The Unique Anchorage Brewing Company
By Sue Todd
Alaska law requires breweries to be set in industrial areas, and so it is with Anchorage Brewing Company. Do not be fooled by its humble exterior. The interior is breathtaking. Guests are not trapped behind glass, only able to view the brewery from a distance.
Visitors can roam freely among the wood casks and sparkling fermenters to enjoy the vast and diverse display of BAFCO art throughout the brewery. Seating is provided not only in the beautiful tasting room or outside deck with fire pit. If visitors time it just right, they can claim the seats inside converted casks.
Founder and brewer Gabe Fletcher has chosen not to put his operation behind glass because, in his words, “What could happen?” I suggested that someone might knock open a valve and interrupt the process. His response was, “So what? We close the valve.” Fletcher wants people to see, feel and get educated about the making of beer. By his way of thinking, this experience is what creates loyal customers.
To further enhance the experience and aromas, Fletcher is seeking a permit from the Municipality to allow for a pizza oven at the brewery. Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop will soon be baking fresh, hot pizzas on the spot.
An interesting fact is that Fletcher is not a home brewer. At age 21, he took a job at Midnight Sun, washing kegs and working the bottling line. His brewing skills soon developed, and within a year and a half he was head brewer. Midnight Sun provided fertile ground for him to experiment and develop his talent.
One of his Midnight Sun Brettanomyces beers, Pride, won awards at both the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup in 2008. Many of Midnight Sun’s most well known beers were created by Fletcher – Berzerker and the 7 Deadly Sins Series, to name a few. During his tenure, he helped create hundreds of beers, many of them still around today.
In 2010, after 13 years at Midnight Sun, he branched off and started his own operation in the basement of Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage. There he operated for four years, selling much of it outside Alaska.
In 2014, eight months in the making, his new permanent location was ready. He moved in and started operations. His mission is to continue to seek out new creations.
Fletcher’s complex beers often use Brettanomyces yeast, nicknamed Brett, a naturally occurring wild yeast strain. Fletcher explained that when making sour beer he uses pediococcus, a souring bacteria, to create a sickness in the beer. Brett is added to feed on the bacteria and clear the beer. Brett takes, at a bare minimum, three months to ferment. Fletcher’s beers take much longer. His smooth, balanced beers take time, and patience is required. Apparently, Fletcher has plenty. One of the current beers on tap, Bitter Monk, took a year, while another, Chaga Mon, was 32 months in the making.
Fletcher told the story of how he donated a day of brewing to a friend’s fundraising auction. The winners were two of his other friends. They decided to brew a spontaneous beer, using a coolship, a broad, flat open vessel that cools wort while it collects wild yeast. That was 16 months ago. He says it is starting to taste great, but it is by no means ready. He will eventually add fruit, six pounds per gallon, to enhance the flavor. When it is ready, it will be introduced, but not one moment sooner.
The day I visited, on tap were an IPA, several Double IPAs, two Triple IPAs, an Imperial Stout, a Sour, and a Saison. Smooth, balanced flavors belie the fact that these beers ranged from a respectably strong 6.4 percent APV all the way up to 13 percent. Could the 36 oz. tasting room limit be a blessing in disguise?
Fletcher is a world-class brewer, with numerous awards, accolades, and an international reputation for making outstanding beer. Locally, he is well respected, too. Most recently, after sitting out the competition for the previous three years, the brewery returned and placed first with A Deal with the Devil Double Oaked in the 2019 Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival.
Fletcher is the brains behind The Culmination Festival, an annual celebration of the most unique breweries and their creations. The participants are carefully chosen and are not just some of the best in the world, but they must have never been in Alaska. Limited tickets make it an exclusive event, and it is a wonderful experience for the beer aficionados who attend.
Girdwood Brewing Company Brewer/Co-owner Rory Morenco says, “Gabe has definitely been an idol of mine since before we started our brewery here in Girdwood. The quality, consistency, and creativity of his brews keep me coming back for more. The ambiance of his taproom and the proximity to the brewing equipment inspired the open design with sneak-a-peak views into the brewery that we have at Girdwood Brewing Company.
“Anchorage Brewing is definitely the brewery I visit most when making trips to Anchorage, partly because of its proximity to South Anchorage/North Girdwood, but also because I’m always craving another one of his Hazy IPAs, sours, or Imperial Stouts. He has helped put Alaska on the map for top tier beers and breweries, and it’s an honor to share a profession with such an icon, not to mention the wealth of brewing talent that he brings up each year with the Culmination Festival. No other place in the nation combines that many amazing beers to taste in one venue.”
Anchorage Brewing Company’s beer is distributed well beyond Alaska. Fletcher’s selection of world-class and unique beers, great atmosphere, and steadfast adherence to quality in the craft of beer making are what make Anchorage Brewing Company an Alaska treasure. You can find their beer in most of the States in the Lower 48, as well as Canada, most of Europe, China and Australia.