Yesterday, I attended the Anchorage Beer & Barleywine Fest. During a 3 hour session, you’re allowed to test offerings from local brewers and distributors at a price of nearly $60 (proceeds go to the American Diabetes Society). While there were a fair bit of college aged students there (even for the connoisseur session I attended), most I talked to were there in the spirit of the event – to taste and test different things that we may like to buy in the future. The way it works, we all got a glass that held 2 ounces and 30 drink tickets. You would turn in 1 to 3 tickets for that 2 ounces (standard beers were 1 ticket, heavy triple or quad bocks and some barley-wines were 2, heavy barley-wines and mead 3). Still, it would be hard for even the heaviest of drinkers to run out tickets in that 3 hours – and I walked off with some to spare.
The festival had many of the Alaska breweries I knew of, and some that I didn’t. It had breweries from the Pacific Northwest & Hawaii, which wasn’t too surprising. The distributors brought in some of the lower 48 brews they will be bringing up soon – including a Kansas favorite Boulevard (they were presenting the Smokestack Series like it was a new thing .. And I’ve been a fan for years). There was even a table full of all the German favorites, some I haven’t seen since … well … July.
I got around a bit, learning only afterwards that I should have had a strategy (and a better way to take notes). The day was spent trying things then trying to cleanse my palette unsuccessfully. Like early on, when I went to two pale ales in a row and felt a bit overwhelmed by hops Things got better when a Wilmer Milk Stout came across with a rich flavor and smooth finish — turning into what would be the best beer of the day for me. So then I went flavor flavor flavor, and then it became that I couldn’t taste one over the last. Of course by that time, flavor is numbed by … well … becoming drunk.
I did get out of the beer world quite a bit though. I had an apricot hard cider that was quite memorable. I tried a mead for the first time ever — and I get why you mead lovers love it. I used to hate all Porters (thank you Goose Island for showing Chicago makes bad beer) until Alaskan’s smoked porter (which yes … did have a smokey flavor … and it was awesome).
And finally I tired a couple of Barley wines. Barley wines are what the names suggest, a beer made with barley that is more like wine than beer. As a result, barley wine has a heavy flavor and the alcohol content twice or triple that of a lager or pils. It’s powerful stuff. To quote Monty Python “This is not a wine for drinking, this is a wine for laying down and avoiding.” After the second taste of it, I was done — not crazy stupid liquored up drunk done — but palette destroyed, good bye to flavor, even the water tasted like barley wine done.
As you looked around the room, though, what was really missing is what you could expect from a mid-west beer fest — there wasn’t an American mass produced behemoth in the room. No Bud, No Miller, Not even a Coors. It was a festival about what is good about beer. Truth be told, the big dogs are in Alaska, but they are far from dominant. It seems Alaskan is probably the biggest seller, and best I can tell there are more favorites than there are standards. Maybe its because you have to import the standard big dogs, and its cheaper for microbrews. But I like to think its because Alaskans have more taste in beer. The microbrews up here aren’t just good at crafting beer, either, they’re just plain good! I remember drooling over Alaska Brewing Company before moving up here, but was knocked over by stuff from Kenai River, was amazed at Broken Tooth (or Moose’s Tooth, whatever); and the brewery literally 3 miles from home wowing me with each offering: Midnight Sun. Alaskans know their beer, and Alaskan brewers are amazing at feeding those lovers.
That’s what makes a festival like this so … Alaskan. Hundreds of people of all ages (above 21 of course) sampling and evaluating beer not to get drunk, but because of what good stuff you can find.