I have been on somewhat of a quest to find and sample Cascadian Dark Ales (aka Black or Dark IPAs). I learned that Alaskan Brewing was planning to release their limited edition Double Black IPA on 9/1.
So on 9/2, I visited a few local beer shops, but no Double Black IPA. Next day, same story. So I figured if I want to try it, I might as well go to the source. So I packed up the family and headed off to visit the Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau, Alaska. I’ll stop at nothing to sample and review beer for you!
Well…actually, we had already planned to go to Juneau, as part of a cruise vacation, but I think the original version of my story is more dramatic, don’t you? Anyway, we stopped in Juneau on 9/8. It was a cloudy day, and I made the seven mile trip from the cruise dock to Alaskan’s brewery on Shaune Dr. We actually visited the brewery during our last trip to Alaska five years ago. We really enjoyed it, and I was anxious to visit again—especially to sample the elusive Double Black IPA.
When I arrived, I was offered some samples at their tasting bar. If you make the trip to the brewery, you will be rewarded. Alaskan gives visitors six 3-ounce samples. I was thrilled to see that Double Black was on their tasting list! So I carefully selected my samples and tasted them in the order listed below. Since I started with the darkest ones, my taste buds were pretty much shot by the time I got to the IPA. So I will provide detailed reviews of the first four. I’ll pick up their IPA in Portland, and circle back to it soon.
- Double Black IPA (sampled it twice!)
- Baltic Porter Ale
- Smoked Porter
Our cruise ship served a few of Alaskan's beers. So I also tried Amber, Pale, and Summer during our vacation. I plan to review these three as well.
I was surprised to learn that Alaskan actually brews and bottles all of their beers in Juneau. I had assumed that they had an operation in the lower 48. I discovered that there are quite a few challenges in brewing beer on a commercial scale in Alaska.
There are no roads that can take you to Juneau. The city is separated from the lower 48 states—and even from the rest of Alaska. Their raw materials (grains, bottles, etc,) are shipped in by barge from Seattle. Only their water is sourced locally—and it’s a good thing. It comes from glacial runoff and 120” inches of annual Juneau rainfall. After the beer is brewed, the bottled beer and even the by-products of the brewing process are dried and shipped back to Seattle by barge. The spent-grains are used by Washington farmers as feed for livestock.
Despite these challenges, Alaskan’s brewery produced 126,000 barrels of beer in 2009. Alaskan's biggest sellers are their flagship Amber, their seasonals (Summer and Winter), and White, respectively. Interestingly enough, White was just launched last year.
I really enjoyed my visit to Alaskan’s brewery. Their staff was very nice and seemed genuinely happy to work there. To top it all off, their beer is excellent! So if you are lucky enough to live in one of the 10 western states where Alaskan is distributed, you should try their beer. You won’t be disappointed! On the day I was there, a couple stopped by to have a few samples on THE WAY TO THEIR WEDDING. I think that's another good sign that Alaskan's beer is pretty darn good!
On a final note, Alaskan’s Smoked Porter recently won a gold medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Fest. Congrats to Alaskan Brew Crew!