RALEIGH, NC, June 3, 2013 – As of March of this year, the number of craft breweries in the United States is numbering at 2,360 according to the Brewer’s Association. To put this into perspective, let’s imagine this number were equally distributed across all fifty states. It would mean more than 45 breweries for every state. While this fairytale distribution is merely demonstrative and not at all the truth, it does exhibit the stunning level of interest and involvement that the industry continues to gather.
I would be far from the first to comment on the growing density of the craft market, and the teetering effect that could potentially follow. In the May edition of BeerAdvocate magazine, the founders Jason and Todd Alström noted “…the days of unicorns and rainbows are over for craft beer. Its culture has finally matured, accepted that it’s an actual business and demands more.”
So how does a brewery stick out above the rest as more and more join? Quality is of course the primary driver, and there are plenty of breweries out there putting out exemplary products. This in itself can make for an overwhelming selection process. Distinction in practice and style then ranks in the upper echelon along with quality of the beer.
Gabe Fletcher, founder and head brewer of Anchorage Brewing Company in Anchorage, Alaska is bringing such a level of refinement to the far-west state. Although Alaska has twenty-five breweries, the state’s reputation for beer is overshadowed by such craft powerhouse places as Oregon, Vermont and Colorado. However, Fletcher didn’t sound too concerned in our recent phone interview.
“We have educated beer drinkers up here,” he says.
With the care and complexity that Fletcher and his other sole employee of Anchorage Jeremiah Boone devote to the beer, it sounds like residents know exactly what is going on.
Fletcher is no newcomer to the world of brewing. Before opening Anchorage Brewing Company, he held a thirteen-year position at Midnight Sun Brewing Company, a brewery whose product beer geeks all over the country vie to get their hands on. As promising and prosperous as the position was, Fletcher was ready to bring his own interests into play.
As for owning his own brewery, Fletcher insists, “that’s every brewer’s dream, right?”
Though the styles are plenty, Anchorage’s beer contains two uniform conditions: the use of Brettanomyces yeast (also known as “Brett”) and oak barrel aging. Brett is a yeast that has primarily been used in wine, although the tastes result in ambivalent response. In beer, Brett is mainly tied to styles native to Belgium for a taste that is often described as sour, tangy and dry.
Along with the use of Brett, all of the beer is fermented in large oak tanks. This is the definition of Anchorage Brewing Company, but Fletcher says that he wasn’t looking to distinguish himself by sticking to this labor-intensive practice. “I just wanted to do what I love to do,” he says.
His devotion is made clear, too. It can take six months to a full year before some batches of beer see the shelf, while others can take up to two whole years. The patience might sound hard for many to come by, but the end result is certainly worth it.
Despite Anchorage beer not being readily available in North Carolina, I was lucky enough to try a sample of Galaxy White IPA. This IPA undergoes primary fermentation in wood, while secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle with Brett for two and half months. It’s unlike any IPA I’ve ever had, as the big hop profile and the tangy punch of the active Brett come together in memorable fashion.
Any beer from Alaska can be hard to come by, especially here on the East coast. Fletcher distributes his beer through Shawn Hill of the acclaimed Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro, Vermont, as well as through the Shelton Brothers of Massachusetts. Europeans can get a taste of his work as well thanks to Mikkeller in Denmark, where the beer is distributed throughout eight different countries.
As if brewing unique beer didn’t mean enough in having Anchorage stick out, Fletcher also aims to keep the craft beer community close-knit. Through The Culmination, a festival hosted by Anchorage Brewing in April, 300 participants were lucky enough to sample breweries hand-picked by Fletcher himself. Some of selections included Cantillon, The Alchemist, The Bruery and Lost Abbey.
So while Fletcher is planning on expanding his operation in the near future, he isn’t trying to become a brewing behemoth. His unique take on styles through conditioning with Brett and wood aging has already garnered positive discussion across beer forums and in establishments.
Though it may not have been intentional, Anchorage Brewing Company is already sticking out as a unique player in the next phase of the craft brewing industry. Quality will always be the key, but keeping the focus on a unique practice is that next step toward brewing maturity. Through Brettanomyces and intensive aging, Fletcher and his team are well on their way of transcending this.
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