This two-day event is a renowned tribute to boozy malt bombs, drawing parka-covered beer enthusiasts from around the world to sample some of the world's best - and strongest - beers. They enter a downtown convention center shivering and leave paralyzed, their bodies numbed by the warming flavors of barleywine.
Think of these ales as anti-freeze for your bloodstream.
With its sub-Arctic climate and brief hours of sunlight, Anchorage is a natural host for the event. As one local brewer told me, "It's so effing cold here, there's nothing to do all winter but drink and eff."
And by "eff," I don't think he was referring to "Fahrenheit."
What's it like living in that kind of cold?
At 50 below, jumper cables snap like twigs. At night, drivers plug heaters into their cars to keep the engine block from freezing.
"At 35 degrees below zero," said Kevin Burton, the head brewer at the appropriately named Glacier BrewHouse Co., "your car battery only has 8 percent of its power. So it's like trying to start your engine on a AA battery."
Forget about kids walking to school in this kind of weather. They're lucky to make it down to the mailbox without freezing in their boots.
Alaskans like to share the apocryphal story of the lost hiker who found a bottle of whiskey outside on a day when it hit 60 below. He sloshed it around, took a gulp and it froze solid in his throat.
"That's why we all carry ice picks," grinned the guy who related the tale.
I didn't trek all the way to Anchorage just to freeze my butt off. The festival invited me up as a "celebrity" judge for its barleywine awards, and how could I turn that down? Joe Sixpack in the land of Sarah Palin.
In my single-minded devotion to good beer, I didn't bother to track down the governor for an autograph. It's true, I do owe her for that 15 minutes of fame last November.
But hockey-mom politics bore me, and besides, Alaska's more noteworthy contribution to mankind is good, strong beer - preferably with a memorable name.
So I warmed up to the likes of Haines Bigger Hammer, Moose's Tooth Darth Delirium, Silver Gulch Pick Axe Porter and, in a nod to that aforementioned pastime, Morning Wood. Kodiak Island's Island Fog barleywine left me in a haze. Alaskan Barley Wine tasted like plums and honey.
When we got around to judging the best, it was an out-of-towner - California's Lagunitas Old Gnarly Wine - that took top honors. Two Anchorage brewpubs - Sleeping Lady and Glacier - were close behind.
To the cacophonous serenade of a pipe-and-drum brigade, the festival handed out the trophies: gold-plated pans like the ones frontiersmen used during the Klondike Gold Rush. And then it was back to the task at hand.
I headed straight for a keg from Midnight Sun Brewing, an amber ale called Oosik. It's named for the Eskimo word for the penis bone of a walrus. In the cold, there's nothing like a good, stiff drink.
Barleywine isn't just for Alaskans. There are plenty of varieties in the lower 48. Here's a sixpack of favorites:
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale (California): Cellar this for a year, and the hops will mellow nicely. 9.5 percent alcohol by volume.
Victory Old Horizontal (Downingtown): One of the top barleywines of the East Coast, massively hopped but with a sensual balance. 11 percent ABV.
Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot (Easton): There's more to this ale than a great name; deceptively easy to drink. 11 percent ABV. (Look also for Weyerbacher Insanity, an oak-aged version of Blithering Idiot.)
J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (England): These vintage-dated bottles can be cellared for 10 years or more. 11.5 percent ABV.
Anchor Old Foghorn (San Francisco): America's first modern barleywine, its mellow malt background pairs nicely with Cascades hops. 8.8 percent ABV.
Dogfish Head Olde School (Delaware): Big, fruity flavors with a full body. Warning: share this with a friend. 15 percent ABV. *
"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.