Crafty Ladies: Alaskan Brewing

“It’s summer time in Alaska and the campfire is roaring.”

This slogan embodies the Crafty Ladies event with Alaskan Brewing on Tuesday, July 10th, where bottles of Smoked Porter from 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2011 surprised and delighted our palettes. We were fortunate to explore the intricacies of this toasty brew through our vertical tasting that began with the youngest and smokiest 2011 to the twelve-year-old, slightly smoky and definitely sweet 2000. Ashley and Darin, representatives from Alaskan Brewing, certainly put their best foot forward by thoughtfully pairing the delicious food from Highland Tap and Burger with these four vintages of their most robust porter.

Background

Alaskan Brewing takes their Smoked Porter seriously. It is one of the “most award-winning beers in the history of the Great American Beer Festival and a perennial winner at the World Beer Cup” (www.alaskanbeer.com).

Alaskan also has a Smoked Porter library at their brewery in Juneau with shelves upon shelves of the porter, dating all the way back to its inception in 1998.  The inspiration for this beer came from a pre-prohibition porter recipe re-discovered in the 1990s. Though the recipe didn’t call for it, the creators at Alaskan realized that the original pre-prohibition porter probably exhibited a smokey flavor since brewers crafted beer over an open fire in the early 20th century, which would leave the beer pioneers’ clothes and brews with the aromatics of a hardy summer campfire. To replicate this flavor, the gurus at Alaskan Brewing crafted the modern day masterpiece using local alder wood to smoke the malts in a fish smoker borrowed from their friends at the near-by smoked salmon shop.

The Tasting

To get our taste buds warmed up, we sipped on the Alaskan Summer Ale, currently on tap at Highland Tap and Burger, as a precursor to the Smoked Porter main event.  The Summer Ale is an easy drinking beer that is perfect for staying cool during the hot summer days.

After starting the evening off right, we moved forward to the 2011 Smoked Porter, which quite literally smells like campfire . . . in the best possible way.  Many of us in Colorado are not enjoying our usual campfires this summer due to fire danger, but one sniff of this beer and you’ll be right back near those flames. Alaskan Brewing only releases the Smoked Porter every November, making the 2011 the youngest, freshest, and smokiest of the beers we tasted.  This beer was paired with salsa verde and homemade chips, which complimented the beer nicely as the smokiness of the porter was mellowed out by the heat of the salsa.

Next up, the 2008 Smoked Porter with the fontina, parmesan, cheddar mac and cheese. This was a nice pairing because the beer cut through the creaminess of the cheese while the cheese helped to bring out the flavor of the beer. The toasted and smoked malt flavor of the beer accentuated the nuttiness of the parmesan cheese.  At the end of the night, I decided that this was my favorite vintage. I liked that the intense smoke flavor stepped back a bit and that the chocolate notes came forward.

The 2004 Smoked Porter was shocking to my palette. It was great, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t anything like I was expecting. The folks from Alaskan Brewing who facilitated the evening described this beer as having “meaty smoke.” I also thought it had sour-like characteristics in the nose and on the initial attack, like it had been barrel aged.  Accompanying this beer was a bratwurst marinated in Smoked Porter with potato wedges and a Smoked Porter infused grain mustard . . . delicious.

Rounding out the evening was nothing other than a summertime treat of fresh berries and ice cream.  The 2000 Smoked Porter, described as the sweetest of the four vintages with caramel and cherry notes, paired nicely with the ice cream by providing some creaminess to the sweet and tart beer. We also made small floats with the beer and ice cream, something that’s always fun for everyone, and a perfect ending.

Thank you to Katie and Juan at Highland Tap and Burger for hosting yet another great event.

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