Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Photo Album: What I Did on My Summer Vacation (So Far)...

While I haven't been very active in blogging, that doesn't mean I haven't been visiting breweries. In the last couple of months, I managed to hit four that are either new or which I hadn't had a chance to visit before. I thought you might enjoy seeing some of the photos that my wife Elaine took during our visits to them.

Matanuska Brewing Company

We were in Palmer the day before Matanuska Brewing's grand opening in May, but Head Brewer Kevin Burton was kind enough to walk us through this amazing new facility.

A whole lot of canning going on!

Four 120-bbl fermenters. There are two more are on order.

A 40-bbl JV Northwest Brewhouse, highly automated.

A ProBrew canning line that can fill 100 cans per minute.

I can remember when beer vending machines used to be common in Navy BOQs...

The tap room.

The brewery is located in the old Mat-Maid Dairy.
Bleeding Heart Brewery

I'd been trying to visit Bleeding Heart in Palmer ever since it opened, but something always got in my way. I finally bit the bullet and made a special trip up there to check it out. It's a real farmhouse brewery, as in it's located on an actual farm, not far from the Alaska State Fairgrounds. The brewery was just voted as the Best Place to Have a Drink by the readers of the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman Newspaper, as part of its annual “Best of the Valley” poll.

Yours truly leaning on the "serving counter" and talking to Stefan

Doing a little business

Bleeding Heart's fermentation area

I also sampled some damn fine beers...

HooDoo Brewing Company

I hadn't been up to Fairbanks in several years, so a trip in June meant a chance to swing by HooDoo Brewing. I heard that its beer garden area had been seriously upgraded and wanted to see it for myself. All I can say is: Wow! The new area is great and has clearly become a major gathering spot in Fairbanks. Having a different food truck there each day certainly doesn't hurt, either.

The beer garden from Fox Street in front of the brewery.

The tap room

The beer garden, looking from the brewery toward Fox Street. Note the twin firetrucks...

The man himself, Bobby Wilken, in his element.
King Street Brewing Company

King Street completed its move to its new location on June 2, and I stopped by a month later to check things out. There's still a fair amount of construction being done on the new building, but you can already tell it's going to be amazing when everything is complete. Dana Walukiewicz was kind enough to walk us around.

View from the second story catwalk. Brewhouse on the left, fermenters on the right, & a million empty cans in the background.

Further along the catwalk, looking over the fermenters back at the brewhouse.

Dan and I are standing in what will be the rooftop drinking area, looking at Denali in the distance.

This third story room will eventually be an event space. Check out the view!

The tap room on the ground floor is open for business!
So there you have it. A brand-new brewery, a well-established farmhouse brewery, a brand-new beer garden, and a brand-new facility. Craft brewing in Alaska is certainly on the upswing these days.

Be sure to listen to my radio show Drinking on the Last Frontier on Saturday, July 28th, at 11 am on KDLL 91.9 FM. I'll be interviewing Grant Yutrzenka of Resolution Brewing and Jake & James Wade of Bearpaw River Brewing. If you can't listen to it live, you can download the recorded show at shortly after it's broadcast.

Finally, if you happen to live in the Central Kenia Peninsula, I'll be teaching my beer class again this fall semester at Kenai Peninsula College in Soldotna. We always have a great time, so please consider it.

Click to enlarge
Until Next Time, Cheers!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

10 Years of Blogging

As I'm sure at least some of you have noticed, this blog has been inactive for over eight months, with my last post being on November 1, 2017. I'm very sorry that I haven't really had the time to do it justice, mainly because I went back to school full-time and also started doing my monthly radio show, Drinking on the Last Frontier, on KDLL FM 91.9. By the way, if you haven't checked my show out yet, I'd really encourage you to do so. You can find the recorded shows at I'm still hoping to get back to this blog on a more regular basis, but that's not happening right now.

All that being said, I couldn't let today pass without comment, as it's the 10th anniversary of my first post on the blog, way back in 2008. At that time I had absolutely no idea what it would lead to, but from that small beginning has come (so far):

  • Publishing four books on beer (and a fifth in progress)
  • Writing a long-running monthly beer column for The Redoubt Reporter
  • Being named the 2010 Beerdrinker of the Year
  • Becoming the Alaska columnist for Northwest Brewing News
  • Writing articles for several other magazines and websites
  • My monthly radio show

Over the last ten years, I've made 367 blog posts (not counting this one). So even taking the last eight months off, I've still averaged better than 3 posts a month for a decade. Take it from me, that's a lot of writing. Some of it was even pretty good if I do say so myself.

Looking back, it also amazes me how much the beer scene in our state has changed since 2008. Just look at the (partial?) list of breweries that have opened in that time:

  • 49th State Brewing
  • HooDoo Brewing
  • Last Frontier Brewing
  • Arkose Brewery
  • Bleeding Heart Brewery
  • Bearpaw River Brewing
  • Matanuska Brewing
  • Resolution Brewing
  • Anchorage Brewing
  • King Street Brewing
  • Odd Man Rush Brewing
  • Denali Brewing
  • Gakona Brewing
  • Seward Brewing
  • Grace Ridge Brewing
  • Cooper Landing Brewing
  • Girdwood Brewing
  • Icy Straits Brewing
  • Devil's Club Brewing
  • Barnaby Brewing
  • Cynosure Brewing

In that same time, we've had only two "close":

  • Great Bear (now Last Frontier)
  • Snow Goose/Sleeping Lady (now 49th State - Anchorage)

Alaska has more than doubled its number of breweries in a decade, and more are on the way, with Turnagain Brewing set to open in four days and Baleen Brewing not far behind. It's certainly been a great time to be a beer blogger.

The next decade promises to be interesting as well. While there is still room for small breweries to enter the market, the limited amount of retail shelf space and tap handles suggest to me that competition between the mid-size packaging breweries can only intensify. Meanwhile, bar owners are beginning to feel the competitive pressure from brewery taprooms. Their recent attempt to hijack SB 76 to hamstring direct brewery sales is likely just the first salvo in what may become an intense effort to use the power of the state to their business advantage, requiring an organized campaign in response. At the same time, the state's sluggish economy will encourage local and state government to try to find new revenue streams to tap, such as increasing the already high taxes on alcohol.

Put it all together and you definitely have a recipe for "interesting times."

In conclusion, I'd like to thank you, my readers, for hanging around and reading my blog. It's always gratifying we I bump into someone and they tell me "Hey, I read your stuff" or "I heard you on the radio." It makes me feel like the time I spend trying to put all this together is well spent. So thanks again, you folks keep drinking good local craft beer, and I'll do my best to keep writing about it.