Awash in Brew

I must be getting old: asleep in my hotel room by 10 p.m. the night of Haines Beer Fest this year. A poor display of anti-beerfest behaviour.

The first year I went to the Great Alaskan Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival it was 2001 and it was held on the Fort Seward grounds. I drank far more than the $20 admission fee and then continued to exchange my money for beer at the Fogcutter until we were officially tossed out at 5 a.m.

Ah, memories.

The beerfest has since moved to the Southeast Alaska State Fair Grounds in front of the buildings used for the 1991 White Fang movie that featured a young Ethan Hawke.

This year marked the beerfest’s 20th anniversary. Surprisingly, the people of Haines are still putting up with the shenanigans that come with hosting a hugely popular beer-drinking event every year.

But somebody must have been kicking puppies or trampling on grave flowers because this year’s beerfest was one of the coldest and wettest on record. I don’t know if it was bad karma, but Haines was one big soggy blanket this year.

Beer drinkers were huddled in their Goretex trying to extract comfort from their chilly ales.

Thankfully, there was a bluegrass band playing. It’s hard to be grey inside when there’s a banjo twanging somewhere in the distance.

The seven-piece band was sardined under a big red tarp held up by a four-inch-wide metal pole dug deep into the ground.

The rowdies started to take leaping jumps at the pole, committing not-so-sexy interpretations of pole dances. Every time a dancer leapt, the pole shuddered and the band winced, but the pole held, and all were entertained… except maybe the band.

A real reporter would be able to tell you how many breweries were represented. From my vantage point of 5′ 2″, I counted something like six to eight different tables, but hit only three of them. The crowding was starting to trigger my latentenochlophobia.

Alaskan breweries dominated the scene—Alaska Brewing (Juneau), Baranof Island brewing (Sitka), Skagway Brewing Co. and Kenai River Brewing out of Soldotna (240 km SW of Anchorage, Alaska), among others.

A real reporter would have been able to say what her favourite beer was, but I was drinking primarily with the mouth part of my head, not the brain part.

There was a delicious IPA, made by one of those Alaskan breweries and the refreshing spruce tip ale served up by Skagway Brewing Co. All I can say is, those Alaskans really know how to brew.

The homebrew event was judged the day before the beerfest, on the Friday. This event allows homebrewers to enter their beers into competition and have them torn apart by variably qualified judges. I jest.

Typically, every flight (a group of similar beers being judged together, usually 6-12 entries) is judged simultaneously by three different judges to receive fair evaluation.

Morgen Smith, a homebrewer from Whitehorse, captured a third place finish for her brown ale. She could be seen sporting an event-appropriate medal—setting her apart from the rest of the common beer-swilling crowd—a flattened beer bottle hung on a ribbon around her neck.

Probably the most decadent part of my weekend was the beer dinner, held at the Fairgrounds on the Friday night before beer fest.

This plated, five-course, beer-paired meal featured crab cakes with avocado aioli and a delicious white gazpacho with yogurt and almond cream. The “pig de resistance” was just that—pit-roasted piggy.

Unfortunately, the beers were a little less memorable.

My favourite beers were the reception beer, Steve’s Side A IPA, brewed at the Alaskan Brewing Co., and the Tinderfoot Von Scotch ale by Denali Brewing Co.

This scotch ale was served with a curried bean salad topped with catfish. The catfish was supermoist with no trace of weediness, and the earthiness of the curried beans was balanced nicely by the malty Scotch ale.

We maxed out on our beer quota, leaving Haines with beer from Lagunitas and Stone breweries out of California, experimental ales by Brewdog in Scotland and spruce tip beer from the tiny Haines Brewery.

Paul Wheeler, the brewmaster at Haines Brewing Co., was honoured at the beer dinner for keeping the people of Haines in touch with one pillar of “civilization”.

The speaker bestowing the honour alluded to a quote of Frank Zappa: “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”

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