Sunday, September 23, 2007

Alaskan Smoked Porter (2006 Vintage)

The fourth-to-last beer in the "Clean Out the Fridge Countdown" is the 2006 vintage of Alaskan Smoked Porter. It is brewed by the Alaskan Brewing Co., which was founded in 1986 in Juneau, Alaska by Geoff and Marcy Larson. They started out brewing their flagship Alaskan Amber beer from a recipe that was popular during Juneau's gold rush days a century earlier. Then, inspired by rumors of gold rush brewers using roasted malts in their brews, they teamed with local Taku Smokeries to roast some malts on some indigenous alder wood in 1988, releasing it Christmas Eve of that year.

Since then, it's been a runaway success, with a new vintage brewed in limited quantity each fall. This beer pretty much introduced smoked beer, known in Germany as rauchbier, to America. It was available only in Alaska until 1997, when it was released to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Northern California (it was brought into Northern Nevada in 2001, hence my pickup in Reno). It even was sold in the UK. The interesting thing about this beer is that the smoke acts as a bottle conditioning agent, which alters the flavor over time like a fine wine. This is similar to Deschutes and Hair of the Dog's bottle conditioning, but Alaskan uses a different catalyst. Because of this, it gains a uniqueness to the flavor that has made it the most award-winning beer at the Great American Beer Festival, which is fitting, considering that the brewery is the most award-winning craft brewery at the GABF. (Alaskan History, Alaskan Smoked Porter Stats and Story, two press releases, and a phone call to the brewery)

There are a lot of interesting facts surrounding this beer that I found out through my correspondence with the brewery. The smoker that they've used for every batch of Smoked Porter since 1988 is now owned by Alaskan so that the brewery can maintain consistent levels of quality. Like Hair of the Dog, Alaskan has a library of all their vintages, used mostly for vertical tastings of two or more vintages. Geoff Larson, co-founder of the brewery, co-wrote a book on smoked beers, appropriately called Smoked Beers: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes (you can find it at Amazon). Speaking of the Larsons, I hear tell that for vintages of a year or two old, they love serving them over vanilla ice cream with raspberries for dessert. (Note to self: try that out.)

Here are the stats:

Alaskan Smoked Porter
BREWERY: Alaskan Brewing Company, Juneau, Alaska, USA
CALORIES/SERVING: 225 per 12 oz. serving (or ~413 per 22 oz. bottle)
ABV: 6.5%
ORIGINAL GRAVITY: 15.8° Plato (1065)
MALTS: "5 types", some of them smoked in small batches (the types are proprietary)
HOPS: "2 varieties" (the varieties are proprietary)
FOODS TO PAIR WITH: "Smoked seafood, cheese and other robust foods"
AWARDS: A ton...

All info but the calories per serving, the serving temperature, and some of the awards came from the Alaskan Smoked Porter website and the Alaskan Smoked Porter story, and the serving temperature came from Beers of the World. Awards came from press releases on their website, found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. (That's a lot of press releases I waded through.) I confirmed during a phone call to Alaskan on September 24th, 2007 that the malts and hops are protected secrets, and the calories per serving came from an e-mail from them the next day.

Like Tuborg Gold, this beer has one powerful aroma; I could smell it back from where I was taking the picture. The nose was a mixture of smoke and chocolate that was pleasing to my nasal passages. When I poured the beer, it poured a dark brown, almost black color with a foamy light chocolate-colored head. The beer's taste was very distinctive, a chocolate-coffee flavor infused with the same smoky flavor that I smelled. The finish left a pleasant taste in my mouth (the aftertaste didn't grow stale), and my throat was warming me up from the inside.

This is a well-crafted beer. At times, I thought the smokiness overpowered the chocolate/coffee flavor a little too much, but that doesn't make it bad. Because of its bottle-conditioning nature, different flavors will emerge over time, so buy a couple of bottles and wait a year between each. It's easy to see why this beer from The Last Frontier has won so many awards. They brew a new vintage every November, so the 2007 should be available in a little over a month.


UPDATES: I added some information I picked up from a phone call to the brewery at 4:10 PM PDT on September 24th, 2007. I received additional nutritional and fun factual information from them in an e-mail received the next day. The people I spoke to are very nice for taking the time to talk to a little-known beer blogger out of Reno. Props to Alaskan!

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