Alaska is known for its drinking culture, but not its manufacturing ability. While the history of alcohol in Alaska goes back to the earliest days of Western contact, the story of its production is relatively new – the oldest alcohol-producing facility is less than 30 years old. The arts of distilling and brewing, mead and wine-making, have a short history in Alaska, but one worth grabbing a dram and reading about.
Over the last three decades, spirit-making facilities have popped up across Alaska like so many moonshine stills in a dry county. From Healy to Homer and from Soldotna to Skagway, sixteen separate towns and cities in Alaska boast at least one alcohol-producing facility, whether it be a brewery, winery, distillery, or meadery.
But just how many producers are there? As of October 2014, there are at least 31 breweries, wineries, meaderies, and distilleries operating across the state. Twenty-three of those producers are breweries. According to one beer organization, there are an additional 12 breweries currently in the planning stages. There is also at least one distillery in the works – the Fairbanks Distilling Company based in an historic building in the city’s downtown area.Photo by Rush Lozano, Creative Commons Licensing.
Alaskan Brewing Company, in Juneau, holds the title of both oldest brewery and oldest continually operating alcohol-producing facility in the state. Even as the elder statesman of Alaska’s brew-makers, it only dates back to 1986.
It is fitting that the oldest establishment in Alaska would be a brewery. Beer and beer-making has a grip on Alaska’s palate, with 9 out of the 10 oldest establishments being breweries. The odd-man-out (the non-brewer) being Bear Creek Winery in Homer. Breweries can be found in 15 of Alaska’s cities, including: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Haines, Healy, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Kodiak, Palmer, Seward, Sitka, Skagway, Soldotna, Talkeetna, and Wasilla.
Some readers may be surprised to read that Ketchikan currently lacks an alcohol-producing facility of any kind. Fear not – the Baleen Brewing Company can be seen fermenting on the horizon.
Anchorage – it will be tickled to know – is the capital of sauce, the house of hooch, and the mecca of moonshine. There are more alcohol manufacturers in Anchorage than anywhere else in Alaska and it lays claim as the state’s only city to make beer, vodka, mead, and wine. Since Ring of Fire Meadery (in Homer) closed in 2013, it now houses the states only meadery. Oddly enough, there is no whiskey distillery in the city; the closest distiller being Alaska Distillery in Palmer.
When it comes to Alaska, the rank of 7th comes up twice. According to The Street, a financial media website, Alaska is the 7th drunkest state in the Union consuming 204.3 cans of beer, 21.4 bottles of wine, and 11.1 bottles of spirits per person.
According to the Brewers Association, Alaska ranks 7th for the number of breweries-per-capita with 4.3 breweries-per-100,000 people aged 21+. Another fun fact? Alaska is 3rd in the nation for number of gallons consumed at 11 gallons per person.
No matter how you serve it, despite a population of only 700,000, Alaska is really good at drinking.
A final note: In the city of Homer (home to a brewery and winery) one slogan bandied about – with no small amount of pride – is that the town is “A Quaint Drinking Village With a Fishing Problem.” One could easily say that moniker fits the state as a whole.
[This article was written with the assistance of Midnight Sun Brewing Co.’s Panty Peeler; a Belgian-style tripel beer. 8.5% ABV / 15 IBUs. Midnight Sun is based out of Anchorage, AK.]