Pink Boots Society Series: Alaska Chapter

Having an iced cold beer can be a chilling experience, especially in The Last Frontier, otherwise known as Alaska. Sarah Perez, brewer at Denali Brewing Company and chapter lead for Alaska’s chapter of the Pink Boots Society, reached for the stars to gather inspiration to celebrate National Honey Month with the special release of a braggot. It will be named Pleiades after the seven sisters constellation, a nod to the female brewers who are just like worker bees that rush to get everything done. After all, there’s only so much sunshine in a day in the north.

Pleiades’ big base is orange blossom honey — which gives the braggot bright, orange characteristics — mixed with fireweed honey that grows in Alaska.

“Fireweed honey has a lot of crazy aromatics, and it’s probably the one that the bees get a hold of the most,” Perez said. “The base part of the beer is indicative of Denali Brewing Company, which is the second largest brewery in Alaska.”

Denali Brewing started making beer, but has expanded its explorations into wine, distilled spirits, ciders and meads. The wine license in particular was obtained from Celestial Meads, and the original owner, Michael Kiker, is locally known for his mead recipes. Those recipes are the go-to for mead in Alaska, leading to Pleiades’ base.

Perez had plenty of options when she got the nod to create a beer for National Honey Month, but immediately she knew she wanted to brew a braggot. She then had to find the right brewery to take on the project.

“I wanted to be able to source this as more of a collaborative situation with other meaderies in town, along with Pink Boots and Denali Brewing Company,” Perez said. “I presented the information to Denali in order to do a beer together that highlighted both honey and Pink Boots.”

Perez said this collaboration is hopefully just the tip of the iceberg. She hopes to join in with other farmers and beekeepers to create more beers and meads.

“Here in Alaska we have a lot of bee farmers, so I was really excited to get a sort of relationship going. Most of them know what the National Honey Board is, and I think this is going to be a really fun and exciting way for Alaskan bee farmers to utilize the NHB as a resource and do more collaborative things in the future,” Perez said.

One vision in particular? Fruit. The wine produced in Alaska isn’t made with grapes. Due to the climate, bees attach to peaches, plums, crabapples and more fruit that other parts of the world don’t have, making for exciting potential for future meads and wines.

As for now, Pleiades is in the tank after a tasting process that varied from pleasing Perez’s palette to the general public. At first, she thought she was spot on. She transferred the mead to the bright tank and the blend was tasting exactly as she wanted. But, the master distiller nixed the taste.

“That’s why we did a blind tasting. To backsweeten the honey, no matter how hard you’re trying — it’s viscous, and you don’t want to dilute your honey down. You’re introducing honey to a cold beverage in a bright tank, and it congeals right up again,” Perez said. “The backsweeten portion is always interesting.”

The honey and the Belgian-style yeast that Perez utilized have different aromatics, lending the brewing process into an educational lesson on Pleiades. Added possibilities and taste testing are all a part of the process, which ended up being a ton of fun.

“Trying to make sure your olfactory is at its prime — so far for me it’s just been my palette and my sense of it is a little bit different than the next (tasting),” she said. “You want to make sure the beer is something for everyone. We blended up different varieties of it being backsweetened and different ways a whiskey panel would taste (for the blind tasting). And now we have the final product from that.”