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Alaska: The unexpected brewing frontier

Published January 12th, 2016

When my brother Claude and I traveled to the final frontier we went in search of the standard Alaskan must-sees: unique wildlife, snow-tipped mountain ranges and a chance to spy the beauty of the Aurora Borealis. However, our exploration around Anchorage, down the Kenai Peninsula, and inland towards Denali National Park also delivered us the very pleasant surprise of fantastic micro-breweries. There's nothing more perfect after a hard day of bear spotting, than a good night of beer sipping.

Brown bear at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre. Photo: Odette Des Forges
Alice’s Champagne Cocktail. Photo: Odette Des Forges

Our first port of call was the picturesque seaside town of Homer, Halibut fishing capital of the world. The dense fish is worth a try if you are swinging by. In a nondescript red barn on the main street is a pub called Alice's Champagne Cocktail. Once you push open the heavy barn door you are enveloped in the warmth of local hospitality, live music and a healthy dose of country feel good. Here you can try the world-renowned Halibut, as well as indulge in an extensive array of tasty locally brewed beers. After sampling only a fraction of the local beers available we decided we needed to head to the beer's source.

Live band at Alice’s Champagne Cocktail. Photo: Odette Des Forges

Homer Brewing Co. is located less than five minutes from the main drag, in a refurbished wooden shed. Open since 1996, it's not much to look at from the outside, but inside you will find all the bumping and grinding metal machines of a working brewery, a bar style seating area, a giant taxidermy bear and some fine brews.

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Taxidermy bear at Homer Brewing Co. Photo: Odette Des Forges

Particular favourites of mine included the Old Inlet pale ale and the Red Knot Scottish, whilst my brother who enjoys a heartier ale, was a fan of the China Poot Porter. You can grab yourself either a 12 or 16 oz glass, or opt to try a few crafts with a sampling paddle. For those whose thirst has not been satiated in the one sitting, you can take home a growler (a glass or ceramic jug for beer transportation). We could have stayed there well into the night, but once the ginger cat that prowls the brewery decided to stretch out for a nap on one of the bar tables, we knew it was time to go.

Homer Brewing Co. Photo: Odette Des Forges
Beer paddle of tasty local brews. Photo: Odette Des Forges

We continued our beer drinking odyssey in the quirky town of Talkeetna, which is two hours south of the famous Denali National Park. Considering it has a population of 876 people, you wouldn't really think there would be enough people to support a brewery, but thankfully the locals put the hard work in, staying late every night just so travelers can try their wonderful beer creations.

The Denali Brewing Co. has two spots you can enjoy their brews: the brewery, which is a couple of kilometres south of town, or their restaurant and bar in town. We decided on the restaurant in town as it was across the road from our accommodation, which meant beer drinking without worry. The decor is homely and inviting in this country restaurant, and the staff are super efficient and friendly. The menu featured delicious homespun fare such as fish and chips, burgers, and steak and mash, yet it was the beer menu that really ignited our taste buds. Hits for me were the Single Red Engine and the Mother ale, whilst my brother enjoyed the Chuli stout and the Slow Down Brown. The ambiance and the beer were so good that we ended up there the next night as well.

Denali Brewing Co. Photo: Odette Des Forges

The last micro-brewery worth a mention is the Midnight Sun Brewing Co. in Anchorage. Like finding a rare gem in a pile of rocks, the Midnight Brewing Co. enlivened my spirits after a day of bitter cold. Amidst the sprawl of Anchorage, smack bang in an industrial estate was a warehouse easily confused with its neighbours, but once you walk up the stairs, you know for sure you are in a beer drinker’s heaven.

Snowshoe White Wit beer at the Midnight Sun Brewing Co. Photo: Odette Des Forges

Belly pleasing stodgy food to fill the tummy, and liquid gold specialties to warm the heart. It must be one of the most popular spots in town, as by 4pm that Friday afternoon you couldn't get a seat, and even floor space was limited. The chatter buzzed, nearly eclipsing the Motown hits playing in the background. Top choices of the day for me were the Sockeye Red IPA and the Snowshoe White Wit beer, whilst Claude was quite partial to the chocolate pumpkin porter.

After our week of driving around Alaska, we never did see the Aurora Borealis like we had planned. Hopefully we didn't miss it whilst sampling all those fine craft beers inside the pub...

Wall decoration at the Homer Brewing Co. Photo: Odette Des Forges

Odette Des Forges

I am a travel nut that is always looking for the next big adventure, and the next cheap cocktail. Once the plane hits the landing strip on a return journey, I’ve already mapped out an upcoming trip in my mind. And in my mind it is miraculously free somehow, which helps as travel makes me chronically broke.