LADY JAY AND THE BEER FRONTIER

A few weeks ago, while my companion the Herr was lamenting the hardships of living in a state with poor distributional diversity as is his wont, I was in Juneau, Alaska. Drinking lots of beer. It was awesome.

For the uninitiated, Juneau is home to the Alaskan Brewing Company, famed in more propitiously-located parts of the Lower 48 for its smoked porter. Additionally, Alaskan is known for being on the forefront of brewing innovations that reduce their environmental impact (and such hippie nonsense was the theme of the business that had brought me to that distant shore). Naturally, a visit to this fine establishment was in order.

Alas, it was not to be. Apparently, March is considered the off-season for tourist activities in Juneau—half of the city is closed or operates only on weekends until the cruise ships return in May to disgorge shoals of glassy-eyed, cocktail-shrimp-engorged tourists, half in parkas, the other half in Bermuda shorts, ready to launch into a spending frenzy to replace their sweaty wads of cash with Russian nesting dolls (emblazoned with the likenesses of their favorite sports stars), loose diamonds, and “authentic Alaska gold rush nuggets”.

I digress. The brewery was closed. But I did find a very helpful employee of the brewery’s satellite gift shop and museum (go figure) that pointed me in the direction of heaven, aka The Hanger, which boasted all five of Alaskan’s year-round beers (Amber, Pale, IPA, White, and Stout) and both the Summer and Winter Ales on tap, as well as bottles of the legendary and aforementioned Smoked Porter. Viz:

Amber: The workhorse offering of the brewery. Innocuously tasty alt ale.

Pale: Not my favorite style—I just had a sip of someone else’s. And didn’t throw up. Well done?

IPA: More subtle in hop profile than tends to be the trend, but a solid session beer.

White: Lighter and sweeter than the IPA (of course), but still with plenty going on, palate-wise.

Stout: Rather a wimpy head, but smooth, with just a hint of coffee.

Summer: Another innocuous offering that didn’t do much for me.

Winter: This is a subtler take on the winter warmer than I’ve had this year (the Herr tends to gravitate toward winter beers that more closely resemble malt syrup than a beverage), which is not at all bad.

Smoked Porter: First reaction: “Ugh, Bacon Bitz?!”, but it soon mellowed into a smooth, earthy treat.

I'll be back.I also chatted with the aforementioned employee about the brewery itself (coincidentally, it turned out he had worked in production before shifting to the satellite location). Of course, the Alaskan family are all homebrew geeks (homebrew geeks who can take turns on the brewery’s single-keg brewing system) but more surprising is their sensible approach to reducing the brewery’s environmental impact. These days it seems like every Tom, Dick, and Anheuser-Busch is revamping their production process to become more environmentally friendly so that we can all feel good about doing something good for the environment without sacrificing the great taste of Bud Light.

Not so at Alaskan. Juneau can only be reached by sea or by air—which means it’s really expensive to ship carbon dioxide up from Seattle. So they built the first CO2 recapture system in the U.S. to recycle carbon dioxide produced in the brewing process for packaging and purging. They’re also using mash filter presses to reduce the amount of raw materials that go into their beer, and are looking into ways to use the spent grain they dry as an alternative fuel source, again not just because litter makes Indians cry, but because waste is expensive. So what’s the message? You don’t have to be green just for the love of Mother Gaia, but because it just makes good sense. And tasty beer.

Bonus shoutout to Midnight Sun Brewing Sockeye Red IPA (awesome) and Haines Lookout Stout (which tastes like a chocolate malt).


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9 comments

  1. Excellent guest post. Hard to imagine the capital of a U.S. state being completely inaccesible by roads.

  2. Great post. I just saw the new top 50 list from the Craft Brewers Association and was startled to see Alaska Brewing at #12–ahead of the likes of Stone, Abita, Brooklyn and Lagunitas. Do they brew everything in Juneau? That seems like an awfully pricy place to ship so much beer from.

  3. LadyJay · ·

    Thanks, guys! They do brew and bottle everything in Juneau. Their sustainable practices do help defray to shipping costs, since they save a lot on CO2 and grains, but yes, Commander, shipping sounds like its their biggest constraint.

  4. Actually, all of that beer is just consumed by people in Juneau.

  5. They’re building a beer pipeline from Juneau to Seattle to assist with the shipping issues. Also when the Bridge to Nowhere is completed they’re expanding into the lucrative Siberian craft beer market.

  6. CZAR VLADIBEER S. BOOTIN' · ·

    Ah Alaska. Lost comrades.

  7. Very nice post..good to know. Your command of the written english language makes you one of my favorite guest posters. Can’t wait for your next beer adventure.

  8. Captain · ·

    I like Alaska Brewing, but the Amber is so ten years ago and their IPA is boring by NW standards. On the other hand, I love the smoked porter and whenver they offer more esoteric offerings they are awesome.

  9. Captain · ·

    (I should note that Alaska Amber is more common than bud light out here).

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