Hop Dreams: Five locals envision craft brewery, distillery in downtown’s future

The Devil’s Club is on fire in downtown Juneau. Last Wednesday, three “local boys with a dream” launched a campaign on the crowd funding website Kickstarter. Their goal: opening a “taproom-focused brewery” on Franklin street.

 

Within a week, Devil’s Club Brewery has amassed $18,386 of their $20,000 goal from purchases of T-shirts and growlers.

The upstart “nano-brewery” isn’t alone in its aspiration. Devil’s Club Brewery joins Amalga Distillery — a craft whiskey, gin and vodka startup — in signing leases on Franklin street. The businesses — collaborators within spitting distance — are slated to open within a year. Both are working feverishly to meet licensing requirements.

Three “Juneau boys with a dream”

The founders of Devil’s Club Brewery — Jacob Ridle, Evan Wood and Ryan Lindsay — have been tinkering with recipes, navigating licensing and developing business plans for three years.

“We’re three Juneau boys who have no money and a big dream. We’re finding a way to make it work,” Ridle said. “It takes a long time but it’s our dream and we want to share it with everyone and have the community involved.”

The dream is now within reach as Devil’s Club Brewery begins work on the historic Hellenthal building on Franklin Street. The space has housed two different theaters and a bookshop over the years but has been shuttered since 2000. Amalga Distillery will be located on second and Franklin in the old Capital City Weekly offices.

“It will be more like an English or European pub style where we encourage people to come in after work and have a pint and some food,” Ridle said. “We are not going to focus on distribution, which wouldn’t make sense as a nano-brewery.”

The boys have been brewing together for three years.

“I think the ‘aha’ moment came when we started winning awards at brewing festivals,” Lindsay said, referring to best in show awards they won at festivals in Anchorage, Haines and Juneau last summer.

Devil’s Club plans on running a four-or-eight-barrel brewing system. They would be able to produce 300 to 600 barrels a year, a tiny amount compared to Alaskan Brewing Company’s roughly 150,000 barrel yearly output.

“The amount of beer we’d be able to make in a year, Alaskan Brewing Company can make in a day, which is why we need to focus on the taproom and bringing people in. It’s a completely different business model,” said Wood, who described Devil’s Club’s beer as “adventurous”.

“We’re going to do some beers similar to what Anchorage Brewing company does with Brettanomyces, barrel aging and wood smoking,” said Wood, referring to the strain of bacteria used to make so-called “sour” beers. “We’re also going to be doing some beers similar to Alaskan Brewing Company, American style beers and ales; also, beers like (Anchorage’s) Midnight Sun Brewing with Belgian beers.”

Hellenthal building owner Dale Whitney has been encouraged by the excitement people have shown in his new tenants’ business.

“The response is just amazing,” Whitney said. “People are just saying, ‘Wow, there’s a brewery coming into the building? That’s so cool.’”

Devil’s Club Brewery’s Kickstarter campaign is live for the next 22 days, Wood said, but it isn’t the answer to all their financial needs.

“Kickstarter is definitely not going to create the funds for the entire brewery, but we wanted to let everyone know what we’re doing, so Kickstarter is a great way of doing that while raising funds for our taproom. We’re doing traditional funding as well,” Wood said. 

Single malts under Mt. Roberts

Brandon Howard and Maura Selenak — cofounders of Amalga Distillery — have seen the promise Juneau’s market holds for craft spirits. Howard and Selenak have leased a space on the corner of Franklin and second street in the old Capital City Weekly offices.

“I think the first ‘aha’ moment for me came a long time ago,” Howard said. “I was thinking why is there not a craft distillery in Juneau? That would be so cool. Then seeing Port Chilkoot on the shelf and thinking, ‘Haines has a distillery and we don’t?’ We need to do this, but we also need to do it well, hence the two-and-a-half years of planning.”

They plan on opening in six months, and will start making gin and vodka immediately. Whiskey, because it needs to be barrel-aged for at least two years, will come later.

Howard, who’s distilling experience comes from years of homebrewing and an internship at Westland Distillery in Seattle, says his process is inspired by craft brewing.

“I used to homebrew, love beer, love whiskey, and there’s this fact that a lot of people don’t realize that single malt whiskey is just beer unhopped, distilled,” Howard said. “You look at what craft brewers are doing, they’re doing so many cool things using so many different ingredients, so many different cool malts and different yeasts. … I thought, ‘Man, nobody is doing that with whiskey,’ so that was kind of our big idea, that was the idea we started cultivating because if you’re entering this market, you have to do something unique.”

“A lot of the licensing was on hold until we figured out our space, which is why we were so excited to get this space nailed down,” Selenak said.

In their new space, the partners plan on highlighting the distilling process, something Howard says people aren’t familiar with.

“The still is a 250-gallon still from Vendome. It will go right in the window there,” Howard said, pointing to the curved window on the corner of Franklin and Second Streets. “People know what brewing equipment looks like, but with stills, there is some mystery there; they’re really beautiful. It is the crown jewel of any distillery and we really wanted to make that the crown jewel of the space.”

Howard said there will be a brewery in the basement below the tasting room and shop where he and Selenak will make the “mash” — the unhopped beer — that they will distill into whiskey.

The pair will start with gin and flavored vodkas before their single malt whiskey will be ready for sale.

“The gin is called ‘Juneau-per’ because Juniper is the main ingredient by law in gin, and that will have some rhubarb and spruce tip and locally-foraged things,” Howard said. “The vodka we’re calling foraged vodka because we’re planning on picking things for it. ... We want to elevate flavored vodka, so things that are interesting and beautiful and not ‘party time’ vodkas.” 

From brew to barrel and back

Amalga Distillery plans to collaborate with Devil’s Club Brewery on a whiskey and a beer. Devil’s Club Brewery will brew a mash that Amalga Distillery will turn into a whiskey. Once the whiskey is barrel-aged, Devil’s Club Brewery will take the used barrels and age a beer in them, a technique Howard says other breweries and distilleries aren’t approaching directly.

“It’s great to sit down with Jacob Rydle and just nerd out and talk about here’s some flavor profiles we’d like to see,” Howard said. “There’s a long wait, a two year wait to it, but getting to collaborate is really exciting.”

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