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HooDoo Brewing Co. off to strong, simple start

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Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2012 12:39 am | Updated: 12:10 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS – In his first month as a brewery owner, Bobby Wilken is sticking with the basics.

Wilken, who launched HooDoo Brewing Company on Halloween, has gone with a bare-bones formula so far.

The brewery, a refurbished warehouse in the railroad industrial area, has a tidy but spartan tasting room, with a few tables atop the polished concrete floors and corrugated metal walls. A handful of HooDoo shirts and a cutout of a giant handlebar mustache are among the few wall decorations.

There’s no bottled beer

available at HooDoo — Wilken said he isn’t ready for the complications caused by a bottling line — and only a few varieties.

The beers that do exist don’t even have names. The Kolsch, a light German-style beer, is known simply as HooDoo Kolsch. The India pale ale is called IPA.

“It’s simple,” Wilken said. “People are so barraged by marketing nowadays — we just wanted to have a nice place where people could come in and have a beer.”

That area — the beer — is where Wilken has made an exception to the low-key approach. The business, which he began planning in July 2011, is built with an emphasis on brewing. The stainless steel vessels in the back of HooDoo use the German style of brewing, with three vessels instead of the more common two-vessel English style.

Wilken has been honing his beer-making skills since 2005, when he attended a brewing school in Chicago. He followed that up with five years at Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau, before leaving to establish a brewery in his hometown. HooDoo is named after the distinctive Interior mountains popular with snowmachiners.

Early Saturday afternoon, there were already 20 people chatting and sipping in the tasting room. The lure of drinking beer just feet from the spot where it was created has been a draw since the brewery opened nearly three weeks ago.

“So far, so good,” said Jaime Casal, as he sipped from a Belgian single ale, one of three beers available. “There’s a good mix here.”

Wilken has vowed to keep his launch simple until he has a firm grasp of the supply and demand for his product. HooDoo has been selling more beer than projected, which is a mixed blessing. Since beer requires lead time to brew, a shortage can’t be immediately remedied.

“We’ve tried to guess how much beer we need,” Wilken said. “We’re not out, but we’re behind, I guess you’d say.”

To conform with state laws for tasting rooms, customers are only allowed to drink 36 ounces of beer on site. Sixty-four ounce growlers are available for takeout.

HooDoo won’t sell to restaurants until Wilken gets a better feel for how much beer to brew to provide a fresh supply. But when it does, he said HooDoo will personally clean tap lines to make sure the brew isn’t tainted by off flavors.

“We don’t want to sacrifice quality,” he said.

Wilken said he’s been happy with the beers resulting from that philosophy. His latest, a Belgian Saison, is a good example of what he wanted to do as a brewer — a light, citrusy fresh-tasting beer.

In its first month of business, he said the experience has been everything he hoped it would be.

“It’s been a long ride, but it really is what we expected,” he said, before pausing to correct himself. “It’s better than I expected.”

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.

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