In Good Spirits
When you enter the Anchorage Distillery, the first thing you see is the charming tasting area. Rough wooden beams, barrel tables, walls covered with Gold Rush era historic photographs and maps. Wallpaper extends the optical illusion of an underground mine shaft, making the space cozy, but nowhere near cramped.
The Distillery has been in business for about four years, but their current iteration began in 2016 when Bob Klein, C.E.O, took over. Klein describes the transition as he starts my tour. “At the beginning of the year we refocused our mission and really started to look at working with local ingredients whenever possible. Once we found we could make world class vodka with all Alaska Grown ingredients, it’s all we have wanted to use.”
What sets the Anchorage Distillery apart from others in the state is that they exclusively use Alaska grown grain. According to Klein, that is unique at the moment. “Right now we’re using three types of grain,” he tells me. “We have wheat and rye coming in from VanderWeele Farms in the Mat-Su Valley and barley from Robinson Farms up in Delta Junction.” The wheat goes into vodka and into some of the whiskey blends, the barley is the base for their award-winning Glacier Melt vodka, and the rye is currently aging in barrels.
The grains arrive in massive one-ton bags and sit patiently until it’s time to begin their transformation. First, into the mill, which grinds the grains and drops them down into the reaction tank. There, with the help of two different enzymes, the starches are completely converted to sugars. Then yeast is added to convert those sugars to alcohol. The fermentation process is just the beginning and takes about 72 hours. At the end of it you essentially get beer. “Terrible tasting beer,” Klein assures me, “but it’s a good starting base from which we can make our spirits.”
This “terrible tasting beer” next undergoes the distillation process, where it will continue to almost magically transform the simple mixture of locally harvested grains and water from Eklutna Lake into a variety of unique spirits.
Additionally, the Distillery chooses local berries—like blueberry or raspberry—and uses an essence still to extract completely natural (and unique) flavors that they add to their vodka. While we were there, there was some blueberry stock in the essence still, and the aroma took me back to a hot summer day on the tundra.
The distillery is always looking for new Alaska Grown flavors. Just a couple of hours before my tour, two employees were picking petals off fireweed to try in a new essence. “One of the great things about our size is that if we want to change something, we just do it. We don’t have to worry about massive production,” states Klein.
Despite already ranking as one of the largest distilleries on the west coast, the Anchorage Distillery team is still thinking expansion. When I asked Klein if he had any grand plans for the future, he replied, “The place itself is a grand plan! We want to continue to deliver good Alaska Grown quality to the people of Alaska.” He mentioned that one of the things they’d like to work on is getting into as many outlets as possible. They’re off to a pretty good start, with their products available in over a hundred establishments statewide—ask for Anchorage Distillery products at your favorite retailer, restaurant, or bar. Klein would also like to start creating unique products for specialty stores, such as the fireweed essence they were working on this spring.
If you’re interested in going more in depth into the distillation process (or just want to try some fine spirits) the tasting room is open Tuesday through Saturday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Free tours of the facility are available every Thursday at 6 p.m.
6310 A Street, Anchorage, AK 99518