At least if I had my way and now, finally after waiting and waiting, Alaska is a leading contingent when it comes to craft beers. I must live in heaven. Oh that’s right, I do.
Long before I lived here, I began my drinking career many, many years ago in a small town in Georgia. Many southerners drink what I like to now call butt swill: Buttweiser, Heineken (otherwise known as Heiny), Coors, PBR, etc. The south use to be the capital for your basic swill lager varieties. You could blame the heat combined with the addiction of watching football in that heat or you could just blame it on poor taste. Either way, there is some lager slurping going on! And in the heat, I’d have to say that I will join that crowd, the crowd that sucks down ice cold, watered-down lager in the middle of the day.
Having said that, fast forward through the last couple of decades and the uproar over craft beer has changed things. People taking a genuine interest in making beer has pushed the south forward like the rest of the nation. People still drink their swill and so do I because there is a right time and right place for it, but you can find way many more people who would prefer not to these days. This is a beautiful truth.
Born with that comes the finest beer snobs of our time, who in their good days, can compete with any wine snob on the particulars of snobbery.
I am officially a beer snob. This doesn’t mean that I won’t drink basic popular beer nor that I know how to make or even talk about it with the right culinary vocabulary; however, I have noticed that over the past few years, I scan the beer menus at restaurants for a lot longer than I use to. I roll my eyes if they don’t carry something from the local region, as if it’s too difficult to support it now. There really isn’t any excuse. When the server doesn’t know what kind of beer a beer is that I’m not familiar with, I find it a bit ridiculous. In general, I find myself seeking and wanting to try new beers and look for new brewery locations wherever I travel. I’ve resigned to the fact that with travel outside of the U.S. comes some very depressing beer options-you know, that swill-lager variety, but when in Rome, do as the Romans…..I guess. I hear that Ireland is a good place to check out if you’re a beer lover, but I haven’t crossed that destination off my list yet. Thus far, I have found that it’s better to go for the wine or the favorite liquor of the area than to try their version of swill-lager, which really is just buttweiser with a different label on it.
For awhile, Alaska was like the rest of the world, and not really concerned about their beer menus. When I first moved here back in 1996, beer offerings equated to, yep, you guessed it, swill-lager. But, you did have a bit more upscale options such as Sierra Nevada and Deschutes, both of which are still pretty popular here. I remember when I first went into a bar in Fairbanks, Alaska to discover that a pitcher of PBR was something like 15 bucks! When I saw that, I felt a little bit of phlegm come up in the back of my throat. The realization that I would have to spend so much for my addiction, and not even for the good stuff, was disgusting to me.
But now, Alaska has also embraced the craft beer culture uprising and things have changed around here. When you put Alaska’s craft breweries next to any state, it is, hands down, in the top of the competition. No longer do you have to go outside to the lower 48 to enjoy some real beer. It is right here, in every corner of the state.
Here, I’ve broken down some suggestions by region, should you ever find yourself in Alaska looking for a good brew.
Midnight Sun Brewery
Considered the best brewery in the city, and possibly the state, this brewery features a continual rotation of experiments, whiskey-soaked barrel varieties, and flavors that typically rest in the hops department. You can enjoy flights, half and full pints at very reasonable rates. It recently started off the canned beer trend of local brews. In addition, it has some great food you can enjoy on sight. Located on the south side and open every day until 8, you shouldn’t miss this spot! If you can’t make it to their home base, have no fear because MSB is featured on menus and in stores all over the state.
This little gem recently opened a couple of years ago and has been eating up draft real estate spots in loads of restaurants and bars around town. While the home base doesn’t offer food nor the variety of Midnight Sun, they focus on delivering a fine product with typically 1-2 seasonal varieties that rotate, and a static list of their famous flavors from hefeweizen to IPA. Going to the actual brewery off of King St. is the best deal in the state where you can enjoy a full pint for 3.75. I’m not a huge hefe drinker, but I think there’s is well done for that style. My favorite is their Black IPA, which is half of an IPA mixed with half of their stout.
This beer has been around for a while, but with two of the most popular restaurants in the state where they only serve their own beer, it is hard to beat. Bear Tooth located in the Spenard district has a different menu than its sister Moose’s Tooth. This company focuses on maintaining the same menu all year; however, they create a first tap each month of the year where a new beer is sold until it runs out. This beer is kicked off the first Thursday of each month, usually at a live concert. Bear Tooth also offers a theatrepub where movies are $3.50 and there is a bar right inside the theatre. Moose’s Tooth located off the Old Seward Hwy. recently expanded, and now has a small outdoor area for drinking, but it is also the most famous pizza place in Alaska. To this day, I pretty much can’t find a place that beats it, but with my travels, I will continue to try. I am very guilty of always recommending this place to visitors so if you come in the summer, beware-the wait is usually brutal. I pretty much avoid the joint in the summer. Suggestions would be to try the IPA, Midtown Brown, or ESB.
- Anchorage Brewing Co. is brand new to the scene
- Sleeping Lady (worthy for the porter only)
- Glacier Brewhouse, a famous downtown restaurant for both tourists and locals
- Last Frontier, Wasilla (if you have to stop in Wasilla, only stop here)
For the life of me, I’m not sure what my interior Alaskan friends are doing up there because this brewery just opened I believe something like two years ago, making it the 2nd brewery in the Fairbanks area. After living there for many years, it seems to me that Fairbanks should be blowing the competition out of the water when it comes to beer making, considering the intensity of the winters, and the amount of drinking that goes on there, but instead, they choose to sip off what everyone else is making, and jam out. Or, maybe it’s the smoke that’s preventing the beer making from happening :-). With HooDoo taking off successfully, it is probably only a matter of time when another brewery will open in this area. Located in an industrial section off Fox Avenue, this is a tiny brewery just getting started, but while I stopped by, there wasn’t an IPA so I went with the saison, and it was tasty. I look forward to visiting again very, very soon.
Silver Gulch: Fox
I believe the first brewery of the interior, Silver Gulch is now located outside of Fairbanks in Fox, offering a full menu alongside its beer. Not a favorite of mine, but they do make a mean porter for the winter time, and just recently opened a location inside the Anchorage airport which is a nice thing to have when you’re in an airport.
So far, outside of the pale ale, this brewery hasn’t really blown me away in their offerings when it comes to hops, but when that happens, I usually try what a brewery offers on the lighter side of things, which you could say would be “fancy” swill. On occasion, I enjoy reds. People say that there isn’t any difference between ambers and reds, but I don’t usually like amber ales unless they are called red so this means that I must like ambers, just not many of them and Denali has a great one called Single Engine. Checking out their new items at the brewery is one of the highlights when visiting Main St. in Talkeetna. They are very generous in their tasting room and down to earth folks. Connected to the tasting room, they also have the Twister Creek restaurant and the last time I was there, the reindeer meatloaf was grubbin and they also make great fritters.
49th State: Denali National Park
The only other brewery of the interior isn’t open year around as it lives in the hub area of Denali National Park. I have yet to visit the 49th, but I hear it is fabulous. Upcoming, they will have their famous Augtoberfest which combines the traditions of Octoberfest with the summer feel of music festivals.
Homer Brewing: Homer
This company’s beer is good, but not as widely distributed as some of the other smaller breweries around the state; however, it is one of the greatest little breweries to visit. This place is very low key, but has a lot of personality all at the same time, which is typical of Homer in general. They focus on remaining small, and maintaining focus on what they offer. Known for their bitter, that is for sure the thing you should try if you go, but the scottish ale is also quite nice.
St. Elias: Soldotna
Anyone who has been to Soldotna knows that prior to this brewery opening, it was considered, and probably still is, one of the largest armpits of Alaska as far as towns go. No scenery. Loads of strip malls. Lacking of personality. However, it is home to some of the best fishing in the state, and now some beer too! This joint is located just off the highway as you enter the town on the left, before you get to the huge Fred Meyers. Great food and I have yet to have a beer there that I didn’t enjoy.
My favorite, Kassik’s: Kenai
They make the best IPA and gave it the best name: Morning Wood. A relatively modest warehouse located in Kenai, they typically feature 10 brews on tap. Its distribution statewide is getting better so you’ll usually find them on menus and in the stores in many areas of the state.
- Kenai River
- Seward Brewing
While this brewery is the oldest and largest distributor all over the nation, it has managed to maintain a good reputation despite the recent entourage of local breweries. They continue to experiment with different seasonals and combinations, which is rare for such a large company, but with this effort in combination with their large presence for the tourists, they aren’t going away. Visiting this brewery in Juneau is also something worth doing, especially on a rainy day, and if you didn’t know, Juneau is no stranger to rainy days!
I finally got to Haines just last summer and one of my goals was to get to this brewery. They have this seasonal called Spruce Tip Ale that they are famous for, but you can only get it for a couple of months in the summer. They add leaves from spruce trees during brewing, which gives it a spiced flavor similar to a winter ale, but it isn’t as sweet. Very unique. Similar to the Homer Co., they are focusing on maintaining a small, well done outfit.
Just across the water from Haines rests the little tourist pit of Skagway. The town itself is only alive to entertain the cruise ships as its year round population is less than a 1,000, but they do have bars, and a lot of them for such a small place! The locals prefer the pizza station next to the Morning Wood Hotel for their watering hole evenings, and for good reasons, they avoid the brewery; however, I was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere. They too are known for their Spruce Tip variety, but there’s is a blonde and I didn’t think it was as good as Haines’ version. Even so, they offer several brews that are worth trying out.
But wait, there’s more! I’m not as familiar with these companies, but if ever go to Sitka or Kodiak, let me know how they are!
- Baranof Island, Sitka
- Kodiak Island
Upcoming: Baleen Brewing, Ketchikan
The last thing I’ll say about the beer up here is that growler bars are now pretty much everywhere, with all of these breweries popping up so be sure to grab a growler so that you can get fresh beer on-the-go no matter where you’re traveling in the state. Brown Jug, the chain liquor store giant also has a huge growler bar in Anchorage at their warehouse that offers a revolving menu that features craft beers from all over the state.
And that’s a wrap folks. I hope you consider trying as much beer as you can when visiting Alaska. If you are a wine snob, save that for other places, but beer? We’ve got you covered.