Plan Ahead to Make the Most of Alaska Beer Week

By Bill Howell / Photography By Elaine Howell | December 23, 2016
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Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival
Enjoying locally brewed craft beers at the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival

Winter can be a pretty tough time to be in Alaska, with its bitter cold temperatures and long hours of darkness. We Alaskans need all the help we can get to make it through, which is why we celebrate Alaska Beer Week every January. Created in 2011, Alaska Beer Week celebrates the depth and diversity of craft beer here on the Last Frontier. This year, it will run from Friday, January 13 to Sunday, January 22, 2017. That’s ten days of craft beer goodness, smack dab in the middle of winter. It’s a dedicated tourist who’ll travel to Alaska in January, so this event is almost exclusively for us Alaskans.

Events take place in various cities and towns across Alaska throughout the week, but the vast majority take place in and around Anchorage, culminating in the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival, an event with over 75 breweries offering hundreds of beers, which takes place on Friday, January 20th, and Saturday, January 21st this year. There is a calendar of events on the Alaska Beer Week website, but with over 40 different ones listed, it can be difficult to choose, so here are three “must do” events.

Attend a Beer Dinner: In the early part of the week, dinners showcasing food and beer pairing are held at fine restaurants all across Anchorage. Perhaps the most legendary (and costly) of these is the one hosted by Billy Opinsky, the owner of Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse, featuring superb beers pulled from his extensive private cellar, some aged for more than a decade. Other dinners focus on beers from a particular brewery or beers brewed in a particular style, such as British or Belgian. There are dinners to suit every taste and budget, so you should definitely pick at least one to attend.

Attend the Industry Meeting: Held on the evening of Thursday (1/19) at 49th State Brewing, this is a joint production of the Great Northern Brewers, the Anchorage homebrew club, and the Brewers Guild of Alaska. It’s technically a private function, so you will either need to be the guest of a brewery or join the club, which costs $30. Even if you are not a homebrewer, it is worth it to join. The event features a huge free buffet, plenty of beer, both commercial and homebrewed, to sample and a speech by the festival’s guest of honor. Past speakers have included such craft beer luminaries as Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewing and Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada Brewing.

Attend the GABBF Connoisseurs Session: There are three sessions of the Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival, but the one you should attend takes place from 2 to 5 pm on Saturday afternoon. Admission to this session is $55, rather than the $45 for the other sessions, but it is well worth the extra $10, all of which goes to support the Brewers Guild of Alaska. The brewers offer special beers, poured only during this session. The winners of the barley wine and winter seasonal competitions are also announced during this session. The atmosphere is also a bit more relaxed and beer-focused, unlike the evening sessions, which have been known to get a little rowdy.

If you make it a point to do these three things, you will definitely experience the best parts of Alaska Beer Week. Then you can attend as many of the other events as your time, wallet, and stamina allow!


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