Story last updated at 5/14/2014 - 2:28 pm
Happy Anniversary to Midnight Sun Brewing Company. This year makes 19 for the Anchorage brewery that had its humble beginnings on Arctic Boulevard in a small in a small industrial area shared by a taxidermist and across a lot from an animal crematorium.
I know that's not a very charming way to introduce one of Alaska's most successful and most defining breweries, but sometimes you have to reflect on the past to appreciate the present. Midnight Sun has a special place in my heart because it's the first craft brewery I saw evolve in front of my eyes, and I participated in starting it up.
No, I'm not a brewer and would never claim to be. I'm not a carpenter, plumber, electrician or even a handyman. Way back in 1995, I did have a strong back and a raging thirst; two requirements for hanging out at the brewery under construction and helping wherever I could.
One of my proudest "beer badges" is the little scar I still have on my thumb from a sheetrock screw that missed its target when I was up on a ladder helping hang the rock as the brewery was going up.
The brewery started with beers like Wolf Spirit, a sort of golden ale, Kodiak Brown, Fireweed Honey and Mammoth Stout among a number of other pretty mainstream beers.
A smattering of seasonal beers included Double Shovel Dopplebock, Autumnfest Marzen and Humpback Jack Pumpkin Ale.
All was not happy at the brewery all the time. The brewery was in the red for a while, and owners Barb Miller and Mark Staples actually tried to sell it. Other local Alaska breweries had started up as well, and competition was stiff. Craft beer was in its infancy, and there were no takers in what others probably saw as a pretty risky venture.
The duo fought on, winning epic battles with distributors. They scrabbled accounts at local bars and restaurants. They got their 22-ounce bomber bottles shoved in between other craft beers in liquor stores. They tinkered with having their beer contract brewed outside at a number of other breweries.
The brewery got bigger, but I think its real saving grace is that it got bolder. Somewhere along the line, instead of trying to fit in, it decided to stand out.
Midnight Sun was one of the first - if not the very first - Alaska brewery to dabble in producing Belgian-style ales, and alluring beers such as Epluche-Culotte, which survives today as Panty Peeler, (a Belgian-style triple) and Monk's Mistress (La Maitreese du Moine), a Belgian-style dark strong ale, started coming out of the fermenter.
Alaska, and the rest of the United States, caught on. The brewery started on a roll that's still bouncing joyfully along. In total revelry, the brewery launched a number of epic beer series that included The Seven Deadly Sins (2007), The Planet Series of Beers (2008), The Crew Brews (2009), and the 2010 Pop Ten. Each of the beers was over the top, defining a brewery that decided that bold is better.
I celebrated year 10 with the brewery by adding another "beer badge" to my collection. I swam in 500 gallons of beer.
It was both Mother's Day and my wedding anniversary, and I joyfully figured out that indeed, a human can get hammered by osmosis. I learned this by being dropped repeatedly into a celebrity dunk tank for charity. The tank was filled with rather chilly Kodiak Brown Ale.
After that, I got poured onto a bus with 20 or so other revelers, waved to my wife in the parking lot and drove off to carry on celebratory debauchery at places that had supported Midnight Sun over the years.
I helped hoist new huge big tanks into the already crowded brewery somewhere along the line. I watched the brewery outgrow its confines and relocate to its current location in south Anchorage in 2009. I enjoyed seeing the brewery's loft take shape and have spent countless hours sampling beers at the tasting bar and enjoying food prepared in the small kitchen there.
Midnight Sun's 1,000th batch of beer, "M", garnered global acclaim and I scrambled for a case of the stuff that I've added to my vintage collection. At one point, when beer could be bought and sold by private individuals online, M broke the all-time eBay record by fetching more than $1,500 per bottle. I felt pretty rich and expansive when I heard that news.
Despite humble beginnings, Midnight Sun isn't going anywhere any time soon. No, the brewery doesn't have global aspirations and doesn't want to take over the beer world, but continued growth is in the forecast with the primary focus on providing world-class examples of the big, bold beer that seems so defining up here in Alaska.
The celebration is already underway. On April 30, a dinner was held at Girdwood's Jack Sprat Restaurant as a nod to Midnight Sun's 19 years. May 13, there was a Midnight Sun beer dinner at Anchorage's Table 6 Restaurant.
Of course, you can always swing by the Loft at the brewery for something insanely good. While you're there, be sure to get your fill of 9Teen, the brewery's official 19th anniversary beer. It's a saison lightly dosed with yarrow. The beer's light, airy spring/summer character and resident vigor and spiciness is entirely fitting for both the brewery's success and the onslaught of summer here in Alaska. Sadly, there won't be a dunk tank this year, but you'll still find me at the brewery more than once this month.