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Celebrator's Brews Cruise to Alaska 2011
Brews Cruise 2011 Sets New Record!
More than 80 beer enthusiasts answered the ads run in the Celebrator Beer News for this year’s Brews Cruise, founded by All About Beer Magazine 10 years ago. I was once again asked to be the onboard beer “guru” for the various beer appreciation sessions taking place during the cruise. Our last beery voyage had a lively turnout of some 35 eager beer seekers, but this year’s group set new records for the event, which was organized by Michael Weil from Magic Happens Travel in Cary, North Carolina.

Most of us arrived in Seattle, our city of embarkation, the night before the sail date and were treated to beer tastings, wonderful food and a tour by Charles and Rose Ann Finkel, owners of Pike Brewing Company in the famed Pike Place Market.

We all boarded the ship the next morning. We headed to one of the larger meeting rooms for a celebration of local beer from Seattle beer venues from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. Pouring for our onboard mini-festival were Elysian Brewing, Big Time Brewery and Pike Brewing. We also enjoyed the spectacular imports of Merchant du Vin, whose offices are in Seattle. We got under way by 4:00 p.m. on a picture-perfect sunny Seattle afternoon.

Given the size of our group, we had to use the larger club venues on board for our tasting sessions. The first night, heading out of Seattle toward the Inside Passage, we gathered in the Constellation nightclub for a tasting in the round. “Hi, how are you?” beers were served, giving us a great opportunity to meet and greet our fellow Brews Cruise travelers.

The next night we gathered again in the Constellation lounge for our first session, Beer 101: Beer History. This session served to make sure everyone was reasonably familiar with common beer styles and terminology. Nothing too serious, mind you, and no test either! Some eyes (and palates) were opened by the time we got to Duchesse de Bourgogne, La Fin du Monde and Cuvée René. Serious beer here!

Our third day included a tour of Ketchikan (another drinking village with a fishing problem) in the daytime and a session of Hoppiness featuring IPAs and double IPAs that night back in the Constellation lounge. We calibrated everyone’s palate with the classic Anchor Liberty Ale and went on to enjoy a lupulin romp through Elysian Jasmine IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5, Lagunitas and Big Time IPAs. We were hop-smacked by Firestone Walker Double Jack, Port Brewing Mongo and Avery Maharaja double IPAs. Yeow! And the 80-odd (some of them very odd) beer lovers begged for more. We’ll have to rename our event the Hophead Cruise!

Great beer and food and superb hospitality seem to be hallmarks of Alaskan Brewing and Alaska itself
The Hop Night survivors awoke to the ship winding its way slowly in the ice fields of the Tracy Arm Fjord to get up close and personal with a glacier. Spectacular doesn’t quite describe the experience.

We made it into the state capital of Juneau at 2:30 p.m., dropped anchor (not the beer, silly) in the harbor and took tenders (large enclosed motor launches) to our onshore buses for trips to the Mendenhall Glacier and Alaskan Brewing Company. We split up the group for our tours and tastings, as the brewery is not capable of handling 80 people.

Following the brewery tour, we were bused across the harbor to Douglas Island, where we enjoyed a catered dinner and (you guessed it) more beer at a large beachfront facility. The event was put on by the staff of Alaskan Brewing. Founders and owners Geoff and Marcy Larson graciously helped conduct the tours and were on hand for the beachfront party as well. Great beer and food and superb hospitality seem to be hallmarks of Alaskan Brewing and Alaska itself.

The next morning we woke up to another harbor — this time the tiny village of Skagway (the end of the line for miners heading to the gold fields of Alaska nearly 150 years ago). We had another kind of gold in mind — a golden glass of pale ale from one of the smallest breweries in the United States.

A small but fast ferry took us across the sound to the remote fishing village of Haines, Alaska, where we enjoyed a tutored bus tour of some truly spectacular wildlife. The largest concentration of bald eagles is to be found here, and yes, we saw some bears too — up close and very personal! The tour guide (who said he hadn’t lost a tourist yet) let us stand one by one in the open door of our bus to take pictures of the mama bear and her two very grown up cubs, who were feasting on the dying salmon in the river only 30 feet away. Don’t tell Stephen Colbert.

The highlight was a visit to what remains of the Disney set for the movie White Fang, based on a Jack London story and filmed entirely in Haines in 1990. The set was to be torn down (burned, actually) by Disney, but the locals saved the buildings and moved them to the state fairgrounds nearby, where they are now serving as small shops and, oh yes, a very small brewery!

Haines Brewing and owner-brewer Paul Wheeler greeted us and had a large exhibition building on the fairgrounds set up for a smoked salmon tasting from Dejon Delights along with Wheeler’s wonderful beers, brewed in a 3.5-barrel copper kettle and seven-barrel fermenters. Our tasting was accompanied by a talented trio of musicians who did a few beer songs (someone must have tipped them off) on guitar, banjo and trombone. Very Haines.

Some eyes (and palates) were opened by the time we got to Duchesse de Bourgogne, La Fin du Monde and Cuvée René. Serious beer here!

Wheeler’s beers are excellent, from the opening pale ale to his kick-ass Bigger Hammer barley wine. Stand-outs included the Eldred Rock Amber, with a boatload of Cascade hops (and named for the lighthouse established after a boatload of gold sank, back in the gold rush days), and a beer packed with local spruce tips that have only a two-day “sweet spot” between being too young and too bitter. Wheeler’s IPA and stout were first-rate, but the hopheads on this cruise really went for the double IPA, which packed quite a hop wallop.

About a dozen different kinds of pizza were served after the tasting to accompany the serious drinking. Two of them were made with salmon sausage, which the pizza guy said he couldn’t sell to the locals because they eat salmon for almost every meal! We left Haines (no underwear jokes, please) sated and glowing from the great brewery hospitality. Be sure to check out the Haines Beer Fest, held every Memorial Day weekend — a long trip but worth it for the beer and the incredible wilderness setting.

The next day was spent at sea, heading back down to Victoria, B.C., for our pub/brewery crawl. That night we had the last onboard tasting seminar, featuring big beers. The session began with the champagne of bottled beers (no, not Miller), Malheur Brut Reserve, and we waddled our way through Russian River Damnation, Celebrator Doppelbock, Maredsous 10, Three Philosophers, a duo of Sierra Nevada vintage Bigfoot Barleywine-Style Ales (’07 and ’11), Midnight Sun’s Fallen Angel from Anchorage, The Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments and a big-beer finish with Urthel Samaranth quadruple, just ’cause. Happy faces and palates all around.

The seat of Parliament in British Columbia is Victoria, a diminutive town for a capital, on the bottom tip of Vancouver Island across the sound from Seattle — hence the temperate climate and U.S. expats looking for English gentility and government-mandated health care. Our last port of call had Brews Cruisers choosing among walking the town, going by bus to the fabulous Butchart Gardens or taking a bus tour of local breweries.

We began with a visit to Phillips Brewing, with a tour and tasting hosted by Matt Phillips. Don Bradley greeted us at the Moon Under Water brewpub, another new contribution to the Victoria beer scene. The legendary and knowledgeable Paul Hatfield and his Spinnakers Brewpub showed maximum hospitality to our intrepid group, and we finished across the harbor, back in downtown Victoria at the Canoe Brewpub and Swans Brewpub, just up the street.

Our visit was arranged by Celebrator British Columbia correspondent John Rowling and Great Canadian Beer Festival Director Gerry Hieter. Many thanks to them and to the Victoria brewers for a magnificent finale to a masterfully beery and hop-laden cruise. Plans are already in the works for another Brews Cruise, so stay tuned to this brewspaper for details.

Leaving Seattle on a perfect day!

Our first gathering

Graig Hartinger pours for Merchant du Vin

Beer "guru" Tom does Beer 101 in the round

Brews Cruisers feast at Alaskan brewer's dinner

Nora "Hop Queen" Seeley and Hop-along Dalldorf

Getting ready for Talk Like a Pirate Day

Haines Brewery in ex-Disney movie set

Brewer/owner Paul Wheeler in the brewhouse at Haines, Alaska

A day's catch arrives at the smoke house in Haines, Alaska

Marcy & Geoff Larson, owner/founders of Alaskan Brewery

Our tour of Alaskan included the massive mash extractor

1300 bbl fermentors at Alaskan Brewery in Juneau

Arlene & Tom Dalldorf toast to the Infinity in the Juneau harbor

The Brews Cruise 2011 group



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