Valley Trash is a status symbol. It means something if you live in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. Being Valley Trash is a badge of dubious honor, but it's risen to stature and distinction over the years. Being Valley Trash predates being a Spenardian, for those of you with that particular brand of dubious local pride.
The concept seemed lost for a while, but thanks to the efforts of Bearpaw River Brewing Company out in the no-man’s land on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway, people are coming out of the woodwork on an annual basis to celebrate the concept.
The imputes for the movement is an iconic namesake brew that originated with the long defunct Great Bear Brewing Company.
Great Bear opened in June of 1999. Great Bear closed in 2008.
Between those dates came the height of Alaska’s Alcohol by Volume, or ABV wars. Our local brewers brewed in an unspoken race to produce the state’s strongest beers. Great Bear cranked out two noteworthy examples.
Arskigger was a bodacious 13 percent ABV scotch ale. It kigged my arse more than once on visits out there. A “lighter” entrant was Great Bear’s Valley Trash. This deceiving brew weighed in at 8.4 percent.
Although the beer went away with the brewery, and the brewery that replaced it in the same place – Last Frontier Brewing Company – did nothing to resurrect the beer, Bear Paw River Brewing brought it back last year and it’s been a trashy success ever since.
“It’s incredible how powerful a name can be, and this one resonates in the Mat Su. It has a staying power. We realized that by how many former Great Bear customers, regulars and employees came out for last year’s Valley Trash Day and were excited to see the beer again after 10 years, says Jed Wade, one of Bearpaw River’s three brothers and own and run the brewery.
The beer’s a solid nod to Great Bear, the Valley’s heritage brewery. All of the Wades were born and raised in Alaska. Bear Paw River Brewing Company’s name is a nod to the remote area where the Wade family has a cabin and where the true love for our great state inspired another local brewery.
“We consider ourselves a Wasilla brewery,” says Jed. “Our logo says that. I think the Valley Trash project has been inspiring; it’s a Valley beer but it was conceived right in the middle of Wasilla and something we’re connected to and intend to continue to develop.”
Even though Valley livin’ is year round, the beer isn’t. It’s not a year-round selection, even though it’s worthy enough to be a flagship at Bearpaw. It’s all about capacity. Just watering the tap room at Mile 6.5 on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway is a challenge, but it’s the offsite distribution of three of the flagship beers sucks up fermentation and conditioning space. That’s the price of success, and the brewery’s indeed successful. When the word got out that Valley Trash was coming back, last year’s gig drew a hoard.
“Our last Valley Trash Day was a huge success,” says Jake Wade. “So far, I think it was our biggest day second only to our grand opening. Lots of people came out to support it when the word got out. Prominent figures in the community showed up; they get the irony of the concept,” he says.
If you had it last year, this year’s version of the beer is slightly different. “The only thing different this year is that we brewed it with our own well water,” explains Jed. Last year, the brewery painstakingly sourced city water since that’s what the original beer was made with.
Last year we went over with a tank from the original Great Bear brewery and got bulk city water. It took four trips to get enough water for the batch. I decided I didn’t need to do that. I’m savvy with water chemistry, so I manipulated it. I tasted it yesterday and it tastes just like last year’s,” says Jake.
But what did that original beer taste like so long ago? I’m one of the lucky few that remember it. “The one thing that’s fun about the last one, I don’t think I was even maybe 8 or 19 when it first came out; I don’t remember what it tasted like,” says Jake.
That’s a good point. I had the opposite effect. I don’t remember what it tasted like because I drank so much of it; the remainder of those days were always somewhat foggy.
“I think it’s the simplicity that makes Valley Trash such a special beer. It’s an Imperial blonde ale. Looks can be deceiving. It looks like a really approachable light blond ale, but it’s packed with more malt and as a result, a little more booze. It’s a simple recipe, simply constructed and we’re not trying to take away or mask the booze punch; it’s part of the character and stigma,” says Jed.
The Wades cobbled together brewing notes and consulted with a former brewery to concoct the remake. “The recipe is a conglomeration or result of a consolidation of several brew sheets that the former brewer brought over when we did it last year. We saw the evolution of the beer’s time at Great Bear, then pieced things together from that. It was a collaborative process. One of the Great Bear Brewers came in and worked with us on it,” says Jed.
The elegant black and white can with the cursive print – the same one that was used last year – is a juxtaposition to the Valley Trash concept – but that’s what makes it so rich. This ain’t no garage sale beer. Or, maybe its happenstance like so much of the rest of the Valley seems to be. “This year’s labels are the exact same as last year,” says Jake. “That’s because I printed too many of them.”
It was the discerning general public that had the most to say about the remake. “I was curious to listen to the feedback from the previous owners of Great Bear that came out last year and the people that had it before. It was well received, and everyone that had it before said it tastes like they remember it,” says Jake.
Bearpaw River is using Valley Trash day as a precursor to St. Patrick’s Day. “St. Pat’s is the next day, but Sundays are a terrible day for a party. We’ll have some of the Valley Trash as green beer. Yeah, the real craft beer snobs think green beer is stupid, but people ask for it,” says Jake. “We even get phone calls from people asking if we’ll have green beer on tap.”
That’s cool. I bet the call the bowling alleys too and ask the same question.
Regardless, the gig runs from noon to 8 PM. The Valley’s Happy Bison Barbeque – a “mobile grill” – will be serving up both traditional BBQ and some Irish fare. “Expect some corned beef and cabbage, beef stew and some other Irish dishes in the mix. St. Patrick’s day is the next day, but we’re encouraging everyone to start the celebration with us at the brewery here on Saturday,” says Jed.
Undeniably, the Valley Trash concept and Valley Trash beer are important pieces of the Mat Su’s local history. I’m proud to be a part of it and feel I have that special badge from having chased it down so frequently when it was pouring at the original brewery. I’ll be getting my share on Saturday at the brewery and I’ll probably drink the green version.