Riding the rails in search of fresh hops.
[by Hudson Lindenberger]
THE LAST TIME I WAS IN SEWARD I WAS 25 YEARS OLD, with hair halfway down my back—a real wild child chasing the fishing boats. Now, more than two decades later, I am finally making it back to the great north. This time I’m a clean-shaven father of two teenage daughters with a career, and I’m chasing a different dream: fresh brews. Craft beer is changing the way Americans think about the traditional quaff; local breweries are thriving, and Alaska is no different. But getting to the pubs here presents a challenge. There are limited roads into the Interior, lots of miles in between, and it’s no fun for the designated driver. So I thought: Why not catch the Alaska Railroad and have a few good barley-pops along the way?
The bus ride from downtown Anchorage will be my first chance to reacquaint myself with Alaska’s beauty. After a two-and-a-half hour ride down the Turnagain Arm and through the Kenai Mountains, my arrival in the small fishing town of Seward signals the beginning of my adventure—and my first brewery. After a few pints and dinner at the Seward Brewing Company, I explore the waterfront and turn in at the Hotel Seward.
The train won’t leave until 6 p.m., so that leaves all afternoon to explore Kenai Fjords National Park. After a five-hour cruise up Resurrection Bay to view glaciers, whales, and other marine life, it’s time to catch the Coastal Classic train and head north to Anchorage. During the four-hour trip we climb over Moose Pass and skirt Chugach National Forest on our way to golden, hoppy goodness.
Once in town, I drop my bags off the Anchorage Grand Hotel—just minutes from the station—and head out to the Glacier Brewhouse for dinner and a glass of their award-winning barleywine beer, Old Woody. Then, since it’s June and still light out, I burn more unending daylight at Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse, enjoying the live music and the largest selection of craft beers in the state.
This is a day to sample the wilderness that is so deeply infused into Anchortown’s DNA. A bike rental provides the opportunity to explore the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and, at its far end, Kincaid Park on the outskirts of Anchorage. After a day soaking up the sun and a quick brew at Broken Tooth Brewing Company, I embark on another sort of trek—a beer tour with Big Swig Tours. Stops at Midnight Sun Brewing, King Street Brewery, and Chilkoot Charlie’s nicely round out my beer pilgrimage.
The Denali Star pulls out at 8:15 a.m. and heads into the Interior, bound for the funky hamlet of Talkeetna. Famous as the launching-off point for most Denali climbing expeditions, Talkeetna means a chance to view Mount McKinley. I drop my bags at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge and book a two-hour flightseeing tour of Denali National Park with K2 Aviation. Once back in town, after exploring all Talkeetna has to offer, I’m off to Denali Brewing Company to select from their ten tap lines of homemade beer to accompany dinner.
With an 11:20 a.m. boarding time, I embark on the most exciting leg of my trip. The fivehour train ride to Denali National Park crosses Broad Pass at 2,363 feet and then heads over Hurricane Gulch, winding through unspoiled wilderness—photo ops abound.
Then I roar into the backcountry with Denali ATV Adventures, splashing through creeks, climbing hills, and ripping down roads, before capping the day off with brews and burgers under the midnight sun at 49th State Brewery. Between the Solstice IPA and their Friday night pig roast, this brewery stop makes a particularly memorable evening.
With a 4 p.m. slated departure, I catch up on sleep before beginning a leisurely train ride into Fairbanks. Dinner in the dining car includes Alaskan Brewing Company beers and a full menu. An 8 p.m. arrival leaves me plenty of time to catch a cab to Silver Gulch Brewery, the northernmost brewery in America. For the grand finale, I head back into town to tour my last brewery—HooDoo Brewing. I anticipate perfection, because their brewer trained in Munich. A rich Kolsch is as rumored: incredible.
A quick morning visit to the Chena Hot Springs Resort, 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks, provides an hour-long soak—the perfect way to detox and relax before my afternoon flight home. I’ll make it back in time for a late dinner, brimming with memorable tales of exploring Interior Alaska and all the hoppy goodness involved.