Of course there are some rules to guide the selection. Here they are:
- Must pick a six-pack of beers that you feel best represent your state and/or state's beer culture
- Beer must be made in your state, but "gypsy" brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state
- Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include
- Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred. (ideally that could be another post)
So that leaves the following ten breweries to consider for six slots:
- Anchorage Brewing Company
- Alaskan Brewing Company
- Baranof Island Brewing Company
- Broken Tooth Brewing Company
- Denali Brewing Company
- Kassik's Brewery
- Kenai River Brewing Company
- King Street Brewing Company
- Midnight Sun Brewing Company
- Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Company
Ten breweries but only six slots: this was a tough call and reasonable minds can disagree (and probably will). But here's my take on the quintessential six-pack for Alaska:
Alaskan Brewing Company's Smoked Porter
Any list of great beers from Alaska has to start with the brew, the winner of more medals at the Great American Beer Festival than any other beer and the product of the oldest craft brewery in the state. First brewed in 1988, Smoked Porter is released each year around 1 November in 22 oz bombers and vintage dated, this is the grand-daddy of all American smoked beers. While the new vintage is released each year, the current vintage is on-sale pretty much year-round, so it passes the seasonal test.
The malt used in the brew is smoked over alder the Taku Smokehouse, which is also owned by Alaskan Brewing. It pours opaque with nice tan head that leaves good lacing. The aroma is full of heavy smoke and highly roasted, almost charcoal-like malt. On the palate it's smooth and full-bodied, with lots of roasted grain flavors to balance the smoke and hop bitterness. It falls away to a long, dry and slightly astringent finish. If you haven't tried this beer yet, you are missing out on not just an Alaskan but an American craft beer classic.
Midnight Sun Brewing Company's Arctic Devil Barley Wine
I could have selected any number of great brews from Midnight Sun, Anchorage's oldest brewery, for this project. I was very tempted to us their their infamous fall seasonal, Berserker Imperial Stout. But if there's one thing Alaska is famous for, it's the quality of our barley wines, and Midnight Sun makes one of the absolute best. Arctic Devil is released each January in 22 oz bombers to coincide with the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival. I may be stretching the seasonal rules a bit here, but I just can't bring myself to submit a six-pack without a barley wine in it!
Here's my review of the 2013 vintage: It pours a dark honey color with ruby highlights and a small, cream-colored head that dissipates quickly to a collar. The aroma is strong in malt, woody notes, and a touch of alcohol heat. The flavor profile is deep and complex, with notes of brown sugar, molasses, toffee, oak, and some alcohol heat on the long, rich finish. Once again, this is easily one of the best barley wines on the market. Delicious now, but fully capable of being cellared for years, if your like English-style barley wines, how can you pass this one up? 13.4% ABV and 20 IBUs.
Anchorage Brewing Company's Love Buzz Saison
Gabe Fletcher is probably the best known brewmaster in Alaska. After a long and famously successful stint as the brewmaster for Midnight Sun Brewing Company, he decided to establish his own brewery in 2010. The Anchorage Brewing Company's motto is "Where brewing is an art and Brettanomyces is king," so that gives you an idea of the sort of beers he's looking to make now. His most popular beer is probably his Bitter Monk Double IPA, but personally, I think his Love Buzz Saison, available in 750ml corked and caged bottles, is his best regularly available brew.
Love Buzz pours a deep, slightly cloudy gold, with a big, rocky white head. Citra hop aroma is present in the nose, which is not surprising since this beer is also dry-hopped with that variety. There are also the earthy, spicy notes that are typical of Belgian yeasts, especially saison yeasts. The carbonation is excellent, and the flavor profile is complex, with citrus-like hops, rose hips, orange peels, and peppercorns all making their presence felt, as well as the ubiquitous oak and brett barnyard elements. Give it time in the cellar and the brett elements become even more prevalent and the beer dries out even further. 8% ABV and 40 IBUs.
Kenai River Brewing Company's Skilak Scottish Ale
When Doug Hogue of Kenai River Brewing Company made the decision to start canning his flagship Skilak Scottish Ale in late 2010, he was breaking new trail for the rest of the breweries in Alaska. Since then, four other breweries have followed his lead, and more are rumored to be considering it. Canned craft beer has proved to be extremely popular in Alaska, and in the years since they first released Skilak Scottish Ale in cans, the folks at Kenai River have added two more beers to their canned line-up: Sunken Isle IPA and Peninsula Brewers Reserve (PBR) Ale.
Skilak Scotish Ale pours with an off-white head atop an attractive amber beer. Its aroma is a complex mix of hops and malt with traces of yeast. Assertively spicy hops balanced by a rich malt profile entice the pallet. The finish is long with lingering hop bitterness. 6.8% ABV, 63 IBUs.
Denali Brewing Company's Twister Creek IPA
There's many a good IPA brewed in in Alaska, and several of them are canned or bottled, so picking just one was very tough. However, the Twister Creek IPA that Boe Barnett and Sassan Mossassen of Denali Brewing Company brew is just ever-so-slightly my favorite. It's one of four flagship brews that this rapidly-growing Talkeetna brewery offer in cans.
Twister Creek is a clear gold with a nice white head, looking more like a lager than the traditional copper-colored IPA. The nose is full of bright hop notes. On the palate, there's a blend British and American hops to produce an very pleasing but not overly harsh bitterness. The brew also had a nice malt backbone to hang all that hoppiness on, and a nice, clean finish. 6.7% ABV and 71 IBUs.
King Street Brewing Company's Czech Pilsner
When Dana Walukiewicz and Shane Kingry, the owners of King Street Brewing in Anchorage, wanted to join the club of Alaskan breweries who can their beers, they were faced with one major problem. A typical can run is in excess of 100,000 cans, and they were not sure which of their several excellent and popular beers to commit to. Since opening in 2010, their specialty has been to make quality beers in the classic European styles, such as their Hefeweizen, Pilsner, Blonde, and Stout. So they came up with a very clever work-around. All the cans are identical, except for the name and ABV of the beer. These are added using a stick-on label to the can, meaning they can use the same base can for any of their beers! Any one of their brews could have made this list, but my personal favorite is their Czech Pilsner.
If you've ever been to Prague, you know what you want in a real Bohemian pilsner, and King Street's version delivers. It pours crystal clear gold with a nice white head. The nose is full of the delicate but unmistakable aroma of noble hops, wafted to your nostrils by the excellent carbonation. It's light and effervescent on the palate, with a dry malt backbone to support the clean, crisp hop bitterness. Amazingly drinkable, just like it's namesake. 5.5% ABV.
Some final thoughts:
Alaska is a long way from just about everywhere, so with the exception of the beers from Alaskan and Anchorage Brewing Company, you may have difficulty finding the beers listed above. Alaskan Brewing Company distributes to most states west of the Mississippi, while Anchorage Brewing Company beers are distributed nation-wide by Shelton Brothers. Midnight Sun Brewing Company has some limited distribution in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. For the rest, you pretty much have to come to Alaska to taste them.
However, that's not such a bad idea. A summertime visit to Alaska could easily be built around visiting many of the breweries listed above, not to mention our fantastic scenery, fishing, and wildlife viewing. Or you could really be bold and fly up to Anchorage for Alaska Beer Week in January, culminating in the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival. That way you could truly experience the best that Alaska has to offer in the way of beer.
Meanwhile, enjoy your six-pack.
Until Next Time, Cheers!