Story last updated at 3/5/2014 - 2:01 pm
If you're reading this column, you've probably got some interest in beer. I'm excited to be able to contribute to the Capital City Weekly's informative content, but I'm more excited to be able to have another pulpit from where I can expound on the virtues of great beer, not only across Alaska (where it's undeniably the most exciting), but on beer from around our foam-rich globe.
By way of introduction, I'm known by most as Dr. Fermento. My real name is Jim Roberts, but "Fermz" is what most of my counterparts in suds hail me by. I've been writing about beer for close to a quarter of a century. I've dabbled in beer since my late teen years, but got my real start when writing articles for Anchorage's Great Northern Brewers Homebrew Club monthly newsletter. As an avid homebrewer back then, this came naturally to me, but my professional writing aspirations started when, approaching 18 years ago, I started writing a weekly beer column for the Anchorage Press.
I've also been writing a bi-monthly piece for the Celebrator Beer News, a huge industry rag out of Northern California that's covers beer by region and is distributed all over the United States. I've been writing a piece called Aurora Beerialis for the Celebrator for 11 years. I might add that if you're an intrepid beer traveler like I am, this is a good read and serves as one of the more indispensable beer travel guides available. It's distributed free at the better grog shops and watering holes that pick it up and you can subscribe to it and have it delivered to your mailbox. Check it out at www.celebrator.com.
My other calling is as the executive director of the Brewer's Guild of Alaska where I oversee and gently nudge along members of Alaska's 23 licensed brewing operations along and ensure Alaska's beer gets as much exposure and respect as it deserves. All things considered, I'm pretty immersed in the country's favorite malt-based adult fermented beverage, but in reality, I'm just a beer drinker with a writing problem. Still, it's good to be on board with you and I look forward to sharing all of my sudsy adventures with you.
Southeast Alaska is rich in good local beer. Depending on where you're reading this, you might have a local brewery in your midst. But if you don't, it's likely that your liquor stores and pubs feature a good amount of Alaska, national and international beer offerings. Alaska's regional palate for beer is quite mature when compared to other regions of the country; gone are the days when the Budmilloors (Bud, Miller and Coors) crowd dominated the beer landscape. The major brands that produce mostly bland, insipid lagers are slowly stepping back in deference to the craft beer movement that took hold in the United States in the mid-1980s and has really gained momentum in the last decade.
As of June 2013, according to the Brewer's Association, 1,165 brewpubs, 1,221 microbreweries and 97 regional craft breweries dotted the American landscape. By comparison, there were only 24 large non-craft breweries and 31 "other" non-craft breweries churning out suds then. The craft beer movement in the United states is experiencing double-digit growth while the big boys numbers remain flat. In 2012, no fewer than 376 new craft breweries jumped in the fermentation fray. If you enjoy craft beer, you've obviously got good taste.
Again, Alaska is beer-rich country. In 2012, Alaska ranked in the top five states in term of breweries per capita, coming in at fourth place behind Vermont, Oregon and Montana, just stepping ahead of Colorado in that year. Would it surprise you to know that Alaska has seven more breweries in various stages of planning and/or construction? We're on our way to the top, and this is because folks like you support local suds with your palate and your pocketbook.
The most well-known brewery in your neck of the woods is undoubtedly Juneau's Alaskan Brewing Company. Alaskan is Alaska's first real post-prohibition craft brewery and is Alaska's largest. Alaskan distributes beer widely across our great land and in 14 other states.
Haines Brewing Company has been around since 1999. Skagway Brewing Company, at least in the modern sense, has been around since 2007 and has operated continuously since then, but was also open between 1997 and 2002 and reputedly has roots as the original brewery that operated between 1897 and 1904. A much smaller, seasonal brewery is also located in Skagway. Gold Rush Brewing Company is located at Mile 2 on the Klondike Highway and is part of the Klondike Gold Fields tourist attraction and is only open in the summer.
Baranof Island Brewing Company in Sitka started cranking out suds in 2010, in what then was arguably Alaska's smallest brewery, operating with a ½ barrel (15.5 gallon) brew system. The brewery currently cranks out 310-gallon batches and is the only other Southeast Alaska brewery besides Alaskan that distributes beer outside of its confines to the rest of Alaska.
Your beer scene isn't static, either. Baleen Brewing Company is currently under construction in Ketchikan. Owner/brewer Alex MacGillvray is constructing the brewery and sourcing brewing equipment while wading through the vast entanglement that comprises licensing, inspections and the like. And, although I haven't scratched deep enough to get the details, there's another brewery in planning in Petersburg.
Even if just Baleen and the brewery in Petersburg come to fruition soon, these additions might easily push Alaska in the top spot for breweries per capita, but that's not the real point. The point is that you Southeasterners love your brew, and I'm excited to step up to the bar and help feature it for you.
James "Dr. Fermento" Roberts is a drinker with a writing problem and contributing columnist to the Capitol City Weekly, Anchorage Press and Celebrator Beer News. Fermento is also the executive director of the Alaska Brewer's Guild and welcomes your feedback and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.