For Mother’s Day, most people buy their mothers chocolates and roses. Living in Fairbanks, Alaska, however, opens the holiday to wider interpretation. We learned this from Fairbanks, Alaska native Laura Mather ’14 over beers at the Longfellow Grill. Laura’s mother is an avid gardener and spends most of the summer tending to her plants since the growing season in Alaska is predictably short. In past years, she spent months battling the moose determined to munch on her hard work. But last year, Laura and her father decided they could fix this problem. The issue? Ravenous moose. The solution? A Mother’s Day electric fence.
For Lucy and Taryn’s Beer Club this week, we wanted to know more about America’s 49th state. Lucy imagines it a lovely place to disappear in, although this is probably misguided, and one time Taryn had a great mud fight there. Clearly our knowledge of Alaska is subpar. We invited a few native Alaskans to join us for beer, but only one—Laura—was available. Lucy and Laura lived together freshman year, so this would also be an opportunity to catch up. Oh, and we could drink beer.
From the get-go, we asked all the usual naïve questions about Alaska. Question number one, obviously, was about the weather. Since Minnesota is stuck with frigid temperatures right now, we wanted to know if Alaska is constantly in a state of polar vortex. The answer? Absolutely. Though Laura reported a recent warm front of about 35 degrees F, the regular winter temperature ranges from -10 to -20 degrees. Cold snaps may be 30 to 40 below zero and last for a couple of weeks. But to Laura, it’s not that big of a deal (“it’s not out of control; you expect it.”) Also, outdoor recess was mandatory at Laura’s elementary school until -20, below which it was optional. Laura is understandably amused when Minnesotans act like it’s cold. Case in point: when Lucy mentioned she was wearing long underwear under loose pants, Laura laughed and said “I think it’s funny when people around here do that. I crack up. Don’t you ever get hot?”
No, Laura, we mere mortals from the lower 48 do not get hot during polar vortices.
Our shrewd investigative journalism also extended to the history of the lovely state of Alaska:
Lucy: “Why does Fairbanks exist?”
Laura: “Gold. Somebody Fairbanks and his boat couldn’t go further upriver so they stopped and started mining for gold.”
Of course. Wouldn’t anyone do this in interior Alaska during the winter?
Since this is Lucy and Taryn’s Beer Club, this conversation about Alaska was fueled by beer. And man, did we hit the jackpot this week. If you are looking for good beer, look no further – we found three fantastic brews. Lucy ordered the Clown Shoes Muffin Top (MA, 10% abv), a fantastic IPA that started hoppy and ended sweet. Taryn asked for the Grand Teton Coming Home (ID, 7.5% abv), a “seasonal Belgian-style tripel aged 11 months [though first she thought this said years—that would be scotch, friends] in a used French oak Chardonnay barrel.” It had a great bubbly beginning, an apple juice middle, and maybe a Chardonnay-y end. But that could also be the power of suggestion. Laura ordered the Left Hand Ambidextrous (CO, 7.5% abv), a bitter but enticingly honey-flavored pale ale, that she then drank using her left hand. All three were stellar.
Beers in hand, we asked about Laura’s beer journey. Like most people, she did not originally like beer—she preferred Smirnoff Ice. In fact, her first drink was tequila—Alaskan people are brave. But her dad always offered her sips of his (wait for it) Alaskan Amber, and the first beer that she truly liked was a local Alaskan Silver Gulch Cranberry Beer. Intriguing! After working at Billy’s on Grand all summer, Laura is more open to trying various beers but is still figuring out her beer of choice. One of her favorites is the Curious Traveler, a summer shandy.
All in all, we had a great night. The beers were awesome, and Longfellow’s is an interesting blend of hip (blue lighting, fashionably striped booths, and men with gauges) and mature (there may have been a book club or two meeting there). We appreciated the Longfellow’s HopChart! rotating television screen, complete with keg-o-meter. The sweet potato fries are also fantastic. Lucy and Taryn both now want to backpack in Alaska, and when we run across a herd of caribou, we will not repeat the mistake of calling them reindeer. Laura appropriately called us out on this, and she knows the difference, because her neighbor has four or five reindeer, and she has very nearly hit caribou crossing the road.
Also, the solution to the hat hair that plagues Lucy during the winter?
Laura: “Don’t wear a hat.”