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CBN's Brews Cruise to Alaska 2015
The Voyage Took Place from August 28–September 4
The Celebrator Beer News once again hosted a Brews Cruise to Alaska with Magic Happens Travel, departing from Seattle and visiting ports of call from Skagway and Juneau to Victoria, B.C. Forty-one beer lovers signed on for this year’s excursion, anticipating lots of world-class beers served up amongst some of the most spectacular scenery in North America. No one was disappointed.

Some of arrived in Seattle the night before our departure and took advantage of the warm Seattle day and equally warm hospitality of the Pike Brewing Company, nestled at the foot of the famed Pike Place Market. Pike Brewing owners and founders Charles and Rose Ann Finkel welcomed us with a selection of their house-made beers and some nosh, while Charles gave us a brief overview of the history of beer and Pike’s take on various styles. We gathered in the brewery’s history room, which is chockablock with beer memorabilia and historic collectables. For a group of budding beer geeks, this was heaven!

Forty-one beer lovers signed on for this year’s excursion, anticipating lots of world-class beers served up amongst some of the most spectacular scenery in North America. No one was disappointed.
Our ship, the Celebrity Solstice, the newest and most impressive of the company’s fleet, shoved off on schedule at 5 p.m. on Friday, August 28. By then, we had typical Seattle weather, overcast with light rain. As we headed out of Puget Sound toward the open ocean, we gathered for our first meeting in the spacious Sky Lounge at the bow (the pointy part) of the ship to enjoy our first offering of beers as we got to meet our fellow Brews Cruisers. We plowed through quite a selection of some of the beers we would later examine at the various tutored tastings in the coming days. All the beers for the cruise were sourced by Erika Tedin, owner of Full Throttle Bottles beer store in Seattle, and packaged for the ship’s warehouse. Thanks, Erika!

Our early morning visit to the Tracy Arm Fjord was nothing short of spectacular. Our onboard naturalist got on the ship’s speakers with a narrative of his many visits to the area, including the glacier and indigenous wildlife. Only he was kayaking and camping while we were on this huge floating hotel. This was my fourth visit, and I must admit that the glacier is a shadow of its former self. Sure, glaciers are either advancing or retreating, but his one is retreating big time. Still, to be on a huge cruise ship stopped in front of it was impressive. More interesting was how they were going to turn the big boat around to head back. Spoiler alert: They did.

If it’s Sunday, this must be Ketchikan. Our first port of call had a few points of beer interest, but mostly this was a chance to get off the ship and stroll around. Some ventured off to the Raptor Center or saw the impressive collection of native totem poles. At 7 p.m., we gathered in our exclusive meeting room, set up with desks, glasses, and dump buckets (whatever those are) to hold our first beer session: Beer 101. Thanks to a mix-up by the staff, we were presented with the beers for IPA night. Not a single attendee complained about the switch.

In a wildly eclectic survey of the style, we went from Samuel Smith’s India Ale through increasingly hoppy beers and ended with the delightful Speakeasy Double Daddy Imperial IPA, at 8.5% abv, while talking about the early British attempts to get beer to India back in the Raj. Our final beer, the much-anticipated Firestone Walker Double Jack, at 12% abv, was a no-show. Seems the staff had sold it during the previous two days. Communication is a beautiful thing when it works.

Our next port of call was the landlocked city of Juneau, capital of the state of Alaska. Everything gets in or out by air or water. No roads to anywhere. The Alaskan Brewing Company took on the challenge to create the biggest brewery in the state. Founders Geoff and Marcy Larson opened Alaskan way back in 1986 and prevailed against some pretty taxing (sometimes literally) situations to create this monument to Alaskan fortitude and determination.

We were picked up by a bus and taken first to Mendenhall Glacier Park to view and explore yet another receding glacier. We then visited the brewery to meet Marcy Larson and her staff for a sit-down tutored tasting of Alaskan’s amazing beers. We tasted some new releases, including a crowd favorite, Imperial Red Ale, which we later enjoyed on board the ship. Although the ubiquitous Alaskan Amber is the brewery’s flagship beer (thanks, Alaskan Airlines!), the Smoked Porter surely is the brewery’s contribution to American, if not world, brewing fame. Back on the ship, we held our rescheduled Beer 101 survey of world beer history, which included the current offering of Smoked Porter from Alaskan.

Our next stop was the historic fishing and mining town of Skagway. Most of our group opted for the excursion to Haines and a visit to its tiny but highly regarded brewery. The extra cost was more than justified, as the high-speed ferry took only 45 minutes to get us through one of the largest fjords on the continent to the tiny fishing village of Haines. Three small tour buses awaited and took us to different parts of the village, including the Chilkat River to see the start of the salmon run. We spotted a few bald eagles but didn’t see any bears this trip.

For a group of budding beer geeks, this was heaven!
After a tour of the old army post established at the beginning of the last century, we went out to the fairgrounds to visit Haines Brewing in one of the buildings built as a set for White Fang, a Disney movie filmed in the early ’90s.

Having outgrown its tiny confines, Haines Brewing was about to move into a much more spacious facility built for brewing, much to the delight of owner and brewer Paul Wheeler and his wife, Jeanne. Only 10 of our group could fit in the old brewery at a time, so we took turns sampling in the brewhouse. The more spacious event center proved a better place to sample all of the Haines beers, have some local pizza (superb!) and listen to the delightful musical stylings of One Beat Off, made up of local drinkers with a music problem.

After a day at sea, we held our final tutored tasting, this time featuring Big Beers. We opened with the iconic Malheur Brut Reserve, at 11% abv, as a “Hi, how are you?” beer. We were fine. We waddled through Celebrator Doppelbock, Logsdon Seizoen Bretta, Elysian Great Pumpkin Imperial, Maredsous 10, Rochefort 10, Westmalle Tripel, Schneider Eisbock and North Coast Rasputin, only to get to the Anderson Valley Huge Arker (don’t ask) Bourbon Barrel Stout, aged in Wild Turkey barrels, and the Pike Old Bawdy Barley Wine, for a night to remember. I think.

The only disappointment was that our friends at Samuel Adams were to send us three bottles of the ultra-premium Utopias ($200 a bottle), but their PR folks in New York sent three tasting bottles — hardly enough for the 41 beer lovers in attendance. Bummed, we were.

The next afternoon, we pulled into Victoria, B.C., for a tasting tour and pub crawl. We were met by longtime Celebrator British Columbia correspondent John Rowling, wife Carol and Greg Evans, a British Columbia historian and beer authority. Wow! Talk about beer knowledge. Our group visited Hoyne Brewing and the Driftwood Brewery (separated by a parking lot) and walked the three blocks to The Moon Under Water brewpub for a tasting tour and food.

Next we stopped at the iconic Spinnakers Brewpub, where veteran publican Paul Hatfield gave us a brief history of brewing in British Columbia. The superb beers and wonderful bites were a treat. We finished off our short visit with a stop at the Swans Hotel & Brewpub, the Canoe Brewpub and the delightful Drake Eatery multitap, which featured a huge selection of British Columbia beers.

A Brews Cruise ritual on the last night is to head up to the meeting room upon returning to the ship to do our best to drink up the rest of the beers on board. There were none. However, we did have some beers from our Victoria visit and some Imperial Red from Alaskan Brewing to toast our final night together on the Brews Cruise. And that we did!

Look for information from Magic Happens Travel on the next Brews Cruise, planned for 2017.

The 2015 Alaskan Brews Cruise Gang

Our ship, the Solstice, docked at Skagway

Glacier and calves at Tracy Arms Fjord

Our group at the Alaskan Brewing Co. tasting room

Marcy showing the vastness of the Alaskan expansion

Leaving Katchikan with double rainbow

Beer Class meeting room with a view

Brews Cruise IPA Nite beer selection

High speed ferry ride to Haines

Haines Brewery exterior

Inside Haines Brewery with Paul

Paul presenting Haines beers to the group

One Beat Off playing for our group

Big Beer Nite lineup

Sean Hoynes presents his wonderful beers

Part of our group at Moon Under Water

Paul Hatfield at Spinnaker's in Victoria

The 2015 Brews Cruise gang waving goodbye



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