For many Alaskans, getting “trapped in town” — meaning being stuck in the state with no chance of getting out for a previously planned vacation, or just because sometimes being up here for extended periods can seem a little confining – can be pretty depressing.
I know firsthand. I’m sitting on two sets of tickets to the Motley Crue/Def Leppard/Poison/Joan Jett tour in both Minneapolis and Charlotte this summer, and I’m pretty sure I’m screwed. Going to see this concert was the first check-off item on my bucket list, followed by going to Burning Man next summer. At least this year, I think my plans are on the rocks.
Another primary reason I love getting out of Alaska is to experience beer that’s not available up here. I never – not ever – travel for business or pleasure without spending a serious amount of time doing my homework to ferret out local beer, even down to the neighborhood level, wherever my travels take me.
My Motley concert plans included at least a dozen beer destinations in both Minneapolis and Charlotte, so I am doubly bummed. We’ve got a lot of it, but not all of it’s distributed — a good deal of our beer can only be had at each respective brewery — so beer can seem a little finite in Alaska at times.
So, I got to thinking. Why not just plan a staycation here in Alaska that would take me to some of our over 40 breweries, fully half of which I’ve never visited? Because our local breweries are far flung – and some of them are actually pretty geographically isolated – this presents an exciting, fun, and even logistical challenge depending on where I might want to go.
Years ago, I built an itinerary that would take me from the bottom of the state to visit every brewery what was open back then. With a lot of careful planning, very tight scheduling and just a little wiggle room to maybe hit up a noteworthy bar, tavern or pub in addition to the breweries, I calculated it would cost me at least $2,500 in travel, and I’d have to plan on being gone for at least two weeks to get from beer, there an yon back then.
That was at least 10 years ago and we’ve got almost twice the breweries to visit today.
It’s not likely I’ll be taking on a challenge like that any time soon, but consider that if you wanted to, you could plan one or more mini-vacation that are beer centric depending on your own adventurous spirit and how you like to travel.
Forget about Anchorage; we live here and can hit our own city’s breweries pretty much any time we want. But if you want to get out of Anchorage, you can cluster breweries by location for a couple of easy overnighters, three-day weekend or even week or longer trips to expose you to the largest percentage of breweries in some places you’ve probably never been.
Within easy driving distance, head south and tour our Peninsula breweries including those in Girdwood, Cooper Landing, Seward, Soldotna, Kenai, Nikiski and Homer. Girdwood Brewing Company is an easy half day trip there and back out of Anchorage, but Cooper Landing Brewing Company, Seward Brewing Company, St. Elias, Kenai River and Kassik’s Brewery make great further destinations. Beyond that, in Homer, check out Homer Brewing Company and Grace Ridge Brewing Company that are both pretty much at the end of the drivable distance south out of Anchorage.
Headed north on the pavement, you’re going to have to plan a little more time. I’ve done it before, but a liver-stretching day trip could expose you to Odd Man Rush Brewing Company in Eagle River, Arkose, Bleeding Heart and Matanuska brewing companies in Palmer, then Bearpaw River and Last Frontier Brewing Companies in Wasilla. Visiting these breweries could be an easy day trip, but they can also be incorporated into a much more extensive trip that includes breweries in interior Alaska but still on the road system.
Continue north on the Parks Highway and stop in at Denali Brewing Company in Talkeetna – the production brewery at Mile 2 on the Talkeetna Spur Highway and the original brewery site in downtown Talkeetna are awesome destinations – on your way through Healy and 49th State Brewing Company, the brewery at Roughwoods Inn & Café in Nenana, and on to Black Spruce, HooDoo, Midnite Mine and Silver Gulch breweries in the Fairbanks area.
Send a post card to friends from Silver Gulch and let them know you’re bevvied-up at North America’s northernmost brewery.
You could easily make a northern beer road trip a whole week of foamy adventure. Need some northern diversions to spice it up a little? Visit Gakona Brewing Company if you head down the Alaska Highway to return to Anchorage down that leg of the road system.
Another option is to leave Fairbanks and head to Valdez to visit Valdez Brewing Company and check in on Growler Bay Brewing Company down there and see if this upstart’s pouring beer yet. You could do a big circle from Anchorage to Fairbanks and back, spicing the excursion with lively beer spots in both directions.
Get on a plane and head to Southeast Alaska to visit Forbidden Peak, Devil’s Club, Barnaby and Alaskan brewing companies in Juneau. Using Juneau as a springboard, puddle jump to Baleen and Bawden Street brewing companies in Ketchikan, and Haines, Klondike and Skagway brewing companies north in the inside passage. West of Juneau is Icy Strait Brewing Company in Hoonah. Better accessed from Anchorage but also remote and well south of us is Kodiak Island Brewing Company.
A southeast Alaska beer adventure could easily get me out of Los Anchorage for a full two weeks if I wanted to do it right and not only visit the noteworthy breweries in this area, but experience some of our more historic and eclectic bars and pubs in each respective locale.
Some planning considerations include making sure breweries are open when you arrive. Plan your travel around these times; many breweries don’t open until noon or mid-afternoon, and not every brewery is open seven days a week. Any major suds-chasing trip takes extensive homework and planning, and doing so up here is no exception.
Visiting our more remote breweries in Southeastern Alaska assumes that some of the state’s travel restrictions have been lifted and that you can travel by aircraft and watercraft to get between beer destinations down that way. And if that’s the case, maybe you don’t have to stay in Alaska at all by then.
But, that’s not the point. Why not stick around regardless? In my 40 years in this state, of the 34 breweries in this staycation list, there are 18 I haven’t visited yet.
At the rate that new breweries are popping up in increasingly remote places up here, there’s a good chance I’ll never get caught up if I don’t get started, so this might well be the year of beer up here for me.
So, if your own vacation plans have been dashed, there’s no need to cry in your beer; our state is richer than any others in foamy beer destinations and our local economy and especially our local breweries and their employees could use your support.