Back in Alaska

Ever since our first visit to Anchorage three years ago during the inaugural month of the Year in Beer, we vowed we would make it back someday. Our first visit kicked off our most ambitious beer travel project ever and Anchorage turned out to be the perfect place to do it. The beer scene was so welcoming and friendly for two people unsure of what lay ahead in the upcoming year. We made some great friendships, which left us feeling sentimental about the city.

It was a pretty easy trip to the chilly far north on Wednesday, despite the bumpy landing. The only worry was whether my checked bag would appear in Anchorage. I was wearing shorts and if my bag didn’t arrive, it was going to be one cold trip. Merideth’s bag came out pretty quickly and I fretted as I watched bag after bag pop down onto the conveyor. I finally saw the familiar shape and color of my bag and with a sigh of relief, we were off.

We needed a beer after a long day of travel

First stop wasn’t our hotel, but Cafe Amsterdam, a beer bar owned by our friend Ken Pajak. Late afternoon, it was already dark when our taxi turned into the strip mall where it’s located. Stopping at the entrance, we quickly piled out of the van and into the warmth of Cafe Amsterdam. We stacked our luggage in the corner and sat down to contemplate a much needed beer.

While Merideth began with Silver Gulch’s Coldfoot Pilsner, first up for me was Midnight Sun Sockeye Red IPA. On the go since early morning, it was quite relaxing to be sitting on a bar stool in our favorite Anchorage beer bar drinking great Alaskan beer.

After several rounds, catching up with Ken, and some yummy Rösti, we decided we should move on. I was still in shorts and we still needed to get downtown. Luckily, Gabe Fletcher, formerly of Midnight Sun, now with his own Anchorage Brewing Company, was hanging out at Cafe Amsterdam as well. He needed to go downtown and offered to give us a ride and also show us around his new venture.

Merideth amongst the barrels at Anchorage Brewing Company

I hoped to visit Anchorage Brewing Company on the trip because it was the third brewery that Merideth needed to reach 600. But as we talked to Gabe, we realized that Anchorage Brewing doesn’t fit our criteria to be on The List. Located below Sleeping Lady Brewery, Gabe brews on their kit then pipes the beer down to his barrel room for aging. At this point, we have decided this type of cooperative brewing arrangement doesn’t count for our List. Admittedly, this may become a problem for The List because it is an arrangement that is becoming more and more common.

List criteria aside, though, the barrel room was quite impressive. Stacked three high and in neat rows, a hundred or so barrels sat in the basement space working their magic on the beery contents. Most impressive was that all the beer in the barrels was already sold. We look forward to trying some of the brews in the near future.

Apricot XXX, a delicious triple with apricots

We eventually managed to check into our hotel. I put on some pants and we  headed out in the frigid evening for a quiet evening in town. Our beer destination of choice in downtown Anchorage is Glacier Brewhouse. Walking into the bustling brewpub, it was just how I remembered it, even down to the wood smoke from the fireplace. We also recognized JT, the bartender who first told us about Alaskan living.

We located a couple of seats on the back glass wall overlooking the brewery. Like my first visit three years ago, I started with their cask offering, this time the IPA. Merideth began with their Export Lager. After a Double IPA,  I ordered the first candidate for beer of the trip, Apricot XXX. A 10%ABV “Holiday Triple”, Apricot XXX was a beer that both Merideth and I said ‘wow.’ Sweet with a  healthy apricot kick, the smoothness approached dangerous levels.

It was turning out to be the quiet evening we envisioned. We chatted with people around us while sipping our excellent beers and munching on some appetizers.

The downfall...

But then, I looked at the menu too closely and saw it was the Brewhouse Big Wood Fest. That meant we could order a sampler of five ‘giants’ from their cellar. All between 9% and 10% ABV, there were three years of their award-winning Big Woody Barleywine plus an Imperial Stout and a Eisbock. Of the five, Merideth liked the Imperial Stout aged 30 months in a Czech virgin oak barrel. I gravitated towards the 2009 Big Woody aged 18 months in American oak. It was the smoothest of the five.

The problem arose when our waiter told us that he thought it was terrible when people didn’t completely finish such rare and special samplers. We took this not as a challenge, but rather more as a sacred duty to finish all five. Unfortunately, after Merideth had her baby sips, the ‘sacred duty’ then fell to me. I finished all five but would feel it the next morning.

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