Alaska is a vast state with a mature, sophisticated beer palate that’s fed by 24 geographically dispersed brewing operations, many of which are accessible only by air or water. As such, many of the small breweries are geocentric, interested only in providing beer as an integral part of their local communities.
Of those 24 breweries, The Brewer’s Guild of Alaska has 22 of them as members. Though due to the vast distance between breweries and the isolation of many of them (Alaska’s southernmost brewery, Baranof Island Brewing Co. in Sitka, and the northernmost brewery, Silver Gulch Brewing Co. in Fox — the northernmost in North America — are 692 miles apart), the guild does not meet on a regular basis. Geographic distances and isolation also fuel other complexities such as the great expense in procuring raw materials and getting product to market for those that distribute beer outside of their own local confines.
Being a young state, Alaska’s brewery license was initially created at statehood in 1959. It wasn’t until 1980 that the license was amended and in part mandated that brewery license holders are prohibited from being issued a beverage dispensary license. As the craft brewing industry exploded in the mid-1980s, a brewpub license was created in 1988.
As breweries and brewpubs are becoming more homogeneous and the lines between them are becoming less distinctive, guild members struggle to find an equitable balance that satisfies the often conflicting goals of both. In 2012, the guild created a legislative affairs subcommittee to determine and examine those key issues that might warrant attention by the guild as a whole and issues worth approaching in Juneau with the state legislature.
Simultaneously, the breweries commissioned a third-party economist to produce an economic impact study (EIS) for general use by the guild and as a tool to accompany any proposed legislative action. The finalized EIS was released at the annual guild meeting in January 2013 in conjunction with the annual Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival in Anchorage.
Recent initiatives include the guild’s support of the move of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board (ABC) from the state’s Department of Enforcement to the state’s Department of Economic Development, the establishment of a Governance Subcommittee to examine and improve the current guild structure and a Marketing Subcommittee to revise and complete marketing documents (tri-fold, brochures, rack cards) to support Alaska brewery and guild awareness.
With enhanced guild structure, solid initiatives to take action upon, and marketing tools and resources to support its efforts, the Brewer’s Guild of Alaska is well situated to positively affect the continued growth of craft beer in America’s biggest state.
James “Dr. Fermento” Roberts is the president of the Brewers Guild of Alaska and a contributing columnist for the Anchorage Press. Have news about your local craft brewing community? Let us know, and we’ll try and help spread the word. Email editor Chris Crowell at [email protected].