Craft cocktail scene booming downtown

Two new establishments welcome crowds of thirsty locals

Nick Wermeling, bartender at The Narrows, mixes cocktails. (Courtesy of Beau Sylte)

Whether it’s for an Old Fashioned in the dark, tight quarters of The Narrows Bar or for a gin and tonic in the well-lit, bright-wallpapered quarters of Amalga Distillery, thirsty Juneauites have been flooding to the capital city’s new craft cocktail bars.


Both establishments are in the heart of downtown on Franklin Street, and both opened this spring. They’ve joined other downtown establishments such as V’s Cellar Door and SALT, both of which have served craft cocktails for the past few years.

Crowds immediately gathered at both new places, and the rush hasn’t slowed down. Jared Curé, owner of The Narrows, said prior to opening the bar that he felt there was a market in Juneau for a craft cocktail bar, and he’s seen that feeling prove true.

“I think it was I was hoping for and certainly I was optimistic that this is what it would be,” Curé said Friday, “but you never really know until you open the doors.”

The distinction between a so-called “craft cocktail” and a simple cocktail is partially about the quality of ingredients and partially about the attention to detail. Both The Narrows and Amalga locally source many of their ingredients, putting particular care into which plants and herbs to include in their concoctions.

For example, Amalga’s Instagram page posted updates during a foraging run last week, searching for just the right ingredients for its next batch of gin. The Narrows, Curé said, goes through about 300 pounds of fresh ingredients a week for its cocktails. Talking earlier this spring before Amalga opened, co-owner Brandon Howard said that the new craft alcohol establishments in Juneau — also including Barnaby Brewing on Franklin Street — are all emphasizing local flavors.

“We’re all kind of taking that Juneau twist on it,” Howard said, “making it local, using local ingredients, making things approachable and beautiful. I think that’s something really exciting and something we’re definitely we’re wanting to do in here.”

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Amalga is focused on that local flavor, not only naming the company after a local harbor, but naming its signature beverage — “Juneauper Gin” — after the town.

For Venietia Santana (otherwise known as “V”), making the switch to craft cocktails was more out of necessity than out of trying to capitalize on a movement. Serving her Mexican-Korean fusion food, she found that drinks such as a bourbon and Coke actually made the food taste worse.

“At one point, I was seriously serving cocktails and beer and wine that was making my cocktails taste bitter,” she said, “so when I did my research, I had to find things that worked well with my food.”

She switched to using drinks such as vermouth to make creative cocktails that complement the dishes, and has stuck with the approach ever since.

Apart from that, the “craft” label on the cocktails pertains to the overall experience of consuming it. At The Narrows, patrons watch the bartender make a drink right in front of them, using various mixing containers, long spoons or even lighting a beverage on fire before serving it.

“Craft is not only the ingredients but in the preparation of how it’s done,” Curé said. “What we’re doing, it’s a whole experience. We’re creating something in front of you. You’re watching those ingredients go into the shaker tin or go into the mixing glass and you’re watching it all happen in front of you.”



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