I’ve got a great way for you to get out to the Valley and explore Palmer’s bustling beer community and support small businesses at the same time. Although the concept isn’t new, the city’s Taste of Palmer event - with a keen focus on beer and food - provides you with a great excuse to get out there and explore and puts you in for a chance to win a thousand bucks at the same time.
The use of punch cards to draw patrons into local businesses has been around forever, but it’s a lot more fun when local breweries are in the mix. The Palmer Chamber of Commerce organized this event following the success of last year’s Shop Palmer event that brought hoards of people into the community to check out what the bustling hamlet north of Anchorage has to offer.
Here’s how it works. You can obtain a wallet-sized punch card that you can use to patronize participating small businesses and every time you spend $10 or more at one of them, your card gets stamped. With 10 stamps, you turn your card in at any of the participating establishments and your card gets turned in for a May 1 drawing where the winner will walk away with a $1,000 Visa gift card. The punch cards are free and there’s no limit on how many you can use and turn in for the drawing. The event runs between March 1 and April 30 this year. Get your card at any of the participating businesses.
According to event organizer Ailis Vann, past president of the Palmer Chamber of Commerce, the Shop Palmer gig was so successful that she wanted to do it again with the goal of supporting the Chamber’s small business members in the not so busy time of the year.
“When a business joins a Chamber, there are different levels of sponsorships. We appreciate all of our members, but the larger members or businesses tend to get more exposure,” says Vann. “Within the Palmer chamber, we have about 290 members and 56 percent of those are small businesses. That’s over 160 small businesses out here and we want them to get the attention they deserve.”
According to Vann, many of the smaller businesses are one and two person operations, “and it’s hard for them to market and advertise and that’s where the Chamber comes in and helps these people that often depend solely on what their businesses bring in,” she says.
Except for Palmer’s newest brewery – Matanuska Brewing Company – the other two, Arkose Brewery and Bleeding Heart Brewing Company are essentially “mom and pop” operations.
Palmer’s first post-prohibition brewery – Arkose – came along in October of 2011. Owners Stephen and June Gerteisen’s humble beginnings paved the way for others in the Valley to follow. Inspired by Arkose Ridge to the brewery’s northeast, Arkose has become one of Alaska’s most recognized beer brands with broad distribution across the state.
Tucked away on 650 E. Steel Loop Road behind the Alaska State Fairgrounds, driving out into the country to find the brewery is a lot of fun and worth the drive. I can’t drive to or through the Valley for any reason and not stop by for a pint and a growler to take back to town with me.
A little further to the east is Bleeding Heart Brewing Company. Located on an original colonial homestead farm at 16013 E. Outer Springer Loop Road just south of the city’s golf course, the brewery opened in April of 2016 and continues to produce beers inspired by the Valley’s agricultural roots and local ingredients. Co-founders Stefan Marty and Zach Lanphier infuse a continuing series of unique beers with a lot of fun Alaska attitude including some of the most inspiring label art that always catches my eye when I find their product on my favorite grog shop shelves.
The Valley’s biggest brewery – Matanuska Brewing Company – started cranking out beers in 2018 with a combination of the brewery’s own half a dozen or so unique adventure inspired beers and production brewing for Anchorage’s Glacier Brewhouse. Matanuska Brewing brought us long awaited Glacier beers in my favorite format – 12 ounce cans – and introduced us to an intriguing lineup of homespun Valley beers under the Matanuska label. The brewery’s a beautiful state of the art compliment to Palmer’s rustic attire and the three acre brewing “campus” sits on the ground of the former historic Matanuska Maid dairy.
“Matanuska Brewing is an icon out here,” says Vann. “It’s part of the ongoing history and keeps production in one our original locations. We went from packaging milk there to packaging beer; so how can that be bad?”
But here’s what makes the Taste of Palmer so much fun. Sixteen local establishments are participating in this go-round and all three breweries are in the mix. “If you want to go on a tasting tour,” suggests Vann, “you can bring your bikes out and bike from Arkose to Bleeding Heart and Matanuska Brewing Company and sample the wares there, and mix it up by eating at one of the many dining options in mix as you go. If you want something good for your belly to finish up with, stop in at 203 Kombucha to finish things up.”
Vann admits that beer’s doing great things for the Valley’s character and economy. “Arkose was our first brewery and the brewing community keeps growing which is awesome. I feel like we’re a part of the bigger global beer movement and beer is something people increasingly travel for. If people know a region has multiple breweries and a lot of good beer in a bunch of locations, they’ll come for that and patronize our other small businesses at the same time,” she says.
This is true; I travel for beer all the time. In fact, I don’t make travel plans anywhere – business or otherwise – without researching local beer options. But with beer as a destination and a punch card, a drive to Palmer is even more enticing.
The Chamber doesn’t make any money off of what’s destined to be at least an annual event. “For the participating businesses, it’s a $100 buy in. We wanted 10 businesses to participate to get the $1,000 prize. We’re ahead of that and the difference goes to advertising and cost,” says Vann. “Shop Palmer was a huge success. Just based on the completed cards that were turned in for that, we calculate it was a $244,000 boost to our local economy and maybe more, because not everyone completed and turned in cards,” she says.
I’ll need a designated driver for my Taste of Palmer day. Aside from the breweries, Humdinger’s Gourmet Pizza Co., the Palmer Alehouse, Pizzaria Delphi, Klondike Mike’s and the Valley Hotel Caboose Lounge - to name a few - all serve food and beer, and I haven’t been to all of these places yet, so a spring drive for a day out there is the perfect way to expand my Valley horizons. In total, I could visit all 16 participating venues and easily fill up a couple of punch cards, although more than one trip might be in order for that challenge.
Get your designated driver lined up and throw some empty growlers in the back; spring’s happening and it’s a good time to get out of town and explore good beer and good eats just north of us.