Alaska: The unexpected brewing frontier
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.
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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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...