Things really do get better with age, just ask Zack Henry the owner of the Soldotna-based St. Elias Brewing Company. Last year Henry crafted a barley wine he called "Moose Juice" and entered it into the Great Alaskan Beer & Barley Wine Festival in Anchorage. Now in its 16th year, the annual competition drew over 200 brews from 50 regional brewers. This level of competition makes the 2nd Place overall placement and "Best Alaskan Entry" recognition even more rewarding according to Henry. "Our entry was a barley wine we made about two years ago and put in some oak bourbon barrels that we had obtained. We aged it for a year in those barrels and then entered it in last year's competition, and it didn't even make it into the second round of judging. We decided to hold off five gallons and re-enter it in this year's festival and ended up taking 2nd overall and #1 in Alaska." Henry said.
When asked about the difference between wine and ale as it pertained to the contest, Henry noted "A barley wine is basically ale brewed to a wine strength." According to Henry, there are also distinctions in the process used when aging ale compared to aging wine. "The heavier the beer, the more it will benefit from age. There are some positive things that come from oxidation in an oak barrel that tends to smooth out a beer like our Moose Juice. It's what we anticipated happening and it worked," he said. Unfortunately the five gallons of Moose Juice were quickly consumed at the festival, but Henry says he'll be brewing up a new batch soon. "We'll use the same process and see if we can duplicate it. Usually a big beer like the Moose Juice is going to be fairly harsh at the start, or what is called in brewing world as 'hot' - with some flavors that aren't that pleasant to the palate, but with age all those flavors smooth out and you obtain that award-winning flavor," explained Zach.
So while you may have to wait a few years to taste the next batch of this award winning Moose Juice, at any given time Zach says there are ten different hand crafted beers on tap at St. Elias in Soldotna. "One of the most popular things we feature here is the sampler. Basically that's a 3oz pour of each of the beers we have on tap at only a dollar a pour so you can pick the one you like best before ordering a pint," says Henry. Zach and his wife started the St. Elias Brewing Co. only a few years ago but says that business is good and has more than met his expectations. "The local folks have been really good to us and having a small business in Soldotna you have to rely on the local clientele and not just the tourists. The community has treated us very well and we sure appreciate them," he said.
St. Elias also offers a full menu of rustic, traditional Neapolitan style pizzas and an assortment of unique gourmet salads, sandwiches and hand made desserts. "It's our emphasis on quality and fresh ingredients that sets us apart," added Henry. To discover more about St. Elias Brewing Co. log on to www.steliasbrewingco.com, call 260-7837 or stop by the restaurant just past Fred Meyers on the Sterling Highway.
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