Tuesday, October 14, 2008

September 24

After Mom left, my knee began to really bother me. However, that didn't stop me from dragging Lilly up Slaughter Ridge a couple of times and on several long walks. However, my knee pain worsened and I decided to take a day off to visit Kassiks Brewery (80 miles away) and Kenai River Brewery (60 miles away). Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop is housed in a small warehouse, nestled in a clearing in the woods, adjacent to the Kassik’s home in Nikiski 20 miles outside of Soldotna. The head brewer's passion for brewing began when his wife Debra, bought him a home brew kit for Christmas. Frank was hooked and soon became a proficient home brewer. They decided to make a business out of it and in 2006, opened up their doors with just one beer, Beaver Tail Blonde. The wife, who is in charge of accounting, marketing, distribution and kegging, gave me a sample platter and chatted with me as I tried each beer. She said that they have put a lot of work into the brewery and have enjoyed a lot of success. They have people coming all the way from Anchorage (over 200 miles away) to fill up growlers or get kegs and they distribute all over the peninsula and the Greater Anchorage area. They are very clever in naming their beer. For example, Four Play Ale is described as a flavorful light summer ale with a lower ABV of 4.8% that you can enjoy with all your outdoor activities. They also have Dolly Varden Nut Brown Ale which is named after the brown trout that is commonly fished in this area. They also have the cleverly named Caribou Kilt scotch ale and Morning Wood IPA. My favorites were the Honey Hefeweizen as well as their Dunkleweizen. I took a Sobe bottle home of this style. I also liked the Rough Neck Oatmeal Stout.

I went to Kenai River Brewing Company, which is located in the heart of Soldotna. Their beer names are inspired from the world famous Kenai River and Russian river fishing holes. I was not at all impressed by this brewery. This is mainly because I am not a huge fan of the styles of beer that they focused on and also because they completely blasphemied the very name hefeweizen. They have a beer that they call Honeymoon Hefe. It is described as a true marriage between German and American styles. Light and refreshingly made with 45% wheat malt, then cleanly fermented to yield a crisp, almost pilsner-like beer that is refreshing, somewhat fruity, and ideal for a summer's afternoon. In order to understand what a debacle they have made of this beer you need to understand what the difference is between a German and an American Hefeweizen.

According to the Beer Judge Certification Progam style guide, German Hefeweizens should be "a pale, spicy, fruity, refreshing wheat-based ale using Weizen ale yeasts. These are refreshing, fast-maturing beers that are lightly hopped and show a unique banana-and-clove yeast character. The version “mit hefe” is served with yeast sediment stirred in. This means the beer is often cloudy instead of crystal clear. Bottles with yeast are traditionally swirled or gently rolled prior to serving. By German law, at least 50% of the grist must be malted wheat, although some versions use up to 70%; the remainder is Pilsner barley malt.

American Hefeweizens are described as refreshing wheat or rye beers that display more hop character and less yeast character than their German cousins. They also have little to no banana or clove flavor. Clean American ale yeast is used and the yeast sediment is filtered out. Like German styles, a large proportion of wheat malt (often 50% or more, but this isn’t a legal requirement as in Germany) is used in the grist. Pyramid and Widmere both make this style of beer.

Kenai River Brewery tried to hybridize these two styles and came up with something like a botched Pilsner. It had little to no wheat flavor and zero banana or clove flavor. It was clear as glass and pale as the moon. It tasted a bit watery and had no yeasty body. They would have been better off calling it a German Pilsner rather then getting our hopes up with the word Hefeweizen. They also disappointed me with their 5 different styles of Pale Ales and India Pale Ales. I just can't wrap my taste buds around such strong hoppy beers. I did like their Scottish Ale and would approve if they continued to brew that one as is...

September 26

Katie came home! Or I should say, Katie finished up her 10 week detail in Wenatchee Washington and returned to her true duty station, Seward Ranger Station. That is the good news the bad news is that she came home the very evening that Matt and I had planned to drive to Skagway. I convinced Matt to leave a day later and this allowed for a lot more fun! First of all, Carolyn came over to to Cooper Landing and made dinner with me and helped walk Lilly. Then we drove to Work Center and picked up Katy and Matt and then went to one of the season's last bon fires. I hadn't really been at work so I can't attest to how slow things were but, at this point in the season, all the college kids have left and the only folks hanging on are the ones who want to make as much money as they can before the winter sets in and they won't have a job or any source of income.

It was fun to catch up with both Carolyn and Katie as well as some of my co-workers. I hadn't been at work for two weeks and felt fairly out of the loop. However, with Kassik's Sobe bottle of Dunkleweizen in hand, I felt I made a good run of it all. We had a huge sleep over at my house and I spent all night smoking fish. Ah yes, smoking fish again. Wade left at least 20 sockeye fillets behind in the boy's dorm's freezer. Matt and I decided to smoke them up and cart them down to the States with us. However, Matt doesn't know how to smoke and we didn't have the time or the resources to have him learn so I spent the better part of my nights and evenings smoking fish.

Carolyn, Katie and I bummed around the next morning, made pancakes, walked the dog, got coffee from Wildman's and cleaned house. Then we went to the Seward Arts Festival. The festival was a lot of fun and had good music, fun artisan booths and an activity area with hoola hoops, juggling balls and scarves and stilts. The festival takes place after the last cruise ship has left port so it is really oriented at the locals. Every year, an artist designs a mural and creates a kind of giant paint by number that community members paint over the course of 3 days. The murals are displayed permanently on downtown buildings. Past murals include the Mount Marathon race and tributes to mining heritage and the rail road. This year was designed by Ed Tussy of Homer to commemorate the Kenai Fjords. It is a sea scape with all kinds of marine animals.

I spent much of the evening outside in the parking lot with my friends and co workers listening to them play on their various instruments. Mark and I reminisced about the old days in Montana and gazed at the stars. The clear night and the energy in the air as well as the crisp cold hint of winter really made me feel as though everyone was having their last hurrah of summer, saying goodbye, recognizing the transition. Matt, Katie, Carolyn and I slipped out without many goodbyes. It is easier that way and I felt both sad and elated as we drove home.

September 27
Matt and I began our drive to Skagaway early the next morning. It had frosted during the night and the warm weather or yesterday was a faint breath in the crisp morning. The fall colors were vibrant to the point of pulsing and the blue sky was a sort of banner of surrender: "okay, it can be cold and fall like, but I will remain brilliant." As Matt and I drove north towards Tok, the fall season became more and more advanced. The yellow leaves of trees dropped to the forest floor and eventually the temperate rain forest of hemlock, spruce and aspen gave way to the muskeg of Dr. Suess-like black spruce and bare aspen trees.

I got speeding ticket in Glenallen. May I just say that there are moments when a speeding ticket is well deserved and that there have been many moments in my life when I have willingly and knowingly sped and would have accepted a speeding ticket as a punishment and a reminder to drive more prudently. However, on this occasion, I had been driving for all of two miles on the 55 mph highway. I noticed that there were some buildings and I was thinking to myself, I wonder if this is a town. I wonder what I should slow down to? Where is a speed limit sign? Hmm...maybe you don't need to slow down, I'm going to anyway? This is what I was thinking as Trooper Duce turned on his lights and proceeded to slap me with a 85 dollar ticket and a 500 dollar no proof of insurance ticket. Where is the love? I know how annoying it is to have someone speed down your main street. I am not some mindless out-of-towner who just wants to get from point A to point B. I am a small sympathizer. I wanted to slow down, your signage sucks. Try doing it like Moose Pass; lost of signs on the side of the road as well as painted on the pavement. It's impossible not to get the hint. Your one sign two miles outside of town is not adequate. I wasn't even driving when that sign went by.

However, let us not let the entire post be sullied by my mistakes. I put on Float On by Modest Mouse and my anger blew away with the breeze. Well, not entirely but I'll leave it at that. We stopped in Tok for lunch and then pressed on towards the Canada border. We started noticing snow on the ground just before passing US customs and were in a genuine snow storm in the no man's land between custom ports. It was 9:30 by then and Matt didn't want to drive anymore so we pulled over, leveled the truck out and set up camp. Actually, we just climbed into the back of his truck, which is fully outfitted for camping in. I thought I was going to be really cold but Matt had all kinds of blankets and a little lantern which really heated the place up. We woke up to 3 or 4 inches of snow. We drove through the winter wonderland with the Wrangell mountains beautifully laced to the South. We passed easily into Canada and made our way south. As we drove south, the snow melted away and the leaves flew back onto the trees and the weather warmed. In Haines Junction we loaded Jesse's mix on Matt's ipod and we got a healthy dose of alt country, old western and blue grass. We made our way to Whitehorse and I coaxed Matt into driving through the downtown areas. We found the local brewery but it was closed.

Just North of the USA border, the forest and landscape changed. There were fir and pine trees as well as igneous or granite like rocks. I was so excited to see the pine trees after miles and miles of dilapidated black spruce that look like an inebriated bottle brush. Shortly thereafter, we arrived in the fjord town of Skagway. The place was dead to the world and silent as a stone. Skagway is a bustling cruise town in the summer, alive with tourists and cutesy shops and ice cream. However, the last cruise ship of the season had disembarked the night before and everyone was taking the day off...everyone that is but the local brewery and Matt and I headed there to check it out. There beer was not particularly memorable except for the stout, which I had but a small sip of before Matt guzzled it all.

We stayed at a friend of Matt's that night and we went walking along the shore the next morning. At first, we were just enjoying the quiet and the solitude of the morning ocean. But we quickly realized that we were not alone. A humpback whale was surfacing just off the point and we watched it in awe and listened for its exhales and quick inhales. As we continued walking, we were joined by no less than 8 orcas. One had a particularly noisy exhale and sounded as though it had a horrible cold or that it was really really angry. I like to think that it was screaming ANGRY every time it exhaled. Matt liked to imagine that he was frustrated that he couldn't get a female whale to give him the time of day.

Matt took me to the Ferry terminal that evening and I triumphantly made my up the ramp to my home for the next 5 days.

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