My ongoing quest to be out of town as much of possible during the summer and my sometimes inattentiveness to sudsy events caused me to miss an important milestone in local brewing history last week when I missed King Street Brewing Company’s long anticipated move to a brand new facility about a half a mile south of its original location on King Street.
I’d been scoring along at home with this long time project for owners Shane Kingry and Dana Walukiewicz. King Street’s been pouring beer since October of 2011. When I was paying more attention back then, I heard about the new brewery right here in the Anchorage Press by indulging in my habit of reading all of the liquor license application notices. Shortly after that I’d been tipped off on Facebook about a possible new brewery and drove around the industrial section on King Street north of Dimond to scope it out. I found it easily enough. The building was vacant and no one was there, so I tucked a business card in the door and waited. It wasn’t long after that when I was interviewing the duo in October of 2010.
As soon as the brewery started cranking out suds, a distinct, local cult following emerged and since then, most hours the tap room’s open, it’s crowded with longtime fans and newcomers alike. King Street had robust over the counter sales, and with the addition of a canning line in 2013, demand for their popular, steadfast stylistic core beers exploded. The brewery started getting cramped. In 2014, the duo were convinced it was time to go big.
Most breweries expand trailer-court style with an addition here, an outbuilding there and by making existing space work. Rather than expand happenstance in an old warehouse space, Walukiewicz and Kingry coolly calculated their expansion as part of their long term planning. In June of last year, a small, private ground breaking ceremony took place on a new location at 9050 King Street with the entrance on 91st Street, a stone’s throw away from Anchorage Brewing Company in a part of town that’s quickly becoming the “Beermuda Triangle,” as described by Walukiewicz in an interview last year.
“We’re open now with the same hours as before which is between 2-8 pm during the week and between Friday through Sunday, we’re open from noon to 8-pm,” says Walukiewicz.
The first floor of the massive three story building is open with the other floors to follow down the road. “We’re needing a couple of staircases which are being built. The second floor is reserved for future development and the third floor will open with a rooftop deck with and incredible 360 degree view of the surrounding area,” says Walukiewicz.
“We’re already brewing in the new building. We started last week. The last beer brewed at the old location is Cryebaby, a cryo-hopped IPA with rye in the grist. It’s a mild 4.5 percent, super smooth and incredibly easy drinking,” says Kingry. The last bee brewed at the old location was the brewery’s flagship IPA.
Although the duo had been planning for the move for a long time, the actual move came very abruptly. “We actually didn’t know if it was all going to happen until late last week. Suddenly, we had a conditional certificate of occupancy for the first floor on Friday afternoon. We came out, said ‘okay, here’s for the last drink at the old place, cheers, and we’ll see you in the new brewery tomorrow,’’ says Walukiewicz.
The move was quick. Most of the old brew system stayed in the old building, having been purchased by Turnagain Brewing Company which was actually moving in while King Street was moving out. Beer news happens so fast, it’s tough to keep up with.
Waiting at the new location was the already in-use incredibly beautiful fully automated Specific Mechanical brewhouse and shiny new tanks already being filled with delicious King Street brews. “We’re on batch five today,” said Kingry when I visited on Tuesday. “The turnaround time for a brew dropped from 96 hours to about a day,” says Walukiewicz of the new brewhouse’s efficiency.
Still, nothing changed in the painstaking hand-crafted love the brewers throw into the art at King Street. “We’re not changing our recipes one bit. A lot of growing breweries simplify things and change things as part of any major upgrade or move. Not us. We’re dedicated to maintaining the same process, the same malts, the same ingredients, and we’re still using four to six different yeast strains specific to the core beers, which is just crazy,” says Walukiewicz.
I was totally unprepared for what I was about to see when I walked in Tuesday afternoon and got a tour of the new place. I’ve been through a number of new breweries, but I have to say walking in to the new King Street local simply astounded me. Sure, it’s all modern and new, but it’s more than that. The place is a real tribute to Kingry’s and Walukiewicz’ dedication to be in the brewing biz for the long haul.
“We busted our ass to open that place up the street and outgrew it in four years. This is going to be our home for the next 40-plus years,” says Walukiewicz. “We have about two and a half times the space we need right now, but we don’t want to be doing this again in five years. We wanted to do it right the first time.”
Indeed, if you’ve been to the old location, you’re apt to get lost in the new one. The new footprint expands the square footage from around 7,000 square feet to 23,000 square feet. Getting in to the old location was a challenge with eight parking spaces to a total of 99 spaces – 33 in the front and 66 in the back,” at the new facility. Wait; it’s not a facility, it’s an institution.
“People will enjoy this,” says Walukiewicz. “We want this to be a destination and a positive addition to this south Anchorage area,” he beamed proudly. “This building has huge functionality and it’s designed with the beer lover in mind,” adds Kingry.
On the operations side, automated grain transfer and handling systems increase efficiency. There was some cold storage at the old location that was only about three kegs high, but at the new facility, a massive 22 foot high, huge drive-in cooler will help keep product fresh. Dual loading docks facilitate the quick intake of raw materials and the outgo of fabulous King Street beer to be whisked to destinations across Alaska by K&L Distributors. The custom designed operations side of the house is indeed a sight to see.
Indeed, with a walkway connecting the parking in the back through a set of stairs to the second floor to the huge tap room in the front, customers can stand above the gleaming, teeming brewing operation and watch the alchemy and science and the love the brewers pour into the beer being made in the production area below. New tables are being constructed, some of which are using wood that was sourced from the old Rainier Brewing Company in Seattle.
During my visit, the first thing I noticed was the old wooden barrel that served as a makeshift table in the old location. A set of core, dedicated fans always gathered in that corner and always seemed to be there during my visits. With no notice and a lot of fanfare, last Saturday, the fans showed up to help with the tap room move. “Loyal supporters of the brewery adopted that barrel. It started out in the back of the brewery and it got broken. We moved it out to the front to sort of get it out of the way. This group of fans took it over and sort of made it their meeting place,” says Walukiewicz. “So this group of supporters made a trailer and a float out of a flatbed trailer and this ‘barrel crew’ brought it over to the new place, so I guess we’re official.” The signature popcorn machine was along for the ride too, although it’s been upgraded with a bigger one at the new place.
“Shane’s been going 24/7 for the last four or five months. I’ve picked it up in the last couple of months. We’ve been putting in 16 hour days, getting out of here between one and two in the morning every night,” says Walukiewicz. “We’re still calming down, but we had the two major pushes of getting over here and that’s behind it and now we can focus on making sure our customers have the best experience here in the new place,” adds Kingry.
There’s no doubt the King Street boys are passionate about their beer, their brewing future and especially the people that drink it.
I thought Kingry and Walukiewicz would be super stressed out after the transition. Instead, they were strangely relaxed and at peace. They were more worried about their customer’s experience – both the existing loyal ones, and those to discover what’s quickly becoming one of Anchorage’s hottest beer-sippin’ destinations.