If you've heard the adage "a drinking town with a fishing problem," it applies to many ports you will visit on your Alaska cruisetour. The craft beer craze that's been sweeping the nation is certainly alive and well in Alaska, which refuses to be outdone by the Lower 48. Forget simply having beer on tap. In Alaska, if it's a city -- or even an island -- it most likely has its own brewing company. Beer is a culture there, and with glacial water and local ingredients like spruce tips, it's a culture worth imbibing. Read on to find the nine best places to find craft beer on your Alaska cruisetour.
--By Brittany Chrusciel, Associate Editor
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With the most craft breweries of any city in the state, Anchorage is home to an abundance of beer. To get your feet (and mouth) wet, visit the likes of King Street Brewing Co., Midnight Sun Brewing Co. and Resolution Brewing Co. (named after Captain Cook's ship). The crowd favorite, however, goes to Moose's Tooth, a pub and pizzeria that's so well liked, Jane's Addiction is helping them celebrate their 19th anniversary on site. Creative brews like their smoked Great Land Campfire Lager are also available at affiliated locations like the Bear Tooth Theatrepub, a must-visit movie theater/restaurant/brewpub/concert venue.
One of the fastest-growing craft breweries in Alaska, Denali Brewing Company might also be one of the most remote. Some Alaska cruisetours stay overnight near Mt. McKinley in Talkeetna, a town so small the mayor is a cat named Stubbs. There you'll find the brewpub and tasting room, where production once took place but quickly outgrew the premises. One of Denali Brewing's most popular beers is Single Engine Red, brewed with five American and European malts. If you're daring, try the Louisville Sour, a blonde ale fermented in oak; the tartness is refreshing, and sour beers are on the rise.
Open May to September (like the cruising season), Seward Brewing Company produces small-batch brews during the summer and uses the lengthy winter months to test out beers with a longer fermentation process. The brewery uses local hops, and you can expect a lager, wheat beer, IPA, stout and their signature Rockfish Red. Stop by for a pint or a tour during your stay in Seward.
First opened during the Klondike Gold Rush, Skagway Brewing Company has seen a few different owners, but it still remains a reliable source of homegrown food and beer in Skagway. The Spruce Tip Blonde is the signature ale and comes highly recommended with good reason: It's delicious. The other ales derive their names from local sites and history: Go for a Prospector Pale or Chilkoot Trail IPA. If you're washing down some lunch before or after a shore excursion, try the Sockeye salmon sandwich or the chili.
Haines Brewing Company began when one man's homebrewing hobby caught on with friends and grew with encouragement from the public. So it's only fitting that Haines (Dalton City) is the site for the Great Alaska Craft Beer and Homebrew Festival in late May. (You might recognize the area as the set from "White Fang.") Accessible from Skagway by ferry, plane or bus, totem-flecked Haines is worth the daytrip if you have enough time in port. Stop in at the brewery Monday through Saturday from about 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. for a sample, a pint or a liter to go. Holland America Line has even held tours there. Haines offers its own spruce tip ale, carrying Captain Cook's moniker.
Starting out in 1986 as the first Juneau brewery since the end of prohibition, the Alaskan Brewing Company now reigns as the largest in the state. It's more of a brand than just a brewery, and you can find its merchandise along Juneau's main drag, its beer on tap at the Princess Cruises lodges and its bottles across 17 other states. Tours and tastings at the beer enterprise's state capital headquarters are a popular excursion when cruisers are in port. Even beer theme cruises make sure Alaskan Brewing is on their agenda. The company keeps plenty of varieties on tap, but it's perhaps best known for its Alaskan Amber Ale and Alaskan White Ale. Seasonal hits have included a pumpkin porter.
Baranof Island, an island along the Inside Passage, is almost entirely part of Sitka. Now that you've got the geography, map your way an easy mile and a half from the middle of downtown Sitka, and you're at Baranof Island Brewing. A small brewery with a ton of personality, Baranof isn't far from the Totem Park or Raptor Center, so it's easily reached during a port day. There are no formal tours, but questions are encouraged, and a taproom offers up to 36 oz. per person for consumption on site. Try a Medvejie Stout or Halibut Point Hefeweizen. (No matter the pour, they say the key to its flavor is in the rainforest water.) Kids and teetotalers can partake in micro-batch root beer. Open daily noon to 8 p.m.
Many travelers begin or end their cruisetours in Alaska's second-largest city and the "gateway to Denali." If you're looking to sample a few suds while you're there, head to HooDoo Brewing. Veering slightly from Alaskan-to-the-core recipes, HooDoo offers a closely replicated German Kolsch, a California ale and a Scottish ale among the taproom and brewhouse offerings. Hours vary (closed on Sundays and Mondays), but free 30-minute tours are held by appointment. You can even do yoga there on Saturday mornings. If you have the time to travel 10 miles north to Fox, Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Company offers a bit more of a native touch; craft beers include Copper Creek Amber Ale and Silver Gulch Tundra Apple Ale. A restaurant and store are also part of the brewery.
A scenic city sharing its name with a river, peninsula and mountain range, Kenai appears on cans of beer, as well. Kenai River Brewing Company, in Soldotna (within Kenai), is a microbrewery so micro that each beer is canned by hand, two at a time. We first discovered the company's Skilak Scottish on a lunch menu aboard the Alaska railroad headed to our cruise ship in Whittier. If you happen to be touring or staying in Kenai, visit the brewery, which is open daily (except Sundays) noon to 7 p.m. Kassik's Brewery is also in Kenai, another product of an ambitious homebrewer. Choose from an admirable 10 beers on tap, such as Beaver Tail Blonde and Moose Point Porter. Or, grab a 22-oz. bottle, including specialty brews from Chocolate Cherry Stout to Statny Statny, a formula made with licorice root and molasses.