Beer (Not Bear) from the Last Frontier – Alaska’s Craft Breweries

A guide to Alaska’s best craft breweries…

All hail the ale: it’s been a banner couple of years for
American craft beer connoisseurs. The unprecedented rise in
home-brewed, independent ales and lagers in the Pacific Northwest
has turned Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, into the beer
capitals of the world. That trend has come north – seriously far
north – and now Alaska is having a beer moment, too.

Following years of market saturation from the likes of Budweiser
and Coors, the state had a revelation that it didn’t have to be
this way. Cue brewers with base-camp beards and yeti-hair styles
setting up shop in snow sled garages and shelters. Here they’re now
creating an ever-increasing carousel of lagers with rich flavours
such as Alaskan birch syrup and coarse Bering Sea salt.

But craft brewing this far north can be a dangerous business. At
Kodiak Island
, far off the south central coast, there are brown
ale-coloured grizzlies to contend with, some weighing more than
600kg. There is the extreme isolation: Silver Gulch Brewing,
just north of Fairbanks, is the last stop before crossing into the
limpid beauty of the Arctic Circle. Then there are the severe
temperatures: when ex-mountain climber Sassan Mossanen began laying
the foundations for his microbrewery in Talkeetna, an off-the-grid,
time capsule of a town fringed by frozen, feathery trees on the
Susitna River, the temperatures sunk to a bone-chilling -29

“Keeping the heaters going all night and the tarps from blowing
away while trying not to freeze to death wasn’t an easy task,”
Sassan, the co-founder of the Denali Brewing
, said. “There isn’t really a guidebook for brewing in a
subarctic environment, so we’re constantly pushing our equipment to
the limit.”

Off the back of Alaska’s beer boom, festivals such as the Great
Alaskan Beer and Barley Wine Festival (22 to 23 January 2016) have
sprouted up, beers from the likes of Midnight Sun
can now be found in plenty of liquor stores, and
tasting rooms, like the one at the Seward Brewing
, ambush you in every town. Drop your gaze from the
telling contours of Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) the highest
mountain in North America, and in its shadows you’ll find the
49th State
Brewing Company
, where they use glacier-fed aquifers to create
beers with a face-numbing hoppy punch.

Words by Mike MacEacheran