Budding house of hops
refreshes Girdwood eclectic
By P.M. Fadden
|Alaska is already ranked seventh in the United State for breweries per capita, and the odds just got better with the addition of the Girdwood Brewing Co.|
The 3,000-square-foot facility houses a 10-barrel mash ton and brew kettle, 20-barrel hot liquor tank, 20-barrel brite tank and three 20-barrel fermenters – all tools of the trade for craft brewing.
Girdwood Brewing Co. has been busily pulling tulip glass pours since a jubilee-esque St. Patrick’s Day grand opening, and celebrates the end of a long tourist season with the coming of Oktoberfest, of course. Festivities begin September 16 with Bavarian fun, Germanic, beer-friendly food pairings, traditional music and diversion as well as stein-poured Marzen brew.
Girdwood Brewing’s growth has been buoyed by both locals and visitors alike. The craft-brewing industry has a $460 million economic impact in Alaska. The estimated 2 million annual visitors to the state add another $2 billion to the economy. The company’s founders saw these figures as an opportunity to ride the economic wave and fill an empty niche in Girdwood
“Brewing trends today seem to indicate more interest in handmade, craft beers,” said Girdwood brew engineer Rory Marenco. “The public seeks fresh and local, which fits right in with what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Brother and fellow brewer Brett Marenco said Girdwood Brewing’s location – in a resort town – takes advantage of both of these trends.
“Girdwood Brewing has a slightly unique model in its recognition of potential for a brewery in a resort town,” he said. “As a company, we now need to capitalize on that ‘walk-in’ experience.”
Taproom traffic has increased steadily, and the brewery is now a locals’ favorite as well.
“We’ve created a place where the community can gather, where locals want to hang out” said Shauna Hegna, wife of co-owner Josh Hegna. “Even if it’s your first visit, Girdwood Brewing should feel like a walk to your buddy’s place for a relaxing beer.”
Owners Amy Shimek, the Marencos, Josh Hegna and Karl McLaughlin have worked together to make the Girdwood Brewing Co. the place to be. A taproom done properly nears the magic of an old Irish pub; its doors are open to thought and expression, its tabletops gathering points for generations of neighbors, new friends, or kin.
“I grew up in Girdwood and if we expect to grow as a town, this community needs more new and locally owned businesses,” said Emily Marenco, wife of Rory. “Hopefully our opening inspires other entrepreneurs to also take the new business plunge.”
“Our goal is that all business aspects be as well-crafted as our beer and as funny as we are (or think we are),” said co-owner Shimek. “Guests can expect some whimsy.”
The taproom walls are decorated with the works of local artists and the racks hold local merchandise, but driving Girdwood Brewing’s success is a beverage selection as diverse as company patronage.
Last month, the company’s flavorful, Cryo-hopped IPA won the People’s Choice award at the Aug. 12, Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival, beating out nearly 30 competitors. The Marenco brothers said the company was both humbled and honored to receive such recognition, especially after only six months in operation.
Other offerings include “Hippy Speedball,” a stout that seduces with silken depth. The crisp finish of the “Down the Chute” Kolsch offers a session-able, Germanic alternative. A bestseller India Pale Ale unfurls its Alaskana via the citric, teasingly bitter “IP-AK” and the softly hued “Rhu-Heffner’s” Heffeweissen-meets-fruit palette besots with its serenade of complex rhubarb and robust strawberry. The “Jinja Ninja,” an earthy, eyebrow-raising take on Ginger Beer, is the newest addition to the armada.
Girdwood Brewing Co. also offers as non-alcoholic alternatives two ZIP Kambucha flavors delicious enough to rival the craft beers on tap beside them. “Blueberry Mary” imparts a colorful infusion with fruit afternotes while its “Ginger Rogers” sibling lets the root wiggle first onto the tongue.
As is common with many of Alaska’s brewery’s Girdwood Brewing Co. lacks a kitchen but welcomes picnic-style dining and local food truck options. Consumer demand for the instantly popular brew lineup has already necessitated an approximate 300 percent increase in production quantities.“Crowlers” are a recent product line addition, and Girdwood Brewing merchandise has bloomed like Devil’s Club throughout the valley and beyond.
Members of the Girdwood Brewing family readily agree that theirs is a business worth doing right. Volunteers helped build and decorate the brewhouse and its spent grains are donated, feeding horses rather than stocking landfills.
“As a lifelong Alaskan I know how much pride we have in anything Alaskan made,” Emily Marenco said, “At Girdwood Brewing Company beer is no different.”
- M. Fadden is Glacier City Gazette associate editor in Girdwood.