By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter
It’s now 2016, but since my last column there have been a couple of big changes in the world of Alaska craft beer. Things are starting to get pretty dynamic, with breweries opening and changing hands. So let’s take a look at these recent developments.
In late December, local beer lovers were startled by the news that Denali Visions 3000, the corporation that owns up-and-coming 49th State Brewing, the seasonal brewpub in Healy near Denali National Park, had purchased the longtime Anchorage brewpub combination Snow Goose Pub/Sleeping Lady Brewery.
Opened in 1996, Snow Goose/Sleeping Lady was from the original wave of brewpub openings in Alaska. Besides several other now-defunct operations, Glacier BrewHouse and the Moose’s Tooth Pizzeria (now Broken Tooth Brewing) date from the same time frame. Owner Gary Klopfer and his wife, Jane, made extensive renovations to the location over the last two decades, including the addition of a popular deck with views overlooking Knik Arm and Mount Susitna. In an interview, Klopfer said he’d considered selling for several years. He has one daughter who he’d hoped might take over, but she works in publishing in New York City and isn’t interested in running the business. He will retain a small ownership stake in the new venture.
The Snow Goose closed Dec. 26. The new owners plan an extensive, three-year renovation of the 28,000-square-foot facility and hope to restart regular food service in the spring or early summer 2016. Some of the more popular beers from Sleeping Lady’s portfolio may continue to be produced, but will be sold under the 49th State Brewing label.
In many ways, this can be viewed as a positive development. Sleeping Lady had plenty of excess brewing capacity and floor space (as demonstrated by its ability to serve for several years as the home for the fledgling Anchorage Brewing Co.). Given its recent growth and successes, such as winning a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival last year, 49th State Brewing clearly needed more production and packaging capacity. Locating this new capacity in Anchorage, rather than in remote Healy, was a smart move, making this deal the sort of “win-win” they teach you to look for in business school. While Snow Goose/Sleeping Lady will be missed, hopefully its new incarnation will soon be offering even more great beer and excellent food.
The Sleeping Lady sale wasn’t the only big beer news last month. On Dec. 19, Bearpaw River Brewing Co. opened for business in Wasilla, making it the fifth new brewery to open in Alaska in 2015. This is now the second brewery operating in Wasilla, along with The Last Frontier Brewing Co., and it’s a true family affair. The four principals are brothers Jack, Jed, Jake and James Wade. They all grew up in the Matanuska-Susitna area and are all experienced homebrewers.
Their entire extended family is involved in various aspects of the brewery, as well. Jake Wade is acting as head brewer, producing five flagship beers on Bearpaw River’s 10-barrel system — an American IPA, milk stout, robust porter, Belgian spiced ale and Dortmunder lager. The brothers had initially planned to offer a standard German lager, until they noticed that no other brewery in the state was producing a Dortmunder.
“It’s a nice, light German lager. A very drinkable hit for folks looking for something on the light side and not something dark and hoppy,” Jed Wade said.
The Wades plan to take things slow at first, until they can gauge how much brewing they will need to do to keep up with demand. Initially, Bearpaw River’s beers will only be available at the brewery. Once they are convinced they can meet that demand without running short, the brothers plan to begin offering their brews to local bars and restaurants.
Now that it’s 2016, it’s time to start thinking about our very own second annual Frozen River Festival will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Feb. 20 in Soldotna Creek Park. More information on that in my next column.
Until next month, cheers!
Bill Howell has been an avid craft beer drinker and homebrewer since 1988. Upon retiring from the U.S. Navy in 2004, Howell moved to Alaska, where he blogs about the Alaskan craft brewing scene at alaskanbeer.blogspot.com. In 2007 he created a beer appreciation course titled “The Art and History of Brewing,” which he teaches annually at Kenai Peninsula College. He is the founder of the Kenai Peninsula Brewing and Tasting Society and serves as a media consultant to the Brewers Guild of Alaska.