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Brewing a bright future

Area hobbyists set up shops in hopes of big business

Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2006

 

  Kenai River Brewing Co. co-owner Doug Hogue fill a half-gallon growler with one of his home-brewed ales Saturday. The Kenai River Brewing Co. joins Kassick's Kenai Brew Stop as one of two new breweries to open in the area last month. Photo by John Hult

Kenai River Brewing Co. co-owner Doug Hogue fill a half-gallon growler with one of his home-brewed ales Saturday. The Kenai River Brewing Co. joins Kassick's Kenai Brew Stop as one of two new breweries to open in the area last month.

Photo by John Hult

Today is a good day for beer drinkers on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Not so long ago, the closest place a Kenai or Soldotna resident could fill a growler — the half-gallon jar of beer filled in specialty brewshops nationwide — was the Homer Brewing Co.

Thanks to a few hobbyists-turned businessmen in Soldotna and Nikiski, however, fans of home-brewed beers will no longer need to make that trek for a stout pour of home-brewed ale.

The Kenai River Brewing Co. in Soldotna and Kassick’s Kenai Brew Stop in Nikiski have each been open for about a month, altogether offering six varieties of frothy brew.

Interested brew fans can sample those varieties, but those looking for a full glass may be disappointed: neither brewery has a license to sell one.

Growlers, emblazoned with the logo of the brewery, are the way to get a full taste.

According to Doug Hogue, who owns the Kenai River Brewing Co. with fellow brewer Wendell Dutcher, the growlers haven’t been hard to move.

“We already have a lot of repeat customers — they’re a pretty standard weekly group,” Hogue said.

Hogue’s brewery makes three varieties: Pillar’s Pale Ale, Skilak Scottish and Sunken Island IPA, all of which are made with a malt imported from England to give his and Dutcher’s offerings a distinct taste.

“Most other breweries use American-style yeast, so our brews should taste a little different,” he said.

The science of brewing is what kept the Connections teacher involved in home brewing after his first try in 2003.

“When you really get into the science, there are a lot of little things that could throw the whole thing off. That fascinates me,” he said.

That process is what hooked Kassick on the hoppy hobby, as well.

The self-described ‘trekkie’ said he had nearly given up on drinking about six years ago when his wife bought him his first home brewing kit.

“I just went crazy after that,” Kassick recalls of his brewing experience after the gift.

“I really enjoyed learning the science of it.”

Kassick had a sunny premiere for his first two ales, one porter and one blonde, at the KDLL Summer Solstice Fest a few weeks ago.

“It was a great response — we went through six 15 1/2 gallon kegs,” he said.

Porter and blonde are styles of beer, and another, IPA (India Pale Ale) is on its way for Kassick’s fans within a few days.

His brews don’t have names yet, as Kassick decided to let his customers decide. Customer-submitted ideas, he said, will start to be evaluated this weekend.

The repeat customers Kassick’s and the Kenai River Brewing Co. cite as their main source of business are good signs for the entrepreneurs. All three of them want to quit their day jobs eventually.

Hogue’s partner Dutcher works for HEA, which means Houge’s teaching job and the brewery’s summer opening date allowed for smooth shift-to-shift transitions, but that’s expected to change.

“We’re gonna be burning the candle at both ends come September,” Hogue said.

One thing that could help would be getting the pair’s ales into bars and restaurants to be sold. Buckets in Soldotna has Pillar’s Pale Ale on tap and soon will offer the Skilak Scottish (the dark) variety, Hogue said.

Kassick said the New Amsterdam Cafe in Anchorage is interested in putting some of his brews on the menu, which is one good sign among many. The building that houses his brewery was originally going to be a storage unit, but circumstances led to the idea of taking his hobby to the public and the building worked well for brewing needs.

“A lot of this came about because of Agrium saying they might close,” Kassick said. Kassick currently works in the North Kenai fertilizer facility.

“All of this stuff sort of went in my direction,” he said.



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