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Oil still rules Alaska’s economy, but it’s not the only liquid gold that counts in the 49th state. Alaska’s burgeoning craft beer industry serves up award-winning brews that are, increasingly, becoming a major attraction for travelers.
The Brewers Guild of Alaska counts 34 member breweries, brewpubs and breweries in-planning. All that beer served up a business idea for Bryan Caenepeel, a beer enthusiast who visits breweries when traveling as a way to mix with locals.
In 2014, Caenepeel, a former tour director for Royal Celebrity Tours, decided cruise ship passengers and other travelers needed to get in on south-central Alaska’s flavor, both in beer and personalities. His company, Anchorage-based Big Swig Tours, gives travelers a chance to explore the craft beer scene of Anchorage — and beyond — without renting a car. And, Caenepeel adds, they can do so without going on a pub crawl or a party bus.
Local personalities include the brewers themselves — many of whom started out as hobbyist beer-makers (the state’s winters do stretch on) before deciding to hop into the tank full-time. Their knowledge runs deep; visitors get “a crash course in brewing 101,” Caenepeel says.
Big Swig offers three tours: The 3.5-hour Anchorage Brews option visits two breweries and a beer-centric restaurant ($99, includes 12 beer tastings and appetizers); Anchorage Bike and Brew combines a guided morning bike ride along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail with the Anchorage Brews excursion ($159); and Hops on the Rail is a full-day trip that starts with a train ride north to the town of Talkeetna and ends in the comfort of the Big Swig van, with brewery stops all the way back to Anchorage ($259, includes 16 beer tastings and a box lunch).
By summer 2018, Caenepeel plans to add a multiday trip, which will take clients to Fairbanks, Denali National Park, Talkeetna and Anchorage. Big Swig runs tours year-round.
Each tour requires a minimum of three people, and Caenepeel limits the group size to 12 in order to keep the experience more intimate.
“Add a little beer, and everybody becomes best friends,” he said.