It might seem too early to write about the changing season and incoming fall beers, but I don’t care. I never thought I’d say it, but I’m ready for a change in the weather. I remember being comfortable in the dog days of summer in Northern California where I grew up and padded along in the sand in bare feet when it was 105 degrees in the San Joaquin Delta where my family had a place on an inland island where spent our days water skiing and soaking up the sun. The heat just isn’t working up here for me.
A friend of mine who lives in Arizona came up for his annual “escape the heat” week and left consistent 100-plus degree days behind. This was in the middle of July and even he commented that it was oppressively hot. “Jeez, I don’t know what it is, but 80 degrees up here feels like over 100 in Arizona for some reason,” he said.
Seriously, though; this is getting old. Sure, the heat’s subsided some and the mornings are cooler, but we need a good, sustained drenching rain for a couple of days to reset Alaska to some kind of normalcy and get rid of the fires that are displacing people, destroying homes and cabins and altering people’s lives. Here in Anchorage we seem out of danger – we’ve had some close calls — but who’s not sick of the pall of smoke covering us day in and day out?
I know this is a beer column, but I reserve the right to bitch about the weather because it’s also changed my beer habits, ranging from purchase to consumption.
My day job is busy and I seldom use my lunch break to eat. Instead, I dash out and get as much of my running around done during the middle of the day because I hate shopping after work. Of primary consideration is keeping my refrigerator stocked with our ever-expanding line up of craft beers from near and far.
I’m also on a mission to see if I can sample three new beers every day. I’m defining “new beers” as not only really brand new beers to the market, but I’m also including beers I haven’t had in 10 years or more. It’s a target rich environment out there, but such an undertaking requires dedication and very frequent trips to more than one grog shop multiple times during the week.
One of beer’s worst enemies is heat. Heat quickly degrades a beer’s quality and can accelerate oxidizing in the beer which adversely affects a beers often delicate flavors and at the very least, takes away from what the brewer intended you to experience.
We’ve all heard the warnings on radio and TV about how quickly the interior of a vehicle can climb relative to the outside temperature. According to heatkills.org, vehicles are like greenhouses. Quoting San Francisco State University adjunct professor Jan Null, the website reads that at 70 degrees, after half an hour, a vehicles interior will raise to 104 degrees and after an hour, to 113 degrees. The site also points out that when the temperature is between 80 and 100 degrees, the inside of my truck could be as hot as 130 to 172 degrees.
This amount of heat is quickly fatal to pets and humans, but it doesn’t do my beer any good either and has the additional adverse affect of making it that much more difficult to consume when I get home. That’s a real challenge when I’m trying to pound three a day, so I’ve had to alter my shopping patterns to hitting the stores on my way home after work. Sure, that’s just another inconvenience for most, but it sucks for me.
Keeping my beer cold at my remote mining camp is also a challenge. I can’t believe how much money I’ve spent on ice this year. Normally my freezer at home cranks out enough ice in the internal dispenser to keep my pre-chilled beer at a drinkable temperature through a weekend, but not this year. I’m okay with slightly warmer beer, for the most part, but let’s face it: unless you shell out a lot of bucks for very high end coolers, the run of the mill ice chests or coolers suck and that translates to a less than optimal wilderness beer drinking experience, at least for me.
A sure sign of changing seasons up here is the slow disintegration of the vibrant pink fireweed flowers withering away from the bottom of the flower’s tall stalk to the top. People are already telling me “yup, it’s coming, the fireweed’s almost to the top.” That’s a little more welcome for me than in years past.
Another sign is the change in beer styles that’s starting to happen. Fall seasonal beers aren’t far off. Two of my recent picks have been Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen, an “authentic Bavarian festival lager,” or plainly an Oktoberfest beer and Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier, both from Germany. I got these over a week ago. Wait a minute; Oktoberfest? It’s still August.
I welcomed the beers, both of them being lagers and both best consumed beyond chilled, but rather at cold temperatures. I bought them after work, chilled them further in the freezer for a while when I got home and they were primo, optimally fresh, zesty and delightful. More is on the way, although our foreign breweries and distributors don’t market and bring in the beer based on Alaska’s wildly fluctuating temperatures.
Oh, and for the record, traditionally, Oktoberfest in Munich runs between the second week in September and the second week in October, so these beers aren’t really too early.
Locally, 49th State Brewing Company’s Augtoberfest beer released in early August. The Healy brewery shuts down for the season early (the Anchorage brewery and brewpub are open year-round) and they celebrate in style in August. Midnight Sun Brewing Company’s Oktoberfest Festbier releases September 10 in both cans and on draft. There’s more, and more to follow. Next up will be the flash-in-the-pan pumpkin beer season, and then it’s on to bigger, more sustaining winter beers and barley wines, styles our Alaska brewers really excel in, unfettered by the thirsty demands of curious tourists and the brewers can dabble in more obscure and headier beers that Alaskans welcome.
This summer will be one to remember fondly and perhaps not so fondly for some. I’ve pledged to look back at June, July and August when it’s February and my biggest issue will be keeping the beer I buy during my lunch hour from freezing in my truck before I get home.