Alaska is practically its own nation, a gigantic northern state with an endless coastline, unbelievably long summer days, and a healthy population of grizzlies, moose, and other sizable critters.
By far our largest state, Alaska is home to just 740,000 residents (San Jose, the 10th largest city in the nation, has 1 million). As such, it’s often justifiably called America’s last frontier. The 49th state is also where a surprisingly strong beer culture resides. While there’s plenty in the way of thawing beers like heavy stouts and rich barleywines, there are also a lot of pales, blondes, IPAs, and red ales coming out of Alaska.
As usual, going to the source is always the best way, as so many of Alaska’s breweries are small operations in small towns with limited distribution. There, you can enjoy a pint of Skagway Brewing Company’s Spruce Tip Blonde alongside some fresh king crab while wildlife-watching. But because we can’t all get to Alaska and travel is especially tough right now, here are five to look out for that can usually be found in the lower 48:
Arguable Alaska’s best brewery, Anchorage Brewing Company is becoming a formidable West Coast figure in craft beer land. Some claim this is the finest barleywine on the planet, selling out in mere minutes when it’s released online. A Deal With The Devil is aged in cognac barrels, has a whopping 17% ABV, and is incredibly layered, decadent, and delicious. Much of the brewery’s esteemed portfolio is now being distributed by Shelton Brothers so look for other great options like the Nelson Sauvin, a saison with brett, if you don’t want to wait in line for the beloved barleywine.
Aptly named for the extremely long days Alaskans are enjoying right about now, Midnight Sun is another producer that should be on every craft enthusiast’s radar. The Fallen Angel is a Belgian-style golden ale, made with pilsner malts, which give it a nice crack of crispiness. It shows orchard fruit and some funk, with a near-perfect undercurrent of richness. Following an apparent Alaskan interest in devilish things, the beer was first brewed on 6-6-6 (June 6, 2006).
A longstanding perennial beer from Alaskan Brewing, the Smoked Porter is a bit like wine in that it’s vintage-based. It goes back to 1988 and some people, like myself, are keen to collect several years and do a vertical tasting at home to decipher the variations across the years. A rauchbier, or German smoke beer, the Smoked Porter is made from alder-smoked malts, affording it some rustic, campfire qualities. Somewhere between a peaty scotch and a raisin-y, cacao-driven porter, this beer is a joy on its own and even better with grilled and smoked meats. While robust, it’s not nearly as heavy on the palate as you might expect.
Based in Anchorage, Glacier Brewhouse got its start in 1996. Today, it continues to brew everything on-site at its pub and restaurant in Alaska’s largest city. The IPA is wonderfully clean and well-rounded, with zest and floral elements. With so many IPAs going over the top with alcohol or so hazy they’re unrecognizable, this beer is a reminder of the category’s compelling core qualities. Presently, Glacier’s work makes its way only to Washington but there’s a good chance that will change once the word gets out.
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