After leaving the Mendenhall Glacier, we drove immediately to a beerdrinker’s mecca, the Alaskan Brewing Company, home of the delicious Alaskan Amber and a number of other tasty beers. I was surprised that the Alaskan brewery had no brewpub. From the sound of conversations (though nothing explicit or even really implied), they’ve chosen to respect local pubs who supported them as they grew. It’s a sensible division of labor.
A simple storefront, if it weren’t for the huge vats in back, you’d never guess that this was the home of a producer of excellent beers. Inside, they have a number of taps for sampling the wares, a gift shop, and a windowed room to observe some parts of the brewing process.
Tony (Willie) Hand was good enough to give us a tour of the facility. Well, a limited tour. Upon entering, we were warmly welcomed and prompted to choose one of the ales on tap. I chose the smoked porter, which was a bonus for me, because they had the 2006 and 2007 on tap, so I of course needed both to compare and witness the aging.
The tour was more of a presentation on beermaking and a brief history of the brewery at hand, mostly in the form of entertaining anecdotes related by Tony (Willie). Occasionally, he would stop midsentence announcing in an alarmed voice, “Your beers are empty! Follow me!” and we’d do just that, winding back to the taps to pick another beer to drink.
I tried three porters (2006 and 2007 smoked porters, and the baltic), the barley wine, the winter, and the ESB. They were all excellent. I was particularly fond of the 9.9% Baltic Porter, as easy-drinking as a mirror pond, so very dangerous on those cold Alaskan nights. Sadly, it is a “secret” locals-only brew for now. I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to go back up to Alaska.
So here are some takeaways. The people who founded the Alaskan Brewing Company couldn’t get financed (because brewing beer in Alaska is kind of crazy…pretty much the only ingredient you don’t have to import is water) so went door-to-door selling interests in the idea, got enough to start, and have kicked some ass. Yay! Their winter ale is brewed with spruce tips collected by area children, a cycle which helps to inject a small amount of capital into some depressed communities. And the Alaskan winter ale is really really tasty, totally lacking that sticky sweetness of so many overstrong winters.
My only regret is that I didn’t pickup the belt buckle while we were there. Thanks Tony and Nancy!