Stoney Creek BrewHouse brewer/owner Gregory Haas told me that his not-so-official, official opening date was on May 1st this year. “Well, my first delivery was 1 May, so let’s go with that for opening,” he texted me when we started exchanging information in advance of a great conversation with this lively, energetic and passionate brewer, with one of the more customer-facing business models I’ve seen in brewery startups in a long time.
I was tipped off about the new brewery in Seward by some beer chasin’ friends that heard about a new brewery and asked me about it. I hadn’t heard about it, and assumed they were referring to Seward Brewing Company that opened in 2012, or Howling Wolf Brewing Company, an establishment that I don’t think ever got off the ground. They seemed better informed than that, though and I was resolved that a second brewery in Seward wouldn’t surprise me because there’s plenty of room for more local suds down there.
I was really excited that, almost simultaneously, Haas reached out through the Press to get to me, having been a longtime fan of the column, and when introduced, heaped altogether too much flattery and praise on my 24-year brand of drivel that celebrates beer in our favorite local newspaper.
The Coast Guard Brought Haas off the East Coast and to multiple assignments in and across Alaska, the first being in 2003, and bouncing him primarily between Homer and Seward, with service on board a buoy tender that provided him with touchpoints in Kodiak, Dutch, the Bering Sea and Cook Inlet. In between, he bounced back and forth between Alaska and California, but eventually ended up in Seward where he’s established Stoney Creek as a mainstay in a community that has a great deal of respect for year-round residents that add value to the totality of residing there through all of the months, not just the summer ones when tourism fills the coffers.
Yeah, like every other commercial brewery, he stepped from homebrewing into the professional realm, but he actually started out making wine. “Living in Homer, I got into making wine. My dad’s a chemist and was also a chemistry teacher, and I remember him studying the water quality of our house and our pool. I really dig the chemistry in brewing, and I really took to the artistry and the recipes at the same time, but it was when I got orders to Alameda in California that I got involved with an incredible homebrew club in the area, and that’s what got me hooked on making beer,” says Haas of the transition.
It was also in California - where he was making homebrew for friends and gatherings that turned into somewhat of a “higher volume” co-op situation in Sonoma County and Bodega Bay - where the commercial bug bit.
Back to Alaska and fast forwarding to more recent times, Haas met his wife at Kharacters Alaska Bar in Homer – she worked as a children’s therapist, and joining him, she started bouncing around the state too. It was an odd real estate deal that landed them in Seward for good, which became a dream come true for the both of them. To date, Haas is still active duty Coast Guard, but will have just shy of two weeks left until his second and final retirement when the ink dries on this column. If you end up chasing is suds in Seward, thank him for his service.
If there’s any metaphor for the many people that pushed Haas’s brewing passion to full throttle, it’s Seward’s Kevin and Stacey Lane, the very high-standard, respected and discerning owners of The Cookery. Whether he admits it or not, Haas is a foodie, too, and he’d foisted beer on Kevin during bouncing around with the tender and doing search and rescue between Kodiak, Homer and Seward over the years.
“He didn’t remember me from years before,” says Haas when he first met Kevin, but hoped “can I bring you some beer? You got any taps open?”
Haas acknowledges Seward’s notable cuisine that’s made by people that give a damn about what they’re serving, and especially those that don’t just cater to the tourists, but serve their food year-round, often at a loss in the winter. “We have good quality food down here. This industry in Seward is made by people that are willing to promote, sell and talk up what they believe in,” he says, giving the nod to the Lanes’ inspirational influence on this model for making beer in a community where you have to be known and trusted before you’re embraced.
Lane gave Haas a shot; he had him bring in four of his beers and had his wife and the staff drink through each one. “Kevin looked at each one. The fourth beer, found immediate and solid favor. Eventually named Baitwater, this German light beer was a perfect match for the Cookery’s oysters, and Lane wanted a beer all of his own,” so Haas’ first account was born.
“That was four years ago. Every six months after that, he’d ask if I’d retired yet. Every six months I’d get a Facebook message or a text. We’d stop in for dinner when we were in Seward. That conversation of him asking me for a beer all for himself and continuing to ask me how my dream was coming along, solidified that he was the guy I wanted to work with,” says Haas. “He wanted the beer to go with his oysters. He wanted that beer exclusively, and that kind of encouragement meant so much to me. It’s emotionally impacting and why I chose Seward and why I’m brewing here.”
Haas did the same thing with other establishments in Seward.
Chad Higgins, another stalwart Seward citizen, owns Firebrand BBQ. Higgins and his wife Stephanie came to Seward from Amarillo in 2017. It’s not a surprise that Higgins likes Shiner Bock, a signature darkish Texas brew.
“He knows what kind of beer works well with his food,” says Haas. “Let me see if I can make something darker that you’d like,” Haas told him, and thought of his Bear Mountain Black.
Bear Mountain Black is somewhat of a merger of a California Common and a German Schwarzbier. “It’s got a little wheat, some Munich, and I had to use some Crystal 60 for some caramel underpinnings,” says Haas who brought the beer back out for Higgins.
When first brewed with buddies in 2014, “this here’s sex in a glass,” a close friend pined and Haas thought it would be a great fit with BBQ. Higgins liked it both being dark visually and light tasting. He wanted it as a regular seller. “Now I’m committed to brewing it because he’s so invested in it and goes through so much of it,” says Haas.
“I’ve had owners and staff come over to tell me what they like to drink and what they like to eat. The electrician that wired my house loves my IPA. I want to be a part of the people that are building this town. Seward’s a year-round town with a summer problem; while the summers are amazing, so are the winters. We want to make beers that people like that work well with the food they’re making and eating,” says Haas of his passion.
Haas brews Fog, a beer in the Munich Helles genre, and its hazy character is representative of the low hanging clouds that punctuate Seward and references back to the influence that foggy San Francisco and Bodega Bay had on his brewing career.
Haas makes Tiehacker IPA, Alice’s Spruced IPA, a rhubarb wit, Low Tide Saison and of course Baitwater, that’s only available at The Cookery.
Baitwater? “My wife heard us laughing when my buddy plopped herring into a bucket and it splashed water into his mouth. She gets credit for naming that beer Baitwater. My wife and daughters pretty much own the beer names,” says Haas of his family’s involvement in the home/brewery environment on Seward’s Stoney Creek Ave.
I don’t get the sense Haas spends his time just making a lot of beer that people can buy. Haas spends more time making purpose beers for accounts who want to feature a local beer that’s custom fit for their cuisine. Haas is helping build synergy in Seward this way.
Haas doesn’t distribute outside of Seward, but has aspirations for a canning line someday. He’s very focused on his own community right now and grateful for advice from other locally-driven breweries who have helped him join the ranks as an Alaskan brewery.
“What started out as just Baitwater and a handshake, and a ‘we’ll check on the numbers in four to six weeks for another tap’ at the Cookery turned into a second tap a week later for Tiehacker IPA, a third soon after that, and hopes for all five of my beers as soon as I can make the volume,” says Haas of the explosive, quick popularity of his beer.
Stoney Creek is on ten taps in five different establishments, including The Cookery, Firebrand BBQ, the Highliner Restaurant, the Resurrection Roadhouse and Woody’s Thai Kitchen. If you’re in Seward, search out Stoney Creek beer where it’s served; it’s probably the most fit for purpose beer in the state.