Look back in the archives of Anchorage's brewing scene, and you'll find Borealis, which operated from 1997 to 2002. S.J. Klein, the brewer behind Borealis, isn't starting up a new business, but he will be debuting a rare new product at the Girdwood Forest Fair starting July 4. (Dr. Fermento photo)
Story last updated at 6/11/2014 - 5:52 pm
Any craft beer lover who has been in Alaska for at least 12 years should remember Borealis Brewing Company. The brewery was launched in 1997 by S.J. Klein in a ramshackle building in the Ship Creek area of Anchorage.
Although the short-lived brewery closed in 2002, "people still remember my IPA, Classic Pilsner and Matanuska Thunderbock," Klein reminisced.
I remember the brewery and the beers well and sometimes miss threading my way through the industrial area to the brewery for a pint or a growler fill. Borealis is one of many forerunning breweries that sank while riding the wave of America's craft beer movement.
As the brewery was shutting down, Klein did some work at Silver Gulch Brewing Company north of Fairbanks. "I started contract brewing in Fairbanks to keep the brewery going," says Klein. "It was a good system and we were able to do a good, consistent beer there," he says.
Klein never lost his love for craft beer, and those who know him see him at most of the major beer gigs in Southcentral Alaska. We're in fairly constant touch, and the other day he broke the good news to me that he's coming back into the brewing scene - at least temporarily.
After the brewery shut down, Klein did some construction work, re-engaging in a trade he left to start brewing. "I got sick of that pretty quick," said Klein. "Back when I had the brewery, at about the same time, Bernie (of Bernie's Bungalow Lounge) was a cook on the pipeline, and then he went to work for Carr's in the produce department."
Bernie was into bean sprouts.
"Bernie realized he couldn't get good bean sprouts up here, so he started growing them himself. When the Lounge got successful, he gave the business to his oldest son, but his son really didn't want to run it," he says.
"I sold Borealis beer to Bernie, so I knew him and after the brewery shut down, I asked Bernie if he'd sell me the equipment and I started growing sprouts. I've been doing it ever since. At Alaska Sprouts, we're not super price competitive," said Klein, but we've got everyone else on quality.
Rest assured that Klein isn't going to start making bean sprout beer, but know that Klein's passion is with locally produced goods that support good things.
Klein's re-introduction into brewing doesn't have roots in bean sprouts, but rather the Girdwood Forest Fair. "The Forest Fair started off about 35 years ago and was pretty much craft beer in the woods," he said.
This is the Fair's 39th year. "Some people started playing music and selling local crafts. People threw kegs in the creek to keep them cold. Eventually, this turned into a fenced-off beer garden. The organizers got a license to sell beer, and the profits mostly went as a fundraiser and bounced between the Rotary and Lions Clubs," said Klein. "In 2003, the Lions Club was the operator and they said they didn't want to do it any more. I'd been supplying the Club with beer, so I was involved."
Klein is a self-professed "ski rat" who used to hang in Girdwood and ski and peddle his beer, so he was down there a lot. "The Forest Fair Committee decided to run the concession themselves. One guy ran it and really didn't know what he was getting into. He asked a local distributor to run it," he said.
Klein knew this couldn't be good. "You had this craft fair with local music, handmade crafts and food and crappy industrial beer. The committee asked me if I wanted to run it the next year. It sounded like fun and I've been with it ever since," he said.
I checked out the Fair's website (girdwoodforestfair.com) and indeed, this makes sense. The site proclaims, "no dogs, no politics, no religious orders."
I wonder why I've never attended.
"The Forest Fair Committee wanted me to brew a beer for the event ever since I started with them. I couldn't do it then," he said. "But the last five years, I've been thinking about it." The only thing Klein was missing was a brewery.
"Usually, when they ask me to brew a beer, it's too late in the season to get it done," he said. I started looking around at breweries that might have some capacity."
Klein sat down with the committee and talked about a beer. "They made it pretty clear what they wanted," he said. "They wanted something light and drinkable."
Pabst Blue Ribbon came up. "I said 'no,' there are plenty of other places people can get that. We don't serve deep-fried Twinkies either, although they'd be popular," he admits.
Klein contacted Midnight Sun Brewing Company and found the formidable local Anchorage brewing entity agreeable with his theme. The Fair Committee was all over the chart with an idea for a Fair compatible beer. "Everyone wanted something different," says Klein. "What came clear to me is that they want something light, drinkable and with a little bit of malt backbone and just a nice touch of hops to let you know its craft beer," he said.
This is where Fairy Dust was born. "I went to Midnight Sun and checked out what they could do. I went through the warehouse, checked out the malts, the hops and I took some home and started playing with it," he said.
Yeah, brewing beer runs deep and once craft beer runs through your veins, you can't get it out. Klein had been dusted in more ways than one.
"The beer I came up with is a lighter pale ale and an English bitter is the closest style I can call it," he said.
I talked to him about beer specifications. "The character of Fairy Dust comes from the yeast and the hopping," he said. "Expect some nice esters from the yeast and hints of Challenger and other English-style hops. I think I've achieved what everyone wants. Fairy Dust will be highly attenuated (meaning that it will be fully fermented) so it's fairly dry in the finish."
Klein is hitting the marks for a medium-bodied beer that wraps up delicate and clean on the palate.
The beer will be released June 19 in Girdwood. Klein's not sure where, since the Fair doesn't start until July 4. There are venues in Girdwood hungry for it, but Klein is optimistic some will be available here in Anchorage. "I'm thinking that 2/3 of the batch of 30 barrels will be held back for the Fair, but the rest will show up around Southcentral," he said, "with a big focus on Girdwood."
If you can't make it to the Fair, which boasts free admission for family-oriented event, look for Klein's beer at some of the more exclusive watering holes around the more pedestrian confines of Los Anchorage. According to Klein, some might even show up in southeastern Alaska as well, depending on the whim of Midnight Sun Brewing Company's distributor.