I’m not a sports fan at all. I don’t follow any game, but I appreciate the athleticism, structure and overall gamesmanship of the whole concept. Sporting events to me are synonymous with cheap, expensive beer, so on the very rare occasions I attend an organized sporting event, I tend to abstain.
Craft beer has slowly edged its way into arenas around the nation, but it’s the bigger regional craft beer producers that can horn their way in.
If I would work my way out to St. Paul Island, it would be different. I’d quickly become a dedicated baseball fan and I’d be drinking a lot of locally produced craft beer that’s exclusive to a local team that’s got historic roots going back over 100 years. There’s nothing more American than baseball and beer, right? Welcome Broken Tooth Brewing Company’s Pribilof Pounder, a light lager with a nod to the region’s rich history.
The label on the sporty cans reads “this lager commemorates 150 years of Alaska’s first baseball team, the Knock Down and Skin ‘Em club. It was founded in 1868 on St. Paul Island, the largest of the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea; the history of this team was lost until a rediscovery in 2012.”
According to the Pribilof Tribal Government’s project manager Dylan Conduzzi, “John Melovitov, another project manager and my counterpart and I were doing some research associated with a Department of Labor grant to revitalize a part of St. Paul and I discovered some fascinating history.”
Discovering references to the team, Conduzzi dug deeper. He asked around. He even asked the president of the tribal organization and no one knew anything about it.
Although the history of St. Paul isn’t all positive – it’s peppered with despair – baseball is a bright spot in the region’s rich history. “A lot of the history is depressing, but this part of it certainly isn’t,” says Conduzzi. “The team really represented the community back then. It was composed of local Aleuts, naval officers and fishermen. Even way back then, the team challenged other teams across America. Even the major league baseball association recognizes the team.”
The project managers took on a project to revitalize the historic baseball field on the island. Once the team’s history was re-introduced, the community really wanted to focus on it.
Conduzzi had an idea. “I know Dave Parker at the Broken Tooth Brewing Company,” says Conduzzi. “I approached him and shared the story. We’re all baseball fans. “Is there any way you can brew a beer to commemorate the team and the history?”
What evolved is an incredible relationship between the brewery and the community. Parker took the project on as a personal one. Everyone at the brewery and the associated Mooses Tooth Pub and Pizzeria and Beartooth Theatrepub got involved. “The degree with which the brewery worked with us is incredible. These guys do a lot for the community; well, all of Alaska’s communities,” says Conduzzi. “In terms of my professional career, out of the kindness of their hearts, I’ve never seen anything like the level of support set forth by the Moose’s Tooth, Bear Tooth and the Broken Tooth,” he says.
“Dylan and his team came down to the brewery and we had a meeting,” says Broken Tooth Brewing Company’s lead brewer Dave Parker. “This was last year; maybe in May or June. We talked about the beer and we were happy to be involved since we support our local communities and this whole thing is just so cool.”
But, what to make? Parker didn’t want to simply re-brand something the brewery was already producing; it had to be something truly special and reflective of the community. “What are you looking for? What do people drink out there?” Parker asked Conduzzi.
The answer wasn’t surprising. “Well, it’s a lot of Budweiser out on the Islands,” quipped Conduzzi.
Parker researched the American light lager style, which is the category Bud falls into. Despite the stigma about mass produced light lagers, it’s a difficult style to make. The beer’s inherent lightness and delicacy allow even the slights flaw to stand out. Broken Tooth produces mostly ales which have quicker fermentation and aging times than lagers, so producing a lager is “expensive” in terms of time and brewery space during the lagering process.
“In terms of the beer, he nailed it and knocked it out of the park on the first swing,” says Conduzzi of Parker’s efforts. I agree.
Pribilof Pounder is a light lager that pours medium gold under a paper white head. The nose is a mixture of light malt, a distinct sweetness and light lager-ish notes with a touch of sulfur. Just a whiff of delicate hops round out the aroma. Across the palate, the beer is light, malty-sweet, delicate and well balanced with just a touch more body than I’d expect from what might be a shot at a Bud Lite clone. Forget about hops; again, aside from a light flavor kiss, the bitterness is just balancing and the finish is sweet, but approaching drying. The beer is well carbonated, just shy of spritzy and incredibly easy drinking – sessionable, actually — at 4.3 percent alcohol by volume.
Fans of Broken Tooth beer will appreciate the Pounder. Most of the Tooth’s beer is malt forward and above 5% alcohol by volume and this one’s a huge departure from the mainstream.
The beer’s not part of a fundraiser; at least not yet. “Four our end, the goal of the beer is to raise awareness. The community has earned a special place in Alaska’s history and we want to bring awareness of it out. The beer’s just a really cool tribute to the community and the brewery did it to honor that,” says Conduzzi.
“We were all looking at different names. We wanted something baseball themed that captured and referenced the community and history. Pribilof Portsider, a reference to a left handed pitche was one. St. Paul Slugger was another. But the community chose Pribilof Pounder hands down; it’s a reference to someone hitting the ball, but a pounder is also the original name for 16 ounces or a pint of beer,” says Conduzzi.
It’s not likely that you or I will be flying out to St. Paul to get a sample of this incredible beer, but it’s on the cusp of release at least at the midtown pub an pizzeria, and likely to follow at the theaterpub. Maybe down the road, the six packs will hit our favorite grog shop shelves; each of the six cans boasts a separate label with a historic picture of the team or something associated with it. The graphics are incredible and a six pack of Pribilof Pounder could easily become a collector’s item.
The good news is that this light, quenching, summery beer is going to be around. The fourth batch is in the fermenter right now. It may not become a flagship, but the beer’s being added to the brewery’s regular production schedule. “We all agree that it’s a good beer. It’s going to be a regular on the permanent tap wall,” says Parker. “There are so many people that come in looking for something along the lines of Miller or Bud, but this is the beer, higher quality answer,” he says.
Like most other craft beer aficionados, I appreciate big, bold, hoppy beers, but it’s pretty easy to say that the Pribilof Pounder is one of the best beers Broken Tooths’ ever produced. Watch for this one coming out soon at one of the Tooth’s locations. Too bad they don’t serve hot dogs.