Elliot Jackson makes no bones about his plans to build Howling Wolf Brewing Company in Seward this summer as part of an expansion of an ongoing business conglomerate. This massive attraction will radically re-define what I think of Seward while adding a second brewery to the little hamlet south of Anchorage.
“We’re in the process of building a brewery. We’ve got 34 acres outside of the city limits and last July we got permitted to build,” Jackson explained to me in his very direct, matter-of-fact manner, before I even posed a question.
Jackson’s talking about the area right before you get into Seward, on the right where the Preacher’s Pond RV Park sits now.
“What started this is that we need employee housing to support our six restaurants and three hotels,” he told me, causing me to focus my attention a little bit more. Jackson is no homebrewer gone commercially mad; he’s an aggressive businessman with an overall business expansion plan that includes a brewery, not a business plan based on a standalone brewery with aspirations for small town charm and acceptance.
In fact, Jackson isn’t a brewer and doesn’t want to be.
“Me? A brewer? Hardly. I’m not a big beer person. I grew up playing hockey, so when it’s beer, I drink a lot of Labatt’s. What will I brew at Howling Wolf? I don’t know; I’ll leave that up to the brewmaster. Oh, and we still have to find that person, so if you know a good brewer send him my way,” he said matter-of-factly. “We’ll pay top dollar for that brewer to make sure the beers are a hit,” he tossed in as if I might not expect that somehow, given everything I’d heard so far.
I get the sense that this guy isn’t messing around and if I want to know more about the beer and the nuances of what will flow from the taps, I’m talking to the wrong person, and probably the right person doesn’t exist yet. This made the conversation all the more alluring.
“So, here’s where we at,” Jackson continued. “We needed employee housing to support the staff for the restaurants and hotels. That building is almost complete. It consists of 40 efficiency units. We’ll also have a warehouse and commercial kitchen space here. The brewery will be part of that with a tasting room, the brewery, brewpub, upstairs game room and additional bar and offices. That part is about 20,000 square feet. “
When you surround this with an activities center, mini golf course, Spartan obstacle course, bike course, recreation paths, a RV park, dog park, rental cabins and a reindeer preserve, the 10-barrel brewery almost seems like an afterthought, but it’s fit for purpose not only for the sprawling grounds that create thirst around it, but for the bigger overall purpose of supplying suds to the rest of the conglomerate.
“We bought a full-service dispensary license. The brewpub will come with its own separate license. We can serve anything. As for the brewery portion, the way its set up is that it’s renting space from the brewpub. This allows us to operate as a full bar,” says Jackson.
“Remember, we have six other restaurants in town. We’ve also got the Marina Motel, Murphy’s Alaskan Inn and the Van Gilder Hotel. Our beer will be made at the brewery and distributed in those places,” says Jackson.
Add the Railway Cantina, Crab Shack, Klondike Pizza, the Alaska Seafood Grill, and the Chattermark Restaurant to the holdings – not an all-inclusive list, and not all of which might serve beer — and it all starts to make sense.
Aside from the brewery, the oversized kitchen will support the other venues. “The new kitchen will allow us to do most of the prep work in one kitchen for the vast majority of our restaurants,” says Jackson.
I wondered about distribution aspirations outside of the holdings and perhaps as far north as Anchorage.
“Yeah, the ideal situation is to distribute, but not during the defining first season. Oh, yeah, we’ll serve growlers; we’re an RV park too. This place is designed to have big appeal to local Alaska residents, and Alaskans love beer, I know that. Come on down, have a good time, have some beer and even take some back to the camper when you’re done,” says Jackson of his thoughts on how things would work when the place first gets up and going.
Howling Wolf becomes Seward’s second brewery behind Seward Brewing Company with its own colorful history starting at the Chinooks Restaurant then migrated to the old Elks building in 2012 and started and extensive remodel there prior to opening. Seward Brewing became Alaska’s 22nd brewing operation in the state back then, Howling Wolf will become number 45 or 46 or something; brewing’s so hot in Alaska right now, I’ve lost count.
Seward’s population in 2018 was 2,729. That’s two big breweries in one small town. Is there room? I always think so; people don’t just frequent one place after all, and especially here in Alaska where our confines drive us to crave variety and a constantly changing pace.
“I’m from Alaska and I’m aggressive,” says Jackson. I think people need shit to do in this state and we’re going to add a big chunk of that here. The brewery and brewpub are going to make money; trust me,” says Jackson confidently.
Seward Brewing Company hibernates in the winter; there just isn’t enough demand to keep the taps flowing. I’m not sure what the Howling Wolf will do in those cold, lonely winter months, but maybe that’s where some outside distribution might bring some of their beer to Anchorage.
Embarrassingly, I’ve yet to darken even Seward Brewing Company’s doorstep, at least when they’ve been open. I’ve road-tripped down that way a number of times just to get out of Los Anchorage for a day, but can’t ever seem to get my schedule to jive with theirs.
I get the sense the two breweries don’t get along. “Seward Brewing Company? Yeah, they know about us. We haven’t gotten along for quite some time, which is too bad,” admits Jackson. “No, they haven’t been really supportive,” he says, casting a cloud over my longstanding “all Alaska brewers get along” sunshine mantra.
With Howling Wolf Brewing opening soon in what looks like some pretty cool surroundings, and with stops at Girdwood Brewing Company, Cooper Landing Brewing Company – also not quite open yet, but growler service might be available this month – and, of course, Seward Brewing Company, my former day trip might have just become a weekend outing.
Hey, I’ve got the palate and liver for all of Alaska’s craft beer and with so much of it and more on the way, I’d better step up my game.