“It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We were literally laying floor tile the weekend before that. Two hours before the grand opening, we’re out there in the tap room laying down the carpet floor tile with glue we hoped would keep them down,” says Dana Walukiewicz, co-owner of King Street Brewing Company, when we haggled about when the brewery really opened in 2011. “Looking back on that day, we were stressed out with getting opened, before that, getting all of the necessary approvals, and all of the construction made the tap room somewhat of an afterthought. But you know what? To have that crowd come in and fill all of the seats was an awesome feeling. It was incredibly rewarding; it’s so tough to describe,” he says of the experience.
Walukiewicz and his partner – Shane Kingry – ought to feel that way; they earned it. Even 10 years ago, the amount of planning that went into the original location, and especially the beers, was a recipe for success, and Walukiewicz and Kingry’s dedication to that slow, purposeful, no, meticulous, planning – is what’s made the brewery the phenomenal success it is today, and has it postured for greatness as one of Alaska’s hallmark breweries for decades to come. It’s in the brewery’s 40 year plan, after all.
In my interview with Walukiewicz, we chuckled about the brewery’s opening date. I remember, and attended the brewery’s first pour, but it wasn’t in the taproom. It was at Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse on October 25, 2011, before it was legal for King Street to pour from the taproom, but was free to get its beer in the open market.
“You and I were in contact before then, remember?” he reminded me.
I did. I’d heard about the potential for a brewery to open on King Street north of Dimond from a friend of a fan, who pointed out a liquor license application in the Press that somehow I’d missed. I did some sleuthing around, and only by driving up and down King Street, looking at vacant, promising looking buildings did I chance across the white and sky blue industrial space on the west side of the road. The construction permit on the window identified the structure as a brewery. I tucked my business card in the door and waited it out a response.
Fast forward to 2011.
“We were hitting the street with beers, and seeing if we could get picked up,” says Walukiewicz.
Back then, the most likely destination was Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse in the downtown corridor. It didn’t take long for King Street to find the first home for its then draft-only beer.
“We went down there and talked with Nick, and we brought some growler’s down. He said ‘I’ll put one or two on tap.’ I asked when that would be,” says Walukiewicz. “He said ‘let’s shoot for next Saturday.’ I told him that would be good and mentioned that you’d were going to write about it in your beer column, and he said ‘let me take two more, then.’”
That morphed into the hugely successful October 25 beer dinner at Humpy’s, effectively exposing a small subset of the state’s most discriminating craft beer aficionados to the brand. Talk of a new brewery quickly became the Alaska beer world buzz while everyone waited for King Street to open.
“Yeah, it was November 23 – the day before Thanksgiving – that we finally opened the tap room,” recalls Walukiewicz.
Walukiewicz and Kingry started with modest ambitions. They just wanted to brew what they loved to brew as homebrewers. They expected to handle the entire business – from the back of the house brewing and packaging operations, front of the house, including pushing pints an growlers across the bar, and distribution, all while working their day jobs. Yeah, right.
With the explosive popularity, that didn’t last long. “From day one, we’ve always been super busy. Shane and I would brew on the weekend and have the taproom open. Within a couple of months, we were training our first brewer, David Short, to give us some relief,” says Walukiewicz of the unprecedented demand for King Street’s steadfast brews.
In 2013, King Street added a canning line. I stood there in awe when invited down to see it become operational. We all scoochied around the serpentine apparatus that had been crammed in between some tanks and the brewery’s south wall.
“Anchorage was super-supportive. We expanded our hours, and eventually got to seven days a week. Probably about 2014 or so, we’d already expanded and doubled our size. We had one little narrow place, so we got the second unit next to us, busted through wall, and filled that space up in 3-6 months. It was then that we thought that we’d better start thinking seriously about where we want to go from here,” says Walukiewicz.
Walukiewicz and Kingry thought long and hard about it. They do that with everything. They thought about it for a couple of years. If these two guys are nothing else, they’re plotters, planners, and process and product improvers. Any new place had to be exactly right.
The move was a bold one, and involved building a brewery from the ground up, designed around a vision to have the space to perfect, then continuously improve a core lineup of stylistically precise beers, in a state of the art brewery with breathing room and a bright, clean, open taproom with plenty of room to enjoy the brewers’ labor of love.
In 2018 the brewery literally “moved down the street.” In true Anchorage fashion, the move became somewhat of a parade from the original location at 7920 King Street – where Turnagain Brewing Company lives today – across Dimond to 9050 King Street, on the corner of 91st and King, and literally a stone’s throw from Anchorage Brewing Company.
The massive three-story, beautifully appointed building is a work of art in its own space. The brewery upsized from the 7,000 square feet to 23,000 square feet. State of the art equipment in a brand new brewery run by three full time brewers and two assistant brewers frees Walukiewicz and Kingry up and gives them the bandwidth to not so much create new stuff, but continue to improve on what sets them apart in a hugely competitive market. Incremental, almost invisible, but consistent process and product improvement is applied to produce flawless, flavorful beer for a diverse market, much of which espouses consistency over experimentation in the overall product mix. That’s why I go there a lot.
“We don’t have a new product very couple of weeks or months because we work on dialing a beer in before we do a general release. Before we put our name on it, we want to really nail it,” says Walukiewicz.
This isn’t to say King Street only brews a few flagship beers and no others; check out the seasonal and one-off beers on the reader board in the tap room, and you’ll quickly realize that.
“Our beers are successful, I think, because we brew to the styles, and we’re meticulous about what we brew and how we want it to come out. It has to be clean, with no cloying after taste and no lingering bitterness. We want to drink something we want to drink every day, and we have incredibly high standards,” says Walukiewicz. “It’s our approach to brewing which is a constant drive to improve, even though the beer’s already perfect. It’s very minor tweaks in process, procedure, ingredients, and quantities that’s always toward improvement. We’ll be satisfied, but turn right around and ask ourselves “how can we do this better?”
It works. King Street’s popular, and Walukiewicz admits it’s already getting “a little crowded back there” in the brewery, which is telling of King Street’s unwavering commitment to quality and resulting demand, both in house and for distributed beer.
Upcoming enhancements include tweaks to the packaging system which will add some automation, reduce packaging time, and free up space, without saying a lot about it.
Will the brewery get bigger?
“This is our forever home for the next forty to eighty years. We love this place; the third floor deck, the tap room, and a system that allows us to make beer the way we want to. We love it. It took three or four years, and it’s kind of filling up, but our focus going forward is on making our beer better and better,” says Walukiewicz. “Hey, we don’t have any dimensional changes that would take us out of state or start opening another brewery. I’ve built two, I don’t want to build another one, thank you very much.”
Don’t miss the availability of the brewery’s two anniversary beers, both called Beyond X, one of which is aged in French cognac barrels and the other in Spanish sherry barrels. That’s the only difference in these two incredible beers, but the difference is distinct, powerful and super fun to experience.
The “X” means 10. “Beyond 10 is what I call it. This beer is representative of what we are going to do in the next 10 years, and the next 10 years after that. It’s all about creating, producing and improving killer beers,” says Walukiewicz.
The two versions are available in wax dipped bottles at the brewery, and at the liquor stores in town that deserve to feature it. Only 100 cases of each style were produced. They’re rare, they’re worthy of drinking right now, and they’d make stalwart additions to any vintage collection. I’ve got my copies safe and secure. Love a beer drinker? A pair of these would make stellar gifts.
There won’t be any huge anniversary party, but that’s more because of COVID than anything else, but mark your calendars for Saturday, December 11. “We’re doing a chestnut party outside in the parking lot. It’ll kick off at about two or three in the afternoon and run toward close,” says Walukiewicz. This will be a good time before it gets too crazy during the holidays to roast some chestnut, hang out and have beers, and talk with all of our new and old friends about the last and the next 10 years.”
You can be sure that King Street will have something special to drink at this event, and you can probably guess that it will have been improved over and over, and over again before it hits your glass.