How to Get a Beer Geek Excited

Main street, Skagway, Alaska, 7:30 a.m., September 21, 2016

Main street, Skagway, Alaska, 7:30 a.m., September 21, 2016

It was 7:30 a.m. and only the earliest birds from the three cruise ships anchored in Skagway’s harbor had begun to venture out. The overcast dawn and chilly winds gusting down the uncongested main street were a reminder of why last week was the final one for the Alaska cruise season.

“Look, a brewery!” I exclaimed, suddenly picking up the ambling pace at which Hugo, my brewer husband, and I had been walking. For beer geeks, that initial thrill of stumbling upon an unexpected and unknown brewery never gets old.

These days though, with over 4000 craft breweries in the U.S., it’s no real surprise to find one even in a relatively remote Alaskan town with a year-round population of, give or take, a 1000. Like kids encountering the proverbial candy store, we peered through the darkened windows of Skagway Brewing Company, assessing the possibilities for adventure.

“I don’t see any signs of brewing,” Hugo mumbled. Such skepticism is fair enough given the existence of establishments that sell beer but don’t actually make it calling themselves brewing companies—like one a couple miles from our house.

The adventure was on. “Let’s check in back,” I said, heading for a dirt lane to one side of the two-story building.

The stash of empty kegs we found indicated the place served plenty of fresh beer, but no sign of fermenters, no aroma of brewing beer. About that time, a young woman walked into the lane. “Hi,” I said, “do you know if they actually brew here?”

Hailey (I think it was) turned out to be a friendly employee who explained that the brewing happened upstairs and fresh beer flowed straight from the holding tanks down to the bar taps. We went off to our scheduled day-long excursion knowing a bonus adventure awaited.

4:30 p.m., September 21, inside Skagway Brewing Company

   Inside Skagway Brewing Company, 4:30 p.m., September 21

We returned that afternoon to find the pub open and packed with thirsty tourists from those three cruise ships. But, with the lack of competition, would the beer be any good?

That they served flights and you could actually get $2 samples of any of the six beers on tap, boded well. My first sip of Prospector Pale was highly encouraging. This gold to copper pale ale was good, hoppier than I expected, but Alaska is still the West Coast, notorious for palate-challenging bitter beers. The Chilkoot Trail IPA that followed was, of course, hoppier still. Too often, I run into high IBU beers where the piney, resinous hops overwhelm, but this one was pleasantly balanced, with plenty of floral and citrus notes.

Four more samples and one bowl of house-made cheese-beer soup later, Skagway Brewing Company had me convinced they were the real deal. The food items were pricey, but competitive with other Alaskan restaurants. We tried to talk our very busy server into a peek at the upstairs brewery, but with a line of waiting customers, we were out of luck.

Instead, I settled for a t-shirt advertising the brewery and its Spruce Tip Ale. When I questioned the veracity of the shirt’s tagline (“Keeping scurvy at bay for centuries!”), the cashier said that old timers claimed the vitamin C in spruce tips protected against scurvy in winter months. If you’ll take Wikipedia as a source, it turns out there’s actually truth and logic to the claim.

So, beer lovers, I give Skagway Brewing Company a thumbs-up that’s as genuine as the brewpub. You can bet that if I ever get back, I’ll shoot them an advance email asking to see that upstairs brewery.

The Brewer and the Beer Geek

The Brewer and the Beer Geek

Other notable beer experiences on the trip:

  • A paid Alaskan Brewing Company beer tasting one afternoon on the cruise ship. The granddaddy of Alaska craft brewing was every bit as ubiquitous as Budweiser in the cities we visited.

    Ubiquitous Alaskan Brewing

    Ubiquitous Alaskan Brewing

  • Very unfortunately, our schedule didn’t work out to allow a visit to Alaskan’s Juneau brewery, which offers hourly tours, but the swag shop in downtown Juneau was one of the best I’ve seen anywhere.

    Maddock and Casey, employees at Alaskan's store in downtown Juneau

    Maddock and Casey, employees at Alaskan’s store in downtown Juneau

  • Best meal and beer I had on the trip: at Tracy’s King Crab Shack, also in Juneau, where one incredibly large King Leg and an Alaskan White Ale were absolutely worth the $33.00.

    The 20-minute wait for one king crab leg

    The 20-minute wait for one King Leg

  • Never mind that Sledrunner Wheat Ale doesn’t show up on Yukon Brewing’s website. The one I drank with lunch at a dog mushing camp in Carcross, Yukon was a solid wheat beer—and delicious in spite of the cool temperature in the unheated dining area.

    A Yukon Brewing display in Carcross, Yukon

    A Yukon Brewing display in Carcross, Yukon

  • Dropping by the 55-tap Irish Times Pub during a 4-hour stop in Victoria, British Columbia. The stand-out on that beer flight was the local Lighthouse Lager, a highly satisfying, biscuity beer in a style where mistakes stand out like sore thumbs.

    Irish Times Pub, Victoria, B.C.

    Irish Times Pub, Victoria, B.C.

My final take-away: when you can easily find good craft beer in small towns in Alaska and a remote Canadian village, it confirms that craft has arrived. As if there was any doubt.

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