From apple ciders and raspberry ales to tripels and barley wines; Anchorage breweries bring an elegance and diversity to the beer community.
Anyone looking for a stimulating drinking experience should feel right at home within the city limits. While Anchorage only boasts a handful of breweries and brewpubs, each one brings its own style and swagger to the beer-brewing world. In 2013, Travel and Leisure took notice and ranked Anchorage in the top 25 in their “best beer cities” piece, and another article in 2014 from thepourfool.com, a Seattle blog, ranked Anchorage as the “number two emerging beer town in America.”
“You can tell the love and time invested in making these beers,” said Dean Schmidt, a local beer enthusiast. Schmidt said that after attending many local brewing events in town, it is easy to see that Anchorage breweries take pride in their finished product, “It’s like a parent on Christmas day; they look for your feedback and approval through your reaction at each taste. It’s their passion and it excites them to share it with others.”
One brewery that’s been putting Anchorage on the beer map for years is Midnight Sun Brewing Company. Midnight Sun creates an array of beer flavors and names like the Panty Peeler, a smooth and crisp tripel, and Termination Dust, a stout and earthy barley wine just released earlier this month. Midnight Sun also runs a long list of seasonal, commemorative and specialty brews.
Gary Busse, the general manager at Midnight Sun, described the process that led the brewery to making one of their more popular India Pale Ales, “Our brewers had some time and some empty tank space and they just brewed a beer that they wanted to brew, and we all said, ‘Damn, this is good,’” He said. Busse added that even though this beer was only intended to be a “one and done” product, Pleasuretown IPA is now their second-most popular beer.
Brewing beers isn’t all that Midnight Sun dabbles in, however. The Loft, which is located above the brewery, allows fans the opportunity to come out and sample beers, buy merchandise and participate in first taps and promotions. A perfect example is the release of their beer called Hope, which prompts the brewery to make a donation to the Providence Cancer Center for each purchase. Midnight Sun also runs the “First Firken Friday” promotion, where local painters are invited to display their artwork and the brewery releases their “Firken” brew, which is a specialty brew released for limited sale that night.
Midnight Sun isn’t the only brewer thinking outside the box. Anchorage Brewing Company mixes elegance and artistry and brews them into a masterpiece that is distributed to more than seven European countries, Australia and even Japan.
Gabe Fletcher, owner of Anchorage Brewing Company, is creating craft beers using techniques that few in the world use. “In the olden days, they didn’t have a way to cool the wort [beer prior to fermentation] before the yeast was added, so they put it in these shallow vessels known as coolships, which are about 18 inches deep. A coolship will spread out the surface area and cool the wort,” he said.
This process, Fletcher says, also allows wild yeasts to be introduced to the mixture, eliminating the need to introduce additives or other yeast to the wort. Gabe also explained his purpose for storing his beers in wood barrels. “You get some of the bacteria and flavors that build up over time from previous fermentations; so your barrels are essentially living, and it really gives your beer its own house flavor. When you put your finished beer in these barrels, it starts fermenting on its own.”
All of Anchorage Brewing’s ales have their own unique flavors. Rondy Brew, a bubbly saison, introduces hints of orange with an oak aftertaste. Whiteout, a wit bier, bursts with lemon flavor and is so soft and smooth it almost makes you forget you are drinking beer. Each beer also comes with its own barrel flavor as well. Love Buzz, another saison, is fermented in old pinot noir barrels and provides hints of the wine with each drink.
While Anchorage Brewing doesn’t have a taproom to sample their ales yet, Fletcher has already started moving his operation to south Anchorage and hopes to have a fully running taproom by January.
Local breweries aren’t the only ones making noise in the national scene. Glacier Brewing, a brewpub located downtown, introduces a diverse lineup of beers mixed with several barley wines. Head brewer Kevin Burton provided some insight into what a barley wine is. “Barley wine is a beer with a high alcohol content,” he said. “Once it hits a certain alcohol level, it is classified as a barley wine. Barley wines are stored for as long as 4 years.” Burton explains that this storage not only creates new and exuberant flavors, but also raises the alcohol level to as high as 15 percent.
Glacier Brewery may have perfected the barley wine. Over the last 16 years, Glacier Brewery has earned 23 different awards at various competitions around the United States. It’s no surprise that Glacier celebrates these brews annually by hosting The Twelve Days of Barley Wine, during which the brewery releases new barley wines and other higher alcohol beers on Dec. 10 and ends the celebration on the winter solstice.
Those looking to get the full experience of Anchorage’s beers, along with many other breweries across America should attend the Great Alaskan Beer and Barley Wine Festival held this coming Jan. 16 and 17 at the Egan Center. According to the flier for the 2015 event, more than 80 different breweries will be in attendance.
Anchorage will also play host to Bodega Fest, a tasting event on Nov. 1 at the Aviation Heritage Museum which will feature Alaskan and other Pacific Northwest breweries. Information on this event can be found on http://bodeafest.com.