Barley Wine Warms Cold Alaskan Beer Fest
by Tom Dalldorf
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Snow finally fell on Anchortown, relieving yet another unseasonably dry January and turning the opening of the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival into a winter wonderland. The snowfall didn't prevent hardy locals from attending the premier Alaskan beer event and one of the largest barley wine festivals and competitions in the world. With barely five hours of daylight and temps in the twenties, these folks were looking forward to having a good time while enjoying some of the best beers in the world!
[an error occurred while processing this directive]Thousands of beer lovers jammed the Egan Center in downtown Anchorage to sample beers from local producers, from breweries in the lower forty-eight and from major brewing capitals around the globe. Many were there to hear the results of the prestigious barley wine competition judging, held just before the opening on Friday.
The competition, hosted by the Great Northern Brewers Club, was ably run by Jason Ditsworth and judged by local BJCP-certified judges and industry veterans. The final round was judged by Billy Opinsky of Humpy's Alehouse and Alan Moen of Northwest Brewing News -- two of the most experienced BJCP judges in the club -- and yours truly. Over two dozen entries were judged by double-elimination panels for both the first round and the second round. Six beers were sent forward for the final-round judging.
The winner in this high-quality field was the Old Gnarley Head Barley Wine from Wild Duck Brewery in Eugene, Ore. This beer also took a gold medal at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival in Denver! It was a fitting tribute to the late Glen Falconer, a gentle giant and gifted brewer, and Scott "Spanky" Frietas and his crew at the Duck.
Second place went to Old Guardian Barley Wine, another award-winning veteran, from Stone Brewing Company in San Marcos, Calif. Owner Greg Koch was in attendance to accept the award.
Third place and Best Alaskan Barley Wine winner was Arctic Devil Barley Wine from Midnight Sun Brewing Company, Anchorage, Alaska. This beer was also a previous gold-medal winner. Definitely a high-quality triumvirate of high-gravity brewing excellence.
This year's "special guest" was legendary brewer John Maier from Rogue Ales in Newport, Ore. John, a former homebrewer of the year, is also the former head brewer at Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau. John was also the guest speaker at the Great Northern Brewers Club meeting, and he shared some of his experiences and foibles with the adoring crowd. His talk was followed by the sharing of club members' best efforts, which included some outstanding beers.
One of the pre-event functions was a spectacular Belgian Beer Dinner held at Humpy's subZero° martini bar. This multicourse dinner tasting left attendees amazed at the fabulous locally influenced Belgian-inspired dishes served with some of the world's great beers. The Scaldis No‘l listed on the menu was served alongside a seven-year-old version of the same beer (thank Billy O for his usual "surprise" additions) that was stunning. It was also a mute testament to the fact that we drink some beers way too early.
The event conclusion was marred by some amateur drinker's youthful indiscretions, which were handled by the local PD in massive force, resulting in some 14 police cruisers with lights ablaze surrounding the Egan Center as the crowd dispersed. Hardly worthy of the hardy Alaskan spirit.
Next year's festival will be held January 16-17, 2004, in Anchorage.
Tom Dalldorf is publisher and editor of the Celebrator Beer News.
Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!
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