Whenever I hear the Arlo Guthrie song “The City of New Orleans” I find myself filled with a nostalgic longing for the days when rail travel was the norm. From the old movies I find flickering in the fateful hours of the night when I can’t sleep it seemed to be a glamorous way to travel. Maybe I am numbed by what we deal with in todays modern society—shrinking airline seats, rude counter agents, endless traffic jams, but trains seem to me to be an excitingly laidback way to travel.
So, when a year ago I found myself jumping on Amtrak to head north from Santa Barbara to Merced last year to meet some buddies to climb in Yosemite, I was excited. Let’s just say the trip was underwhelming, most certainly a setback to my romantic iron horse dreams.
When the opportunity to ride the rails came my way this summer I was dismayed, yet secretly delighted. This time I would be heading south for a week on the Alaskan Railroad from Fairbanks to Seward, stopping each night in a different town, finding fortune where I may. As I researched the trail I was about to embark something jumped out at me—there was a brewery in each location. I could piece together an epic adventure sucking down some suds in some of the most beautiful locations on the earth.
So with bags packed I boarded my flight to Fairbanks in early August. After a quick layover in Seattle-Tacoma Airport with a glass of Georgetown Manny’s Pale Ale (crisp with hints of citrus) at the Seattle Taproom on Concourse A, it was off to Alaska. You know you are off the grid when you land at midnight and the sunlight is still lingering. After a quick nights sleep I set out exploring Fairbanks, a town with a utilitarian vibe echoing amongst it streets. When winters are as long and cold (the average high from November to March never tops 25 degrees, and the average low never tops -6 degrees) it makes sense.
Fairbanks is home to two houses of suds. Unfortunately HooDoo Brewing was closed, but I lucked into a can of their fine German Kölsch, it was a well-crafted take on a Bavarian favorite. Fifteen miles north of downtown in Fox is the northernmost brewery in America, Silver Gulch Brewery. The two-story building housing the brewery looks more like a factory than brewpub from the outside. The gunmetal grey siding blended effortlessly with the invitingly bleak skies extending in all directions. All of that changes upon entering, there is a buzz emanating from the dining room filled with enough beards, and camo-clothing to make the Duck Dynasty clan feel at home. Not only did they have over a dozen of their own beers on tap, but well over fifty more top-notch bombers and bottles of beer from across the globe. I could have spent a few days working my way through their expansive list.
Their Epicenter Ale was brash and bold with an alcohol burn you only find in well-crafted strong ales. Felix’s Bitter Revenge was a fantastic take on a “Pre-Prohibition” style lager with its subtle malt flavor blending effortlessly into the German hops. Brewed as a tribute to the armed forces so immersed in Alaskan history RFA was a well-designed ale with a deep red hue and full flavor. One of the better Pilsners I have had in recent history was their Coldfoot Pilsner Lager a funky union between a Bohemian and German pilsner.
Back in my hotel hidden from the ubiquitous light behind my blackout curtains on thought popped into my head. If Fairbanks was this good hidden from the world in the middle of the tundra what would I found heading south tomorrow?
Next week the rest of the long winding road.
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