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Mad passion: for craft beer

Posted: Friday, April 02, 2010

I was reading an industry paper a while back, and was struck by a headline: "Greg Koch tells aspiring craft brewers 'Be passionate - mad passionate, or stay home.'"

Koch, Stone Brewing co-founder, was speaking to the Craft Brewers Conference last year and he is precisely right - it takes mad passion to be a successful craft brewer, microbrewer or home brewer.

And throughout his "bravura performance," he threw out a few gems about brewers and the products they create: "Authentic is required." Products should be "remarkable." Craft brewers need to be making beer that is "compelling." Companies that are doing well "are trying to produce the amazing," and "what they do has style and substance."

This type of thought is what has created the craft beer movement, and is what keeps it going strong. In Southeast Alaska, we have a few breweries that demonstrate this "mad passion" on a daily basis, and were started precisely because of it.

When Paul Wheeler won Best of Show at the Great Alaska Craftbrew and Homebrew Festival in 1999, he gained the confidence to open Haines Brewery. Since then he has brewed all kinds of excellent ales, often using experimental and local ingredients such as spruce tips and birch syrup. It is this constant state of innovation, experimentation and love for the craft which keeps his brewery a success. His creation of Broke Dick ale demonstrates this passion. Based on recipes from Benjamin Franklin's time, this historical ale changes yearly. This year, he gave spruce tips a heavy hand in the brew, creating an intricate and exciting ale.

Skagway brewing, although it has been around for a time as a seasonal brewery, came under new ownership in 2007. With passionate owner Mike Healy and a full-time brewer Trevor Clifford, this brewery has been creating some very nice, clean, easy-drinking beers. It's also open year-round, which gives more credibility to a brewery and shows the craft beer movement is becoming viable and vibrant even in small communities. It was really nice to see Skagway Brewing make its first appearance at the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival this past January, just doing its part in promoting craft beer.

In Juneau, Alaskan Brewing is represented. Although it is the largest brewery in Alaska, it is still considered a craft brewery, and shows this passion by making compelling beers. Not only does the brewery make a variety of year-round and seasonally bottled beers, it is constantly experimenting on a 1 Bbl experimental system, a 10 Bbl system which is used for a variety of Rough Draft beers available only on draft, and soon will be promoting the Pilot Series which will be a variety of limited edition specialty beers bottled in 22-ounce bottles.

This passion found throughout the craft beer industry started with a grass-roots type of movement - home brewing. And home brewers are the very core of this remarkable craft. Not only do most commercial brewers start as homebrewers, but the experimentation within this group can often lead to new styles and trends, and generate excitement about the craft.

There will be opportunities for the public in Southeast Alaska to participate in this mad passion of the craft beer movement during the 18th annual Great Alaska Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival and Competition at the end of May, in Haines. This year, riding on the coattails of American Craft Beer Week (May 17-23) we will be celebrating craft beer with the first ever S.E. Alaska beer week starting on May 22nd and culminating at the Haines Beer festival on May 29.

Stay tuned for events happening throughout S.E. at the end of May - S.E. Beer Week will be resplendent with beer dinners, tastings, pairings, homebrew education, and maybe even beer movies! It's all in the works - ready to spread the excitement of beer throughout the land.

• Rachale Juzeler loves her craft beer, so much so, she can't stop talking about it and planning beer events. It's become a problem. If you have any advice to talk her down a bit, she can be reached at rachale101@gmail.com.



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