Fairbanks, Alaska, is a city of contradictions and inspiration. Located less than two hundred miles from the Arctic Circle, it is surrounded by mountains, tundra, and broad river valleys. The surrounding wilderness is part of the city’s genetic makeup. Everyone you meet seems geared up for an adventure. Yet, you also have all of the trappings of modern society-fast food, movie theaters, fine dining, and high-speed internet. It’s a place where the sun disappears in the winter and never seems to set in the summer. Spend a little time there, and you will start to feel anything is possible
Nowhere is the interesting dichotomy of the city better on display than at its favorite watering hold, HooDoo Brewing. Located in the middle of an industrial area, in a refurbished warehouse, only minutes from downtown, HooDoo is an oasis surrounded by the battered trappings of humanity. Towering bright tanks full of beer loom over a collection of tap handles behind a spotless concrete and stainless-steel countertop. Windows bath the interior while outside on the expansive beer garden, two red snub-nosed German Fire Trucks offset the wall of flowers in bloom. Individuals of all shapes, sizes and ages congregate with pint glasses in hand throughout it.
To say that you will meet an eclectic mix of people at HooDoo is an understatement. From its opening day on Halloween in 2012, the place has been packed. Lines of easy-going locals talking about their latest hunt, epic hike, and families form within minutes of its 3 PM opening during the week, regardless of the weather. It can be -40 or 90 degrees, and groups of people fill the deck. The only difference is in the amount of clothing they are wearing.
That’s due to the culture the founder Bobby Wilken instilled in the place from the beginning. Envisioning an environment that mirrored the ones he had seen in Munich while studying brewing, he created a welcoming place filled with no-nonsense, well-crafted beers. Eschewing the esoteric pints that seem to populate so many breweries these days, his beers are based on classic styles and have no fancy names. “Beer should be for enjoyment and refreshment, I think,” he says. “They should not be so complex it’s hard to figure out what they are. You will never find any fancy names or wild ingredients here.”
As a native of Fairbanks, he knew that his patrons would want beers that delivered what they advertised. His IPA is perfectly hoppy with a nice kick, his stout is fantastic, and his German Kölsch is sublimely smooth. Using many malts and hops from Germany, his brews are the perfect distillation of the knowledge he gained brewing there and at the Alaskan Brewing Company, where he worked for five years.
The fact that you can find stellar craft beer this far north should not be surprising, but it is. Tell anyone you are traveling to Fairbanks, and the first thing they will ask is how you will survive in such a rough place. The preconceived notions baked into our heads are heard to shed. Yes, the top of the planet is not that far away, but you can also find some damn good beer there. Anything is possible.