Brewing company on the move

April 30, 2009 

A South Anchorage beer haven was born this month. After 14 years of crafting microbrews from its location on Arctic Boulevard, Midnight Sun Brewing Company is opening a new location.

The company began construction and design six months ago on a 10,000-square-foot building on Dimond Hook Drive. The new facility more than doubles the size of the brewery and increases potential brewing capacity from 2,500 to 10,000 barrels a year.

Barb Miller, vice president of sales, marketing and business/brand development, said the balance of office, retail and production space is what sealed the deal.

"This place looked like it had been built for us," Miller said.

The two-story building will feature a to-go bar on the first floor for beer aficionados to buy and fill growlers. Those looking for a place to hang out with a friend while sipping suds will be drawn to the 36-seat, all-ages loft. It will feature 18 taps, four of which will be house-brewed sodas such as root beer and sparkling lemonade. It will also be the spot to pick up Midnight Sun Brewing Company pint glasses, T-shirts and other merchandise. Miller said the space will eventually include a kitchen.

When I stopped by for a sneak peak at the new digs, Miller said she hopes to open the to-go bar next week and the loft a week later. The to-go bar will be open from noon to 6 p.m. seven days a week, so drinkers can get finally their growlers filled on Sundays. The loft will initially be open from 2 to 8 p.m., but Miller said when the kitchen opens this summer the hours will extend to 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Why doesn't the brewery stay open later than that? Blame it on the man. The company has the only brewery license in Anchorage and it holds them to some rules and regulations that don't apply to businesses with brewpub licenses. The laws stipulate that the brewery must close by 8 p.m., and can't host any live entertainment, darts, pool, games, TV or dancing. It is also not allowed to have seats at the bar and is held to an on-site consumption limit of 36 ounces per person.

But don't write it off as a hot spot for happy hour brews with your crew yet. The loft will offer six-or 12-ounce pours to work with the limitation, and the shiny new interior is worth checking out.

The brewing company looked into changing its license to a brewpub but Miller said they didn't want to lose any distribution rights in the process. A brewpub license limits how much beer may be directly distributed to retailers, restaurants and bars without going through a distributor.

Miller said being able to self-distribute beer is an important component of the brewery's business. The company's beer is distributed throughout Alaska and in Washington and Oregon.

As if moving wasn't enough to keep the brewery hopping, it has been busy working at max capacity. May is typically busy, as seasonal distributors such as the Denali Salmon Bake, stock up for summer. This year the restaurant will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a custom-brewed witbier designed to pair with their fine fare. Witbiers are sometimes called white beers due to a pale cloudy appearance that is characteristic of the unfiltered, spiced wheat brew.

A special release mango-pomegranate-lime chelada will mark LaMex's 40th anniversary on Cinco De Mayo. Miller said this brew will be served over ice with a spicy-sweet salt rim. The chelada will be available on tap at both LaMex locations.

Cafe Amsterdam also worked with the brewery to design a gruit for its 10th anniversary party May 10 and will be available on tap and in 22-ounce bottles. This dark brew is laced with sage, thyme, cinnamon and orange peel and will weigh in around 10 percent alcohol by volume.

Midnight Sun has its own 14th anniversary to celebrate this month too. There will also be a special release for that, but with everything else going on, Miller said the brewery isn't sure what it will be yet.

With a name like Old Whiskers, is it any wonder that the company's German-style hefeweizen was picked as the official beer of The World Beard and Moustache Championships? The event happens in Anchorage May 20-24. The brewery is also offering Grow Yer Own T-shirts to celebrate the competition.

This month, McGinley's Pub's First Friday will feature Midnight Sun's crew brew series.

The first three releases, Brewtality Espresso Black Bier, Descent Imperial Abbey Ale and Anchor Witbier with Brettanomyces will all be available tonight. Expect to see six more crew brews released in '09.

The crew brew series is available in Alaska only, with a limited release of 22-ounce bottles. The series was designed as a snapshot in time, featuring a beer designed, brewed and named by the company's nine employees, before the company jumps into the new brewery and adds more help to the roster.

All the brewery's hard work of late has paid off. It recently scored a rank of 20th among the top 100 craft brewers in the world, according to ratebeer.com.

The official opening of the new location will be announced on the Midnight Sun Brewing Company's Web site (midnightsunbrewing.com), and in the meantime, the beer will continue to flow at the brewery at 7329 Arctic Blvd. Brewery tours have been temporarily suspended but will soon start up at the new location.

A demand that was outgrowing supply is what drove this busy little brewery to grow. Brewery founder Mark Staples didn't rule out even more expansion in the future. I'll drink to that.

Brewing company on the move

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