Fermento

James 'Dr. Fermento' Roberts





Reach out to any of Alaska’s bars, breweries, restaurants and food and beverage establishments and they’ll do just about anything for you short of asking you to come on inside, belly up to the bar and enjoy a craft beer or another drink with a friend. I totally get the new restrictions and support my new flattening-the- curve gig 100 percent, but this sure sucks.

This is the second week I’ve covered the devastating effects the coronavirus has had on craft beer in Alaska, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this news isn’t getting any better and it’s getting old quick. I was going to warn you that this rant isn’t going to be all about beer because there’s not a lot of beer out there, but that’s not true. There’s plenty of beer, it’s just tougher to get to and requires a lot more effort.

Less than an hour after Mayor Berkowitz announced the mandatory closing of these establishments, my former favorite watering holes and hop spots were shifting their business models to focus on carry-out, and in some cases delivery services they’d never considered before. Never before could I call Humpy’s and order a specially made dinner for four to six people at an amazing price, pull up in front of the building and have that meal delivered right to my warm and waiting vehicle.

Need packaged beer? Call ahead and La Bodega will take your order, collect the beers, disinfect the containers and have them ready for you.

This “new normal” strategy is no fun-and-games enhancement of existing services for our beloved craft beer dispensaries; it’s a matter of survival designed for the short run and not very sustainable given the landscape our vendors work in.

This started to catch on and many people lauded the new services on social media, but it wasn’t enough. Humpy’s threw in the towel on Sunday night, closing the doors indefinitely or until the restrictions are lifted. Glacier Brewhouse did the same on Monday.

If you enjoy Glacier Brewhouse beer and have a favorite or two, check the local grog shops; some of Glacier’s beer is made at Matanuska Brewing Company – the big production facility out in Palmer – and continues to be packaged in cans and distributed.

Resolution Brewing Company in Mountain View followed suit on Tuesday. Resolution does not distribute beer nor is any of it produced in cans or bottles, so sadly, Tuesday is likely the last time we’ll have been able to enjoy Resolution beer for an uncertain length of time. It’s these little guys I worry most about.

Others are doing the same. There are probably casualties out there I’m not even aware of. I have to rely a lot on social media for my news; we’re all hunkering down, right?

Most closing businesses cite prioritizing the health and safety of staff and wanting to join the increasing ranks of upstanding Alaska businesses that are making the ultimate sacrifice for social distancing and flattening the curve, but you can’t convince me that economics isn’t a primary driver either. I feel for these establishments, the people that own them and the displaced employees that were running them. This just flat sucks for everyone.

The list of casualties doesn’t stop with local beer purveyors. I was in the middle of working with Alaska’s more than 40 craft breweries to set up this year’s Fermento Beer Bracket Challenge where I aimed to pit brewery against brewery, style by style in a people’s choice award scenario to flesh out Alaska’s best local suds.

The bracket competition was destined to last a number of weeks as Press readers and participants voted their favorites forward. I had a big celebration planned for the end where I’d do a tap takeover at a local establishment – I had SubZero on my radar – and announce the winners and distribute the prizes.

Scrap that: how would readers get out to enjoy and evaluate the beers I worked with the breweries to list and feature? What beers would still be available, and short of driving to those breweries within driving distance that don’t distribute beer to our liquor stores?

What can you do while these struggling establishments try to hang on? Support them. As far as I’m concerned, it’s almost unforgivable to buy beer produced outside the state of Alaska right now when our local breweries need our help so badly. The good peeps at La Bodega are going to call me out on this because at least weekly I’m in that very local, independent gem of a liquor store buying anything new on the shelves regardless of where it’s from. I have a fetish for new suds, after all.

What’s not seen is the amount of King Street IPA I’m buying as my mainstream, go-to beer. Add a fair amount of Midnight Sun Brewing Company’s Pleasure Town IPA and other local mainstays, and I keep a pretty well stocked refer in the garage. I won’t say I hoard beer like others hoard toilet paper, but between what I buy and keep on hand and what I have in my vintage collection, my liver’s more likely to shit the bed than COVID is to catch up to me, even though I really do drink in moderation.

What I can do to better support my local breweries is to visit them and buy directly from them? While there, I can maintain my social distancing while getting a growler fill, buying cans and bottles or whatever the beer’s packaged in and at the same time pick up a bunch of merch and some gift cards to send around to share a little brewery love. This may be the year that I get all of my Christmas shopping done before the snow’s even melted.

Today I’m starting a new regimen. I’m going to visit one local brewery every day going forward, buy beer there, support any food operation with a takeout order and maybe buy something from the gift store if social distancing allows it. This will get me up, get me out of the house – I know I’m supposed to be hunkered down, but beer is a staple in my life — and allow me to help our beloved craft beer industry to survive.

What’s your plan?

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