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'We’ve got the best beer in the world'; Frozen RiverFest spotlight's Alaska's breweries

Hunter Morrison
An employee of Cooper Landing Brewing Company pours a beer at this year's Frozen RiverFest

Along the semi-frozen banks of the Kenai River, beer flows like water. Bonfires and live blues music set the mood, while hundreds gather at Soldotna Creek Park to quench their thirst for some of the best craft beer Alaska has to offer.

Hosted by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, Saturday’s Frozen RiverFest saw 15 breweries from across the state, some coming from as far as Fairbanks. Joe Spady is the communications and events manager at the chamber. He says this is the ideal event to hold during Alaska’s slowest time of year.

“It’s still a little bit dark, it’s still pretty cold, but we’re past the holidays," Spady said. "It’s kind of that late winter funk that I feel like the community sets into, so I feel this is a perfect time for us all to get out and do something together.”

The one-of-a-kind craft beer festival was first held a little less than ten years ago. The temperature outside during the inaugural event was in the negatives, but that didn’t stop people from trying new beer.

Bill Howell is a local homebrewer who has sampled beer from around the world. He’s the host of KDLL’s show “Drinking on the Last Frontier,” and helped dream up the first Frozen RiverFest.

“We’re incredibly fortunate in Alaska, we have some amazing craft breweries that we get to try that a lot of people in the world don’t know about," Howell said. "I’ve often said that we’ve got the best beer in the world that nobody knows anything about unless you live up here.”

This weekend’s festival highlighted both new and returning breweries. Nathan Luke works at Anchorage-based Magnetic North Brewing Company. He attended last year’s Frozen RiverFest as a patron and helped his company participate in this year’s event for the first time.

“I think it’s great for as many breweries as possible to be participating in festivals around the state," Luke said. "Not every brewery is distributing on a mass scale, but every brewery wants to get their name out there.”

Despite cold temperatures, the Frozen RiverFest has grown in popularity and attendance each year. Luke says that many of this year’s participating breweries actually ran out of beer before the event ended.

“Here in Alaska, we’re not afraid of the winter, and this festival really embraces that idea," he said. "It’s just a good time.” 

“The brewers really enjoy it, they love coming down here, everybody says it’s one of their favorite festivals,” Howell added. “Once they’ve done it, they love it. They think it’s crazy to be standing outside pouring beer when it's super cold, but we’re Alaskans and we do crazy stuff for the fun of it.” 

This year’s Frozen RiverFest people's choice award for best brewery went to Naptowne Brewing Company in Sterling. For a full lineup of events from the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, be sure to check out their online events calendar.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL
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