Back from a five day trip to Anchorage, Alaska. We were invited up for The Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival. Todd and Jason Alström were asked to be judges for the Barleywine competition. They were also invited to speak at The Great Northern Brewers Club. A massive group of homebrewers from the great state of Alaska.
There is a lot to say about Alaska. I really enjoyed visiting Anchorage even in January. It was pretty chilly outside but we missed the worst of it before we arrived and after we left.
Alaskans love their beer. They love big, bold flavors in their beers and they are not scared one bit of experimentation with their beers or styles be it professionally brewed, or concocted in their kitchens. Alaska has an an amazing beer culture. Everyone knows each other, everyone homebrews, and everyone supports their local beer scene with a protected pride in their home grown offerings.
They should be proud of what they have going on up there. I have never seen such a tight knit community of beer lovers. The people of Alaska are also some of the most generous, friendly, welcoming group of people I have ever met in my life. We were welcomed into their fold and treated like family members. I will forever be grateful for the way we were looked after and treated by the good people of Alaska.
The first thing we did when we landed in Alaska was attend a beer dinner at Sub Zero owned by Billy Opinsky. I am holding off on posting about that here in this post because it deserves it's own post.
The next morning we woke up refreshed and I, myself was finally free from a terrible jet lag induced headache, we decided we need a big hearty breakfast to set the mood right for our beer trek through Anchorage. I heard about this place down the road from where were staying called Snow City Cafe. I saw their menu online before we came up to visit. I had completely forgotten that Alaska is all about halibut, king crab, and salmon. When I saw that they have king crab cake eggs benedict, I would not stop until I tried them.
I had an excellent Almond Joy Mocha to wake myself up. And then I ordered the King Crab Cake Eggs Benedict. Picture came out a little dark, but it gets the message across.
These were awesome except for one thing. The poached eggs were hard boiled. I hate that. I want runny yolks with poached eggs. The king crab cakes made up for it. They were meaty with real king crab. That might sound strange to an Alaskan to say real bits of crab. Everywhere else you go it's faux crab meat. Or real crab meat that's mostly filled with more breading than actual crab meat.
Jason ordered an omelet and got a side of reindeer sausage. This is a very popular side dish for most breakfast joints in Anchorage. It tasted like smoked sausage but spicier and more rich in flavor. I haven't had reindeer meat before, but this was tasty.
We left this place very full and happy. It was snowing and the sun light doesn't come out until 10 or 11 am. It begins to set again around 2 or 3 pm. The best thing you can do for yourself if you are used to sunny situations is eat and drink yourself silly. It's a lot like Las Vegas. You never know what time it is, but who cares as long as there is beer?
We walked back to our hotel to get some last minute BA Magazine work done. While Todd and Jason were sorting that stuff out, I noticed that the hotel we were staying in was mentioned in some articles that it's haunted. Oh goody! Historic Anchorage Hotel.
The bottom picture are actual accounts that some of the guests have made about encounters with so-called spirits. One story reports that a couple came back to their room on the second floor and their door was blocked by a little kid sitting in the doorway. It turns out that there were no kids registered in the hotel at the time. Other stories say that the guests reported kids playing in the hotel when there were no kids registered. Apparently a little girl was shot in the hotel way back in the day and later died of a mysterious illness. Another little boy had drowned in a bathtub in the hotel.
Guest reports of seeing a man in a police uniform walking the hallways. The first police chief of Anchorage was murdered near the hotel in the 20's with his own gun and he refused to say who shot him in the back before he died.
The best story comes from the ghost hunters who came to the hotel armed with a tape recorder. The two ladies were talking in the recording, when you could hear loud breathing in the background. Then a creepy voice said "don't move that." Then it said "chocolate" and you could hear a chocolate bar wrapper being opened. Then the voice said "do her!"
Yeah, I am not quite sure what "do her!" meant either but it's pretty damn hilarious. Hilarious in the sense that it happened to them and not me. I did have a sheer moment of panic however, leaving my room when I saw two little boys in their pj's just staring me from the other end of the hallway. I found their parents down stairs in their pj's too eating a quiet breakfast. The boys came and joined them. I relaxed after that.
This is from the hotel's website:
Our Haunted Hotel – Where Ghosts Are More than Just Stories
Curtains rumbling, shower curtains swaying, pictures flying . . . it’s all par for the course at the Historic Anchorage Hotel. Stories of ghostly happenings have been circulating at the hotel for many years, all thought to be related to the death of the first Chief of Police, Jack Sturgus. On February 20, 1921 at 9:15 p.m., Anchorage's first Police Chief John J. "Black Jack" Sturgus was found shot in the back with a bullet from his own gun, steps away from the Historic Anchorage Hotel. It is rumored that his ghost returns to the scene of the crime each year, haunting the location of his untimely death, seeking justice for a crime still unsolved to this day.
Sightings are so frequent that we keep a ghost log in which a number of our guests have shared their encounters. In addition to the ghost of Jack Sturgus, there are several different specters that past guests have seen make their way through our halls and facilities. A more detailed account of some of these ghosts were featured on Today MSNBC.com.
While an abundance of paranormal activity may scare some, we can assure you that the rich and interesting history of the Historic Anchorage Hotel will make for an unforgettable stay.
Awesome, but kind of not. Good thing the people who were working in the hotel were once again some of the kindest and friendliest people. If I had seen a ghost, I don't think they would have minded if I sat in their laps curled up in a ball, sucking my thumb and crying for my mommy.
Then we went out to Midnight Sun Brewing Co. for a quick pit stop and some beers.
We tried a ton of good beers here. I found and fell in love with Specialty XXX. A Black Double IPA brewed for their distributors 30th anniversary. It was so hoppy and good. Dry finish, roasted malts still fighting to hang on amidst the onslaught of big hops. The perfect beer for me. I took a couple of the bottles home with me, but the bottles are barrel-aged.
We also tried Gluttony, a triple IPA and theoretical 200 IBU beer. Theoretical in the fact that the human palate can't really taste more than 100 IBU's. But supposedly this beer is about 200 IBU's. I tried the Kodiak Brown Ale as well and many other beers that afternoon.
*For the Midnight Sun crew: Hot Peach Cobbler is the winner for a food pairing with this beer. Peaches braised in tons of butter and brown sugar, a nice crumble on top of the peaches.... Pure vanilla ice cream with it. There is more that can be done. We came up with a few combinations, but I thought I would elaborate on the "I am thinking peaches" comment. I had it in the bottle after we got back and roasted malts were more apparent. Much bigger flavors than when I tasted Kodiak with a shot palate after drinking Specialty XXX.
Visit Midnight Sun's website and scroll through their profile of beers. It's a pretty stunning line up and some of the most creative beers from any brewery I have seen in a long time. Their beers are not just a couple of one off's that don't fit a certain mold. Their whole profile is off the chains.
One of the highlights was Bathtub Gin. A gruit style ale with juniper berries, grains of paradise, and other herbs. This beer was made by lead brewer Ben Johnson in honor of the Phish song Bathtub GIn.
Ben, I didn't know you were such a dirty hippy! That changes everything about our friendship.
If you haven't guessed, that's Ben on the label. Bathtub Gin was very cool. Crisp, dry finish, and big spicy nose and flavor. Again, very Alaskan with big, full flavor and a complete distortion of what is considered to be classic styles. I love it. They do what they want, make whatever beer they want, they don't give a shit about traditionalism because they don't have too.
Alaskans are living in their own quiet little world up there... Only it's not so quiet. They are making some noise up there and when you come into town, you either get on board or get out of town. It isn't hard to get on board with the delicious beers being produced up there. I love that kind of mentality. Who says you have to play by the same old boring rules? Midnight Sun is a perfect example of do what you want. Make the beer you intended to make no matter how big, or obscure, or undefined and the masses will follow you. It's so American, and I love it.
Later that day we made our way back to Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse. Owned by Billy Opinsky and shares the same kitchen with Sub Zero. Billy O had taken such good care of us during the whole time we were there. Taxiing us around, piling good food unto us to try. Like the amazing halibut fish and chips appetizer at Humpy's, and later treating us to sushi where we experienced White King salmon for the first time.
[Image via Food, Not Filler.]
When we got to Humpy's we were in the mood for some beers we have never tried before and appetizers. Smoked Salmon spread, Alaskan oysters, and King Crab bites.
All of these choices were great choices for an afternoon snack. I will say that the salmon spread needed more salmon chunks in it to balance out the cream cheese, but it was very smokey and tasty. And Hallelujah they give you a good amount of bread to go with it. I can't stand places that give you dips or pate and only two pieces of bread or toast points.
The crab bites had good pieces of crab in it. Served piping hot and great with some squeezed lemon. Perfect Alaskan bar food.
Upon further inspection of their menu, we saw this little note on it.
I would like to see someone take this challenge on up close. You can see the challenge on Man v. Food here.
Later that night we went over to the Sleeping Lady Brewery for the Great Northern Homebrewers meeting. Todd and Jason were invited to be guest speakers at their meeting. Todd thought it would be around 40 people. More like 120 people were there. Armed with their homebrews, and fresh imperial stouts pouring from Sleeping lady Brewery, we had a good old drunken night.
Getting a little Double Wit Bier from the tanks at Sleeping Lady. Dennis Sessler, President of the Great Northern Homebrewers Club kicking things off with Dr. Fermento ("Dr. Fermento is the alter ego of Anchorage Press and The Celebrator Beer News beer columnist James Roberts.")
What are those two weirdos doing? Jason and Todd Alström.
That was our downfall right there. Jason and his multiple trips to get the Sleeping Lady Imperial Stout and Smoked Porter from Alaskan Brewing Co. The homemade meads certainly contributed a fair amount to our downfall as well.
Jamie Floyd from Ninkasi Brewing Co. in Eugene, Oregon with his geek tattoo of a D&D dice. You had to be there and hear Jason's reaction when Jamie mentioned his geek passion for D&D.
People were getting down to Tom Dalldorf's band the Rolling Boil Blues Band. The older gentleman in the picture was having himself a good old time. He was fun to watch.
There were a lot of homemade meads being tasted out and many homebrews being passed around. All I can say is that it is probably good for everyone including myself that I didn't take anymore pictures after this point. Alaskans throw down. We'll just leave it at that.
Here are a few pictures of the judging for the first round of the Barleywine Competition and the Winter Seasonal category.
Second day, round two, two tables one for Winter Seasonals and one for Barleywines.
The winner for Winter Seasonals: Glacier Brewhouse, Eisbock
The Winners for the Barleywine: 1st Place Lagunitas, Gnarleywine
2nd Place Midnight Sun, Arctic Devil
3rd Place Pizza Port, Blonde Bombshell Barleywine.
I did not take pictures of the festival itself for the two sessions I attended. It was quite a good time. A bit too crowded (much more room in the connoisseur session) and a bit too much puke on the sidewalks after the fact. But still a good a time. As I said, Alaskans like big, full beers. These people like to get crunked. It's my kind of town.
I also didn't get pictures of the incredible sushi we had at Sushi & Sushi or the tasting of all 18 beers at Moose's Tooth Pizza. That was certainly a good moment. Enjoying 18 different beers with Thai pizza, BBQ chicken pizza, and a McKinley meat pizza. That was heaven.
We ended our 5 day excursion back at Midnight Sun for a relaxing afternoon that spanned into the evening. We drank Good Mojo, Specialty XXX, more Gluttony, and Earth. We drank awesome beers, had good food, and said good-bye to our new found friends of Alaska.
I didn't get pictures with some of my new good friends in Alaska. Julie and Tim McDonald, Billy Opinsky (Humpy's, Sub Zero), Dena and Dennis Sessler, Ken and Shauna Pajak (Cafe Amsterdam), Barb, Mark, Ben, Gabe, Jeremiah, Gary, and Seth (Midnight Sun). All of these people made our trip to Alaska fantastic. The Generosity, the laid back and cool attitudes, the welcoming nature into their worlds. I have said it over and over again, I will forever be grateful for their tremendous hospitality.
Edit: I don't want to forget what a gem Tom Dalldorf is and what a terrific sense of humor he has. I knew we would get along good when he brought up the idea of prank calling Lisa Morrison!