I wandered up here in 1979. Beer wasn't a big deal in Alaska back then. I got here a week before Anchorage's only brewery - Prinz Brau - closed up. I missed a chance to visit by mere days. I was bummed. At the same time - not that I was looking for it - I was amazed to find out that Budweiser wasn't even available on tap. Miller was king back then and still is. Craft beer wasn't invented yet. Alaskan Brewing Company didn't open until six years later, but even "regular" beer wasn't much of a feature. In the early 1980’s beer was just a utilitarian, blue collar working man’s drink especially here in the rough and tumble, frontier-town oil boom days.
I experienced my first Fur Rendezvous in the spring of 1980. Rondy was devoid of beer too.
My first Rondy event was the parade along 4th Ave. I remember standing on the sidewalk in a throng of people. I was brown-bagging a tall boy of some forgotten beer while I watched the display go by in front of me. I shrugged in the cold, reminiscing on my beloved Anchor Steam Beer from San Francisco where I grew up.
Much has changed since then. Beer wise, Rondy grew about 10 years ago when the Official Rondy Brew concept got started. In 2008, Midnight Sun Brewing Company brewed a winter warmer to help celebrate the events. It was simply called Fur Rondy 2008. An American pale ale, an Irish red and a Dortmunder export lager followed in the next three years.
In 2012, Anchorage Brewing Company started brewing what became the official Rondy beer. I won’t go as far as saying beer saved Rondy, but for me it added zest and appeal.
Still, what was missing for me all of the formative years - and even the most recent ones - was a no shit, official Fur Rendezvous beer festival. Pancake feeds and cheesy, gritty carnival rides and all that are great fun, and the Running of the Reindeer event is a huge rush – I did it the first year, and another time after that – but bring on the beer!
Plan on participating in this year's second annual Rondy beer event, the Rondy Rotary Beer Fest that takes place on Saturday, February 16, 2019 from 3 pm – 7 pm at the Alaska Center For the Performing Arts. Tickets are $55 for the general session, but if you want the exclusive stuff, beer-up for the $70 per person Connoisseur’s Session that runs from 2 pm – 3 pm as a warm up for the main gig.
There are a lot of reasons you want to hang out at the Rotary beer fest this Saturday. First of all, it’s the kick off event – the very first event – of this year’s annual Anchorage Fur Rendezvous celebration. Second; let’s talk beer: upwards of 22 different local, national and international breweries are represented, as are notable restaurants and pizza houses weighing in to support this charitable event.
Admission gets your 18 two-ounce pours, as much local pizza as you can eat, and the ability to vote in the People’s Choice Award across three categories: Best Local Beer, Best Local Brewery and Best Local Pizza. The Connoisseur’s Session will treat you to a five course, five beer extravaganza that combines the best in local food and brewing talent to plate up excellent food made with excellent beer and excellent beer paired with the food made with it.
Anchorage’s House of Bread is strategizing in the background with Alaska Meadery to provide a dish. The Bridge is working with The Turnagain Brewing Company brewery. Ginger and Anchorage Brewing Company are teamed up this year. Altura Bistro and Double Shovel Cider Co. are putting a dish together. Midnight Sun Brewing Company and Williwaw’s experts are serving up a dish as well.
Both sessions are designed to be a lot of fun in “this high energy, good time, lively, live music that combines the best in local talent and bodacious fun that will kick off Rondy this year,” says event organizer Adam Sikorski of Anchorage East Rotary.
In addition to the People’s Choice Awards, an “elite” set of “pretentious” judges will be circulating the festival floor in their own protracted, cunning search for the ultimate beer. Stand clear or suck up to this group of “beer aficionados who represent the community and will give an award as well,” says Sikorski. I don’t mean to pollute this esteemed gathering of beer loving geeks, but I’m one of them.
A Beer Czar will also be shopping the fermented offerings for the best imperial stout upon which he’ll be bestowing his own personal award. “Royalty can be corrupted,” explains Sikorski. “It’s all about absolute power. Bribes are greedily accepted, so hassle those judges and make sure they vote your way.” I’m totally down for this; I love cajoling and hassling myself, and who can turn down a good bribe?
Rotating trophies will be awarded including an UFC-style belt, and honorary oversized gavel and other “surprise awards” that will be handed out when the votes are tallied.
Beyond all the great food, great beer and great pizza, proceeds from this event directly support an excellent cause.
“Really, though, this is ultimately about raising money for charity. We’re raising money for organizations that are fighting human trafficking, and primarily or own Covenant House and Priceless Alaska, an “anti-sex trafficking organization based in Alaska that walks with victims to find new life while meeting practical needs,” according to the event’s website mission statement.
“We’re hoping to raise enough money to get FBI approved and monitored laptops that trained members can use to go into the dark web to search for and identify victims to rescue out of human trafficking and to gather data that will help authorities identify and go after the perpetrators,” says Sikorski. “This event supports Rondy, but is specific to this cause as well, he says.
Sikorski’s long term vision for this festival is one of growth featuring more and more of our unique talent up here while continuing to support the community. “Initially my vision was to just create a fun event. As we planned it through Fur Rondy, we started looking it as a fun event, yes, but as a celebration of Alaska and how we express ourselves through our craft food, craft beer, pizza and uniquely Alaskan things,” he says. “It’s a celebration more than an event. The idea is to scale it in the framework of our state.
Oh, and as for the beer? “My long term vision is to have every brewery in our state represented at Fur Rendezvous; our breweries get the most exposure during this time and they deserve it.”
One other bonus: this year’s official Rondy Brew releases as a First Tap feature where it is made at Anchorage Brewing Company on Friday, February 15 – check out Anchorage Brewing’s website for that – but it will be a big feature at this event as well.
Get your tickets at CenterTix by surfing out to tickets.centertix.com/eventperformances.asp?evt=2023. Put on your best beer bling, show up and have fun. Bring plenty of bribes, a healthy appetite for loads of pizza and a raging thirst for great Alaska beer. Beware: hassle me and I’ll hassle you back! See you there.