Exploring Beer Beyond Anchorage

On our first visit to Alaska three years ago, we never made it outside of Anchorage. In fact, we barely made it outside of downtown. Wanting to expand our Alaskan experience, we decided to make a day trip outside of Anchorage to visit some breweries.

On the road to Talkeetna

Thursday dawned bright, sunny and clear, ideal weather for our little journey. We picked up a rental car a few blocks from our hotel and we were soon on main highway heading north. I have to admit, the first hour out of  Anchorage was not the prettiest. Certainly not the pristine Alaska we expected. However, once we cleared Wasilla and its environs, the landscape opened into beautiful vistas of frozen tundra, lakes and rivers with majestic-sized mountains in the background.

Our destination in Talkeetna

A little over two hours after leaving Anchorage, we pulled into the tiny town of Talkeetna. Turning left onto Main St, the town was a handful of buildings and two dogs. We later learned that Talkeetna, the inspiration for the TV show Northern Exposure, was larger with some of the town nestled along the river. We enjoyed our romanticized notion of Alaska. All we needed was a moose or bear walking down the street. Twister Creek Restaurant, home of Denali Brewing, was located on the right past just the two dogs.

Like veteran Alaskans, we scurried from the car into the restaurant. As could be expected, it was pretty quiet with only two tables being occupied. The bartender greeted us warmly. Grabbing our usual seats at the bar, we settled in for some lunch and beers.

The taster set at Denali Brewing

There were nine beers on tap, including the brewpub standard Red Ale, IPA and Stout. All were very nice. However, it was the creative seasonal and specialty brews that made the two hour drive worthwhile. Cleopatra’s Kiss was a 5.7% ABV Belgian-style Pale Ale dry hopped with lavender. It was almost a really tasty beer. My main issue with it was that it’s probably hard to do ‘subtle’ when brewing with that herb. It somewhat overwhelmed its base beer. Hibernale, a  8.6% ABV Belgian-style Trippel was a wonderful example of the style with a spiciness that made both of us smile.

However, for both Merideth and I, the star was Mohini’s Amrita, a 6.2% ABV Brown Ale spiced with curry spices. Even though I don’t like curry, I found the spices to be the perfect accompaniment for the brew. Cinnamon and clove were the dominant flavors that we picked up.

We really enjoyed our time in Talkeetna. The staff was very friendly and we were even treated to some local color. Sunset was a few short hours away, though, and I wanted to get back to Anchorage before dark.

On the way back to Anchorage, we stopped in Wasilla for my big moment, brewery number 600. Last Frontier Brewing was located in a small strip mall along the main highway that goes through town. With their pub still a few weeks from opening, there was no signage indicating where we needed to go. Leaving the car in a howling frigid wind, we wandered around the building trying to find a brewery. Merideth finally spotted some fermenters through a window and we slipped into the nearest door.

Ray Hodge, Last Frontier brewer and a legend in the Alaskan beer community took a few minutes out of his day to let us sample the beers that will be poured next door. We began with two beers that should go over well during the long Alaskan summer days, a really nice Helles and a fruity American-style Wheat. Four more solid beers followed, a Schwarzbier, an English-style IPA, a Scotch Ale and finally a nice dry Stout. Knowing that Ray had work do, we thanked him for his time and climbed back into our rental car.

Freezing in front of brewery #600

My celebration in reaching 600 breweries was very subdued. We didn’t do any filming and only took one picture. We wanted to reach 600 breweries together on our European trip. That didn’t pan out. We hoped that we would both reach 600 on the Alaskan trip. But it was becoming clear that we wouldn’t find that third brewery that Merideth needed. I was disappointed about that and didn’t feel like celebrating such an important milestone without her celebrating, too.

Well worth the small struggle to find it

We had one more stop before we got back downtown. Since we arrived in Alaska, we’d heard from our friends that we had to check out the new Midnight Sun brewery. The brewery’s first location was pretty memorable. Great beer, frigid temperatures (inside) and a taxidermist for a neighbor made for a brewery visit that we talked about for months. What could top that?

I think someone familiar with the city would have no trouble finding their new location in a snowy South Anchorage industrial park. But in the darkening Alaskan afternoon, we struggled to follow my phone directions a couple times. Luckily, before we had a chance to get snippy with each other, we found it.

The view from Midnight Sun's loft (complete with a UFO)

Walking in the main entrance, there was a bar right in front of us. But signs directed us up to the “Loft,” accessed via a stair case to our right. We reached the top of the stairs and immediately understood one reason we HAD to visit. The whole side of the the “Loft” was a panorama window of the nearby mountain range. For a Thursday afternoon, it was somewhat busy, but in the large space, there were plenty of available tables. We situated ourselves at one in the back with a view of all the action.

Enjoying a glass of Pride

We’ve had many of the Midnight Sun brews, especially now that they distribute in the San Francisco Bay Area. But I was very happy to see Pride, a 6.5% bretted Belgian-style Pale Ale. Part of Midnight Sun’s ‘seven deadly sins’ series, Pride was one of the beers I tried three years ago that made me fall in love with the Anchorage beer scene. The new brew I got to try was Mayhem, a 100 IBU, 8.2% ABV Belgian-style Double IPA. I liked this monster so much I bought two bottles to bring home. Merideth went with her Midnight Sun standards, Kodiak Nut Brown Ale and Panty Peeler, a Belgian-style Trippel.

After a somewhat long day on the road, it was nice to finally relax at Midnight Sun sipping our beers and enjoying some snacks. We talked about our day outside of Anchorage. We decided we definitely needed to return in the future (read summer time) to further explore this amazing beer state.

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