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Why I would rather be in Alaska

Appropriately for someone who earns his living by drinking beer (and writing about the experience), I have an office that was once a brewery. It is in London, England. The building still has a cold concrete floor, but no hot copper kettle (it is no longer a brewery - just my office). I cannot keep the place warm in winter. Today in London, it is snowing, and my fingers are numb with cold as they seek the keys on my computer. The snow is not heavy, but nor is London ever prepared for it. Snow, and serious cold, are rare here. I wish I were in Anchorage right now. Alaskans have proper snow, lots of it, often, and know how to live with it.

Frosty mug

I like proper seasons. Especially, I enjoy proper winters. In properly wintry places. Perhaps it's in my blood. Various forebears came from Lithuania, Poland and Russia. Maybe I feel at home in Alaska.

Yesterday, I was in a rather twee outer suburb of London. At an excessively polite party, I was offered a French wine, mulled. I would have preferred an English "wine" made from barley malt. Or, perhaps even better, an American one.

Barley Wine is a style of beer that evolved in England, perhaps in the 1700s, but was reborn in the West of the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. When I was invited to the Beer and Barley Wine Festival in Alaska last January, the thought crossed my mind immediately that such a cold time and place would lend itself to such a warming style of brew. It is one thing to think the thought, another to drink the pint. When I arrived in Alaska - it was my fourth or fifth visit to the state - the warmth of the welcome was compounded by the potency, and profusion, of the beers. That is why this week's postings have an Alaskan theme.

In England, not every brewery makes a Barley Wine. Those that do are unlikely to produce more than one. In Alaska, I would visit a micro, taste my way through ten or a dozen of its beers, finally reach the Barley Wine, and imagine that my duties were over for a moment. "What did you think of our Barley Wine?" the brewer would ask expectantly. Through lips frozen more by alcohol than cold, I would attempt a thoughtful appraisal of its merits.

Instead of being satisfied, the brewer would smile, and bring forth another Barley Wine, and a third, perhaps even a fourth. (See The Exalted Ruler of Beers).

Dog teamI seem to recall visiting nine or ten breweries in the Anchorage area, and sampling about 20 Barley Wines at the Festival. This punishment was compounded by a "treat" arranged by the Alaskan Brewing Company. They bounced me for several miles through spruce forest on a sled pulled by a team of seven insanely enthusiastic huskies. We worked up quite an appetite for Barley Wine and reindeer sausage in the clearing at the end of the ride. "Don't worry about the wolves," I was reassured. "They know this is husky territory."

When I finally got to the airport to leave for London, it turned out that both myself and my hosts had misread the time of the flight. It had already left, at 12.0 midnight. We were half a day late, at 12.0 noon. On reflection, I am amazed that I ever left. I sometimes wonder why I did.

This year's Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival is on January 19 and 20, at Humpy's, in Anchorage (information 907-562-9911).

Published: JAN 2, 2001
In: Beer Hunter Online

Brew Travel - Beer Event Reviews

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