One of my hobbies, if you can ascribe it with that name, is to sample as many locally produced beers as I can when I visit a new area. I call it drinking with a purpose. A recent trip to Alaska provided me with ample opportunity to prospect for beers previously unknown to me. And what a treasure trove it proved to be.
Technically, under the laws of the state drinkers can only purchase 36 fluid ounces of beer per day for onsite consumption. I cannot say that I saw this in operation and clearly it could be circumvented by moving from one drinking establishment to another. That said, it may explain why in comparison with British beers those to be found in Alaska are considerably stronger, with Alcohol By Volume (ABV) percentages ranging from 5% to in excess of 8%.
The starting point of my exploration of Alaskan ales was a beer tasting event on board the MS Niuew Amsterdam as we were cruising up to the state, featuring six beers from the Alaskan Brewing Company of Juneau. They have been brewing since December 1986 and today produce beers in a wide range of styles. My particular favourite was their Amber which was deliciously malty and hoppy, rather like a good English bitter, although it was brewed as a German Alt ale. With an ABV of 5.3% it could hardly be described as a session beer but it was a pussy cat compared with my second favourite, Husky. This is an India Pale Ale with a gorgeous golden hue to it and quite citrusy. I found it very refreshing but at 7% ABV it packs quite a punch.
The Alaskan Brewing Company, whose strapline is “we brew the way we brew because of where we brew”, claim that they are the only brewery in the world to use their spent grain as a fuel for their brewery. Naturally, they use local water fresh from the Juneau icefields. When I was in Juneau I did not have time to track down the brewery but I did pop my head into the Red Dog, a tourist trap, if there ever was one, allegedly recreating the atmosphere of a saloon during the prospecting days. Still, the Amber was on fine form and after one drink, I made my excuses and left.
On my visit to Skagway, Jack London’s Skauway, I visited the Skagway Brewing Company. Their signature brew is Spruce Tip Blonde Ale, which, as the name suggests, uses tips from the ubiquitous spruces in the area. Apparently, a hundred grams of spruce tips mixed in water to create a tea creates 50 milligrams of Vitamin C. Captain Cook, when he was sailing around the region in 1794, deployed two of his sailors to create a beer from the spruce tips as a precaution against scurvy. And it seems to work. Looking around my fellow drinkers, I didn’t notice a single case of scurvy. The beer, with an ABV of 5.5% was piney in aroma, light gold in colour and malty and surprisingly sweet in taste.
It was refreshing to see local businesses care about the environment and the quality of the air in their state. The Skagway Brewing Company diverts any Carbon Monoxide produced during the brewing process to their aeroponic indoor garden in which they grow some of the vegetables used in the restaurant and brewing ingredients for their beers. They also convert used fryer oil into bio diesel which then fuels the boiler which produces the steam for the brewing process.
To be continued…