James ‘Dr. Fermento’ Roberts presents the second place trophy in the beer category to Glacier Brewhouse during the Craft Beer and Barleywine Festival at the Dena’ina Center on Saturday.

A favorite of mine since 2017 is Alaskan Brewing Company’s Spruce IPA. I love spruce beers. Not everyone does, but spruce is a favorite ingredient in specialty beers for me. Like most everyone else, I enjoy a good IPA, so this style combination is a winner.

It’s post Alaska Craft Brew and Barleywine Festival and post Super Bowl wind-down time. I’m a little mopey. In sum, I’m just looking ahead to something different. In all, both gigs seemed anticlimactic to me.

Let’s start with the Super Bowl. I’m not a big sports fan, but always manage to get sucked in toward the end of the football season leading up to the big game. Football is a serious beer drinking sport, after all.

I heard a lot of grumbling about the last day of this year’s Alaska Craft Beer and Barleywine Festival ending on the day before the Super Bowl. I thought it was great. Maybe I’m just hardcore, but I enjoyed sleeping in on Super Bowl Sunday and crawling from bed to couch for another day of partying.

I admit that I did enjoy watching the game and tossing back a pretty good volume of beer, but not the varieties that seem to festoon the hyper-inflated ad campaigns that are part of the entirety of America’s favorite TV sport. I drink craft beer, not crap beer, but I did drift to the lighter side with my selections including some 49th State 907 Lager, and Hell Trinken, Anchorage Brewing Company’s epic Helles lager, one of the best examples of the style I’ve had, ever. Because that beer doesn’t have staying power, I drank through all of what I’d bought quicker than I wanted to.

What happened to the iconic Budweiser and Bud Light commercials we became so accustomed to in the Super Bowl’s middle years? The closest thing I saw was some confusing mashup that seemed to be a combined Tide detergent and Bud Light commercial of some sort that made no sense at all to me, and I don’t even know if I understood the whole message.

This year’s beer entrant seems to be Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold. This beer’s touted as “beer in its organic form.” According to the website, this beer’s made with organic 2-row barley malt, organic specialty malt and organic rice. There’s not mention of hops, but this doesn’t surprise me. In a beer this light, hops are just used for balancing the malt. Apparently, this stuff is made in USDA certified breweries, whatever that means. It weighs in with 85 calories, 2.5 grams of carbs and 0 grams of fat. Although the website doesn’t list it, it packs 3.8 percent alcohol by volume. Sounds good for the dieter or carb-conscious individual, but I don’t think it’s for me. I haven’t tried it yet and I’m not thinking I intend to.

This year’s winter beer festival was a predicted let down. This is no indictment on the organizers or brewery participants. In fairness after the former event organizer ditched the gig eight weeks before the event date causing some of the participating breweries to make other plans. The fest was artfully resurrected, re-branded, re-located and the show went on. Kudos to the Humpy’s team and Peak 2 Peak productions for pulling off the recreation miracle in such a short time and for those breweries that scrambled to participate.

Still, as expected, the whole atmosphere was a little muted this year, but ditching the former organizer and breathing new life and a new future into our beloved winter beer festival is nothing if not promising.

It was good to see a couple of new breweries on board this year, including Black Spruce from Fairbanks and Cooper Landing Brewing Company. In retrospect, the next day while watching the game, I thought back to Black Spruce Brewing Company’s Miller Hill Life Brut Kolsch and wished I’d had more of this new entrant that’s decidedly on the lighter side in both flavor and body and perfectly suited for session drinking.

I participated in judging the beers entered in the festival’s integral winter beer and barleywine competition. I think I enjoyed this part of the festival most because it’s the most serious, focused beer drinking I do every year. There are three judging sessions: first round, second round, and best of show for both styles of beer. Almost 40 judges with certified palates evaluated the beers.

I’ve judged all of the sessions in various combinations before, but this year I was selected to judge the second round winter beers and second round barleywines on Friday night, then best of show winter beers on Saturday mid-day just before the Connoisseur’s session.

I’ve judged this competition every year through the event’s history. The beers have gotten better and better. I have to say that this year, evaluating the winter beers was the most challenging ever for me. All of the beers were rock-solid with a strong emphasis on Russian Imperial Stouts, each with alluring, subtle nuances that took a lot of discernment to determine which example bubbled to the top.

I spent a total of six hours in chambers with the other judges evaluating the beers. In years past, there was only one award for the winter beers; a best of show distinction. This year, a first, second and third place award was granted and the beers were so good, the judging team I was on added an honorable mention.

Kudos to Resolution Brewing Company’s second place win it the festival’s Winter Beer Competition with their Resolute Belgian Quadruple against the noteworthy and internationally proclaimed Firestone Walker Parabola Russian Imperial Stout and Maui Brewing Company’s Night Diver, another imperial stout.This is Resolution’s first showing and first win in this competition.

Alaska beers swept the barleywine competition again this year. Anchorage Brewing Company’s legendary Deal with the Devil Barleywine took third place. This is a multiple gold medal winning beer in years past, but was bumped this year by Glacier Brewhouse’s 2006 Old Woody Barleywine. Top honors go to King Street Brewing Company for Seismic Barley Wine, an 11.6 percent alcohol by volume Buffalo Trace barrel aged behemoth that took everyone by surprise this year.

So overall, except for a lame beer showing in this year’s Super Bowl beer commercial lineup, all is good in the beer world going forward in Alaska. I know of at least four new breweries that are slated to open this year, and I’m always surprised that more seem to pop up that don’t hit my radar.

Our brewers will slowly transition through the quieter winter months in preparation for a busy beer summer ahead, so go forward with a thirsty, curious palate and continue to support locally produced craft beer in Alaska wherever you find it.

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