James 'Dr. Fermento' Roberts

James 'Dr. Fermento' Roberts

I already know what I’ll be drinking on the 4th of July as my celebratory beer. I always find something patriotic to enjoy through the special weekend, and it’s special in more ways than one to me for two reasons. I’m a veteran, and the 4th of July week every year is my anniversary week with the Anchorage Press.

One beer – a throwback – that I drink every Fourth of July, is Budweiser, the original American style lager. By that, I mean regular, good old Bud, not one of the derivatives that followed it like Bud Light, Budweiser Zero, Budweiser Cheleda Budweiser Select, or Bud Light Lime Raz-Ber-Rita, to name a few crappy knockoffs that seem to be the norm across the brewing industry today. 

Oh, and for the record, Budweiser isn’t the original “American style lager,” although Bud’s brand man wants you to think that. Original American lagers predate the marketing giant’s emergence in 1876, but there were many more real, non-adjunct lagers before that. Who cares, and why would this be important to me at all??

I wrote my first column for the Anchorage Press on July 3, 1997. My first column 24 years ago this week was an unabashed bashing of the world’s most recognized brewery, highlighting the fact that the American brewery stole its name from the original Budweiser Budvar Brewery of Ceske, Budejovice in the Czech Republic, a brewery that makes an outstanding Bohemian lager of notably higher quality than the American wannabe. 

Of course I’ll drink a Budweiser American Style lager on the 4th; I always do. It’s not that I really like this beer, - call me weird - but holding a big 16 or 22 ounce bold red, white and blue can, and tossing back the insipid suds just seems uber-patriotic to me for some odd reason. I drank a shit-load of this stuff in my younger, military, pre-craft beer days, by the way.

Forget about all of that; there are more exciting local craft brew choices to celebrate with, and they’re as readily available here as Budweiser is across the globe, and about 100 times as tasty.

Let’s start with 49th State Brewing Company’s nod to our independence this year: Red, White and Blueberry, a “wild, handpicked Alaska blueberry gose, made with Alaska sea salt from Prince William Sound Salt Company of Whittier. We brewed this gose, then aged it for nine months in red wine barrels,” explains 49th State’s Andrew Cockburn, Director of Sales and Marketing.

Before delving into this fascinating beer, 49th State Anchorage turns five years old on 4th of July. Happy Anniversary! I was proudly in line on opening day back then, and plan to grab a pint and congratulate the owners and staff for creating one of the most exciting beer experiences in Anchorage since craft beer came to life up here. 

Like every other business in post-pandemic recovery right now, 49th State is staff-challenged, so a anniversary event is out of the question this year, but the new beer easily makes up for that. 

“The red is from the wine barrels, of course, the white is from the sea salt, and the blue is from the blueberries,” says Cockburn. “We are obsessed with using locally sourced ingredients. Red, White and Blueberry is sort of our Piece De Resistance for the season, giving a nod to last year’s incredible blueberry harvest and the incredible sea salt that comes from Whittier.”

Don’t consider this just another run of the mill fruit beer that’s joining dozens of others on the market right now. This one stands out. This virtually handmade beer reflects 49th State’s commitment, not only to local ingredients, but to consistently making very high quality new beers in the “Liquid Lab,” the experimental arm of 49th State’s brewing conglomerate that includes a production brewery below the Anchorage pub and a brewery at 49th State’s original brewery up north in Healy. 

“We do innovation brewing and use the liquid lab to test the market with unique new styles and experimental beer. We see Devin Wagner, our brewer as a mad beer scientist,” says Cockburn. 

“The reason we’re able to roll out so many unique offerings is because of the increased capacity at our production facility down the hill. With that, we can focus on this fun stuff at the Anchorage pub,” he says. 

At 49th State, a core concept is that there is a beer out there for every beer drinker, hence the incredible diversity of beer coming out of the breweries, “but quality is extremely important to us and we’re only releasing what we think are great beers, and only when they’re ready,” says Cockburn.

Still, Red, White and Blueberry is beyond this definition of experimental and fun brewing; it’s a beer brewed with pure passion and purpose, and it took a hell of a lot to make it.

“Devin had to get 600 pounds of wild Alaska blueberries into the tank’s three inch wide port on the top. It turned out to be a whole day of stuffing blueberries into a tank. Yeah, there was a funnel involved, but most of it literally had to be stuffed in by hand. The whole brewery ended up blue, and Devin was blue from head to toe at the end of it,” says Cockburn. “It looked like he’d been playing all day in grandma’s blueberry jam jar.”

The beer is purposely packaged in a clear bottle, highlighting the rich, sexy, velvet red color of the easy drinking 5.4 percent alcohol by volume beer that’s designed to be consumed right away.

“Physically, Alaska blueberries don’t taste like those in the Lower 48 which tend to be super sweet. These are the bad-ass Alaska version of blueberries; they’re more tart and tannic and come with a fascinating earthy complexity. We’re not worried about the clear bottles, beer aficionados sometimes take issue with that, but hops are scant in this beer and we used only 3 international bittering units worth just to balance the beer’s salinity some. And, it’s not made to age; drink it right away,” says Cockburn.

Red White and Blueberry is on sale now, and only at the Anchorage pub. Don’t go in and belly up to the bar asking for a glass; this beer is so special, its bottle, and off-sale only, and it will go fast. It will show up in the same format for sale at the Healy brewery in a couple of weeks. Don’t miss it.

Another beer I’ll be grabbing is Midnight Sun Brewing Company’s ‘Merica!, an American lager that’s dry hopped with Citra and Simco Hops, and according to marketing information, “with a light, golden color, subtle citrus character, and clean flavor profile, version 4 of the perfect drink to spice up your plans.” 

This is a great, light beer, perfect for our sunnier warmer days (and the damp, gloomy ones, too). I’ve had all of the versions, and each successive one gets better. This iteration is a little drier and crisper and actually comes across as a little “cleaner” on my palate, so I’m stocking up in this local patriot for my upcoming activities. I get my 12 ounce six-pack (or single) cans at the midtown Metro Mall La Bodega, but the beer’s widely available around town. 

There are probably more local Independence Day beers out there, but another beer I’m drinking an ocean of these day is Matanuska Brewing Company’s Arctic Warrior American Ale. I’m a 20 year Air Force retiree, had family in the military and lost my first son-in-law in Iraq, so I’m extremely patriotic and appreciate Matanuska’s nod to our active and past military folk. According to the brewery, “this beer celebrates The Arctic Warrior Men and Women of Alaska’s Armed Forces! Thank you for your service!” Beyond that, I drink the beer year-round, not just on patriotic occasions. I really like this beer. 

Again, for this time of year, this is a perfect, clean, light beer that’s a beautiful diversion to the runaway IPAs saturating the market and seem to have become America’s go to style. Warrier just comes across as clean and refreshing, with hop balance, not saturation and on the sweeter rather than spicier side of the light beer spectrum, which I like. I find Warrior incredibly well balanced, and so super easy to drink. It’s certainly sweeter than ‘Merica, but both have equal merit for different reasons. Where ‘Merica is on the drier side, Warrior is more malt-forward and fruiter; a distinction between an ale and a lager. 

You’ll enjoy either beer, but why not go after all three? Pick up Red, White and Blueberry as the big fireworks beer, and pick up ‘Merica and Arctic Warrior as Independence Day sparklers. Be on the lookout for other local patriotic entrants in the rich fabric of Alaska brewing. Oh, and even if you’re a hard core craft beer drinker like me, I doubt anyone would say anything if you’re spotted with a Bud tall boy in your hand. 


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