The United States of Beer: Alaska
Our journey continues, as we discover beer and beer culture from every state in the Union, as we head north, far north, to the last frontier — Alaska.
There are men in Alaska. Lots of men. Big, burly men. Men with hands that have callouses over them because they’re using them to build a cabin, or fish for King Salmon, or to dress a moose. There are men who work in the wilds of the 49th state, maybe on the pipeline, or as bush pilot flying over the Arctic Circle. There are men who go on snow machines in winter to a cabin on a lake in the middle of nowhere. Men who wear waterproof clothes. Men who wear wool socks. Men who grow beards, wear thick suspenders, chop wood, eat dinner out of a can, check traplines. Men, who, when not working, like to relax and tell off-color jokes at the local beer hall. When these men aren’t grasping a hammer, or a fishing pole, or the wheel of a beat up pick up truck, they might be grasping one of Alaska’s fine homegrown beers. Wise men, they are.
Forty-percent of all Alaskans live in Anchorage. On the lower slopes of the Chugach Mountains, along the tidal inlets, men, and women, too, imbibe in some of the state’s finest brews. The city’s oldest microbrewery is Midnight Sun Brewing Company. With Ben Johnson as head brewer, and with awards racked up along their shelves, some of the best include their Panty Peeler (a tripel flavored with orange peel and coriander), Arctic Devil Barley Wine (with a whopping 13.2% alcohol content), and Midnight Sun Kolsch (a bright and sunny golden ale). At Glacier Brewhouse, oak-aged beers are served. The Beam Porter is a rich, dark beer aged in Jim Beam barrels. Their Blueberry XXX is a triple bock finished with heaps of Alaskan blueberries. At the Sleeping Lady Brewing Company they have their own shelf of awards. Why? Good beer. Their Gold Rush is a golden ale made of Pilsner malt and Noble German hops. Their John Henry Stout is an oatmeal stout with notes of rye.
Of course, Anchorage isn’t the only place in the state that offers up good beer. No, in fact the biggest brewery resides in Juneau. Founded in 1986 the Alaskan Brewing Company is the 11th largest craft brewery by sales volume in the United States. Sold in ten western states from Alaska to Arizona, Alaskan was started by a couple of 28-year-olds with a dream and drive. The first brewery in Juneau since Prohibition, they’ve exponentially grown. Their smoked porter tastes so meaty you feel like you have to drink it with a fork. Their summer ale is based on a Kolsch beer, clean and fresh. Their raspberry wheat is an American-style wheat ale made with nearly a pound of fresh fruit per gallon.
A short ferry ride from Juneau takes you to Skagway, a gateway town to the Klondike Gold Rush. There sits Skagway Brewing Company. Their Spruce Tip Ale has a creamy rich head. Their Boom Town Brown is toasty. Their Prospector is a West Coast pale ale.
Oh, there’s more beer in Alaska. Fear not. Alaska is large, the thirst of Alaskans equally large. On the Kenai Peninsula resides the Homer Brewing Company, St. Elias Brewing Company, and a couple others. One, the Kenai River Brewing Company serves up a breakfast beer. Yes, beer for breakfast. Alaskans do it right.
And then, there’s the interior — the place where the largest mountain in North America resides, Mt. McKinley — Denali. In the shadow of that massive peak (20,320 feet) in Talkeetna, base camp for those hearty souls who attempt to summit it, is the Denali Brewing Company who serves up Single Engine Red (brewed with five malts), Twister Creek IPA (full flavored and well balanced), and Snow Queen (using green apples, mulling spices, and wood). Another brewery, 49th State Brewing Company, is planning to open soon right near the entrance of Denali National Park.
And then, there’s farther north still. Alaska is a big state. Texas is the 2nd largest state in the United States. Alaska is more than twice that size at 586,412 square miles. Indeed, you can go north past Denali. The Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling Company is based outside of Fairbanks. It is the northern most brewery in North America. Their Pick Axe Porter is deep ruby and moderately sweet. Their Epicenter Ale commemorates a Denali Fault earthquake from 2002. Then there’s their F.U.B.A.R., a cross between an Imperial IPA and a Belgian triple.
Alaska has a rich history in brewing. A history that’s being made each day as microbreweries are built and expand due to demand and quality product. From those hardy explorers of the 1700s to the fool-hearty panners of the Klondike Gold Rush, Alaskans have enjoyed beer. Today, Alaskans don’t have to go far to find fine brew. Far out in the tiaga, hunting bear, men look forward to that evening with the fire roaring, feet warming, frostbite waning, beer, heavenly beer, grasped tightly in their burly hand.