Beer in The Alaskan Frontier: Haines Brewing Co.
We Beer Chicks love to travel. And wherever we go, big town or small, our first course of action is to locate the nearest craft brewery, (shocking, we know). Besides being the best bet for the most delicious brew, the local brewery is often an epicenter of culture. Breweries tend to have the inside scoop on the food scene, nightlife, and the history of the area.
So it was, a couple months ago, that we found ourselves at the Haines Brewing Company in Haines, Alaska. Haines is a tiny town in Southeast Alaska near Juneau, a breathtaking section of the state – complete with rainforest, bears, whales, bald eagles, glaciers, and all the smoked salmon you can stuff in your face.
The brewery, established in 1999, is located in a section of the town that was originally built as a set for the movie White Fang, and is now the Southeast Alaska State Fairgrounds site. Haines Brewery’s idyllic old-west storefront gives way to a bar mere steps into the brewery, behind which stands Paul Wheeler, brewer, owner, (complete with full ‘I’m at home in the outdoors’ beard), and basically, along with Jeanne Kitayama, the whole operation.
Paul proved to be just what we would want/expect in a small-town Alaskan brewer; a man full of stories about the town, the great outdoors, and a refreshings sign in the brewery that forbids cell phones. He has a true passion for his product and a great sense of humor. To our great pleasure, Paul even had a copy of our book The Naked Pint, and remarked that it helped him explain craft beer to tourists who just got off the cruise boat, and were craft beer-challenged.
Though Haines Brewery is tiny, the beer is high quality. We sampled brews like; Devil Made Me Do It IPA, Dalton Trail Pale Ale, Longer Hammer Barleywine (which placed in the annual Alaskan Barleywine competition), then a life-changing beer moment came when we tasted his Spruce Tip Ale. Spruce Tip Ale is a seasonal ale Paul makes using young spruce tips which he harvests from the trees surrounding the area (he used to be a forester). Paul told us that spruce tips were one of the oldest ingredients specific to American-made craft beer, with the added health benefit of vitamin C.
The flavor was stupefying, (in a good way!). The tips offer an almost blueberry, raspberry flavor, while finishing with an earthy, piney woodiness that grounds the beer. Paul’s Spruce Tip has just enough hops to balance the beer, but finishes light and bright, making it a beer for every palate.
Though we managed to smuggle home a tiny growler of the spruce tip to share with a select few beer geeks back here in LA, sadly Haines Spruce Tip is only available in Haines at the moment. This is the nature of craft beer, and part of why it’s important to seek out the local craft beer on your travels; you may get a rare taste of a very limited brew.
We’ll be drinking Spruce Tip in our dreams…. amidst images of whales breaching, glaciers cracking, and the rich colors of the Southeastern Alaskan rainforest. And no, we did not see Russia from the brewery.
Haines Brewing Company
PO Box 911
Haines, Alaska 99827
For more pictures of Haine’s Brewery and The Beer Chicks, visit thebeerchicks.posterous.com