Is Matanuska Brewing Company a brewery, or what? How many Matanuska Brewing Companies are there? I know of three of them with a fourth on the way. And, at the same time, is there enough room for that much beer from one brewery around here?
So far it’s proven successful for owner Matt Tomter who grew his idea from humble beginnings while delivering pizza from his airplane out in Nome.
Years ago, Tomter opened Airport Pizza in Nome, which quickly became an icon there and within the surrounding communities where as a pilot, he’d fly fresh pizzas to eager customers.
I actually met the swashbuckler in April of 2011 when I went out there to participate in Nome’s First Annual Bearing Sea Beer Festival. Although Glacier Brewhouse and Alaskan Brewing Company sponsored the soiree out on the sea ice a couple of hundred yards offshore, Airport Pizza was a big supporter and did a lot of the grunt work with Tomter himself ferrying the beer, tables and other support materials to the festival offshore to the west.
Tomter’s establishment in Nome served not only an incredible array of fine ales, but outstanding food that stood out in this frontier town on the edge of civilization. Doubtless, Airport Pizza is the most upscale, modern building in Nome and his business attracted people thirsty for something good to drink, eat and essentially somewhere to go and socialize in a comfortable setting.
In the fall of 2011, Tomter’s vision drew him south to Eagle River where he opened Eagle River Alehouse. “We’re here for the people of Eagle River who deserve and require a necessary place,” he said back then. “Life is built around good quality beer and I’m going to provide it.” At that time there weren’t really any noteworthy beer drinking establishments along the corridor between Anchorage and the Valley.
Eagle River Alehouse was an instant success. It became so popular, in the spring of 2014, Tomter opened the Palmer City Alehouse in the former Rusty’s on Dahlia Street. Palmer was long overdue for a venue that would compliment Palmer’s Arkose Brewery and Wasilla’s Last Frontier Brewing Company that baited thirsty patrons like me north before the Alehouse came along.
From there Anchorage Alehouse popped up in June of 2017 in the former Crossbar Sports Restaurant on Benson and C Streets.
In a huge move, Tomter created Matanuska Brewing Company – a production brewery that produces it’s own line and canned beer for Glacier Brewhouse – literally across the street from the Palmer City Alehouse a year ago in April. This huge facility – located on the grounds of the historic Matanuska Maid Creamery – cranks out 40 barrel batches of beer and they’ve been busy. Even with the increased capacity for Glacier Brewhouse and the Matanuska Brewing brand, Tomter has his eyes on growth.
Tomter decided to rebrand his collection of facilities and call them all various iterations of Matanuska Brewing Company. Now there’s Matanuska Brewing Company Anchorage, Matanuska Brewing Company Eagle River and the actual brewery in Palmer. Tomter sold the Palmer City Alehouse when he opened the brewery in the spring of 2018. “The whole goal is to operate under a single brand and to grow our brands,” he says.
As soon as this happened, I started getting the questions and comments. “Hey, I went to Matanuska Brewing Company in midtown and I enjoyed the hell out of it, but didn’t see a brewery there,” and “I was out in Eagle River and visited the Matanuska Brewing Company and even though they have more beer on tap than anywhere I’ve been including Matanuska Brewing beers, where’s the brewery?,” have been typical from fans.
“The deal is this,” explains Tomter. “With Matanuska Brewing Company, we built a very large brewery. In order to grow into it, we’re growing around it. We’re coming up with more pubs like they do in Great Britain that are all associated with a single brewery.”
Don’t expect actual brewpubs or breweries where the beer is made on location. “I have no intent to put a brewpub in any of our locations. We’re brewing all of our beer in Palmer,” says Tomter. Although it might be a little confusing to others, it makes sense to me.
Next up is Matanuska Brewing Downtown. This facility will be situated in what used to be the Woodshed and after that the Brown Bag Sandwich Co. that closed in May of 2018.
“I’ve known the building owner for a long time,” says Tomter. “We flew the Iditarod Air Force together. We were talking a while back and he said ‘I have to get that building back up. How about putting a Matanuska Brewing Company in there?’”
Tomter moves fast – very fast. “I said ‘great,’ and we’re anticipating opening in early May,” he says.
“If you’ve been to our midtown location, the 3rd Avenue venue is going to be similar, but with its own distinct character. This place was built in the 1940’s; it’s one of the oldest buildings in Anchorage and comes with a ton of history and personality, and we’re not going to change that,” says Tomter.
The floor plan will remain the same. Tomter’s going to make basic improvements and slightly change the way it looks while retaining the building’s unique character. “We’ll have a whole bar with all of our beers. The food menu will be along the lines of New York sandwiches and salads. It’s not the biggest kitchen and we’re going to leave it the way it is,” he says.
What is different and in the mix is the addition of a 5 barrel brewing system out in Palmer that’s destined for one off and specialty batches of beer. “The five barrel system will be the one for stuff just for the pubs; you know, like the barley wines that my brewer Kevin Burton is famous for,” says Burton, tossing a nod not only to Glacier Brewhouse’s former brewmaster and his able brewer “Woody,” or Jason Wood, also a former brewer at the famous downtown brewery, both of which are manning the kettles now in Palmer.
Tomter’s as proud of Alaska beer as I am. “I went to Portland. Our brewers up here are smoking those guys. Our beer quality is so much better. We have one of the strongest groups of brewers making different styles that maybe compete, but are all really drinkable in their own right. Yeah, there’s a lot of beer down in Portland and a lot of craft beer, but some of it is hit and miss. All of our beer up here is rock solid and I’m proud to be a part of it,” he says.
Yeah, there’s plenty of room for another beer venue in the downtown corridor. The addition of Matanuska Brewing Company Downtown adds another stop in what’s quickly becoming a lively pub crawl opportunity that can encompass 49th State Brewing Company, Glacier Brewhouse, Darwin’s, Humpy’s, SubZero McGinley’s and a number of others depending on your tastes and whim. It works. I know, I’ve seen me do it with guests that I bring in from outside and want to show off Alaska’s great beer to in unique and sometimes quirky settings. Matanuska’s new downtown location will add to this with the building’s unique charm.