Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Quest to Drink a Beer in Every Alaskan Brewery


There is a saying in Wisconsin that "any baby born in Wisconsin goes directly from mother's milk to beer."  The saying goes on to mention that babies born there experience cheese curds or bratwurst (or both) as our first solid food, and that our first words aren't "mama" or "daddy" but instead they are "Go Pack Go."

There is considerable debate about the veracity of that old wives tale but one thing is certain about people from Wisconsin - we like to drink beer.  When I was a child it seemed that almost every town and certainly every county had at least one brewery; Milwaukee had many.  Barron County was home to Breunig's  Lager Beer best known and remembered not only for its taste but the beer farts it produced the following morning,  In fact, a picture exists somewhere of me downing my first bottle of beer when I was five years old.  That beer was given to me by my Uncle Buck and it was a bottle of Breunig's.


I used to stop at the Breunigs Brewery with mu grandfather after we would visit a feed store in Rice Lake and my grandfather would test the sweet nectars produced here.  On occasion I would sneak in a taste as well.



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What I wouldn't give to have one more can of Breunig's, ice cold out of the cooler, while sitting on Desair Lake catching sunfish with my father.

Despite there being a plethora of breweries in Wisconsin when I was a child, consolidation of the industry resulted in many of them being bought out and shut down.  Thankfully concoctions like Walter's Beer ("beer" in parentheses was most appropriate) brewed in Eau Claire, died a slow and deserved death only to rise up from the ashes and be brewed again.  Others like Point Beer, brewed in Stevens Point, and possessing the same qualities as Walters some how survived.  Leinenkugel's brewed in Chippewa Falls used to advertise itself as being "from the Big Eddy Springs" to which as kids we would add "And Big Eddy is a horse." However for some unexplained reason Leinenkugel's got its act together and today is a very good beer, even winning international taste competitions (I guess they must have sent Big Eddy out to a retirement pasture).

Where once there were hundreds of beers brewed in Wisconsin, soon there was only five or six.  However with the passage of time that number has grown with the popularity of craft brews and today there are at least 101 breweries in operation in the Cheesehead State.

The same story can be re-told in almost every other state in the nation including Alaska.  For the longest time the Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau produced several beers, the best of which has to be Alaskan Amber.  That sweet beer cannot be found in Florida but every time I board an Alaska Airlines flight the first thing I request is a can of Amber.

When we visited there in 2015 we discovered Ice Axe Ale brewed for the West Rib Grill and Pub in Talkeetna by the Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage.  It was a sweet nectar that made me not want to leave Talkeetna.  The 9.5 percent alcohol content may have had something to do with that decision. Later on that trip, while make a cruise ship stop in Hoonah we discovered the Icy Strait Brewing Company and tested their Icy Strait Pale Ale.  It changed my outlook on craft beer forever.

On a recent trip to Alaska to visit my family, we stopped by the Arkose Brewery in Palmer to test their beer before venturing to a Alaska Baseball League game.  As we sipped a pint of Trapper Tripel, I read a newspaper produced by the beer industry in Alaska that listed each craft brewery in the state along with the city in which it was located.  The list included 38 different breweries spread across the massive state and after reading the list my son in law and I decided to make it a goal of drinking at least one beer in every brewery on the road system in Alaska.  That would preclude breweries in Juneau, Sitka, and Kodiak, but perhaps they could be added later.

During the remainder of my time in Alaska we set out to drink a beer in as many breweries as we could near Palmer and Anchorage.  Later when I visited Fairbanks on my own I stopped by 3 breweries in the area. On my 2015 trip to Alaska I visited not only the Icy Strait Brewery but also the Seward Brewing Company while I was in Seward fishing.

Thus as of now I have had a beer in 12 of the 38 extant breweries in Alaska.  With 26 more breweries to visit I will no doubt have to make several more trips to Alaska but I'll accomplish the goal one day. Below is a summary of the 12 breweries I have visited along with a description of the beer or beers I tried in each of them.  I detest really hoppy beers so my preference is the tamer ales and lagers.  I'll leave the hops to my son-in-law.

ANCHORAGE

Glacier Brewhouse - We stopped by the Glacier Brewhouse but it wasn't going to open for another few minutes.  I counted the brewery just the same because I was inside it and I had consumed their Ice Axe Ale while in Talkeetna.  Outside of Talkeetna its sold as "Imperial Blonde" and with a 9.5 percent alcohol content you can't go wrong with a pint of this honey-filled beer.  My next time in Anchorage we'll make a formal visit and probably have lunch.








Ice Axe Ale brewed by the Glacier Brewhouse is available only as Ice Axe Ale in Talkeetna.  Its worth the drive to get there
When Ice Axe Ale isn't Ice Axe Ale  its Imperial Blonde and available at the Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage.  There is a very good reason breweries limit consumption to only 2 pints of this fine beer.

Midnight Sun Brewing - This brewery in an out of the way area near the Anchorage International Airport produces several beers but my two favorites are Panty Peeler and Oosik Amber.  I like the former because of the potential from its name.  I like the latter because "oosik" is the Inupiat word for the penis of a walrus.





The beer list at Midnight Sun is quite extensive

A pint of Panty Peeler


FAIRBANKS

Hoo Doo Brewing - I visited the Hoo Doo Brewing company on a hot (for Fairbanks) afternoon and found the place packed with beer drinkers despite being in a most out of the way location.  My most favorite beer here was Malibock  It was nothing to write home about and doesn't hold a candle to Panty Peeler or Ice Axe Ale but still it was a refreshing brew.


What remains of a pint of Malibock

A crowd of thirsty drinkers on a "hot" Fairbanks afternoon enjoying the various beer produced by Hoo Doo Brewing Company

FOX

Silver Gulch Brewing - Located a few miles north of Fairbanks on the Steese Highway, Silver Gulch is the northernmost commercial brewery in the world. When I arrived there at 3:45 p.m. I was met by four other cars already waiting in the parking lot for the 4:00 p.m. opening.  One of them was from Wales and another from South Carolina.  That says a bit about the quality of the brew produced by Silver Gulch.  The brewery is full-service with food available and even offers wine on top of more than 100 beers.  Thirteen of the beers are its own brew - the others are imports.  The brewery has a very fresh and homey feeling - the kind of place you want to sit down and have a bunch of beers which I would have done lacking other objectives that afternoon.

The exterior reminded me of the entrance to a mine - nothing could be farther from the trtuh


The extensive beer list includes local brews and a variety of imports

The interior of the Silver Gulch provides a comfortable, homey ambiance


A pint of Fairbanks Lager

HEALY

49th State Brewing - Located just minutes from the entrance to Denali National Park, the 49th State Brewing Company presents a conundrum for brewery counters.  There is also a 49th State Brewing Company brew pub in Anchorage that produces the same products as the one in Healy.  This makes it difficult to know if there are one or two breweries that should be visited.  I think I'll go to the Anchorage one just to be safe.

Right off the Parks Highway, 49th State Brewing offers a selection of foods and beers for visitors.  I had a pint of the Prospector's Gold with a chicken flatbread for lunch.  Both were quite tasty and when asked if I wanted another pint I had to decline because of an upcoming two hour drive to Fairbanks.  Maybe next time I'll stay closer to the brewery so I can savor more of its offerings.

The road sign for 49th State Brewing is impossible to miss from the Parks Highway

Thirteen locally-brewed nectars are available at 49th State.  I chose the Prospector's Gold and wasn't disappointed


HOONAH

Icy Strait Brewing Company - Accessed only by cruise ship or a small plane from Juneau, Icy Strait Brewing Company is probably the most isolated brewery in Alaska.  If you can make it there, however, the Icy Strait Pale Ale is worth the effort.  We visited the brewery quite by accident while on shore during a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise of Alaska in August 2015.


Its worth the effort to get to Hoonah to have a pint of Icy Strait Pale Ale


NENANA

Roughwoods Inn and Cafe -   This small and inconspicuous microbrew on the main street in Nenana is easy to overlook.  I learned about it only from a conversation with a man in the 49th State Brewery who told me about the "Brewery Finder App" that I now have downloaded on my phone.  Roughwoods offers only three beers and I went for the Pilsner Lager. It was a good choice for a place whose ambiance reminded me of the old television show Northern Exposure.  If you are traveling north on the Parks Highway toward Fairbanks you'll not see any signs announcing this microbrewery.  Just turn off the highway before the bridge over the Nenana River and look for it sitting very inconspicuously on the left.  It will be worth an hour or so to stop here if for no other reason that to listen to the owner talk on and on about her addiction to the television show "Blue Bloods."  

Inconspicuous is the best word to use to describe this out-of-the-way little microbrewery

The beer selection is limited but the Pilsner Lager is worth the effort to taste

A pint of Pilsner Lager.  Had I not been the only person in the microbrewery, and had the owner not been watching me like a hawk, I would have stolen this pint glass.

PALMER

Arkose Brewing - Tucked away in a corner of Palmer that might possibly be called an industrial park the inconspicuous Arkose Brewing Company produces several excellent beers.  It was here that my son in law Ryan Parker and I hatched the idea of drinking a beer in every brewery in Alaska, and that was after only one pint of their highly recommended Trapper Tripel.  There is seating for maybe 10 people in the tap room and food consists of a Thai Food truck parked outside so don't plan on coming here with a large group of people and don't expect anything fancy for a meal.  However if you enjoy the taste of microbrewery beer you can't go wrong at the Arkose Brewing Company.

 The brewery is small and the exterior inconspicuous and it helps to have a GPS to find the place.

A pint of Trapper Tripel. I wish I had also stolen this glass

 SEWARD

Seward Brewing Company - I visited this excellent brewery and restaurant in July 2015 with my daughter Jennifer and grandson Garrett.  Its on the Main Street in Seward and impossible to miss. The brewery offers a large selection of locally brewed beers and the menu has an extensive array of options including salmon cooked every way possible.  While there I had a pint of Rockfish Red Ale and look forward to returning one day for another.



TALKEETNA

Denali Brewing Company - Located along the Talkeetna Spur not far from the Parks Highway, the Denali Brewing Company is worth the effort to visit especially for its selection of fine beers.  Before visiting there I had tried their Single Engine Red and while at the brewery had a pint of Habernale.  Both were excellent beers; the Habernale slightly better because it was on draught not in a can like the Single Engine Red.  The brewery also offers a nice selection of food to help you absorb some of the alcohol before hitting the road and heading home.


WASILLA

Contrary to popular Fox News commentator belief you cannot see Russia from Wasilla.  However you can find and enjoy a couple of excellent breweries while searching the western horizon for Russia to appear.

Bearpaw River Brewing - Located off the main Palmer-Wasilla Highway in Wasilla, the Bearpaw River Brewing company takes a little effort to find but its worth the effort once you arrive.  The tap room does not offer food but does offer a nice selection of adult beverages.  I chose the Little Su Saison Farmhouse Ale and was not disappointed.  Partly I chose it because its a light beer and partly I chose it because it gave me a chance to speak a little French while ordering it.  Give it a try.

The inconspicuous exterior of the brewery

I enjoyed having to speak French if even for a few words to place my order

A pint of Little Su Saison Farmhouse Ale. I should have stolen this glass also.

Last Frontier Brewing Company - Located just north of the Parks Highway in Wasilla, and not far from the Crazy Moose Sub Shop, you can't go wrong with a quick visit to this excellent brewery.  The interior is huge offering many places to sit although they could do something about the volume of the local music being belted out by the band. It makes it a tad difficult to talk when you have to yell to be heard!  An extensive food list is available on top of an abundance of beers.  We started with a flight of 8 adult beverages and each settled on our favorites from the flight.  I chose the Prospectors Pale Ale and would have it again in an instant.

Its nearly impossible to miss this conspicuous sign even in the Midnight Sun

The beer list at the Last Frontier is extensive and varied

Beginning with a flight of beers is a wise investment to help find the one you enjoy the most

Eventually I settled on the Prospector's Pale Ale, for its name if nothing else. I was not disappointed


THE NEXT STEP

With 12 Alaska breweries to my credit and 26 to go I have a lot of traveling in Alaska ahead of me. I'm just thankful that I have a healthy supply of Alaska Airlines frequent flier miles in my account

City Brewery Name
Anchorage 49 State Brewing
Anchorage Anchorage Brewing
Anchorage Broken Tooth Brewery
Anchorage Celestial Meads
Anchorage Cynosure Brewing
Anchorage Double Shovel Cider Company
Anchorage King Street Brewery
Anchorage Moose's Tooth
Anchorage Resolution Brewing
Anchorage  Beartooth Theaterpub

Eagle River
Old Man Rush Brewing

Gakona 

Gakona Brewing
Girdwood
Girdwood Brewing

Haines

Haines Brewing
Homer
Grace Ridge Brewing
Homer Homer Brewing
Juneau
Alaskan Brewing
Juneau Barnaby Brewing
Kenai
Kassik's Brewery
Kodiak 
Kodiak Island Brewery
Palmer
Bleeding Heart Brewing
Sitka
Baranof Island Brewing
Skagway 
Gold Rush Brewing Company
Skagway  Skagway Brewing
Soldotna
Kenai River Brewing
Soldotna St. Elias Brewing
The list of missing breweries is a long one but Ryan and I are just the pair to tackle this monumental task.

Cheers!

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