Now, for the Beer
I arrived on Thursday for some pre-festival activities, after a 3.5-hour flight from Seattle. I was met by my host, Billy Opinski, who started the first festival in 1996. He is the owner of Humpy’s Ale House (named after humpback salmon), a wonderful pub with 20 Belgian ales, 44 draft taps, and one of the craziest menus south of the Arctic Circle (the halibut taco is to die for). Humpy’s is located at 610 SW 6th across from the Performing Arts Center. One of Humpy’s peripheral bars, Sub Zero, is located around the corner from the main show and has beautiful windows with a thin layer of bubbling water in them. This makes the street appear to be under falling snow at all times. They told me that on the rare occasions when it does snow, the windows make the real white stuff appear quite weird.
During my stay, I was fortunate in having gracious hosts who took me to all four of Anchorage’s breweries and brewpubs during the mornings (the festival didn’t start until 3 p.m. each day), giving me an opportunity to sample all of their brews.
The first evening, brewers and distributors met at Sub Zero. A bit later, the Northern Brewers Homebrew Club gathered at the Snow Goose Restaurant/Sleeping Lady Brewery, Alaska’s largest brewpub.
Last year, some 8,000 folks tasted 178 brews (including 22 barley wines) from 43 breweries across the world (Belgium, Germany, England, Delaware, Texas, Montana, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California and Massachusetts). For the first time, all of the festival awards went to home state barley wines, this from a judging panel that included only one Alaskan judge! The winners were:
1st – Hometown Glacier Brewhouse Big Woody BW (10.75 percent Alcohol By Volume, 90 Bittering Units) by brewer Kevin Burton
2nd – Alaskan (Juneau) Big Nugget BW (7.2 percent ABV, 46 BU)
3rd – Midnight Sun Brewing (Anchorage) Arctic Devil BW (11.5 percent ABV, 75 BU)
Honorable Mention – Sleeping Lady (Anchorage) Old Gander BW (9.6 percent ABV, 56 BU)
Entry for the two-day festival (Friday and Saturday, 3 to 10 p.m.), a fund-raiser for the American Diabetes Association, was $25 for a glass, a program, and tickets for 30 4-ounce beer samples. There’s food. Is halibut really the state dish, or was it just my imagination? There was live music, including Tom Dalldorf’s surprisingly good Rolling Boil Blues Band made up of brewer-musicians recruited wherever the publisher of Celebrator Beer News finds them. Most of the state’s brewers were there to talk to visitors. Sampling 30 different beers can be quite a project, even over two days.
I didn’t manage to try even 30 of the178 brews offered. Homer Brewing’s Oatmeal Stout was the best beer there, as far as I was concerned–dry and full bodied, it was a beer to remember. Moose’s Tooth (Anchorage) Fairweather IPA (6.6 percent ABV, 45 BU) was another to hold tightly, as was Silver Gulch (Fox) Coldfoot Pilsner (4.6 percent ABV, 22 BU) memorable and delightful to sip. The Midnight Sun Humpy’s Sockeye Red IPA brewed by them for Humpy’s pub was a friendly delight at 5.1 percent ABV and a robust 70 BU.
So many beers. So little time.