Craft Beer? Great Vibes? Super Cool People?
One of the few answers to all these questions is Girdwood Brewing Company of Girdwood, Alaska. And can you Imagine a ski town in the United States without a local brewery? This was Girdwood up until 2017 when identical twins Brett and Rory Marenco opened their brewery. Along with beer ambassador Josh Hegna, chief tasting officers Amy Shimek and Karl McLaughlin the team has established and grown one of the best local breweries I’ve had the honor of visiting.
Brett and Rory started off as home brewers in University. They both attended school to become Mechanical Engineers and ended up working on the North Slope in Alaska. A few years ago while at a party with their now beer ambassador Josh Hegna, they had said it would be great to open a brewery in Girdwood as there was none. Josh already knew of people in the town that wanted to invest and Brett and Rory set off on the logistical and bureaucratic process of opening a brewery in a small town. Outside the usual laws surrounding the opening of a brewery, Girdwood is still in the Municipality of Anchorage and must abide by Anchorage rules, as well as their more local rules. This all came together finally in March of 2017 when the Brewery opened its doors for the first time.
The Brothers had initially planned on just having two core beers and a few rotating seasonal/specialty beers. They now have four core beers and 4 rotating beers not including a few special ones for specific events. Including yearly beer called Avvy Savey where all proceeds of that beer go to friends of the CNFAIC, a local Avalanche awareness and training group. They also opened with the idea they would be the only two staff. Brewing and pouring beer between filitrations. It was only a few short months by the time they realized they needed full time front of the house staff to help with the on site pouring of the beer.
Tasting rooms in Alaska are much like those found in the lower 48. A family friendly atmosphere with kids and younger parents, groups of fun healthy looking people, the occasional dog or two running around. Girdwood brewing, also adds the ski town vibe to this atmosphere. The locals that were here before it was cool, the seasonal workers both in their first season, and the tenured ones who have lost their outward enchantment after their first season (but if you ever tell them it's not great, they will remind you it is). The out of town skiers with fresh gear. The nearby city skiers with well used gear going onto its last use before buying new again(once every ten years).
But Alcohol laws in Alaska are some of the more restrictive and complicated in the United States. Especially for on site sale at a brewery in Alaska. There can be no seating at the bar or on site entertainment. You are limited to 36ounces of beer served to each patron (That’s about 3 beers per person). And these are on top of the general rules of alcohol sales in the state. They are also restricted on their operation times. But Girdwood brewing has committed to being open daily from 12noon until 8:00pm daily to avoid any confusion when they are open.
The Beer. I’ve given lectures on beer for my previous job, I have also visited an extensive number of breweries in both North America and in Europe. There is a reason they are not able to distribute their brew around the state and it’s because they can not produce enough of it. Talking with Brett and Rory, they said every time they plan on distributing outside of Girdwood they sell out of what they had planned on distributing. You are able to find their beer on tap at the only Ski Resort in Alaska; Alyeska Resort. As well as some other local bars and restaurants in Girdwood. They brew a number of interesting beers (a full list can be found here). They don't’ restrict themselves to any specific style and instead do a number of fairly experimental types of brewing. Always keeping in mind their clientele though, they often try to brew types of beer to help introduce people who generally wouldn’t like beer to find something they like from them. I could honestly go on about how each of their beers tastes exactly as it should and the small nuances of each one, but that may be a little too beer nerdy for this article.
Throughout the Pandemic of 2020 and into 2021 they found themselves having to pivot their business constantly. And were able to avoid laying any workers off. Their business model focused less on distribution of kegs and more on small batches, so they were able to control their production output. And being a smaller brewery did not suffer the supply chain logistics issues a lot of larger breweries experienced. They did however this fall buy a small scale canning line from a producer in Colorado (Wild Goose Filling). They went with cans as they are more easily recyclable and a lot of their patrons are backcountry/outdoors enthusiasts. And when hiking every small bit of weight counts (glass ends up being fairly heavy). They have recently added a water storage tank to get the most efficiency out of their onsite well. Although in the future a second well may need to be drilled if the brewery's success and output continues to increase.
I would in summation suggest visiting almost any local brewery in Alaska. They all communicate with each as it is a small community. Many of them help one another out (the more well known 49th state brewery even allowed Rory and Brett to see their operation in Healy when it was starting up). They all share or borrow ideas from one another. But if you want some of the best beer (not just in the state, but in the United States), that you won’t be able to find anywhere outside of where it’s made, Girdwood Brewing Company is the brewery for you.
Girdwood Brewing Company
Address: 2700 Alyeska Hwy, Girdwood, AK 99587
PHONE: (907) 783-2739