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New Year's revelers can go all-Alaska in their holiday libations

Suzanna Caldwell
Loren Holmes photo

The stockings are down, the presents are unwrapped and even though the tree may still be up, the time is near to start winding down from the holidays.

If that leaves you needing a drink or two, we understand.

Luckily, Alaskans, in an attempt to survive the ice, cold and the other difficulties that come with living in a sub-arctic environment, know a thing or two about drinking. So much so that it seems they’re not only getting good at drinking adult beverages, they're getting good at making them.

These days, far more than a few local microbreweries are based in the 49th state. Alaska whiskey, wine, mead and vodkas grace liquor store shelves and bars across the state, too.

So with New Year's Eve around the corner, there's no reason not to grab a few Alaska-made libations to help celebrate. You might as well be on top of the trend now.

Who knows how many more will have started by the end of 2013.

Beer

Probably the most popular -- and the bulk -- of Alaska-produced alcohol is beer. With about a dozen breweries from Juneau to Fairbanks, it’s clear Alaskans love their microbrews.

But Alaska beer doesn't need to be limited to the ubiquitous (crowd pleasing and award winning) Alaskan Amber.

For a little tour de Alaska, beer style, head to any local liquor store and stock up.  In Anchorage, La Bodega, Brown Jug and Gold Rush Liquors are your best bets for local specialties; in Fairbanks check out Gold Hill, Gavora's or Northern Vines.    

Kenai River Brewing Co., based in Soldotna, offers up cans of the Skilak Scottish Ale and Sunken Island IPA among their dozen or so selections.

•  Silver Gulch, featuring a new Ted Stevens International Airport location, has bottles, with the Pick Ax Porter being a particular favorite.

• Head over to Moose's Tooth to pick up some canned Fairweather IPA or a growler or two.

• La Bodega and certain Brown Jug locations offer growler bars as well, with more Alaska breweries -- including Anchorage's King Street and Talkeetna's Denali Brewing Company -- all on tap.

• Fairbanks residents can head to the new HooDoo Brewing Co. for a taste, growler or bomber bottle.

Want something particularly seasonal? Barb Miller of Midnight Sun Brewing Company suggests something “light and effervescent” to bring in the new year. With more than 40 brews produced each year, Midnight Sun is flush with selections. Miller suggests one of the Anchorage-based brewery's IPAs -- including the festive Cohoho Imperial IPA, flavored with maple, honey and juniper berries for a subtle spruce flavor. At 8 percent alcohol by volume, Miller said the IPA is sure to make the holiday a little more festive.

Another suggestion? For New Year's Day recovery brunch try a “Juju” -- half orange juice and half Midnight Sun Panty Peeler -- a spicy, light, Belgian-style tripel.

Wine

Alaska climates vary dramatically from region to region -- from soggy southeast Alaska to the Interior’s deep freeze. Despite dramatic differences, there's one thing no Alaska climate can handle: growing grapes.

Still, a few hearty souls start wineries in the 49th state. No grapes are grown, with the few wineries in the state producing “country wines,” berry wines often mixed with fermented grape juice imported from Outside. In Kodiak, Steve and Lisa Thomsen operate Alaskan Wilderness Wines, a tiny operation that produces several wines (blueberry, salmonberry, wild rose and wild fireweed) available on the island in a few locations and available for shipping.  

Arguably the largest wine producer in the state is Bear Creek Winery. Bill Fry and his wife, Dorothy, started making wine in their Homer garage in the early 1990s. Since then, the operation has grown to a full-fledged winery, producing about 6,000 cases a year.

For any winter celebration, Fry recommends something spicy and festive. Green Apple or Alaskan Apple -- made with Alaska-grown apples – should fit the bill. Fry said the seasonal Christmas Berry, a mix of cranberry, elderberry, apple and grape wines, would go great with any holiday dinner.

Mead

Sometimes seen as the wine's sweeter cousin, mead is made by fermenting honey and it’s gaining appeal in the Last Frontier. That makes sense, considering the Nordic heritage the beverage shares with some Alaskans (though associated with Vikings, it’s been brewed for thousands of years worldwide.)

Two meaderies have made headway in Alaska. Homer's Ring of Fire Meadery and Celestial Meads in Anchorage.

Celestial Meads owner and meadmaster Mike Kiker said Alaskans’ love of mead can probably be traced to their “adventurous spirit. It's something new,” he said from his south Anchorage meadery last week. “That's why we all came here. Alaskans have a tendency (of) being open to new things.”

Kiker produces about 25 different meads and cysers (an apple cider and mead blend), with pun-happy names like “Honey Do,” “Oh Pear” and “Que Syrah, Syrah.”

For the new year, Kiker recommends a spicy mead like “Odin's Gift,” made with a floral honey, coriander and bitter orange peel or a fruity mead, like “Razzery,” a combination of raspberries, sour cherries and apples. Another Kiker suggestion, “Batch #73,” a whiskey barrel-aged clover honey blend that, despite it's heavy oak flavor, finishes sweet, without the sharpness of traditional whiskey. Perfect for swilling in a glass.

Vodka and Spirits

When it comes to spirits in Alaska, the trick seems to be in coming up with a name that has the iciest connotation. Think permafrost. Or frostbite. Plus one if you can get a bear or mountain reference in there (like the Anchorage-based Bare Distillery's Truuli Peak Vodka) so much the better.

While the names are frosty, the concoctions need not be. Alaska Distillery has the most variety, ranging from standard raspberry and blackberry to the more-exotic fireweed and birch syrup. There's even a smoked salmon vodka (an Alaska's version of bacon vodka) designed to be used in Bloody Mary drinks. In true quirky Alaska fashion, there's even Alaska Outlaw Whiskey, crafted in small batches and oak-barrel aged for three years.

So how to serve Alaska vodka? That's easy. Anyway you want it. Straight up, martini-style or mixed into a favorite beverage. It's the new year, time to live it up.

And if you're totally stuck for an idea, here's one from Shawna Calt, bar manager at Anchorage's popular Spenard Roadhouse.

New Year's in Spenard!

This cocktail is light, refreshing, easy and beautiful.

Start by muddling 2 slices of orange. Then add 1 ounce of Alaska Distillery's Bristol Bay gin and1 ounce Alaska cranberry simple syrup. Top with a sparkling wine of your choice. (We like a dry Brut.)

Alaska cranberry simple syrup

1 pound fresh Alaska cranberries

2 quarts water

2 quarts granulated sugar

Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 15 minutes. Blend and strain. Cool. Makes about 3 quarts. Will keep refrigerated for several weeks, but could also be frozen for longer storage.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com

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