Tours and Festivals
Halloween might be the biggest holiday of October for some, but for beer aficionados, October signifies a celebration of a different caliber: Oktoberfest! It’s traditionally a German beer celebration in Munich that spans several weeks, but Alaska hosts several local events of its own to coincide with the German festival. Perhaps one of the most authentic events is the annual Oktoberfest event presented by the German Club of Anchorage on the first weekend of October each year. This year will mark the 45th annual Anchorage Oktoberfest festival. The event features live music and German snacks and brews at downtown Anchorage venues. Visitors are likely to see guests decked out in lederhosen and adopting other German Oktoberfest behaviors.
Another popular Alaska event to coincide with Oktoberfest is the Great Alaska Beer Train, a scenic tour on the Alaska Railroad, or in this case, “the world’s best designated driver.” From Anchorage to Portage Glacier and back, the special event train, dubbed the Microbrew Express, travels 80 miles (4.5 hours) roundtrip and features an impressive assortment of local microbrews, a variety of hors d'oeuvres and additional beers for purchase. Portage is located between the towns of Girdwood and Whittier and bustles during summer months when travelers vie to see the area’s biggest attraction, Portage Glacier, one of several road-accessible glaciers in Southcentral Alaska. The train route between Anchorage and Portage provides scenic vistas of Turnagain Arm and some of the most spectacular fall foliage viewing in Alaska. The train usually sells out early and visitors are advised to purchase tickets well in advance.
Two of the Last Frontier’s biggest beer festivals include the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival held each January in Anchorage and the Great Alaska Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival held each May in Haines. Whether you prefer a complex stout or pale ale, the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival showcases diverse brews of the Northwest and beyond — with special attention directed toward Alaska’s selections, of course. This year’s event, slated for January 20-21, 2012, will consist of an entire weekend celebration of brewing beer, mead and barley wine. The event will feature more than 200 brews from 50 regional brewers and warrants a trip of its own for serious beer travelers.
The Great Alaska Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival alternatively offers a single afternoon tasting session featuring fewer local brewers with a more laid-back atmosphere. Haines is located in Alaska’s Inside Passage and is accessible by large and small cruise lines, as well as Alaska Marine Highway ferries. The 2012 event is scheduled for May 25-26, and along with tastings, includes a homebrew contest, live music and award ceremony.
Alaska’s beer culture isn’t just about drinking in the calories, but burning them, too! Juneau is home to the Bike and Brew glacier-viewing tour, offered as a shore excursion on many cruise lines that call there. Knowledgeable guides meet guests as they disembark and transport them to the Mendenhall Valley where they’re outfitted with bicycles, helmets and other necessary equipment. Guests are given a brief safety briefing before hitting the road and cycling a scenic 8.5 miles to Mendenhall Glacier. After biking, visitors travel by van back to Merchant’s Wharf, an old seaplane hangar and waterfront landmark in downtown Juneau. A tasting of award-winning beers from microbreweries across Alaska awaits them to celebrate their aerobic accomplishments. Cheers!