James 'Dr. Fermento' Roberts

So, here we go. It’s AK Beer Week, even though we’re half way through it, or actually almost all the way through it, considering that normally, Beer Week ends on a Sunday. 

How would I know? There was nothing formally published this year about Beer Week that I ran across. In the past, up to 75 events competed for my time and liver. Then, it was “what event can I skip so I can make a different one?” or, “can I duck into one event, then duck out and duck into another one that’s half way through?” This year it seems to be, “I wonder if there’s anything else?”

I get it. COVID. Again. It sucks. Not very many establishments have the staff to support something stand alone and special right now. All is forgiven, but dang, right? COVID’s keeping people away from work, and the most heavily impacted is the hospitality industry. If our beloved venues that feature great beer and great food, and during this normally celebratory time of combining them both once a year can’t even keep enough staff to operate during normal hours, how can we expect them to staff up additionally for a special event? 

My wig’s off to those that have done so thus far this year. 

I can easily tell you what’s left. If you’re reading this on the day this edition of the Press is published. I can’t even be certain about that anymore, since there’s an online version, or even two, that sometimes release as early as Wednesday. The paper version — you know, the one for the tactile readers that tell me “oh, I never read online, I just have to feel substance in my hands to get the full enjoyment out of it” – comes out on Thursday. It’s never been explained to me, but it’s never mattered, either. I’ve always managed to just drink through it. 

Where have all the damned red Press paper boxes disappeared to, anyway? Oh, just give me my damned phone.

Let’s just say today’s Thursday. Thursday, January 27, 2022, to be exact, if we have to date stamp on a place in time to make it relative in the context of this story. That means you still have time to get tickets for the Alaska Craft Brew and Barleywine Festival (the “ACBBF,” which is an acronym that I’m sure isn’t official, since I just made up by sounding it out), which is on Friday and Saturday. Here’s how you can sort of make up for the scarcity of beer events this year and put a serious hurt on your liver without trying real hard, if you’re willing to pony up for it. Hell, you can roll around in spilled beer on the floor if that makes you feel relevant, but it will probably be just before you get tossed out on the sidewalk in front of the Dena’ina Center, where the event is taking place for the second year in a row. This is the event’s 27th year.

Except for the name of the event – I just can’t get 26 years of belching out “the Great Alaska Beer and Barleywine Festival” off my breath – the location is a big upgrade, as are other parts of the festival, but I’ll miss that gaudy carpet in places in the Egan Center for some reason. I’ve never barfed on it, and that was never a goal, but I have thought about it more than once.

You’ve got three chances to show up and either just flex your drinking muscle, or not act the fool and seriously study some of the best suds this state sees every year. 

The first session is on Friday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. with last call at 9:30 p.m. This session, and the same session for the same price on Saturday night, with the same times will set you back $55 with an obligatory “gotcha” service fee of $3.54 at alaskacraftbrewandbarleywine.com/#tickets.

A Connoisseur’s Session runs from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, which is $69.04 with the service fee. I’ll fast forward with the buzzkill: the C-Session is the best session, and totally worth the extra bucks. It’s generally less crowded because tightwads don’t see the point. 

And what is the point? The extra 10 bucks directly supports the Brewers Guild of Alaska, the hard working industry support group of representative brewers and others that “promote the craft beer and brewing industry through consumer education, community events and legislative advocacy.” This is important shit; these are the folks that lace ‘em up against the incessant alcohol tax hikes and silly laws that fetter our ability to drink free and still be able to afford it, if nothing else. 

But wait! There’s more! 

Not to sound like a Ginsu knife commercial, but the C-Session levies the additional requirement that any brewery entering a beer into the festival’s integral Winter Beer Competition and/or the Barleywine Competition has to serve that beer during that session. If you haven’t figured it out, that means potentially 20 or 30 more beer choices. Lots of these run out during this session, so it could be the only session to sample them. Finally, if you really do care about our local beer, this is the session where the winners of those two competitions are announced about midway through, and typically by yours truly, not as if that’s any major attraction. Craft beer supportive, less people, more beer, and lots of fun? It’s worth the extra bucks.

Hint: if you run across me at the Friday night session or the C-Session, and I look I’ve been preloading, ain’t so! I’ve been in chambers elsewhere in the bowels of the Dena’ina with about 30 other devotees meticulously judging the entries for the competitions. No, it’s not a drunk fest, it’s a lot like being in church. It’s a very serious endeavor, and typically brings in judging talent from around the nation because it’s so well done. The judging of the winter beers and the barleywines for their respective competitions has been heralded as one of the most professionally judged events in existence, so don’t pooh-pooh me or the other guys for doing the grunt work. 

Oh, and as for the crowds, I’m probably speaking out of turn. The Dena’ina Center is much more spacious than the Egan center, and the requirement that only full-vax drinkers can get in, and the fear of COVID in general, will probably keep people away. That’s too bad; these people don’t know what they’re missing. 

Admittedly, COVID’s kept some veteran breweries away from the fest this year, just like last. Don’t blame them; respect their right to individual choice, and go and drink the rest of the good stuff’s that there. 

Another hint. For $121.54, you can opt for premium access to the two general sessions through a special VIP entrance (re: no freezing your ass of along the side of the building in line to get in), a limited edition T-shirt, an (empty) commemorative growler and a $15 food voucher. 

Featured this year are over 250 “brews” from around Alaska and around the “region,” that I guess represents the Pacific Northwest, although there are beers from further away than that, and “brews” includes mead, ciders and kombucha. Sixty-five brewing entities are represented this year. The inclusion of meads and ciders doesn’t detract from your ability to just focus on beer, like I do. No, you won’t be able to sample every beer available; you’d have to attend all three sessions like I do, and even then, trying to slam through them all is beyond a stupid people trick, and you won’t like yourself very much when it’s over. Trust me. I know. I’ve seen me try it. 

I’d be remiss to not postulate my annual survival tips. 

First, don’t be stupid enough to think you can pilot your land yacht safely home. In fact, don’t be stupid enough to even drive it there. If you don’t think Anchorage’s Finest don’t know what’s going on during the sessions, and at bar break after each one, you probably shouldn’t attend in the first place. 

Second, eat before you go, or start the fest by grabbing some of the local grub that’s also a big improvement over the stuff available at the Egan. Think of your gut as either a mainline to your easily influenced bloodstream, or a soft, spongey place for booze to hang out and can get absorbed slower than a runaway freight train if you’ve got something in it. Munchies are good, right?

Third, hydrate or die. Water is your friend. Drinking copious amounts of water both during and after mass consumption events like the ACBBF pay big dividends. Alcohol is a dehydrator. I try to pound water ounce for ounce with my beer. It mitigates my buzz as its happening and makes the difference the next day between “biscuits, gravy and beer sounds good at the Spenard Roadhouse,” and “just leave the lights off, don’t make any noise and let me die peacefully.” 

Whatever happened to AK Beer Week’s annual last-day-of-Beer-Week Brewer’s Hangover Breakfast event, anyway? 

If you’re reading this on Sunday or beyond, you missed it and you’re fucked, but probably less hungover than I am. 




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