2005 | FEATURE | EXCURSION/TRAVEL
Elysian Finds Gold in Alaska – Great Alaska
Beer & Barley Wine Festival
By Lisa Morrison
At exactly 12:17 a.m. on January 15, I fell head-over-heels
in love — with Anchorage, Alaska.
Oh, I've been smitten for a while — since my first
visit to the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival
a year ago. How can you not like a place with such breathtaking
natural (albeit cold) beauty, friendly denizens and an escalating
passion for craft beer?
it was while dancing to the beat of The Whipsaws at that great
tap house Humpy's that I suddenly realized I adored this fair
city, its people, the music and all the great beers and breweries.
(OK, it probably helped that I had been tasting barley wines
for several hours, too.)
I am sure I'm not the only one who has had such an epiphany.
It seems a lot of the non-locals who have been attending the
fest keep coming back, despite the long trip from the lower
A lot of that has to do with the festival, of course, which
also is a fund-raiser for the American Diabetes Association.
The two-day festival this year featured over three dozen breweries
pouring more than 100 different beers and barley wines.
It also is a competition for the best barley wine at the
show. This year, the competition was so tight that four breweries
were lauded. Honorable mention went to Alaskan
Brewing Company's Big Nugget Barley Wine. Kona Brewing,
from Alaska's sister in statehood (Hawaii was admitted as
the 50th state in August 1959, after Alaska became the 49th
state in January of the same year), got third place with Old
Blowhole. Second place went to Midnight Sun Brewing Company
for its Arctic Devil. And Seattle-based Elysian grabbed the
gold with Cyclops Barley Wine. Midnight Sun also got the coveted
award for Best Alaskan Barley Wine.
But any visitor will tell you that the event is much bigger
than the festival, which ran January 14–15 this year.
The festivities really began Wednesday night at a nifty little
downtown bar called SubZero, where Manneken-Brussel Imports
put on a scrumptious beer dinner. The guests of honor at the
dinner (and throughout the entire half-week of festivities)
were Bas and Hildegard van Ostaden, owners of the Belgian-based
Brouwerij de Leyerth, which produces the Urthel line of beers.
next day's events included tours of Anchorage breweries (Moose's
Tooth, Midnight Sun, Sleeping Lady and Glacier BrewHouse).
In the evening, the local homebrew club, Great Northern
Brewers, met at Sleeping Lady (aka the Snow Goose brewpub),
where brewing expert and honored guest Randy Mosher talked
to the group about extreme brewing — using numerous
different herbs, spices, sugars and fruit to flavor beers.
Additionally, Hildegard van Ostaden, who is the brewer at
Urthel, charmed the group with her story of how she started
studying beer as a 15-year-old in Belgium, spending all her
allowance money at beer bars, running through the beer menus
and taking copious notes so that by the time she went to the
university, she knew she wanted to study brewing. (Not exactly
an opportunity would-be brewers in the United States get to
enjoy, thanks to the fact that our legal drinking age of 21
is the oldest in the world.)
After more sightseeing and a wonderful lunch (complete with
beer samples) at Glacier on Friday, the barley wine competition
(organized and run by the GNBC) and the festival kicked off.
Attendees were treated to tunes by some wonderful local bands,
featuring everything from ska to rock — with the Great
Northern version of the Rolling Boil Blues Band (dubbed Frozen
Boil) playing Saturday afternoon." Cocoa Pete" Slosberg
brought along his line of fine chocolates to help imbibers
discover chocolate-and-beer heaven.
Another highlight on Friday included a chartered bus trip
across town to the newly remodeled and expanded Café
Amsterdam (a haven of Belgian and other European beers) for
an after-fest snack (quite the spread) and more fine brews,
courtesy of Alaskan
Clearly, when you attend the Great Alaska Beer & Barley
Wine Festival, there's also much more to enjoy. Mark your
calendar for next year's fest, January 13–14, 2006.
Don't forget your long johns — and plan to fall in love.
Portland-based Beer Goddess Lisa Morrison
is already saving her pennies for next year's trip to Anchorage,