There's a small, unpretentious brewery in the curve on Potter Drivethat's two years old and driven by purpose and tenacity and culminates the vision of a man and wife team that strive to deliver something purposefully different.
Cynosure — the name of the brewery — according to Merriam Webster, when capitalized refers to the northern constellation Ursa Minor, also the north star. It also refers to "one that serves to direct or guide; a center of attraction or attention. This makes sense both geographically and philosophically.
Brewer/owner Clarke Pelz and his wife Cindy Drinkwater set out to provide a beer-drinking experience that’s not so much based on huge variety and off the charts unimaginable beers but a sense of drinkability and a variety that comes from exploring little known styles that invite curiosity and a thirst for more than just one big beer.
“My focus has always been on beers that aren’t readily available; styles I feel haven’t gotten the attention they deserve. It’s also to brew those styles of beer with the characteristic of drinkability. That means the beers are in the pocket for their respective styles rather than pushing the boundaries. The focus is on balance and beers that are not heavy on the palate so when people drink them, they want another one,” says Pelz.
Pelz has a long brewing history having been head brewer at what was the Moose’s Tooth Brewing Company and is now the Broken Tooth Brewing Company. Pelz always wanted to open his own brewery and made the leap a number of years ago and taking a couple of years to source a location suitable for his unique styles in a quiet, inviting setting in a somewhat purposeful out of the way place. The brewery has become the center of attention for discerning craft beer lovers like me that seek it out when I want a softer beer experience.
“My inner compass points towards consistently and character,” says Pelz. That holds true not only for Cynosure’s flagship lineup, but his one-offs as well. “Any non-traditional ingredients need to compliment the base beer’s characteristics, not mask them. This is a differentiator for Pelz.
“My opinion is that the craft brewing industry is pretty noisy right now with experimentation just for the sake of experimentation and not necessarily in the service of producing good beers that stand out for being good beers, not just to stand out,” says Pelz. “To me, it’s a balance of perfecting and continuing to hone my flagship beers that I want to get better and better through incremental tweaks, but it’s fun to explore new things that lend some unpredictability in how they’re going to come out because they’re not styles that are brewed all the time.”
Slow, but purposeful experimentation wasn’t core in Pelz’s original business plan, but it’s been working and has added a new dimension that Cynosure customers appreciate. “I’m brewing more one-off beers than I expected to,” says Pelz of surprises that came along with two years of growth. “That’s been a lot of fun. I look forward to continuing to do that. There are a lot of styles of beers to explore. When I put together my business plan, kettle sours weren’t on the radar,” he admits.
More interesting to me is the evolution of Pelz’s reachback to the little known styles. “A Pater’s beer is like a Belgian single or very light table beer. It’s like what the monks would drink in the monasteries as a mainstay in contrast to the dubels and tripels that they’d sell to support themselves,” says Pelz of one of his recent beer innovations.
A grisette beer is a close relative to the more familiar saison within the loosely defined farmhouse ale style. “It’s like an unspiced wit beer,” says Pelz of his interpretation. “It comes from the coal mining region in Belgium and as best I can tell the name comes from the rock in the region. It was grey in color and so is the beer. It’s sort of grey in color; the name means ‘middle grey.’ I think the shop girls that would sell the beer in the bars would wear grey frocks,” says Pelz.
The style died out in the late 1900’s. Pelz didn’t re-invent the style, but did his calculated research to come up with a recipe for this unique reach back with a history that’s as interesting as the beer’s flavor. “I didn’t revive the style; I gathered information from other brewers, but the style’s becoming more well known.”
Pelz and Drinkwater surround their beers with a soft, muted, quiet tasting room that’s inviting to the point of reminding me of a well appointed living room. “That’s another thing we found surprising. We came up with a plan for a brewery and a tasting room. We designed the ambience we wanted for a setting to enjoy our beers in, and it’s worked out very well together,” says Pelz. “It’s been gratifying to see the community of local customers who have assembled themselves around this thing we created. We put it into being and set it loose in the world and it’s been fun to see how it’s behaved so far. It’s been very gratifying.”
Pelz is pretty non-committal about future plans for growth of the brewery. “Oh, increasing sales is important and so is increasing profitability. Yeah, maybe in the future we’d like to see more off premise sales with our on premise sales, but we have no plans to set the brewing world on fire.”
Certainly Pelz and Drinkwater know the brewery’s relative place in the beer world. “There’s an embarrassment of riches for people to choose from in Alaska’s beer industry right now; so maintaining relevance and quality keep our customers choosing our beers,” says Pelz.
Cynosure’s second anniversary celebration will be this Saturday at the brewery at 144 E. Potter Drive. The quiet celebration starts at 4 p.m. when Pelz Second Anniversary IPA will be released. “I brewed this beer with all British ingredients including Maris Otter malt, some pilsner malt from Germany and all British hops including Challenger, English East Kent Goldings and Fuggle,” says Pelz.
No, it’s not an English style IPA like I thought after hearing Pelz’s description. English IPAs are almost a bygone style any more so I thought it might be. “It probably better fits the profile of an American style craft IPA because it’s more alcoholic and little hoppier than a traditional English IPA. I’m not an expert in the British style, but mind is a little darker because of the malt combination I used and it’s a little stronger,” he says.
Cynosure’s a brewery is not a brew pub and the brewery’s license doesn’t allow food to be made as part of the operation. Yeti Dogs will be on hand at the brewery on Saturday. “There’s an event described on Facebook,” says Drinkwater. “It’s for 4 pm on Saturday. Come on by; there are free Yeti Dogs for the first 100 customers,” I was told in a text.
So swing by this Saturday to get a taste of Cynosure’s distinct flagship lineup, grab a sample of his not-so-English style but delicious IPA and help celebrate the success of one of Alaska’s more unique brewing operations.