Alaskan Brewing expands

Brewers find new nooks, squeeze grain to expand without moving

Posted: Friday, May 29, 2009

Two shiny, giant tanks for brewing beer rolled through town yesterday to the Alaskan Brewing Co.

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David J. Sheakley / Juneau Empire
David J. Sheakley / Juneau Empire

The brewers have gone from turning out 1,500 barrels in 1987 to more than 100,000 barrels a year since 2005 - all on the same property. Finding the room for this latest expansion was something of a magic trick - and a little bit European, according to plant manager Curtis Holmes.

"If you go to European breweries, they've been brewing in the same locations for 600 years," he said.

Most American brewhouses this size have moved as they've grown. But like the Europeans, Alaskan Brewing has found no place to go.

"Juneau's a hard place to find industrial land," Holmes said.

The two new 1,300-barrel tanks forestall the search a while longer as the brewery expands steadily. Last year's launch into Colorado markets was a success; so was the addition of a coriander-and-orange Alaskan White beer this year. The brewery expects to produce about 11 percent more beer this year than last.

The tanks help with that. So does a new mash press, a machine that squeezes the liquid out of boiled malt grain.

It's an old system from Belgium that is rare in North America (in this country only MillerCoors has one). It filled more space in the brewhouse and was pricey, but allows the brewers to use less water and get more beer out of the grain they have. After eight months of testing, the brewers were finally satisfied this winter that nobody would taste any changes.

Once the bottling line maxes out, though, Alaskan Brewing will start looking for a new home in earnest. The dream property can take a lot of truck traffic and is right next to seawater, which can be used to chill the beer.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.



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