Have a lovely chat with Paul Wheeler of Haines Brewing Company about the origins of the Haines Beer Fest, and you will quickly understand Alaskans’ love of craft beer.

The Annual Great Alaskan Craft Beer and Homebrew Festival got its start when a liquor store manager and Paul, a homebrewer at the time, got to musing about how swell it would be to have a homebrew show and invite over some friendly competition from Juneau.

Fast-forward 19 years, and you have a completely sold-out event featuring approximately 70 different commercial beers from the Lower 48, Alaska, Hawaii and Yukon.

The homebrew portion of the event is now bigger than ever with hundreds of neat, brown, carefully labelled bottles entered from all over Southern Alaska and yes, you guessed it, Whitehorse.

While you were taking a leisurely, sober stroll through Dalton City two weekends back, you may have noticed some changes from last year: 2011 hosted far fewer international and continental US beers, while the availability of Alaskan micros dominated.

This is great news for Yukoners, because it allows us to sample beers that we can easily get our hands on with a trip through AK.

Another feature this year was the trend away from lighter beers, with plenty of darker and roastier offerings. Think: browns, stouts, and reds with a kick.

The homebrewing categories were awash with Juneau’s Michael and Amy Lamonica’s brews … they must both need neck braces for the injuries that wearing six medals apiece must promote.

Best of Show, however, was nabbed by Anchorage brewer Tim Bisson for his Russian Imperial Stout, Bigger and Blacker.

Locally, we have our own stars, Meghan and Marko Marjanovic, who won First Place in the American IPA category with their fresh, hoppy, citrus punch of ale, Rachel’s Over. (Yes, that is a reference to how much this Rachel adores a Marjanovic IPA.)

You may have heard Marko on CBC last week giving James Miller the low-down on the life of a homebrewer… keep your ears and tasebuds open for more from these two!

As the homebrew tasting is not open to the general public, festival-goers have to make do with the internationally acclaimed commercial beers on offer.

Tin Hat by St Elias Brewery was Rachel’s personal fave, and it was brewed with a year’s worth of forethought.

Brewer Zach Henry talked us through the process. They brewed two browns: a Belgium brown and an American brown. The American included a healthy amount of rye in its grain bill and was then aged for a year in a bourbon barrel.

Result? A complete layering of flavours: spicy, warm, woody with the depth of two different yeast strains … this, friends, is a beer with a game plan.

Michael’s favourites included a couple of brews from Kenai River Brewing Co. – Sunken Island IPA and Skilak Scottish Ale. The first is a well-balanced combo of malt and spicy hops, and the second a smooth, slightly roasty, and somewhat smoky beer.

If you find yourself lucky enough to be the Kenai Peninsula this summer, do yourself a favour: swing by KRB for a couple of truly amazing beers.

From both of us, a very honourable mention to Elysian Brewing Co.’s Men’s Room Red, a lightly hopped and toasty amber ale.

In a record turnout, this year’s event was sold out four minutes after the gates opened.

Next year is the 20th anniversary, so for Pete’s sake buy your tickets online and early. In fact, consider them for Christmas gifts. (For us.)

Please enjoy this article responsibly.