The State of American Craft Beer – Alaska

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With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.

For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. So the second state to take the plunge is America’s Last Frontier, Alaska; it’s our largest state though standing 48th in total population (around 737 thousand) yet still large enough to sustain a state brewers guild and at last count houses 33 breweries. While much of the state is devoid of breweries simply due to location and climate, as of 2013 the state ranks 7th in breweries per capita and 3rd in gallons consumed per adult.

History 

The first brewery in the state was opened by Abraham Cohen in 1886 and while it only survived 2 years, it’s location in Juneau proved prophetic. The real brewing boom a decade later coincided with the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 when prospectors, especially from the West Coast, moved into port towns such as Dyea, Skagway, Douglas and Juneau. While that last town became the capital, it also became the home of the state’s rebirth in brewing.

Yes, there were a number of thriving breweries prior to and post-prohibition such Alaska Brewing Company in Anchorage, though it has historically been difficult to sustain a brewery in this boom-bust region due to a reliance on natural resources, remote locations, small populations, “a preponderance of dry communities” and the ever changing liquor laws of the 20th Century. Based on the information we could gather, the only brewer in operation in 1986 and the first to be founded in the state as part of the craft beer movement is also it’s most famous, Alaskan Brewing (ranked 20th in sales volume in 2014 among craft brewers).

The most awarded brewer in the history of the Great American Beer Festival with 48 medals, 19 of which were earned for their style defining Smoked Porter, Alaskan has clearly made their mark on the industry. Utilizing local ingredients such as alder smoked malts and Sitka spruce tips for spicing, out of necessity, they’ve constructed a local brewing blueprint that’s enabled other great brewers to thrive throughout the state. With 22 brewers accounted for in 2013 and now 33 listed as of 2015, growth in Alaska appears to be at an all-time high since the gold rush days.

Three More Breweries We Like That You’ll Want to Check Out

Anchorage BrewingAnchorage Brewing Company(Anchorage, AK) – Arguably the state’s most innovative brewer today as well as one of its newest (2011), Anchorage specializes in classic, barrel-aged styles, utilizing brettanomyces and souring cultures to craft one-of-a-kind hybrid creations. The brewery is also known for its beautiful label art, as well as being a regular collaborator in hosting Danish “gypsy” brewer Mikkeller.

HooDoo BrewingHooDoo Brewing Company (Fairbanks, AK) – The second most northern brewer in the country (after Silver Gulch Brewing, just up the road in Fox), owner Bobby Wilken learned the art of brewing in Chicago and Munich, Germany before returning home to work with Alaskan Brewing. Their taproom, open since 2011, provides a great variety from German Kölsch and various Belgian styles, to a California Common and an American IPA, so you’re always going to find something great on tap.

Midnight Sun BrewingMidnight Sun Brewing (Anchorage, AK) – This award-winning brewery was founded in 1995 and features 8 year-round offerings (including 4 in cans), plus 23 seasonals, series and specialty offerings. Set up in two locations in town, and offering weekend brunches and daily specials, Midnight Sun is a must-stop location if visiting Anchorage.

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