As Bryan Caenepeel of Big Swig Tours approaches his fifth season of business, the Anchorage guide and entrepreneur has brewed up a new, only-in-Alaska excursion.
The Alaska Crafted Tour will launch in December as a roundtrip excursion from Anchorage. The Alaska Crafted Tour and Transfer follows in May, offering a guided, summer-season tasting adventure for cruise passengers traveling by land from Seward or Whittier to Anchorage.
Available through September of each year, the outings explore how three segments of the craft beverage industry put a local spin on their products.
Like the beer-focused tours in the Big Swig portfolio — including the Anchorage Bike and Brew, Hops on the Rail and the flagship Anchorage brewery tour — this excursion promises sightseeing opportunities and plenty of time to sample new releases while chatting with brewers, distillers and other Alaska producers.
"The growing popularity of craft distilleries and cideries inspired this new tour," Caenepeel said. "Guests will learn how each beverage is crafted in similar yet different ways. They'll also see how each establishment utilizes Alaskan-harvested ingredients."
The Alaska Crafted Tour traces the rugged coast along the Seward Highway, a National Scenic Byway route that passes jagged peaks, pristine lakes and spectacular Kenai Peninsula scenery. A few hours in, guests board the Alyeska Aerial Tram and climb 2,300 feet to a lunch stop at the Alyeska Resort.
"It's arguably the most scenic drive in Alaska," Caenepeel said. "And the view from atop Mount Alyeska, overlooking the Girdwood Valley, is quintessential Alaska: water, glaciers and mountains as far as the eye can see."
From there, tours pause for tastings at the Girdwood Brewing Co., which debuted in 2017, and then parallel the scenic Turnagain Arm on the way to the Anchorage Distillery.
The brand's gins, vodkas and whiskeys feature barley and wheat grown in Alaska, along with glacier water and other regional elements.
After exploring the production process, guests continue to the Double Shovel Cider Co. Alaska's first commercial cider spot sources local apples and berries for many of its gluten-free blends.
Caenepeel, who spent a decade as a local guide before introducing Big Swig Tours, sees consumer interest in craft beverages evolving as rapidly as the industry itself.
"Craft beer lovers never want to settle," he said. "Breweries, distilleries and cideries continue to push the creative envelope to challenge the consumer palate.
"It is quite the art form, and it combines high-quality ingredients with time, temperature, science and engineering to craft something that really brings people together," Caenepeel said.
The Alaska Crafted Tour rate of $259 per person ($225 per person net noncommissionable rate) includes lunch and at least four 4-ounce cider samples, four 4-ounce beer samples and spirit samples or a craft cocktail of the guest's choice. Guided transportation, an Alyeska Aerial Tram ride and an Anchorage hotel or airport drop-off are also covered.
Tours require a minimum of three guests and are capped at 14 individuals per outing; all guests must be 21 or older. For details and reservations, visit www.bigswigtours.com.