In exchange for living in what is perhaps the country’s most beautiful state, Alaskans sometimes have to do without: professional sports teams, In-N-Out Burger and, well, sunlight for half the year. But we make up for it with the Iditarod, reindeer sausages and aurora borealis chasing. In other words, we often have to make our own fun. And, sometimes, by “fun” I mean “beer.” Those words are interchangeable, right?
Beer is a big part of life for Alaskans. We hike with it, camp with it, boat with it, cook with it and pair it with foods like the stuffiest of sommeliers. We throw it monthly birthday parties like the First Tap events at Broken Tooth Brewing Co. (otherwise known as Bear Tooth Theatrepub and Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria), complete with national musical acts like Norah Jones and Imagine Dragons. We even do yoga with it (at downtown’s sprawling Williwaw venue). In other words, we take it everywhere and we take it seriously.
Beers from the state’s biggest brewery, Alaskan Brewing Co. based in Juneau, might already be in your refrigerator if you live in one of the 25 Western and Midwestern states where it’s available. Or you might have refreshed yourself with an Alaskan Amber on your Alaska Airlines flight on the way into Anchorage. By sales volume, it is the 19th largest craft brewery in the United States. With a steady line of signature brews — and some seasonal specialties that incorporate cranberries, raspberries, locally roasted coffee and even Alaska spruce tips — it’s the most well-established of all the state’s breweries. Ubiquitous around Alaska, this long-running brewery is our Papa Beer, if you will (I’ll show myself out).
But Alaskan Brewing is just one of over 40 breweries in the state. And while almost half of them are in Anchorage or within a short drive of our state’s largest city (including the relatively populous communities of Girdwood, Eagle River, Palmer and Wasilla), some of our most remote ports of call and tiniest towns (I’m looking at you, Gakona Brewery in Gakona, population 218) are emphatically in on the brewing action.
The ever-expanding Denali Brewing Co. in Talkeetna (population 876) may be a small-town hero, but it’s anything but small. In fact, it’s currently the second-largest beer producer in Alaska. Their four signature beers — Mother Ale, Chuli Stout, Single Engine Red and the ever-popular Twister Creek IPA — are year-round mainstays of summer barbecues and winter bonfires around the state. Their brewery is also home to the recently established Alaska Cider Works, Alaska Meadery (featuring “Razzery,” a mead made with raspberries, sour cherries and apples) and Denali Spirits (featuring vodka, gin, whiskey and “smoke” whiskey) because when you’ve fermented one, why not ferment them all?
But some breweries are even more remote. Ports of call and island hopping here can be one way to get your fill of hops. Breweries can be found in Ketchikan (Bawden Street Brewing Co. and Baleen Brewing Co.), Kodiak (Kodiak Island Brewing Co.), Homer (Homer Brewing Co. and Grace Ridge Brewing Co.), Valdez (Valdez Brewing), and Skagway (Klondike Brewing Co. and Skagway Brewing Co.).
Of course, many trips to Alaska begin and end in Anchorage. And if, during your travels, you’ve foolishly left some beers untasted, you can make up for lost time in our state’s biggest city.
Glacier Brewhouse specializes in “English and American West Coast style beers along with a elaborate oak aging program.” Opt for their Raspberry Wheat, Oatmeal Stout, Imperial Blonde, Bavarian Hefeweizen or a flight that includes them all. Or try their special cask-conditioned ale, which undergoes a secondary fermentation, resulting in a creamier end product (737 W. Fifth Ave.).
Matanuska Brewing Co., with two Anchorage locations, is part of a growing family of pubs serving their own beer, locally brewed at the former Matanuska Maid Creamery in Palmer. I’m a fan of the tart Backcountry Blue (berry) and the citrusy Magnitude 9.2 (2830 C St.).
Down the street in downtown is 49th State Brewing Co., which expanded into Anchorage from its original location in Healy, at the edge of Denali National Park and Preserve. If you were unable to visit their flagship location, where you can sip beer while playing bocce or horseshoes on the lawn, you can catch up with them here. There are unique beer offerings like White Peach White (described as a “beer bellini”) or the dunkelweizen, a dark, unfiltered wheat beer that is, let’s face it, super fun to say. This location also boasts some of the best views in town and an expansive outdoor rooftop patio (717 W. Third Ave.).
Just about all of the full-service restaurants in downtown Anchorage proudly feature some variety of Alaska beers. Fat Ptarmigan pizzeria has an extensive list of local brews and is collaborating with Double Shovel Cider to open Anchorage Cider House, if your tastes run toward fermented fruit (441 W. Fifth Ave.). In the heart of downtown, Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse prides itself on a huge selection of beers, both international and local (610 W. Sixth Ave.).
If you have transportation around the city, treat yourself to a brewery tasting-room tour. Found in unassuming little side streets in the more industrial areas of Anchorage, some of our best beers can be sipped and savored at the source. Finding these funky little spots can feel like being invited to a secret party. And it’s a glimpse into Anchorage’s most authentic beer culture.
You might start by trying the most popular beer at Resolution Brewing Co.: Neighborhood IPA. Jokingly referred to as “the most diverse beer in Anchorage,” it celebrates its home neighborhood of Mountain View, which in recent years has received widespread media attention as the most diverse census tract in the United States (3024 Mountain View Dr. #106).
Further south is Onsite Brewing Co. (3211 Denali St.), King Street Brewing Co. (9050 King St.), Anchorage Brewing Co. (148 W. 91st Ave.), Turnagain Brewing (7920 King St.), Cynosure Brewing (144 E. Potter Dr.), Double Shovel Cider Co. (for a little variety; 502 W. 58th Ave. C), some of which are a stone’s throw of one another. If you’re lucky, you might run into one of Anchorage’s popular food trucks parked outside, so you’ll have something to wash down with your flights.
Nearby, Midnight Sun Brewing Co. is part tasting room and part community center, with First Friday art openings, a rotating menu of creative comfort food and an all-around cool, local vibe. My next-door neighbors frequent the brewery for their great brews (favorites include the Panty Peeler Belgian-style tripel and the Pleasure Town IPA) and also to pick up free spent grain to feed to their chickens (8111 Dimond Hook Dr.)
Bear in mind that tasting rooms often have limited and varying hours, so be sure to check ahead — especially with pandemic precautions in play.
If your travels are over and you still haven’t had your fill, check out the Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Co. inside Terminal C at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on your way out of town. An offshoot of the flagship Silver Gulch brewery in Fox, Alaska (about 10 miles north of Fairbanks), this location has a bar and restaurant as well as a retail shop, which means you can bring a taste of Alaska home in the shape of a growler.
Whether your travels take you to fine-dining restaurants, low-key alehouses or even rustic cabins in the woods, make like an Alaskan and fuel your adventures with one of our beloved, home-grown brews. When in Alaska, drink as the Alaskans do.