Alaska has a rich history of brewing. From the explorers of the 1700s through the Gold Rush, many a thirsty Alaskan has been able to enjoy locally made beers.
In 1986, 28-year-olds Marcy and Geoff Larson reignited that tradition when they opened the Alaskan Brewing Co., the 67th independent brewery in the country and the first brewery in Juneau, Alaska since Prohibition. Alaskan beers reflect many of the same characteristics of beers that were brewed during the Gold Rush. From the historically based Alaskan Amber recipe to alder-smoked malts and Sitka spruce tips, Alaskan beers reflect Juneau’s local brewing history and innovation.
While researching brewing in Alaska, Marcy unearthed shipping records from Douglas City Brewing Co. (1899-1907) that listed ingredients for its popular beers and a newspaper article that described the way it was brewed. Geoff homebrewed a batch and they could see what made it so popular. That beer is now known as the Alaskan Amber.
In December 1986, Alaskan Brewing Co. officially began operations when Geoff, Marcy, and 10 volunteers spent 12 hours hand-packaging the first 253 cases of Alaskan Amber for distribution in Juneau. Alaskan Brewing Co. has grown to become one of the most award-winning craft breweries in the history of the Great American Beer Festival and has expanded distribution to 22 states.
The brewing company’s unprecedented and patented system of energy generation was implemented over many years and in three main phases:
In 1998, Alaskan Brewing became the first craft brewery in the United States to install and operate a carbon dioxide (CO2) reclamation system which captures and cleans carbon dioxide, a natural byproduct of the brewing process. During the fermentation process the yeast creates the byproduct of CO2. Alaskan uses CO2 to package the beer and purge oxygen from holding tanks. This system prevents over one million pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere each year.
In 2008, Alaskan Brewing found a way to balance innovation, quality, and efficiency with the installation of a mash filter press, which reduces the amount of water, malt, and hops needed to make their beer, while maintaining high quality and consistency. In one year, the mash filter press uses nearly 2 million fewer gallons of water and results in a savings or nearly 65,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year.
Many breweries distribute the grain left over from the brewery process, or “spent grain” to nearby farms. But there’s one problem in Juneau—no cows! So, Alaskan Brewing has been drying and then shipping spent grain to farmers and ranchers in the Pacific Northwest for nearly 20 years. In 2011, the brewery developed a first-of-its-kind steam boiler fueled entirely by spent grain. With the new system, they reduce their overall oil use by up to 65 percent, saving tens of thousands of gallons a fuel yearly. They believe this technology could revolutionize fuel systems used in craft brewing.