I survived Alaska Beer Week, better known as AK Beer Week. Despite all of the fun, it was a grind, but I made it through. Still, I'd do it all over again next week if it happened.
The 9th annual 10-day beer "week" started off for me on Friday, January 11. I was due at Humpy's Great Alaska Alehouse to emcee the official kick off event and toast that started at 7 pm. I usually roost out of work at around 6 p.m., so the 7 p.m. time frame worked well for me.
I was antsy though; I just wanted to get the fuck out of work and start what is always an epic number of days doing what I do best: drinking beer with friends and being a true beer ambassador in the community. At work, in protest, I decided to peruse the well-populated AK Beer Week website to further structure my calendar for the remaining days.
It was there that I discovered an event starting at 6 p.m. at Hearth. Girdwood Brewing Company was doing a tap takeover on the already excellent tap line that I run to when I want what I consider the state's most refined, purposeful beer lineup in the state. I ripped my thumb drive out of my computer, logged off, grabbed my keys and was headed toward Hearth in a matter of minutes.
Entering the packed bar right at 6 pm, I was rewarded with the same tap line I’m familiar with, only this time with five handles dedicated to Girdwood Brewing Company’s outstanding beers. This was a real treat for me; I don’t get down to Girdwood often enough to sample the brewery’s robust offerings. I quickly set to work, methodically drinking through the selections and chatting with Girdwood’s brewers on hand to meet with folks and talk about their brewing art and the brews being served.
I was particularly interested in a cryo-hopped New England style IPA called No Woman, No Cryo. Something might seem familiar with the name. Remember the 1979 Bob Marley song ‘No Woman No Cry?’ Well, the beer’s about as juicy as Marley’s song. Recognized as the first Cryo-hopped beer brewed in Alaska, huge additions of Cryo, Citra whole leaf Citra and El Dorado hops give this beer it’s sensual tropical aroma and flavor on top of light wheat, Pilsen, 2-row and spelt malts that provide the light base for the hazy beer. The combination works up one of the best New England Style IPA’s I’ve ever had. The 7.5 percent alcohol by volume is lost in the mix making this one dangerously easy to drink. This is one you definitely want to chase down.
From there, I worked through Girdwood’s Down the Chute Kolsch, Max’s Secret Stash – a perfectly balanced and refreshing Pilsner and two more non-Girdwood beers before I said goodbye to the brewers and dashed toward Humpy’s to kick off beer week.
It took a while for things to spin up, but eventually I was postured on stage with AK Beer Week’s organizer, Midnight Sun’s Barb Miller and Midnight Sun’s Beer Ambassador, Darcy Knifel. Once given the mic, true to form, I waxed prophetic – and probably yammered a little too much – about not only Beer Week itself, but Humpy’s long history (the brewery turns 25 in June) and the capstone event – the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival that turns 25 this year as well. Humpy’s had pulled some vintage beers from the formidable cellar and I led the toast and Beer Week was officially on it’s way.
I didn’t make any of the first weekend events on account of being way too busy at work, which forever gets in the way of my dedicated beer drinking. Fast forward to Wednesday, January 16. This starts the endurance test for me every year; from Wednesday to Sunday – the last day of beer week, my calendar is beyond full. A sensible craft beer lover would take the entire week off. I didn’t have that luxury.
Fully in the Beer Week spirit, I blew off work early and headed to the King Street Brewing Company Industry Trade show, and event more designed for industry peeps than the causal beer lover. Still, I’m a beer geek as much as a beer drinker, so I went and learned a lot about some of the materials and products that support our ever exploding beer industry up here.
Then, ripping the other way, I shot back uptown to attend the annual Humpy’s Belgian Ale Dinner held at the adjoining SubZero Microlounge. By far, this is the best known, longest-standing annual beer dinner held in Alaska and I’ve never missed one. Not only is the food epic, again, Humpy’s pulls some of the most incredible beers from the dusty archives that are simply unavailable anywhere else. For you collectors out there, how about a 2001 Boon Kriek? How about a 2005 Het Anker Gouden Carolus Grand Cru of the Emperor? These two were within the seven course, eight beer menu for the evening.
The four hour beer/eat fest about did me in, but I was raring to go again the next day when I attended two private events, the Specialty Imports Trade Show and the 49th State/Great Northern Brewers Homebrew Club Beer Industry Reception in the 49th State Brewing Company theater. The trade show exposes me to the best of the best in new and existing beers in the distributor’s lineup, and the industry reception is a family reunion of sorts as this is the first time every year that most of Alaska’s far-flung breweries send their brewers to Anchorage to attend this event and the following Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival (GABBF) on Friday and Saturday.
Friday, January 18 was the biggest challenge for me. First, I brought my well-tuned palate to the Egan Center to descend into chambers and begin the meticulous process of judging all of the barley wine and all of the winter beer entrants into the integral competition associated with the GABBF. With about 20 other craft beer aficionados certified in beer judging, we worked through the first and second round of the beers. From there, it was up to the festival floor to meeting with long time friends and brewers from around the state.
With no rest for the weary, I was back in place in judging chambers at noon on Saturday. It’s an honor to participate in judging the best of show round in the competition. Two hours later, I was on the festival floor, nervously awaiting the glorious moment when I’m honored to participate in revealing this year’s winners as part of the Connoisseur’s Session within the two day, three event festival.
On stage, I was proud to announce that in the Barley Wine Competition, Anchorage Brewing Company took first place with the brewery’s Double Oaked Deal With the Devil Barleywine, Kassk’s Brewery took second place with the brewery’s Oak Aged Buffalo Head Barley Wine and third place went to Freemont Brewing Company’s Brew 2000 Barleywine.
In the Winter Beer competition, Maui Brewing Company’s Night Diver Imperial Stout took first, Oscar Blues Fiddy, a barrel aged Imperial stout took second place and Cynosure Noe, a Belgian style spiced strong ale took third place.
From there, I finished up the session at 5 pm and had my ride take me home. By 9 pm, I drank my celebratory nite cap – an aged barley wine I’d saved for just the occasion – tossed back a couple of Excedrin and a quart of water and hit the sheets with dreams of next year’s AK Beer Week. Next year I’m taking the week off and hope to see you at some of the events.