In exchange for living in what is perhaps the country’s most beautiful state, Alaskans sometimes have to do without: professional sports teams, Trader Joe’s 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 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. We even occasionally do yoga with it (at Alpenglow Brewery, in the heart of Mountain View). 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 states where it’s available. With a steady line of signature brews — and some seasonal specialties that incorporate cranberries, raspberries, locally roasted coffee, white wheat from Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna area 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 50 breweries, distilleries, meaderies and cideries in the state (for an excellent list, visit brewersguildofalaska.org). 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 are emphatically in on the brewing action (I’m looking at you, Gakona Brewery in Gakona, population 218).
The ever-expanding Denali Brewing Co. in Talkeetna (population 876) may be a small-town hero, but it’s now anything but small. Their four signature beers — Mother Ale, Chuli Stout, Single Engine Red and the ever-popular Twister Creek IPA — as well as their seasonal brews, like Slow Down Brown and Flag Stop Milepost #3, are year-round mainstays of summer barbecues and winter bonfires around the state.
Their brewery is also home to the more recently established Alaska Cider Works, Alaska Meadery (which makes “Razzery,” a mead made with raspberries, sour cherries, and apples) and Denali Spirits (vodka, gin, whiskey, and “smoke” whiskey) because when you’ve fermented one, why not ferment them all?
(Denali Spirits’ canned cocktails, especially their blueberry mojito, are so popular in Anchorage that there is a Facebook page largely dedicated to tracking them down.)
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.), Kodiak (Kodiak Island Brewing Company and Olds River Brewing), Homer (Homer Brewing Co. and Grace Ridge Brewing Co. for beer, and you can also check out Sweetgale Meadworks for hard cider and locally sourced meads), Sitka (Harbor Mountain Brewing), Seward (Seward Brewing Co. and Stoney Creek Brewhouse), Valdez (Valdez Brewing and Growler Bay 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 which boasts — let’s face it — a ridiculous number of exceptional craft breweries.
Downtown’s Glacier Brewhouse specializes in oak-aged English and American West-Coast style beers, 13 of them, from blondes to stouts. Beneath the floor of the Brewhouse is a “Wall of Wood,” composed of casks of special release beers that are conditioned in oak barrels once used to age wine and bourbon. The history of the oak imparts the “mother tongue” flavor characteristics, like vanilla and coconut, into these limited-edition brews. Opt for one of these unique beers or choose from their flagship choices like raspberry wheat, oatmeal stout, imperial blonde, Bavarian hefeweizen or a flight that includes them all.
Down the street is 49th State Brewing Co., expanding 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 year-round choices like Smok, their smoked lager, as well as seasonal offerings like the Oktoberfest lager described as a “majestically malty marzen” or the creamy, slightly briny Thundershuck Alaska Oyster Stout, brewed with over two bushels of oysters from Naukati Bay. This location also boasts some of the best views in town and an expansive outdoor rooftop patio.
Just about all of the full-service restaurants in downtown Anchorage proudly feature some variety of Alaska beers. In the heart of downtown, Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse prides itself on a huge selection of beers, both international and local. Tent City Taphouse offers a diverse and carefully curated list of rotating local brews including their house beer, Tent City Tangerine IPA brewed by Glacier Brewhouse. They recently hosted a Taste of the North five-course dinner in collaboration with 49th State Brewing; pairings included Neon Antler DIPA served with a truffle honey beet salad and Cabin Fever Spiced Imperial Brown served with crème brulée cheesecake.
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 Neighborhood IPA at Alpenglow Brewery. Called “the most diverse beer in Anchorage,” it celebrates its home neighborhood of Mountain View, which, according to census data and a widely seen CNN story, was at one point the most diverse census tract in the United States. (Second place, for context, is a neighborhood in Queens, New York) Or try one of their inventive brews of the month like the Cerveza de los Muertos, a stout brewed with cinnamon, raw cacao nibs and chiles de Arbol or bird’s beak chilies.
In Midtown, Onsite Brewing Co. has unique small-batch brews in a funky relaxed environment. And while not an actual brewery, the quaint Café Amsterdam at the Metro Mall (530 E. Benson Blvd.) offers an interesting range of local and international beers in a European-style tasting room adjacent to their dining room. In the same strip-mall is La Bodega, a local shop that sells craft beer and wine from all over the globe, plus sake, mead, cider and other craft liquor. (And by that is Wild Scoops, a fantastic ice cream shop — it’s truly one-stop shopping).
Farther south, King Street Brewing Co., Anchorage Brewing Co., Turnagain Brewing, Cynosure Brewing, Magnetic North Brewing Co. and Brewerks are all within 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. Depending on the day, you might find reindeer sausages, pad Thai, cheesesteaks or pupusas.
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.
One of the newest and farthest south, while still in the Anchorage Bowl, is Raven’s Ring Brewing Co., which is a brewery/winery and meadery. From a traditional IPA to a Concorde grape wine called Grape Juice to a rotating vintner’s pour like sweet peach jalapeno mead, this ambitious operation is challenging the notion that you can’t please everyone.
Other Anchorage points of interest for non-hoppy but still home-grown adult beverages include Alaskan Spirits Distillery, Anchorage Distillery, Double Shovel Cider Co., Hive Mind Meadery and Two Seasons Meadery.
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 carrying growlers of their own brews and those of other Alaskan brewers and distillers. Last-minute souvenir shopping never tasted so good.
Before you start your great northern beer safari, bear in mind that tasting rooms often have limited and varying hours so always double-check before planning a visit.
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.
Mara Severin is a food writer and restaurant reviewer who writes about restaurants in Southcentral Alaska.