HOMER - As beer becomes something of an art form, Homer is establishing itself as a place where connoisseurs can look for a taste unique to the Kenai Peninsula. With one brewery in existence, and another on the way, Homer easily could become the beer capital of the Kenai Peninsula.
Dave and Trudy Ritchie, owners of Alice's Champagne Palace, are in the process of adding a brewing component to their popular tavern.
"We thought a brew pub would be a fun thing to have in Homer," said Dave Ritchie. "Most of our beer is draft beer, which is expensive. So we're going to make it ourselves.
"We'll be able to brew a maximum of seven barrels (31 gallons) at a time," Ritchie said. "All the brewing people in Anchorage are really helpful and have been asking about when it will open."
He doesn't know when work will be completed because he and his wife are working from personal finances.
"We're able to do as we go along," Ritchie said. "It's nice because you don't have to meet deadlines for bankers. You couldn't do it with a contractor. We do it all ourselves, otherwise; it ain't happening."
Ritchie is building the brewery himself with help from Lasse Holmes, a former partner in the Homer Brewing Co.
Ritchie broke ground on the project last fall. The goal, Holmes said, was to take advantage of the building's three levels to provide an efficient brewing process.
"Gravity is what's so great about this place. You don't have to pump anything, so the beer is clean," he said.
"It will start at the top with the grain house," Holmes said. "Grain will run down to the brew house for brewing, and end up in the cellar for fermenting."
Work on the brewery involved laying new slabs of cement on all three levels and reinforcing the structure to support the weight of two 31-gallon boiling cauldrons filled with water and grain products.
Ritchie purchased a lot of his equipment secondhand from Borealis Brewing Co. owner S.J. Klein of Anchorage.
"He doesn't brew his own (beer) anymore," he said.
Ritchie said he did not expect to find himself competing against Homer Brewing Co., despite the close proximity and similar products.
"They're our friends and our neighbors," he said. "We don't look at them as competition."
Homer Brewing co-owner Karen Berger said she didn't expect to bump heads with Alice's.
"As long as the Ritchies own the business, I don't think they're looking to put us out of business," she said. "There are a lot of different palates to go around."
Holmes said Alice's expects to have several brews ready by the summer.
"We're heading to (making) just the best beer," he said. "This summer, we'll have four main brews. It's gotta be good, or we won't sell it."
Berger and Ritchie said they see a bigger picture. Berger said the opportunity for learning about beer is great for a community like Homer.
"It's a beautiful thing," she said. "You're heightening the level of appreciation of beer and the education."
Ritchie said he sees Homer an oasis for home-grown beer.
"Our aim, from a business standpoint," he said, "is to (import) no more draft beer from outside Homer."