It’s no secret that craft beer brewing has become enormously popular in Alaska over the past decade or so. A trend that slowly emerged in the 1990s and 2000s, with a handful of micro-breweries and home brewing supply shops opening up in the state’s major urban centers, has exploded since 2010. Breweries and affiliated brew pubs and taprooms can be found even in smaller communities including Sitka, Valdez, Healy, and more. Meanwhile, residents of Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau now have a plethora of local establishments to choose from, where not so many years ago they only had one or two. And thirsty Alaskans are lining up at all of them, eager to sample the dizzying variety of beers on tap and find their latest, greatest favorite.
“I think this current generation is definitely in a maker phase,” Brian Hall said. “People like being where things are created. And a brewery offers that for a beverage that a lot of people like to drink.”
Hall can count himself among the makers. An Alaskan since his teens, he began homebrewing nearly twenty years ago, and hasn’t let up since. He’s also a mainstay in the Anchorage craft beer scene, both through involvement with other homebrewers and his connections with people in the industry.
This January, Hall turned his love for quality beer into a new endeavor when he launched Alaska Craft Brew Podcast, a biweekly production where he interviews brewers and other industry professionals about their work, their products, and the goings on at Alaska’s breweries.
“I’ve always enjoyed being a part of the beer community,” Hall said, explaining what inspired him to start the podcast. “People tend to loosen up a little bit and just have a good time. The home brewing community has always been very positive.”
That positiveness shines through in his interviews. The podcasts sound like conversations around a fire, and that’s exactly where the first one was recorded. Hall wanted to begin by offering a big picture of Alaska’s craft brew options. So he met over a nighttime outdoor fire with Chris Fassett, who works at Anchorage specialty wine, beer, and spirits retailer La Bodega. In a casual but focused conversation, the two talked about what beers are popular with Alaskans, and what options are on the market.
“Bodega’s where you can get all the beer in town and they import a bunch of stuff,” Hall said of his decision to feature Fassett in his inaugural episode. “They have a pretty good pulse on the scene in town.”
That first podcast, like those that have followed, has an easy going feel to it while remaining tightly on topic, a balance that not every podcaster achieves. Hall said he makes this happen by giving his featured individuals a general sense of what he is looking for in the impending interview without handing them a list of questions. He values spontaneity. He also said that, before hitting the record button, he and whoever he is interviewing will first taste the beers they will be discussing, but refrain from over-imbibing. This helps direct his line of questioning while establishing a relaxed, conversational atmosphere for the interview.
Hall didn’t come into this project blind, which perhaps accounts for the quality of his podcasts. His knowledge of home brewing, which he began accumulating in Anchorage, expanded further during a four year stay in Maine, where he moved with his wife in 2011. While ensconced in the Pine Tree State, Hall said he “went a little wild because they have a really strong brewing scene there.”
Hall and his wife returned to Anchorage in 2015, where he discovered a city rapidly becoming a craft brew mecca. Meanwhile, he had begun contributing to the homebrewers’ website Brülosophy, where he honed both his writing abilities and audio production skills. The latter is a detail he pays particular attention to when finalizing his podcasts. He wants them to sound good.
A stay-at-home dad with a beer hobby, Hall said the thought of launching a podcast emerged over the past year, as the world slowed down. “With this whole pandemic thing, like everybody I’ve been at home for a while, and I got the idea,” he explained.”There’s Fermento’s article once a (week), but there isn’t a podcast.”
He added that “I had this idea that hopefully eventually this podcast will be like a beer news of Alaska sort of thing.” And while like any new production, he’s still tweaking the format, he gathers beer news from brewers around the state and includes these items at the close of each podcast. He’s also reaching out to brewers beyond the Anchorage basin with the intention of providing statewide coverage.
His knowledge of the industry is part of what made his second podcast in the series stand out. Hall interviewed Jeremiah Christian, owner of Magnetic North Brewing Co., which opened last April. Like any new brewery, it was an enormous job just getting the doors open. This was made exponentially more difficult, however, by the pandemic and the restrictions on businesses put in place to control it. Christian’s story about clearing all the hurdles is both interesting and inspiring.
Of course, there’s beer nerd talk in that podcast as well. Hall said he attempts to strike a balance where the newbies won’t be lost in the minutia, while the veterans will still learn something they didn’t know. “Simpler concepts, medium concepts, and a few concepts that will make somebody who’s beer well-educated have something to digest,” he said. Assuming that some of his listeners might be unfamiliar with many aspects of brewing, he added, “even if I know what the answer is, I still ask the questions.”
Asked what his personal favorite craft brew styles are, Hall replied that he’s tried quite a few, but currently he’s favoring of one of the basics. “I really enjoy finely-made laggers,” he said. Hall added that he likes strong beers, IPAs, lagers, and “mixed fermentation beers that are balanced both in their funkiness and sourness so as not to be overdone by either one. Which is kind of a wordy way of saying I like subtle sour funkiness as opposed to the ones that rip the enamel off your teeth.”
As for what styles he would recommend to someone just trying out craft brews for the first time, two sprang immediately to his mind. One is Czech pilsner, which he said has “nice spicy hoppiness, supporting malt backbone, and is just very drinkable. It’s my favorite style of pilsner.” The other was the old standby, IPAs, especially Denali Brewing Company’s Twister Creek. “That would be the first beer I would throw at someone to present them with something that is different, drinkable, and definitively craft. That is a very well-made IPA.”
Hall also enjoys barley wines, which he said Alaskan brewers have shown an especially strong flair for. He said that robust brew is a natural fit for the state, although “There is still plenty of opportunity for new styles that are not being produced. People love trying new things all the time.”
There is plenty more to sample in Alaska, and Hall hopes that his Alaska Craft Beer Podcast, which is an unpaid labor of love, will help spread a secret he’s come to recognize about the Last Frontier. “There are some beers brewed in our state that are world class.”
Alaska Craft Beer Podcast can be streamed at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1610974, as well as through most of the major podcast platforms.