Story last updated at 5/28/2014 - 2:16 pm
Brandon Hall's nervousness dissolved on Monday, May 12 when he discovered there was no public opposition to his plan to open Chugach Brewing Company in Mountain View. At the evening community council meeting, Hall and his business partner Christopher Castaneda outlined their plans to open a small brewing operation just outside of the Glenn Square shopping area.
"The meeting went great," Hall said.
"We'd heard through the grapevine that there was some strong opposition to another alcohol establishment coming to Mountain View and that I was going to have to field some pretty tough questions," he said, recounting the Monday night meeting.
Hall's is one of seven brewing operations in planning in Alaska, and if he opens before any of the others, his will be the 24th licensed brewing establishment up here. This is good news for me and other craft beer lovers in Alaska who feel there's plenty more room for good suds.
"I just think the north side of town needs beer love," Hall explained at the meeting.
He's right. Most of Anchorage's breweries and brewpubs are concentrated in the downtown area and dispersed to the south. I got here in 1979, and since then, there's never been a brewery or brewpub on the east side of town. Outside downtown Anchorage, the next brewing outfits are Arkose Brewery in Palmer, Last Frontier Brewing Company in Wasilla, and then Denali Brewing Company to the north in Talkeetna.
Like just about every other commercial brewer I know, Hall developed his passion for brewing through exposure to noteworthy beers that were available in his formative years; he then learned to brew beer himself at home.
"In the late '90s when I was in high school, I came across a band zine that I followed. They put a recipe on the site about making your own version of Sam Adams. I made it and it blew my mind. It actually blew my mind that you could actually make your own beer. It was as foreign a concept to me as making gasoline," Hall said.
Like most other first-time brewers, Hall was smitten. "It rocked my world," he said. "I sought out a homebrew shop and a guy that had no qualms about selling a beer kit to a kid that was barely 20. I immersed myself in beer literature. My parents were actually okay with me making beer too."
Hall was living in Fort Walton Beach in Florida at the time. "There was a brewery there," he said. "I can't remember the name and it's long gone now, but they took me in back and I got a little tour with a quick overview of the process. I was instantly enthralled."
Hall did college on and off and did traveling, too. "I went to school in Belgium. I just threw everything in a backpack, bought a one-way ticket and headed over there in '99."
There's no doubt that being exposed to Belgian beer was a life-changing event for Hall; it happens to all of us beer lovers at one point or another.
"I was in a youth hostel and tried both a Duvel and a Chimay Blue," he says. These two beers are legendary in both their style and their defining contribution to global beer. "I started devouring Belgian beers," Hall said.
Hall eventually moved back to the United States, joined the military, got commissioned and moved around quite a bit. He never abandoned his passion for brewing. "I got right back into homebrewing as soon as I got my own place. I scaled up and built an all-grain system and was brewing as much as I could," he said.
Although Hall's still in the reserves, he's been pushing full throttle toward opening a brewery in Alaska for a couple of years.
The military brought Hall here, and like many of us, Alaska's mystique and allure kept pulling him back. "Alaska was my first duty station coming out of technical school in the military," he said. "I'm a big time skier and Alaska certainly works for that."
The military took him away, but "I left kicking and screaming and it didn't take me long to realize I was coming back to Alaska for good," he said.
It didn't hurt that the beer up here is truly inspiring, further solidifying Hall's belief that there's plenty of room for another brewery. "Every brewery and every brewer up here has inspired me," said Hall of the breweries in our state. "My first gateway beer in the Alaska beer scene was Midnight Sun Brewing Company's Panty Peeler Tripel," he admitted.
"I decided that opening a commercial brewery was no-kidding for me and in 2010 started taking it seriously. I've always wanted to work for myself and for me the best fit was to marry into something I'm truly passionate about," he said of his aspirations to launch Chugach Brewing Company. "I'm going to continue to serve my country if possible and make the brewery work."
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Chugach Brewing Company will have a Belgian-style beer focus. "Expect more of the Belgian Abbey style influence," Hall said. "I'll work the classic strains with a bunch of creative license with existing styles. I see a need here; Belgian ales are quite popular here," he said while admitting, "Oh, and of course, I'll have an IPA and a double IPA," just because they're so hugely popular right now.
Hall is starting out with a five-barrel brewhouse meaning that he can crank out just over 150 gallons at a whack. These will be fermented and conditioned in five-barrel or 10-barrel tanks depending on what the engineering study of his brewery deems the building can structurally handle.
I warned Hall that any more, a five-barrel system is just too small. "Dude, you're going to gain an instant cult following and your beer will be so popular you'll quickly outgrow that system and really wish you'd gone in bigger," I told him.
Hall was way ahead of me. "Oh, I easily foresee outgrowing this space and am planning a second location or moving all together starting in year four," he says. Although the brewery is primarily tap room focused (meaning primary sales will originate over the counter as pints and growlers from a tasting room), Hall has some packaging plans. Although he's going to package a limited amount of beer in oversized cork and bail bottles, "I'll be jumping into canning sooner than later," he said, adding enhanced portability to what should be some pretty tasty beers.
Hall's entangled in the licensing and approval crap that besets upstart brewers, but he's pushing through it and securing a location. Getting the nod from the community council is encouraging. "Yeah, after they asked mostly curiosity based questions such as what kind of beer I'd be making and how much, the only real thing they wanted to know at the end is if they could hold their council meetings in my tasting room," Hall said. That's certainly a vote of confidence that's going to help add more great locally brewed craft beer for Alaskans to enjoy.