The majestic wilds of Alaska are a home for pink-bellied, copper-river salmon, the pristine glaciers of Denali National Park, and one of the oldest craft breweries in the United States. Historians might be surprised to learn that even in the 1700’s and all the way up to the Gold Rush, the men and women of the Alaskan frontier could enjoy a local pint. So in 1986, when Alaskan Brewing Co. founders, Marcy and Geoff Larson, decided to make Juneau their home, they set to work rifling through ancient, yellowed newspapers and digging into the wealth of beer history in America’s 49th state. Geoff, already a homebrewer, discovered a Gold Rush-era beer recipe and brewed the first batch of what would become Alaskan Amber. Then Geoff and Marcy, along with 10 volunteers, spent over 12-hours handpacking the first 253 cases for distribution around Juneau.
34 years later, Alaskan Brewing Co. is one of the most award winning breweries ever to enter the Great American Beer Festival, and they aren’t just in Juneau anymore. Over 25 states proudly carry beer from the 67th independent brewery in the United States, and the first Alaskan brewery since the end of Prohibition. However, the team at Alaskan Brewing Co. is still committed to putting a taste of Alaska in every bottle. By using ingredients like pure glacier water from the Juneau icefields, they ensure every sip has a little taste of the state they call home. Alaska’s Tongass National Forest provides sitka spruce tree tips for their 2019 U.S. Open Beer Championship gold-medal winning Spruce IPA, and Brewmaster Geoff uses alder, an indigenous hardwood tree, to smoke the malt used in the Smoked Porter. The smoke not only imparts an incredible unique, rich flavor, but it acts as a preservative allowing the brewery to age their beers like fine wine. Where better to age things than in the historic Alaska-Juneau Gold Mine?
Juneau can be a difficult place to live, let alone operate a brewery. With no major roads leading in or out of the state’s capital, everything comes through Juneau’s harbor carried into the city by barges. So Marcy and Geoff’s use of local ingredients is not only a matter of local pride and practicality, but it’s also a more sustainable option than importing ingredients. This mix of practicality and sustainability led to Alaskan Brewing Co. installing the first CO2 reclamation system in a craft brewery. In 1998 it was crazy to think you could recapture the CO2 released during the brewing process, but Alaskan Brewing’s new equipment allowed them to become completely CO2 self-sufficient. Not only does this mean they don’t need to ship in CO2 from outside Juneau, but the reclamation saves almost a million pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere annually. That’s the equivalent of burning 45,000 gallons of gasoline – or driving a Prius to the moon!
In 2008, Alaskan Brewing Co. became the first brewery to install a mash filter press in an American craft brewery. The press saved over 2 million gallons of water in its first year, while reducing the amount of malt needed to brew by 6% and reducing fuel consumption by 65,000 gallons of diesel every year. While many breweries donate their spent grains to farmers to use as feed, there aren’t any cattle in Juneau, so the innovators at Alaskan Brewing Co. developed a first of its kind steam boiler fueled by their own spent grains. The invention reduced their fuel consumption by 65%, and the best part is: the more they brew the more spent grain they have, which means the more they save. It’s beer powered by beer, I’ll lift an icy mug to that!