Wild About Alaska Beer

Wild About Alaska Beer

Words / James "Dr. Fermento" Roberts


A buddy of mine blew in from Phoenix with his son in law to help me work on my property. I’m pushing a road from the front of the five-acre parcel to a gate on the back of it. Lynn’s been up here before, but his son in law Greg hasn’t. Both of them brought a raging thirst.


The kid wanted a true Alaska adventure, but a working one. He didn’t want to sit idle, but didn’t want to just gawk at wildlife and sniff flowers either. Lynn and Greg wanted to work hard and party hard. They’re my type of people.


I exposed them both to as much local beer as they could tolerate. I’d visited Lynn in Phoenix in February and he paid forward the favor by hauling me around to as many local breweries as I could handle. I had a tough time finding beer that suited my palate there. I’m not saying there’s not any good beer down that way, but my Pacific Northwest and Alaska palate just craved a different flavor profile.


My sense of the difference in regional palates was verified in Lynn and Greg’s experience up here. Greg, being younger, had a higher tolerance for bigger IPAs and beers that are out of the mainstream, which is what Alaska is well known for producing. Both of them were blown away at the amount of sudsy diversity reflected in both the tap lines here and certainly in our well-stocked liquor stores that feature an incredible array of local, national and international high end beer brands.


I get this “wow” factor from visitors all the time—those with mature and immature palates—when they see what Alaska has to offer in beer. It always makes me feel good because I love to show off our beer.


We visited Midnight Sun Brewing Company, a brewery I consider “defining” when it comes to Alaska beer. Midnight Sun’s beer is stellar, but beyond that, it’s the brewery’s spirit and Alaska ‘tude that really embodies what Alaskans are all about. Midnight Sun features an incredible selection and the fact that many—if not most—of their beers fall outside of recognized beer styles and demonstrate Alaskan’s individuality and self-sufficiency.


I’ll get hit up from outsiders—friends and strangers alike—who will ask “I’m only in Anchorage for half a day and don’t have a lot of time. If you could recommend one brewery that represents Alaska that I could visit while in Anchorage, what would it be?” Midnight Sun is my consistent recommendation, not that all of our local breweries don’t feature rock solid, world class beers. Midnight Sun puts the “wild” in Alaska beer. Keep this in mind when you have folks in from outside or are questioned similarly.


I took them to 49th State Brewing Company because Lynn remembered the facility when it was the Snow Goose Restaurant and Sleeping Lady Brewing Company. I wanted him to experience the incredible transformation from what the place used to be to what it is today after 49th State bought the building and upgraded and re-vitalized it. He was entirely blown away.


“For one thing, this place is packed. Seven years ago I remember this being quiet, and, well ‘sleepy,’” says Lynn of the experience. The estimated wait time for a table was one and a half to two hours, but we were able to monitor the bar and were able to snag a table from some vacating patrons within 20 minutes.


Despite the place being packed to the gills, Lynn was amazed by the spot-on, friendly, personal service throughout the experience. He had no problem picking winners. His second favorite beer in Alaska came from 49th State.


Lynn has deep roots in craft beer, having been a homebrewer for years and having been involved in his own local beer community. He drifted away years ago and settled back to more pedestrian styles after actually going dry for a while. It doesn’t surprise me that some of the more eclectic beers that Alaska produces are palate shockers for him.


I encouraged him to branch out some and he bravely tried 49th State’s Kettle Sour. “That was really nice,” he says. “That was my first introduction to a sour beer and it’s simply delicious. I wasn’t expecting that. Everyone does an IPA and maybe a brown ale or a pale—I like them—but to come across something so unusual and really surprises my palate is the wow factor that makes visiting new places so much fun,” he says of the experience.


Lynn’s favorite during the trip comes from Cynosure Brewing Company in Anchorage. Cynosure makes a black lager, or a Schwarzbier, and Lynn was instantly smitten when we sampled it on tap at the Seaview Bar in Hope during our trip to the Peninsula. Lynn’s no stranger to the style, but he couldn’t believe how stylistic and artfully produced Cynosure’s Schwarz comes across. I have to agree. We certified our impression by splitting two pitchers between the three of us in the quaint little bar across the inlet.


“First, they’re hard to find,” says Lynn of the sample. I would guess that not too many breweries make them because they’re hard to produce and tough to make right. They’re rare, in my opinion.”


A Schwarz is a lager—a style of beer that takes longer, cooler aging. Schwarz is sort of a cross between a porter and a stout in flavor and darkness, but with a much more complex, swirling mixture of malty dark beer flavors that come across smooth and easy drinking in the lager presentation.


“It’s so clean tasting, complex and a real delight. This is the most well done beer I’ve had up here,” he said, licking his lips recalling the experience.


While Lynn sought out the more familiar styles, the younger Greg had a higher tolerance for the quirky and was forever on the hunt for beers outside of the mainstream. He found his favorite at Anchorage Brewing Company.


When I haul outsiders around Anchorage’s breweries, regardless of their palate sophistication, I always take them to Anchorage Brewing Company. Not only is Anchorage Brewing the most artfully appointed brewery in the state—the huge oak vats and open brewery presentation are always a fascinating allure—the brewery produces globally renown and sought after beers that defy known styles and are considered cutting edge. I used to think that Anchorage Brewing is not for the feint of palate, but my experience in bringing even craft beer neophytes there has proved me wrong again and again.


“I don’t even like the bigger beers that are dark, syrupy and have that rasin-y like flavor in them,” says Greg. “Anchorage Brewing’s The Darkest Hour blows me away. I just kept drinking it and, yeah, it’s got some of that raisin flavor, but it totally grew on me.”


Greg easily recognized the diversity of Alaska beer. “There’s so much variety and so many different flavors here. Down here you really have to search stuff like this out by going to specialized stores and places. It’s all right here in Alaska,” he says.


In the end, I sent these guys away with an overwhelmingly positive beer experience, and they even packed some samples back to share with friends in Arizona. And yes, I did get them out to see some wildlife and sniff some flowers, but they kept wanting to belly up to the bar and discover beer’s wildlife here too.