How did you devise the recipe for Perseverance, your 25th anniversary beer?
Marcy: The whole crew that helped out with that one, because it represented our 25th year, which the whole brewery is proud of.
Geoff: We have a little system, the Rough Draft system with one-barrel batches being made pretty frequently. We’ve developed a real culture of teams to have fun, experiment, explore flavors, explore concepts and try to make them manifest in the beer that comes out of that single-barrel system.
So that’s the backdrop. Marcy said, OK, let’s get an anniversary committee together. They started talking conceptually about what they wanted in the beer. We’re 25 years old: what defines us as a brewery? Who are we? How can we make this beer representative?
Our heritage here is Russia, so something Russian was appropriate. A 25th anniversary beer is something we’d want to be able to lay down for the future, so something big and strong. We also love to use local ingredients: we have birch syrup from the interior of Alaska—it’s analogous to maple syrup, but there are some differences in its flavor.
Then raw fireweed honey. For those of us in the southeast of Alaska, fireweed is the flower that tells us about the advance of fall. It’s a beautiful flower, and it makes extraordinary honey. And we used a little smoked malt from our operation.
Marcy: There were several iterations of test brews over a period of six months.
Geoff: I have to admit that those last few tasting panels were…wow. You closed your eyes, and the play of flavors, the development of the layers of experience after you swallowed. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to celebrate.
When I toured this summer, I heard a lot about sustainability. How does that play out in the brewery today?
Geoff: When you’re camping in certain fragile environments, you look back on your footprints and think, “Oh, man, I’m making an impact.” In Alaska, this is kind of typical: where you’re harvesting from the land—fishing, hunting—your connection with that give-and-take is pretty important.
The need to be constantly looking at how you do things made us wonder: here’s the way other people do things, but it’s not necessarily how we have to do things. For example, traditionally, you would sell kegged beers, then sell bottles. Since this was Alaska, I could picture our kegs going up to the Bering Sea and becoming crab floats. Regrettably, we were faced with a one-way container situation if we wanted to get our beer up north, so we bottled for the first two years. We didn’t do any kegs.
I’d love to say that we were always on the forefront, doing things efficiently, but much of what we did was to do things with what we had.
Marcy: Like the CO2 recycling plant we put in. It’s not cheap to get CO2 up here; it’s dirt cheap to get it down south, so nobody thinks about reusing CO2. But in the process of making beer, you’re making plenty of CO2.
Geoff: And the most common source for bought CO2 is burning fossil fuels. Our CO2 comes from the grain that captured that CO2 originally from the atmosphere. We have more control over our ingredients, since our CO2 has no possibility of fuel tainting. We’ve increased our CO2 recovery by 400 percent over the past 13 years.
Marcy: And we put in the mash press, the one that squeezes the grain.
Geoff: Kind of like the espresso machine of beer making, instead of drip coffee. It’s an appropriate analogy: the drip coffee makers of the world are the lauter tuns, which are beautiful prices of equipment; but for us, this reduces our impact on our community because we can more fully utilize malt.
Part of living in Juneau is that this is a small community. Truly, it’s not like you can hop on your motorcycle and ride away if you get tired of Juneau.
We went out of our way to talk to the people who might be against us, like the health and social services and alcohol treatment people. When we talked to them, you could read the body language, and it was a little tentative, a little defensive or hostile. But by the end of the conversation they realized all we wanted to do was make good quality beer.
I went to the water and sewer department before we even started. Every five years, I go talk to them again. Now that we’re 25 years old, we’re fairly large. Our staff knows if we ever have a beer spill, the first people to call are the sewer guys: “Hey, got some beer coming your way, and it ain’t in a sixpack.” Those are unusual circumstances.
We’re very aware of our connectivity to the land, to our social fabric in Juneau. For example, there’s only one time of year when fish are running, and there might be refrigeration issues. We try to make sure we have well-stocked wholesalers during the peak salmon runs, because we have to pay attention to our community’s needs.
Living in Alaska, you look at things a little differently.