How to try a different local beer every night in Alaska
- “EVERY TIME BUDWEISER SHEDS A PERCENT of distribution, there’s 25 more breweries that can open up and operate successfully…”
I’d asked Sassan Mossanen, co-owner of Denali Brewing Co. in Talkeetna, if he worried that the relative explosion of microbrew operations in his state and around the country could oversaturate the market. He continued as I made my way through a 12-sample flight.
- “…And that’s what’s happening. And the more that happens, the more people will realize they can have whatever kind of beer they enjoy drinking, made by their friends that live right in the community they’re in. And we can all operate successfully with each other and have more choices. So I see it as a win-win.”
There are 20+ microbreweries in Alaska and counting, several of which have opened in the last three years. After the first few nights of my 10-day trip, it became clear that I’d probably be able to try a different local beer every time I sat down to drink. And so I did.
A couple cool things to note: Breweries themselves (i.e., not brewpubs) are loose with free samples, with the maximum they can serve you on the premises per day being 36oz. That’s four samples + two pints, or 20 samples + one pint. Also, should you need to do so, you can take as many as 10 growlers to go per day.
What follows are the breweries, brewpubs, and bars I got to on my trip. For more, check this mostly up-to-date, if unfortunately designed, listing of the state’s microbrew operations.
Homer Brewing Company
1411 Lake Shore Dr., Homer
Homer Brewing has been going since ’96 and has survived solely on the patronage of the city’s 5,000 residents. The only place they distribute is to the Saltry, a restaurant across the bay in the tiny artist-community of Halibut Cove, and even then it’s only a keg or two at a time, and the Saltry has to come pick it up.
The brew menu consists of five mainstays and a handful of seasonals. I sampled and enjoyed the Old Inlet Pale, Red Knot Scottish, and Odyssey Oatmeal Stout. They’ve also got sweet swag: beer can-shaped pint glasses and growler drying stands, among other merch.
Kenai River Brewing Co.
241 North Aspen Drive, Soldotna
Didn’t make it to their facility in Soldotna, but ran across their taps in several of the bars further down the list. Their Breakfast Beer (a stout) and Sunken Island IPA seemed to be widely distributed. I can recommend both.
Kenai River has a reputation for being more experimental in their recipes, and the brewery will be on my itinerary whenever I get back up there.
47160 Spruce Haven St., Kenai
It feels easy to get lost driving up to Kassik’s. The brewery and store / tasting room is located in the Kassiks’ backyard on the northern outskirts of Kenai, and has been since 2004.
The dude pouring samples the day I visited was happy to let me taste all 10 standard and specialty taps — the IPA, Orion’s Quest Red, and mixer of Vanilla Cream + Roughneck Stout were winners.
It’s worth a visit just to browse the bottle art for beers with names like Morning Wood IPA and Beaver Tail Blonde Ale.
Mile 0.5 Herman Leirer / Exit Glacier Rd., Seward
Like the other two bars I stopped into in Seward (Salmon Bake and Chinooks), the Roadhouse’s draft menu is pretty much exclusively local — something I think speaks to the quality, solidarity, and staying power of Alaska’s microbrew scene.
The Roadhouse distinguishes itself by having the most taps, as well as being connected to the upscale Seward Windsong Lodge, situated just north of the main town on the road to Exit Glacier and the banks of the Resurrection River.
King Street Brewing Co.
7924 King Street
King Street’s IPA kept showing up on bar menus, and I kept drinking it. The brewery in south Anchorage is one I regret not making it to.
Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria
3300 Old Seward Highway
This locals’ favorite is located in the strip-mall landscape of Midtown, just off the Seward Highway — which means not too many tourists, but you’ll still have to wait for a table, even at 9:30 on weeknights (they’re open till midnight in the summer).
The brewery associated with the pub used to go by the same name, but they’ve recently changed it to Broken Tooth, presumably to avoid confusion / stop hungry people from showing up at their brew factory in the Ship Creek warehouse district.
Midnight Sun Brewing Co.
8111 Dimond Hook Drive
Midnight Sun’s three-year-old facility, set in an industrial wasteland maze on the southern edge of town, is another hard one to find. But it’s worth it once you do. Tasting room and a little restaurant called the Loft is upstairs, while all the brewing takes place down below and in the adjacent warehouse.
Their menu is pretty extensive, with standards like the Sockeye Red IPA and Arctic Rhino Coffee Porter, plus some really weird specialties: kiwi-flavored Auckland Wit Bier, pomegranate-syruped Alpenglow…not sure what’s going on there.
Check out Alaska Trail Guides, which runs bike tours of Anchorage combined with tastings at Midnight Sun.
Sleeping Lady Brewing Co.
717 West 3rd Avenue
Find this one attached to the Snow Goose Restaurant (not to be confused with Snow City, an awesome breakfast joint) in downtown Anchorage. The brewery gets its name from the 4400ft Sleeping Lady (Mt. Susitna), which is visible across the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet from Snow Goose’s gigantic outdoor deck.
The night I was there, they were out of my first two beer choices, but the Portage Porter was a decent drink. Note to vegetarians: There ain’t much for you on the menu.
737 W. 5th Avenue, Suite 110
These guys poured my first and last pints in Alaska. Both were the IPA. If you’re a whiskey drinker, try the Beam Stout.
Glacier’s central downtown location means it sees heavy cruise group traffic, and you’ll probably have to wait for a table. I found, however, that early on there’s plenty of room in the bar area, and after 8-ish the dining room clears out.
Denali Brewing Co.
13605 E Main Street
The private brewery tour I got from co-owner Sassan Mossanen was a beer trip highlight — 12 samples, including several small-batch, onsite only beers, plus a walk-through of their original brewing outfit and attached Twister Creek Restaurant.
Brewer Boe Barnett mixes finesse and intuition with a traditionalist’s take on flavor and balance. Denali’s IPA isn’t like any other mentioned in this piece — I felt like I could clearly taste every ingredient that went into it. The Louisville Sour, Tinderfoot von Scotch Ale, and Chuli Stout were other standouts for me.
A couple days after I visited, I heard on the radio that airline Era Alaska is offering free samples of DBC’s Single Engine Red on their flights throughout the month of June. Sweet.
49th State Brewing Co.
Mile 248.5 Parks Highway, Healy
Probably the newest operation on this list, 49th State opened shop last year in Healy, about 10 miles north of the main Denali resort area. The property has a huge amount of outdoor seating space, fire pit, campground, concert stage, and is the resting place of the “magic bus” recreation used in the filming of Into the Wild.
They’re still at single-batch stage — the tasty Baked Blonde when I was there — though they pour other AK beers and “over 100 whiskeys,” according to the website. Open till 4AM in the summer.
If you’ve arrived in Denali by train or otherwise don’t have a car, DineDenali.com has a shuttle service (used mainly by resort employees) that makes stops at the resorts and restaurants and runs to 49th State and Healy. Costs a buck one way.
Milepost 238.9, Parks Highway, Denali National Park
Owned by the same group of guys as 49th State, Prospectors is across from McKinley Chalet Resort in the “town” of Denali. They’ve got 49 beers on tap — many of them local — and a bartender who knows them all.
Silver Gulch Brewery
2195 Old Steese Highway, Fox
Denali was the farthest north I got on this trip, but I was able to try the Old 55 Pale Ale from this rather elusive brewery on tap on Prospectors. Definitely tasty enough to warrant the 20-minute drive from Fairbanks if you’re there.
[Note: My accommodations and activities on this trip were arranged and paid for by the State of Alaska Tourism Office.]