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/// BREWS CRUISE TO ALASKA 2013
 
CBN's Brews Cruise to Alaska 2013
The Voyage Took Place from September 5–13
 
 
» BOOK YOUR 2014 BREWS CRUISE NOW FOR THE BEST RATES

This year’s Celebrator Beer News Brews Cruise to Alaska began on Thursday, September 5, in Seattle, Wash. The night before the ship sailed, about 65 of the nearly 90 beer lovers who signed up for the cruise (thanks to Magic Happens Travel) met up at a delightfully upscale dive bar/blues club in Seattle called Highway 99 to hear a special performance of the Rolling Boil Blues Band. Locals Craig Hartinger and Jhon Gilroy, both from beer importer Merchant du Vin, and John Burket, who heads up the craft beer branch of Odom Distributing in Anchorage, Alaska, joined yours truly to play a blistering set of beer-themed rock parodies that seemed to keep the crowed entertained for well over an hour.

The following morning, Brews Cruise guests boarded the Celebrity Solstice, a huge new cruise ship in the Celebrity line, and gathered in a large meeting room around 1:45 p.m. to enjoy a special tasting of beers from local Seattle brewers and distributors. Pouring at the gathering were Steve and Laurie Case from Pike Brewing, Casey Gish from Fremont Brewing, Rachel Titus from Elysian, John Burket from Odom Distributing and Jhon Gilroy from Merchant du Vin. A great gathering with a fabulous beer selection, and we weren’t even out of port yet!

A great gathering with a fabulous beer selection, and we weren’t even out of port yet!
We cast off promptly at 5 p.m. in a slight drizzle and watched as the Seattle skyline disappeared in the distance, as did the slight drizzle. We were to enjoy warm and sunny days for most of the rest of the cruise.

Our group gathered around 7:30 p.m. at the Sky Conference Center on the top deck near the bow (the pointy part of the ship) for the Welcome Reception, which featured another great selection of craft and import beers. This gave the cruisers a chance to meet and greet and, at the end of the tasting, take a full glass of their favorite beer with them to dinner in the ship’s massive dining room. We had nine tables of 10 to accommodate our group. The food on board the Solstice was truly amazing. And the modified (by us) beer list was astounding!

Our first day at sea featured a special lunch and beer tasting in the beautiful Tuscan Grille at the stern, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering a spectacularly sunny view of where you’ve been. The first course selections were accompanied by Racer 5 IPA, Ayinger Bräu-Hell and Orval. The main courses were offered along with Duchesse de Bourgogne, Logsdon Seizoen Bretta and Westmalle Dubbel. The dessert paired nicely with Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout from North Coast Brewing.

We woke up Sunday in Ketchikan, Alaska. The locals describe it as “a drinking village with a fishing problem.” At around 7 p.m., the whole group gathered for Beer 101: An Introduction to Beer History and Styles. I was hired by tour organizer Michael Weil to be the beer evangelist and conduct the various tastings. We talked about where each beer came from and how different styles have developed over the years. We tasted our way through 14 different beers in the process. Ah, higher education.

After that, Brews Cruisers were invited to take a glass of their favorite down to an elegant dinner in the main dining room. Special beers from the Brews Cruise were offered for sale to accompany the evening’s menu.

On Monday morning, we woke up cruising slowly up the Tracy Arm Fjord to visit the Sawyer Glacier. It seemed to be bigger on my last visit two years ago. Watching the captain slowly spin our huge cruise ship 180 degrees on a dime to head back down the fjord was a truly amazing experience.

The food on board the Solstice was truly amazing. And the modified (by us) beer list was astounding!
A few hours later, we anchored in the bay in Juneau, Alaska’s capital. We took tenders (large, enclosed, motorized lifeboats) to the dock, where buses took us either to the Mendenhall Glacier (which also seemed larger the last time I saw it) or to Alaskan Brewing Company. Our group was too large to tour the brewery all at once. After our adventures in Juneau, we took the buses out to a park on Douglas Island, across the bay from Juneau, where Alaskan Brewing treated us to a catered dinner and even more fresh Alaskan Brewing beers.

The next day, we woke up in Skagway, where we had scheduled a fast ferry that could hold our group to head out to an even tinier fishing village, Haines, Alaska. Founded as a remote army post before WWI, the area is a sanctuary for eagles and bears that feast every fall on the returning salmon that struggle back to their place of their birth to spawn and die. Our bus trip up the Chilkoot River to the lake afforded us a great wildlife experience, with rare ducks, bald eagles and some very large brown bears showing themselves to our attentive group.

We traveled back to Haines and the local fairgrounds to visit the tiny Haines Brewing Company, which occupies one of several buildings built for a movie set by Disney for White Fang, shot in 1990. The locals liked the 1890s-era buildings so much that they had them moved to the fairgrounds rather than let Disney burn them down at the end of shooting. Good plan. However, the Haines brewery tasting room can hold about 10 people if you really like each other.

We met in the spacious main building of the fairgrounds, which was set up with a stage where a group of local musicians, no doubt sensing a new audience, performed for us. Guitar, banjo, trombone and stand-up bass never sounded so good. A local resident and foodie conducted a tasting of locally caught and smoked fish, including some rare smoked halibut. rewery owner-brewer Paul Wheeler poured healthy samples of his truly awesome beers, and the band played between samples. After the salmon and beer tasting, Wheeler took small groups to the brewery for additional tastings. His souvenir sales were pretty good that day.

We got back to Skagway in time to hoof it to town to check out Skagway Brewing. Sadly, Gold Rush Brewery, the other one in town, was not open, or our group would have done that too! Then it was back to the ship (missing a ship can be very expensive). We gathered at the Sky Conference Center for our next beer tasting, which featured hops and IPAs.

Then we headed back south for a full day at sea, which was capped by our Big Beers Night, featuring higher-alcohol brewing. We started the evening with the REAL champagne of bottled beer, Malheur Brut Reserve, at 11% abv. We then worked our way through Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, Logsdon Farmhouse Seizoen Bretta, Elysian The Great Pumpkin Imperial, Maredsous 10, Rochefort Trappist 10, Westmalle Tripel, Schneider Eisbock, North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, Hale’s Ales Barrel Aged Imperial Stout and the fabulous Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine at 9.2% abv.

To cap off the evening, we sampled the new release of the singular Samuel Adams Utopias, coming in at a whopping 29% abv. The beautiful decanter bottles were then raffled off to several lucky Brews Cruisers. I have tasted Utopias from the first release, and the new offering is something special. In addition to high alcohol, expect to pay around $200 per bottle retail. But you get to keep the decanter. After the big beers, we filled our glasses and headed down to the dining area.

We were treated with extraordinary hospitality at all the breweries we visited.
Thursday was our last port of call, and it was spectacular. Victoria, B.C., seat of the provincial government, is also a little slice of Olde England itself. Even more breweries and pubs have opened since my last visit. The Celebrator’s British Columbia correspondent and Victoria resident John Rowling and his wife, Carol, met us at our bus for a tour of breweries, along with British Columbia brewery historian Greg Evans.

Some of the group elected to visit the beautiful Butchart Gardens (which didn’t have much of a beer list). Our busload broke up into two groups so as not to overwhelm the small breweries we were to visit. Fortunately, the first two, Hoyne and Driftwood, shared a parking lot.

A short walk through an industrial area and we were at the brewpub Moon Under Water. New brewer Clay Potter led us through a tasting of his beers, which were much improved over the last incarnation of MUW.

Our final stop was at the legendary Spinnakers brewpub, owned by beerie/foodie Paul Hadfield for over 30 years. Hadfield was a locavore long before it became trendy. He took us through a tasting of his wonderful beers (now brewed by his daughter Kala), accompanied by some superb bites. Cask beers are a specialty at Spinnakers.

We headed back to the ship with the wonderful flavors of Victoria brewing still in evidence. We were treated with extraordinary hospitality at all the breweries we visited. But sadly, our beer-filled seven days on the Alaskan Brews Cruise were coming to an end. Even though we had to be out of our staterooms by 9 a.m., some of us (a hearty band of 30 or so) headed back to the Sky Conference Center for one last shot at the leftover beers. And there were a lot! We did our best, and wouldn’t you know it, four-part harmony broke out in an impromptu concert fueled by, what else, more beer!

Our Brews Cruise group included several beer-knowledgeable attendees, such as legendary publican Judy Ashworth (Lyons Depot Brewery) and Celebrator tasting panel judge Paul Marshall. Next year’s cruise is already set to sail in September for the 16th Annual Brews Cruise to Alaska, with yours truly on board as brewing guru and bountiful beer babbler. There are some super deals to be had if you book your travel now. Visit magichappens.com for more details. See you on the next Brews Cruise!

» BOOK YOUR 2014 BREWS CRUISE NOW FOR THE BEST RATES


Our visit to a glacier


Local beers were served at our pre-sail tasting


One of four breweries visited in Victoria, B.C.


Beer guru Tom Dalldorf at the bistro tasting


Merchant du Vin pouring classics


Our visit to the tiny Haines Brewing Company


Our beery tastings are held in well-appointed meeting rooms


Haines Brewery is in buildings made for the Disney movie White Fang


Geoff and Marcie welcome us to Alaskan Brewery


Taking a tender from ship to shore


The beers tasted for Big Beer Night
 

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