by James Roberts
I remember first chancing across the Celebrator when I was enjoying one of the few craft beers around at the time. I was at Buffalo Bill's Brewpub in Hayward, Calif. I don't remember the year, but I was visiting a friend who lived in that patch of asphalt, and he had said, "Hey, this would interest you. There's this new place downtown where they make their own beer and serve it right there with their food."
[an error occurred while processing this directive]It was a novel concept, but I was slightly ahead of my time because I had a penchant for brands like Sierra Nevada and Anchor when the vast majority of my peers were slamming the mass-produced swill on the market and were proud of their loyalty to the big brewing conglomerates. Sitting there and enjoying some incredibly tasty suds, I leafed through a magazine that's become my steadfast traveling companion over the years. With the Celebrator in hand, I can launch forth into unfamiliar beer territory with the confidence of a bloodhound that either I'll find what I'm looking for or I'll find some treasure trove of little-marketed but finely produced craft beers seemingly designed with me in mind.
Fifteen years ago, Alaska had only one operating brewery, although a hundred years ago there were breweries in every nook and cranny of the vast state, serving suds to hordes of thirsty miners chasing dreams of grubstakes and gold. Things certainly have changed since then. Now, according to the Institute for Brewing Studies, Alaska has more breweries and brewpubs per capita than any other state in the nation. That number isn't huge (about one for every year the Celebrator has been published), and more are always welcome, but it's ample testimony that even shoveling snow in the dark is thirst-inducing work.
I came to Alaska in 1979, just when the state's last operating brewery shut down. Prinz Brau closed its doors for good, and there were seven dry and thirsty years before Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau made its first brew. Juneau is 650 air miles from Anchorage and not accessible by road, but Alaskan's primary distribution hub was Anchorage, so the majority of the state quickly was able to enjoy local goodness once again.
Since then, breweries have come and gone. Yukon Brewing Company was the first Anchorage brewery to bubble up since Prinz Brau, but it didn't last beyond its first infected batch of beer. Bird Creek Brewery, Railway Brewing Company, Borealis Brewing and Cusack's Brewpub all have seen their day in the long midnight sun but have closed down. Bird Creek's beers are now produced by Silver Gulch Brewing Company in Fox, Alaska, which has the distinction of being the biggest brewery (4,500 barrels) in the smallest community (about 275 people).
The most interesting news isn't about brewery closures but rather about the great beer that continues to be produced by the steadfast Alaska breweries that have held the line and kept beer lovers like me in good suds over the years. Alaskan Brewing, despite its isolated location, remains firmly entrenched in the market as the state's biggest brewery and easily the most recognized, with distribution virtually nationwide. It's not market saturation that makes the brewery successful; it's the intense quality of the beer. Alaskan's smoked porter is heralded as one of the world's best, and that's backed up by the beer's distinction as the most award-winning entrant in the history of the Great American Beer Festival. In fact, the brewery itself ranks as one of the most award-winning breweries in the festival.
Midnight Sun Brewing Company is approaching its eighth year of production and isn't looking back. A full line of Belgian-style, bottle-conditioned ales is being produced. The brewery has repeatedly expanded, and thoughts are turning toward a new brewery as the product is finding more and more favor in the "lower 48" market.
Alaska's other breweries and brewpubs, including Silver Gulch, Great Bear, Regal Eagle, Haines, Skagway, Ketchikan and Homer Brewing Company, are all experiencing robust production. Our local brewpubs, including The Moose's Tooth, Regal Eagle, Snow Goose and Glacier, are doing a great job of satiating tourists in the summer and producing the interesting stuff in the winter.
Now is a great time to plan a summer vacation to our vast and sudsy state. Leaf through the Celebrator to find listings of various Alaska breweries and brewpubs as you plan your posts of call. As beer continues to marvelously evolve in Alaska, the Celebrator is your compass to the North.
James Roberts is the weekly beer columnist for the Anchorage Press and is known by his alter ego, "Dr. Fermento." E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org for specific information or traveling tips.
Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!
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