If you’ve been around town for any length of time you’ve probably noticed BAFCO metal artwork, even if you don’t know what it is, where it comes from and the story behind it. Beer drinkers – in particular – have probably been exposed to more of this spectacular stuff than others, and there’s a reason for that.
Last weekend I headed down to Anchorage Brewing Company to participate in the release of a couple of new beers. Brewer/owner Gabe Fletcher specializes in very high end IPA’s. I started out with Gia Girl, a lovely new double IPA that’s dosed with 100 percent Simco cryo-hops – dry hopped of course – that makes for a very cloudy, very aromatic and incredibly juicy brew.
From there I checked out another special release, BAFCO Black IPA. I love a good black IPA, recalling when the style was new when IPAs were morphing in all kinds of different directions. The inspiration for this brew, Jody Barton, a principal at BAFCO, just happened to be there. I’ve known him for years and years, extending back to my homebrewing days. Barton hit me up while I was drooling over my beer at the corner of the bar.
Barton and Fletcher go back a long way. They met when Fletcher was the head brewer at Midnight Sun Brewing Company before branching out on his own with the Creation of Anchorage Brewing. Barton’s history as a high-end welder, machinist and metal working expert provided him with his love for creating things and his connection with the brewing world.
“I knew Mark Staples at Midnight Sun, and then Gabe. I built the first keg washer for the brewery. Gabe wanted to know about welding; he was interested in the art side of it. He needed some welding done, and that’s how we got started together,” says Barton.
Barton and his daughter Bayley create metal masterpieces and Fletcher was inspired. When Fletcher was building his brewery on 91st and King Street, he commissioned Jody to build the handrails. “We talked about him putting some things on the walls and talked about the décor of the place,” says Jody. “Gabe said, ‘you guys are it. Put your art work up in here, you can have the run of the place.’”
Anchorage Brewing isn’t the first brewery to proudly display BAFCO artwork. “I had my first show at Midnight Sun, and we started having art shows at breweries,” says Bayley. “We have shows at Kenai River Brewing Company in the summer; we have friends that work there. We started getting hooked up with breweries and beers and it just kind of evolved,” she says.
The Barton’s beer roots go back further than modern brewing in Alaska. Jody got up here in ’74 during the pipeline days. “I was in Fairbanks. There was a guy I knew from New Hampshire. He was a homebrewer and were talking about the price of beer. He said we could make it cheaper. That was probably in ’76. I brewed on the top of my stove and bottled the beer and watched the bottles blow up.”
Meanwhile, he continued welding and metalworking. “I was making a buck on the pipeline. People were looking for stuff out of the ordinary back then. I was a machinist; it’s very detailed exacting work. In my spare time I’d fabricate detailed pipeline maps and belt buckles as sort of a creative relief.”
After relocating to Anchorage, Jody hooked up with another local homebrewer named Jim Jenson. They had a third in the group. “Me, Jim and a guy named Jerry used to brew together. Jim and I got to talking and he said ‘let’s build something big.’ He had a good source for stainless steel and I had the welding skills. We were inspired by the tilting mash tun up at Silver Gulch Brewing in Fairbanks. Jim thought incorporating that would be a good idea. We built this one barrel brewing system that was quickly nicknamed the Space shuttle because of its size, complexity and being state of the art at the time,” says Jody.
The trio formed the informal JJJ Brewing, or “Triple J Brewing,” as people called it. I remember seeing this marvel of a brewing system at a homebrewing event one year when a bunch of us homebrewers gathered for a mass brewing party behind what used to be Borealis Brewing Company down in Ship Creek.
Triple J took on a life of its own. “We fabricated the brewing system at the BAFCO World Headquarters, which is the cul de sac where we live,” says Jody.
“We’d brew on a Sunday. We’d start brewing in the morning and would make almost 80 gallons in a day. The entire neighborhood would turn out and it became a regular big event. The entire neighborhood would get involved, and there would be huge dinners following the brew session,” says Jody.
“There would be biscuits and gravy for breakfast and fancy dinners. We even had a way to capture the heat from under the brewpot to cook chili under the kettle,” says Bayley.
Moving around in the brewing industry, the Bartons quickly realized that beer peeps seem to be bigger art peeps, too. “Maybe art galleries would sell more artwork if they served beer,” quips Bayley. “When I was in high school, my dad needed my help building a custom fish sign a guy’s fish camp. My dad liked to make weird things out of different materials. This guy wanted the fish as big as we could make it. I drew it up and my dad showed me how to use a 10-inch grinding wheel and other welding stuff. It took two of us to build it. When the guy came to get it, he said ‘that’s one big ass fish,” and that’s where BAFCO got its name,” says Bayley of her foray into the metal art world.
“I’m not 100 percent sure, but harken back to the type of people that appreciate our work. We’re not just limited to beer people; we’ve sent our art all over the world,” says Jody. “But in a sense, Triple J, our art work and beer are communal. It’s like a family thing with everyone gathering around. Our art brings a lot of color and interest into people’s lives; that’s what beer making does. I think that’s how our art is tied to the beer community. Beer making is a craft and an art all of its own; our art goes hand in hand with the art of making beer.”
To get a real immersion into the BAFCO creativity and flair, surf out to www.bafco.biz and check out not only the wall art, but the functional art in the form of incredible fire pits that are mind blowing in size and stature.
Anchorage Brewing Company is a work of art in and of itself. The brewery’s open, people aren’t tied to a small tasting room and are free to walk around and look at the massive oak vessels, two of which have been converted to small seating areas with the Bartons’ help. The Barton’s art throughout the brewery touches off a modernistic, fiery flair to the establishment. If you haven’t seen it, get over there and wander around and discover it with a glass of BAFCO Black IPA in hand; it’s as delicious as the art that’s inspired it.