Each week, the Sip Advisor will alphabetically travel the United States, discovering the best each state has to offer in a variety of subjects. The Last Frontier… the Land of the Midnight Sun… whatever you want to call it, Alaska is where we venture to today, so let’s enjoy the setting before it gets dark:
Slogan: North to the Future – Is that better or worse than going Back to the Future?
Food: Alaskan King Crab is a delicacy found through fishing in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. These crabs are the most expensive and highly sought of all crab species, but are also difficult to catch. The industry has been highlighted by hit reality series Deadliest Catch, which has been airing since 2005.
Drink: The Alaskan Brewing Company was founded in 1986, in Juneau. Beers from Alaskan are available across half the country’s states. Visitors can tour the brewery, where 20 beers are on tap each day and a selection of merchandise is also available.
Site to See: Alaska is all about natural beauty, from its National Parks (Denali, Glacier Bay, Kenai Fjords) to Glaciers (Mendenhall, Matanuska, Portage). You can also view the Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis during most of the year.
Street: Ketchikan’s Creek Street is the former red light district of the city. Built on wooden stilts, a number of brothels set up shop here between 1903 and 1954, when they were forced out of the city center and until they were outlawed for good. The nearby Married Man’s Trail was used by customers escaping the brothels when raids occurred. Apparently, it presents a nice hike these days.
TV Show: Northern Exposure was a comedy-drama series, which sees New Yorker Joel Fleischman sent to the fictional town of Cicely to work as a doctor and pay back the student loan for med school that Alaska funded for him. While in Cicely, Joel interacts with the eclectic townsfolk, while adjusting to his new setting. The show lasted six seasons and 110 episodes, winning the 1992 Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. A number of reality shows are also filmed in Alaska, including the previously mentioned Deadliest Catch, along with other popular series, such as Gold Rush and Ice Road Truckers.
Movie: While I remember enjoying the 2002 mystery thriller Insomnia (starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank), I have to choose Sandra Bullock-Ryan Reynolds led The Proposal for this category, almost entirely based on the scene where Bullock is running around naked, looking for a towel. Cinema at its finest, my little sippers!
Book/Author: Gentle Ben by Walt Morey, tells the tale of a lonely boy who befriends a brown bear. Morey based the story on his own experiences in Alaska and based characters from the book on real-life Alaskans. Gentle Ben has since been featured in movies and TV series.
Fictional Character: Chilly Willy, the cute little penguin from The Woody Woodpecker Show, hails from Fairbanks. Upon debuting, Chilly Willy became the second most popular Lantz/Universal cartoon character after Woody Woodpecker.
Fictional City: Since we’ve already highlighted Cicely from Northern Exposure, we’ll devote some space to the town of Mystery, from the movie Mystery, Alaska, which sees an amateur hockey team battle the NHL’s New York Rangers in an exhibition match. The film has quite the cast, including starring roles for Russell Crowe, Burt Reynolds and Hank Azaria, as well as a cameo by Mike Myers, playing a commentator similar to the controversial Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada fame.
Actor/Actress: While not recognizable by name, Irene Bedard has a very familiar look and sound. She voiced Pocahontas for the Disney film of the same name and its sequel and was also used as a model for the character’s design. The actress was born in Anchorage and was named one of People Magazine’s ’50 Most Beautiful People’ in 1995.
Song: North to Alaska by Johnny Horton was featured in the opening credits of the 1960 John Wayne film of the same name, setting up the story to the point where the movie takes over. The song topped the Billboard Country Singles chart, but sadly, Horton never got to reap the success of the track, dying in a car accident one week before the film was released.
Band/Musician: Jewel, famous for her songs “Who Will Save Your Soul”, “You Were Meant for Me” and “Foolish Games”, moved to Alaska shortly after her birth, being raised in Homer. The talented singer-songwriter has also dabbled in acting, with cameos as herself in a number of projects.
People: Sarah Palin was the first female governor of Alaska and later became John McCain’s vice-president candidate for the 2008 U.S. election. Palin’s run brought on a Saturday Night Live impersonation, as well as an adult industry doppelganger (or would that be a doppel-banger). The Palins are practically Alaska’s first family, with husband Todd being a champion snow mobile racer and daughter Bristol gaining attention as a reality TV figure.
Animal: Siberian Huskies, Balto and Togo, led a serum run in 1925, to deliver the supplies from Anchorage to Nome, amidst a diphtheria epidemic. Known as the Great Race of Mercy, both dogs have had their stories turned into movies, with Balto getting the honour in 1995 and Togo at the end of 2019.
Invention: The Sip Advisor is a big-time consumer of ranch dressing, so thanks should be heaped upon Steve Henson, who created the sauce while living in the Alaskan bush as a plumbing contractor. He and wife, Gayle, later moved to California and owned and operated the Hidden Valley Ranch, selling the dressing to customers in products they could take home.
Crime: As the Last Frontier moved from lawlessness to a place of rules and enforcement, a famous shootout occurred on the Juneau Wharf in 1898, between conman and gang leader Jefferson “Soapy” Smith and vigilante Frank Reid. The gunfight resulted from growing tensions between Smith and his associates and the Citizens Committee, a group looking to restore order in Juneau. Both men died in the altercation, with Soapy Smith being the one who is celebrated each year on July 8.
Law: It is legal to shoot a bear, but illegal to shoot them in a way that doesn’t harm them, as waking a sleeping bear to take a photograph of it is against the law.
Sports Team: There are no professional sports teams in Alaska, but the state is famous for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, known as “the last great race on Earth”. The Iditarod was first run in 1973, with the 938-mile trek typically taking place during blizzards and sub-zero temperatures. The quickest completion of the route was eight days, three hours and 40 minutes (set in 2017), while it took original competitors more than 20 days to finish. One of many reasons why dog mushing is Alaska’s State Sport.
Athlete: Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling was born in Anchorage. The four-time World Series champion (with three different teams) is perhaps best remembered for his gutsy performance during the Boston Red Sox run to the title in 2004, where he had to have tendons in his right ankle stabilized for each performance, resulting in a visibly bloody sock. One of those socks now sits in the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite Schilling not being elected into Cooperstown as of yet.
Famous Home: Dolly’s House, located on the infamous Creek Street, allows visitors to see how Alaska’s best known prostitute lived and operated her business. Dolly Arthur came to Ketchikan in 1919 and remained at her home long after the brothels were banned, passing away in 1975, at the age of 87.
Urban Legend: Since 1988, it’s estimated that more than 16,000 people have disappeared in an area known as the Alaska Triangle. The region, which consists of a sizeable chunk of the state, is comprised of mostly unexplored land, from forests to mountain ranges to frozen tundras. Usual suspects, such as Bigfoot and UFOs have received their fair share of blame for the disappearances, along with a creature known as Otterman (half man, half otter, all cute). The Triangle first gained notoriety in 1972, when two politicians (one the House Majority Leader at the time) an aide and their pilot vanished into thin air over the zone.
Museum: The Saloons that dot the Alaskan map, such as the Red Onion in Skagway and Red Dog in Juneau, are home to interactive and educational experiences, while patrons are also able to enjoy a drink and bite to eat. The Red Onion offers brothel and walking city tours, while the Red Dog displays Wyatt Earp’s gun, among other memorabilia.
Firsts: Completed in 1942, the Alaska-Canada Military Highway was the first stable link between Alaska and the rest of the U.S. The highway stretched all the way to Great Falls, Montana.
Company: Ironically, Alaska Air is not based in the state, but Santa Claus House is. The retail store, located in North Pole, was first a trading post and post office, before becoming a gift shop. The store, whose slogan is “Where it’s Christmas Every Day!”, is also home to the world’s largest Santa statue and receives thousands of letters each year, addressed to the jolly gift giver.
Events: In 1867, the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million in gold (approximately two cents per acre). Americans called the deal, negotiated by Secretary of State William Seward, “Seward’s folly”. Five years later, gold was discovered in Sitka, with other locations to follow. In 1959, Alaska became the 49th state of the union and nearly 10 years later, oil was discovered. That’s quite the return on your investment!
Miscellaneous: Alaska’s State Flag was designed by 13-year-old Benny Benson, in 1927. His submission for a contest open to kids in grades seven to 12, featuring the Big Dipper and North Star in gold on a blue background, was selected from 142 contenders.
- Muddle Strawberries and Basil
- 2 oz Vodka
- Splash of Lemon Juice
- Dash of Egg Whites
- Garnish with a Strawberry
There are many variations of the Midnight Sun cocktail. I went with a recipe I found from the Alaskan Spirits distillery in Anchorage, making one change by muddling the basil, rather than making a basil-infused simple syrup. To be honest, I didn’t love this drink, but probably didn’t make it as well as Alaskan Spirits would.