JJ Tranquilla might have the best job in Alaska. For the last two months, Tranquilla and his two-person crew traveled the state with one goal in mind: finding, documenting and – most importantly -- drinking all the craft beers Alaska has to offer. That work has led him to the creation of “The Beer Up Here,” a iPhone app designed to provide comprehensive information on all Alaska beers.
Tranquilla, a bartender who's worked in almost every job available in the Alaska booze distribution chain, came up with the idea for the app when he became tired of hearing servers give bad information about beer in the 49th state.
“You hear a waiter talking to a customer, and they give the wrong description, and it kills you. But it made me think, 'Hey, there's an opportunity there,'” Tranquilla said.
The app lists all 22 breweries producing in Alaska -- from the massively popular Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau to much smaller breweries in Skagway, Seward and Sitka. From there, every beer is individually listed, for a whopping 270 options. Each beer comes complete with images and information on style, alcohol content, hops profile and availability.
For those looking to keep track, the app makes it simple, allowing an easy beer check-off, complete with a quick one- to five-star rating system.
With breweries constantly unveiling new beers, the app is designed to automatically update when a new beer is introduced. Retired beers don't get removed, either, Tranquilla said. Instead, they get a black “retired” banner. The idea serves as both an information resource and a Alaska-beer diary.
“This app is like a coffee-table book (for beer) in your hand,” Tranquilla said.
Also helpful, a tap listing for alehouses across the state -- including Humpy's, Cafe Amsterdam and Eagle River Ale House -- and lists of what's on tap at growler bars across the state. The information is updated daily, giving beer drinkers current lists and saving them the headache of trying to find the local beer list.
Shane Kingry, co-owner of King Street Brewery, worked with Tranquilla on the app. He said the biggest benefit is the ease of keeping track of beers available in Alaska. The app is something both tourists and avid Alaska beer aficionados can get behind.
“Alaskans like things made by other Alaskans and the breweries up here are making world-class beers,” he said. “The Alaskan palate is pretty educated; it's pretty discerning.”
Kingry said the King Street tasting room isn't a “destination” per se, since it's small and doesn't serve food. But he's seen more and more people from all over venturing out to find new Alaska beers.
“People who do come in are seeking Alaska breweries, and we notice that,” he said. “This is a good tool for keeping track.”
On Friday, the app, which costs $4.99 to download, launched. It's been a soft opening, Tranquilla said, though there are plans for a larger unveiling across the state in the fall.
Tranquilla hopes to one day expand to other Alaska alcohol -- including mead, wine and spirits.
But beer is a good start, Tranquilla said. Beers seems especially suited for northern climates. As breweries have expanded across the U.S. in recent years, it makes sense that Alaska would join that trend.
“(We have a) longer winter, so there's a bigger beer drinking demographic,” he said. “(Alaska) really lends itself to having a craft breweries.”
Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com