With 22 breweries, plenty of home brewers and many self-proclaimed beer aficionados, Alaska is home to a longstanding and rapidly growing beer culture. Now it's almost time to celebrate the brews that make taste buds tingle -- AK Beer Week kicks off on Friday.
Out of the nearly two dozen breweries and brewpubs in the Brewers Guild of Alaska, Kassik's Kenai Brew Stop, Homer Brewing Co. and Kodiak Island Brewing Co., will not be taking part in the Great Alaska Beer and Barleywine Festival, which is possibly the most anticipated event during AK Beer Week. But Broken Tooth, Silver Gulch, King Street, Glacier BrewHouse, Sleeping Lady, HooDoo, St. Elias and hundreds more will have taps just waiting to be relieved of all of their bubbling local glory, according to Barb Miller of Midnight Sun Brewery, founder of AK Beer Week. Local brews won't be the only ones on the list of 200-plus beers that await festival-goers. Miller said national and international beer will be there as well, but the final list won't be completed until just days before the event.
So, with so many enticing options, how do you pick which events to hit? How do you decide what beers to sample at the Beer and Barleywine Festival? We asked a few locals to give their recommendations.
DJ Spencer Lee drops Top 40 tunes all over Anchorage, and in his line of work he said the perfect beer is one that "doesn't leave me feeling like I ate a 6-foot party sub after a couple rounds." He plays at Flattop Pizza + Pool most weekends and enjoys the King Street Pilsner, which is on tap at the downtown Anchorage establishment. "It has a great flavor and isn't too heavy," he said. On Thursday nights, DJ Spencer Lee brings crowds into the Pioneer Bar to boogie on the Fourth Avenue establishment's cozy little dance floor. "With all the dancing, I opt for bottles to help keep my booth spill-free. Bud Light's taste won't set the world on fire, but sometimes you just need what Kid Rock would describe as an 'everyday beer.'"
Evan Trupp knows exactly what he wants when he steps onto the ice with the Alaska Aces. The Anchorage-raised forward is one of the top-scoring players on the ECHL team, racking up 27 points this season with 10 goals and 17 assists. But he doesn't have such ease when he's picking a favorite beer. Trupp said he typically stays away from dark beer, but anything he can get on tap from Broken Tooth, which is the signature brewing company at Moose's Tooth and Bear Tooth, is usually a safe bet and right up his alley.
Sean Howland and Kevin Wohlgemuth of The Hoons mesh in more way than one. While Howland belts out the lyrics to the songs he writes, Wohlgemuth is strumming hard next to him producing a sound only The Hoons can create. After the microphones are turned off and the guitars are put down, these rock n' rollers are still in tune when it comes to beer. Wohlgemuth said his all-time favorite brew is Alaska White from the Alaskan Brewing Co., and although Howland wouldn't call Alaska White as his perfect beer, he said it is the drink he craves when the band comes back to Alaska.
Kathy Phillips not only talks about beer, but she may actually bleed it. The Better Beer Show podcast host has been sharing the secrets of beer since 2010 and has the beer tasting business down to a science. Phillips said her favorite local beer is the Midnight Sun Brewing Co.'s Panty Peeler, which is a "Belgian-style Triple" and is also "fairly high-octane, coming in at 8.5 percent alcohol by volume, (with) notes of orange and coriander." Phillips said she first had the beer back in 2003 when it was still known as E'pluche-culotte. Her backup beer, coming in at a close second as favorite, is King Street Brewing Co.'s Pilsner, which is 5.5 percent alcohol by volume, according to the Better Beer Show host. Phillips calls it "clean and crisp, a true Czech-style Pilsner." According to Phillips, Dana Walukiewicz, a King Street Brewing Co. owner, spent several years in the Czech Republic and perfected his recipe there.
Ken Ryther is a co-owner of Crossbar, which went into the old Boston's Pizza and Sports Bar building on Northern Lights in the fall of 2013. The new sports bar's entire draft system is Alaska beer, but Ryther said he has a favorite too -- Broken Tooth Brewing's Moon Flower ESB. Ryther called it a well-balanced ale with a mild flavor that is not too over-the-top. "It's got good hop content and great drinkability," he said.
Mitch Kitter co-owns Treft.Punkt studio in downtown Anchorage. Kitter and his partner Shalem Mathew recently made waves with their photo project "Love is Love," which highlights the love stories of Alaska gay, lesbian and transgender couples and is now being expanded to other states. Kitter said his favorite brew might be kind of a copout because his -- the Hard Apple Ale from Broken Tooth -- tastes just like apple juice.
Brent Sass is dedicated to two things -- his dog team and supporting his favorite local brewery. In fact, his lead dog, Silver, is named after the Silver Gulch Brewing Co. in Fairbanks. The top contending musher has called the Fairbanks Lager, from Silver Gulch, his favorite since 1998. Back in the old days, before the dogs he runs began running his life, he said he spent a lot of time at the brewery.
Finally, our own Sean Doogan actually has something in common with Sass -- they both have love for the same beer. Doogan, too, chose the Silver Gulch Fairbanks Lager, although he's a little biased; he grew up in Fairbanks and is loyal to the beer from the Golden Heart City.