Everyone who enjoys big beers should plan to attend the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival at least once during their lifetime. Usually held the third weekend in January at the Egan Center in Anchorage, this party brings out all the breweries in Alaska, plus some other great beers from the lower 48 and from around the world.
<P>My law school roommate and his wife moved up to Anchorage several years ago. Jon is the one who got me into home brewing and geek beers, and he raved about the GABBF the first year he went. This is the third year that I have made the pilgrimage to the party.
<P>The main floor of the convention center in Anchorage is set up with basically eight long exhibitor rows, with a stage, a small dance floor and a few tables. There were five in our party, plus others who were meeting us there so we got there first thing and staked out a table that we never gave up.
<P>For the price of admission you get a sampler glass, 30 tickets, and a very detailed program of exhibitors and the available beers. The workers are very lax in taking tickets and I have never heard of anyone running out. There are always more tickets lying around at the end of the night than any scavenger can hope to use.
<P>I made a bee-line to Glacier BrewHouse’s table and started the night off with the Big Woody Barley Wine, which was double barrel aged in wine and Beam barrels. It was an absolutely delicious beer with everything you want in a barley wine and a wood aged beer. It turned out to be the winner of the judged barley wine contest.
<P>In the Alaskan half of the room were Alaskan Brewing, Midnight Sun, Great Bear (the northern most US brew pub), Homer Brewing, Haines Brewing, Kodiak Island Brewing (the newest of the breweries), Moose’s Tooth, Sleeping Lady Brewing, Silver Gulch and off to the side the Glacier BrewHouse.
<P>All the in-state brewers had a barley wine, plus many other offerings. Midnight Sun had nine taps running with all their available beers, including the Arctic Devil Barley Wine (which placed 3rd in the competition) and La Maitresse du Moine. There were some special beers brought out for the GABBF, including Moose’s Tooth Ripped Pipeline Stout that was bourbon barrel aged.
<P>Even with careful study of each sample, it doesn’t take long to get hammered drinking two to three ounce samples of 10% beer. The program lists the ABV of most of the available beers, so you can pace yourself if you wish. Since we got there early, we did not encounter any lines at all. Most of the local brewers were in attendance, serving their own beer, and they were accessible and happy to talk about what they were serving. Even when the room was very crowded, which it was in the last few hours of the festival each night, the lines at the taps are never very long.
<P>Aside from the local beer there were many other exhibitors there, including Hales, Rogue, Stone, MacTarnahan’s, Avery, Sierra Nevada, Big Sky, Full Sail, Deschutes, Elysian, and Anchor to name several. A big surprise for me was to see a Dogfish Head booth, serving one ounce samples of the 120 Minute from bottles with stern warnings about its power.
<P>The importers were there as well with the full line of Chimay, Aventinus on draught, Karmeliet, Lindeman’s, Samuel Smith’s and Westmalle. At the end on Saturday I started at the Manneken Brussels table to fill up on Chimay Grande Reserve, which I drank on the walk to Midnight Sun for La Maitresse, which I drank on the way back to the Chimay bottle.
<P>Live music plays throughout the festival. It is surreal to be sitting with friends, sipping the Big Woody in Anchorage, listening to H3, a ska band from Hawaii. The bands range from folk rock to cool jazz, and there is a dance floor if you are so moved. Food was available, both for free (Moose’s Tooth was giving away pizza) and for purchase. You can also purchase various breweries’ logo items, including lots of t-shirts and glassware.
<P>While beer is the focus of the event, it is actually a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association in Alaska. 2004 was the ninth annual event, with the funds raised at the festival going to benefit children in Alaska who have diabetes.
<P>While in Anchorage, there are several beer stops that you should make. We tend to hang out at Humpy’s, which has 44 taps, many Belgian bottles, and great seafood bar sandwiches. Glacier BrewHouse has an excellent restaurant and Sleeping Lady Brewing is in the Snow Goose Restaurant. It is not that long of a drive to Wasilla, AK and a deep fried hamburger at Great Bear.
<P>People look at me funny when I tell them I went to Alaska in January to drink beer. The Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival is small enough to fully enjoy but showcases many brewers and styles that don’t get much recognition.