7 Days Cruising Alaska: Juneau!

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Juneau is named for Joseph Juneau who, in 1880 with his prospecting mate Richard Harris, followed Chief Kowee of the Auk Tlingit tribe into the Silver Bow Basin and struck gold. Lots of it!

October 1880 saw 160 acres staked out on the beach at the base of what is now Mount Juneau on the Gastineau Channel opposite Douglas Island. Boatloads of prospectors followed, establishing the town with trading posts, saloons, and missionaries. The Alaska Gold Rush had begun and soon a native fishing camp had grown to a large-scale hard-rock mining town.

Juneau Alaska
The outskirts of Juneau.

On January 3rd, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state of America and Juneau, its capital. Isolated, surrounded by the Tongass National Forest, entry is via sea and air. There’s about 40 miles of road (64 km), some leading nowhere, but over 260 miles (418 km) of hiking trails.

The Norwegian Jewel docks at 7am and leaves at 1pm. The visit is short and there is much to do: Glacier Discovery tours by Seaplane, Whale Watching, Helicopter Glacier Walkabout, Gold panning & Salmon Baking. The list goes on.

Later, you’ll be up close and personal with Dawes Glacier. The pod of Orcas on the Misty Fjord & Wilderness Explorer in Ketchikan has quietened the whale watching desire. Panning for gold and baking salmon are not high priorities but perhaps a tour of the Alaskan Brewing Company will do the trick.

Main Street. Juneau. Alaska
Buy Tanzanite, diamonds, gold or Alaskan Amber in Juneau’s main street

The first brewery in Alaska since prohibition, Alaskan Brewing Company was the brainchild of Marcy and Geoff Larson. Researching, Marcy unearthed the recipe for Douglas City Brewing Co’s (1899-1907) gold rush era brew. Geoff home brewed the ingredients in the method described and established Alaskan Brewing Company’s Alaskan Amber, the stalwart of the brand.

Juneau is surrounded by 1,500 square miles of glacier ice providing clear, fresh water, one of beer’s most important ingredients. Sitka spruce tips found in the Tongass National Forest are used to create a sweet floral flavour in Alaskan Winter Ale. Salmon smoking gave brewmaster, Geoff, the idea to smoke the malt, not only for the unique flavour but a natural preservative allowing their brews to be aged like wine.

Alaskan Brewing Company. Juneau. Alaska
John enlightening us with the story of Alaskan Brewing Company. (sorry John, the reflection gives you a bit of an alchie hue but we know it’s the reflection, right?)

Since establishing in 1986, 2,000 has grown to 47,000 square feet of brewing, bottling, packaging and tasting space at the original Lemon Creek site. For $20, Alaskan Brewing shop in the main street of Juneau will arrange the short shuttle ride to Lemon Creek for a 1.5-hour tour and 6 brew samples. Samples during the tour will likely include Alaskan Amber, Icy Bay IPA, and Freeride Pale Ale leaving you to choose the other 3.

Sustainability is mentioned often through the tour and Alaskan Brewing put their money where their mouths are. In 1998, they were the first USA brewery to begin using a CO2 reclamation system. CO2 is a natural byproduct of yeast fermentation in the brewing process and this system captures and cleans it for use in the packaging process. Generally, CO2 would be shipped in, so capturing it is saving the equivalent of 45,000 gallons of fuel emissions being released into the atmosphere annually.

Alaskan Brewing Company. Juneau. Alaska.
Some of the Alaskan Brewing Company brews. All empties.

In 2008, another USA brewery first, they installed a Mash Filter Press. The Belgian-based brewing technology reduces water, malt, and hops without reducing the brew’s quality or production. Their MFP saved nearly 2 million gallons of water and 6% of their hops in a year.

Most recently, after 20 years of shipping their spent grain to farmers in the Pacific north-west, they developed a steam boiler. Fueled entirely by spent grain, they no longer need to ship and have a goal to reduce their oil use by 65%. It makes you feel obliged to drink more Alaskan Brewing Company brews, right? Sadly they only ship within the United States so make the most of your tour.

Time to choose your next 3 brew samples. See if the SMaSH Galaxy Double IPA is available. Fruity with herbal notes, the Australian Galaxy hops finish with a slight bitterness. Be careful, this one is 8.5% alcohol volume. A tiny hint of heat is evident in the Jalapeño Double IPA but not enough to distract from the fresh brew flavour. The same goes for the hint of raspberry in Rasberry Wheat and ginger in Ginger Shandy. Alaskan Stout is available all year but the Smoked Porter is a limited edition and an incredible black beer. Smoky and rich, it’s reminiscent of an open fire.

Alaskan Brewing Company. Juneau. Alaska.
The original brew space used only for pilot brews now.

It’s getting close to boarding time and the rain hasn’t stopped, but John is happy to drive you back to the ship. On the Norwegian Jewel, Alaskan Amber, Icy Bay IPA, Freeride Pale Ale and Alaskan Stout are in  most of the bars’ fridges so if you have a hankering for Alaskan Brewing Company brews you’ll be set for the rest of the cruise.

Alaskan Brewing Company. Juneau. Alaska
The range of Alaskan Brewing Company brews available on the Norwegian Jewel

Alaskan Brewing Company and Juneau Alaska: they go hand in hand as places we love….

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