, but never too much.

The flavors are full of strawberry, more paint, some bitterness, and a lot of sweetness.  A cloying, long-lasting aftertaste of sweet maltiness is enough to meditate on.  I’d pack my cellar with this one if I had better access to it.

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