According to Brewerks brewer/owner Chad Ringler, “the money is all going in one direction right now.” He’s guardedly optimistic he’ll be pouring beer at his tastefully appointed new brewery at 625 W. 59th Street by solstice this year. At the same time, Ringler will be realizing a life-long dream of becoming a full scale brewer in a state that he and his wife Ghazal credit with defining who they are, and what they want to give back to a place that’s been so good to them.
After fleeing Iran, Ghazal ended up in Alaska, where she’s proud of saying has provided her with every opportunity to succeed. Chad and Ghazal met at UAA. They could have ended up anywhere, but Chad followed Ghazal to Bethel so she could serve in the community as a dentist, and give back to a state that had given her so much.
“I was a chemist in a lab and did osteoporosis work in Oregon. My wife is a dentist. She felt that Alaska gave her opportunity and everything, and she wanted to give something back,” says Chad of the Ringler’s experience in Bethel. “We got to hunt and fish and volunteer in the community. It was a very unique experience to be a part of this community and to have a partial subsistence lifestyle,” he says.
Homebrewing and remote living go hand in hand, but it was more like happenstance that brought Ringler and the beer world together.
“I got a kit from a friend,” recalls Ringler with a chuckle, reliving the experience. “She had a boyfriend and bought him a homebrew kit. She broke up with him, and had never given it to him, so she gave it to me. At that time, I really didn’t have anything to do with brewing.”
That changed in a hurry. I don’t know what it is with chemists, engineers and tinkerers, but they seem to have a real affinity for the art, alchemy and passion of making beer. Regardless, it stuck with Ringler – a tinkerer himself – who loves working on, restoring and driving around in old vehicles.
“It was a great experience, learning to homebrew in Bethel. We were going in and out of the community pretty regularly, and we’d get ingredients from the homebrew supply stores as part of our grocery runs. We’d make a handful of batches. Most of the garages were cold out there in Bethel, so it was good for brewing. We did a lot of taste testing with friends, says Ringler of brewing sort of on the edge in one of Alaska’s damp communities. “Bethel was damp, so a person was allowed five gallons of beer, per person, per month brought in from somewhere else. You couldn’t manufacture, buy or sell, so technically, I was brewing illegally, which, I’m sure you know, makes it taste better.”
I wondered about the “hombrewer-come-commercial brewer epiphany,” and when that happened.
“There was a moment when we were about four years in Bethel, and I decided I needed to go back to work. I told my wife, ‘here’s my choices; I can go to the brewing school in Germany, Siebel, and brew, or I could go to engineering school.’ She totally endorsed brewing,” says Rigler of Ghazal’s unerring support for his passion.
Still, Ringler returned to Anchorage, took the engineering route, and got his second degree at UAA; a “bad decision,” as he called it.
“I came back here and started homebrewing again,” says Ringler.
Being a tinkerer, he built his own homebrewing equipment, and eventually got a job at Midnight Sun Brewing Company for a season, washing kegs and doing the basic grunt work associated with running a brewery. This was all practical experience that would come in handy later.
“I always kept homebrewing. I’d brew new batches of beer and have a lot of friends over. We’d get together and BBQ, serve the beer and talk a lot about it,” he says. The brewing flame never really goes out.
The epiphany came in the middle of the night. “I was in bed and rolled over and woke up and whispered in my wife’s ear, ‘it’s time.’ She rolled over and looked at me and said ‘it’s about time,’” says Ringler. That’s what partners do, right?
That was early in the pandemic last year, and Ringler set about working with equipment manufacturers, thinking about recipes and finding a location, while contemplating how he’d fit in Alaska’s forever burgeoning craft beer market.
Do we have room for more local beer up here? Ringler thinks so, and I agree. Doubtful that Brewerks will be preempted, but the new brewery is part of “45 unique operating breweries, three in planning, three owned by 49th State for a total of 51,” says Alaska Brewers Guild Board President Lee Ellis.
By my calculations, Brewerks will become Alaska’s 52nd craft brewery when he starts pulling tap handles.
The choice of location was not happenstance. Location is another part of Ringler’s vision of what he wants Brewerks to be, which is a beer drinking destination for likeminded people that see beer as central to the conversational and relationship-based lifestyles that are especially important up here, and that he sees as an extension of himself.
Brewerks’ moving into the heavy industrial area off of Arctic Boulevard and joining other daredevil upstarts like Chugach Chocolates, Woo Hoo Ice Cream, and the longer established Sarah’s Sandwiches, and nearby Double Shovel Cider Company on 58th Street – in the midst of heavy industrial mechanical, steel fabrication, and heavy equipment repair shops - is a solid indication that this model works, and is part of a bigger gentrification of more and more parts of Anchorage.
I don’t care where breweries end up in this town, they instantly grow cult followings, and I just shrugged and advised Ringler that his only regret five years from now would be not having sourced a bigger brewing system.
“Beer people will come here because it’s easy to find, easy to drive up to and people that love to bike hike and love to ski like I do can, say, can leave Kincaid and shoot right up Raspberry and come into my warm, welcoming, open concept brewery, where the equipment and brewing smells are as much a part of the ambiance as anything else,” says Ringler.
I cold-called Ringler as part of scooping his brewery for the beer column. Walking in to the new construction, and actually feeling the almost built-out area, was indeed warm and welcoming with muted colors and soft edges that certainly contrast the industrial surroundings.
“The use of soft wood, barrel table tops, standard stools with great views of the mountains, all in a great place to congregate is part of the draw. The stainless is a big part of it, but it’s in the background. There’s extra seating with softer lighting upstairs for overflow, and of course the exposed beams that overlook the brewery,” describes Ringler of a place where traditional and non-tradition beers will pull multiple genres of beer drinkers in.
“I really wanted to open with a year-old, barrel-aged Russian imperial stout,” says Ringler, describing his style aspirations that include a broad mix.
“I can mess with your standard hazy IPA and change the yeast. I can do some barrel aging, and mix it up. I don’t see any set, defined beer styles. I’m looking at sours, IPAs, and we did a Berlinerweisse one time I’d like to recreate. I hope to open with a Flanders red, some lighter beers like saisons, and maybe some light fruited beers. We’re small enough to make multiple small batches,” says Ringler of his intentions.
“It’s simple,” says Ringler of his concept. “Alaska has some of the best beers around. It’s something about this state I’ve always wanted to be a part of, for a long, long time. I want to hand that beer out. I want that beer to be the best one they can have in their hand. I want the bikers, the skiers and my friends pouring in here, excited about their adventures, and telling me I should have been out there with them. I want them enjoying my beer, and talking to me and each other about it. There’s nothing better than making a connection over a fantastic beer,” says Ringler of his relationship between his brewery, Ghazal, and the people that will become a part of it. I already feel right at home.