Friday, June 21st marks the 20th anniversary for the Haines Brewing Company. Paul Wheeler and Jeanne Kitayama have owned and operated the brewery since 1999.
CO2 bubbles stream from a hose in the brew room into a bucket. They’re the product of yeast consuming sugars that came from grain. CO2 comes out the hose and some alcohol stays in the brew. Paul Wheeler is making beer.
“Whats brewing in this tank is the Spruce Tip Ale right now,” he said.
The history of spruce brews goes back hundreds of years. 16th century sailors picked up the tip from indigenous North Americans to prevent scurvy. It was commonly added to beer in the British Royal Navy.
Haines Brewing Company has only been around for 20 years, but they tap into history with most of their beers—even when the result is something new.
“I’m a traditionalist,” said Wheeler.
“I mean, we mix it up a little bit—the Spruce Tip, of course. But even the Spruce Tip is traditional! Spruce ales were brewed for the vitamin c in the spruce. So, it’s about tradition.”
Wheeler says when he and Kitayama got to Haines in the early ’80s, there wasn’t much selection when it came to beers. He credits Alaskan Brewing Company with opening his eyes to the world of craft brew. It inspired him to try home brewing. And then when the Brew Fest got started in the 90s, he thought it would be nice to have a brewery in town.
That and his brewing ambition outgrew their kitchen.
“I told Jeanne that I’m either gonna spend spend $3,000 on geeky beer equipment for home, or I’m just gonna go ahead and start a brewery,” he said.
She said for that kind of money, he should just open up the brewery.
“So I did,” Wheeler explained with a smile.
They got started in Dalton City, the movie set of White Fang out at the Haines Fairgrounds. That gave the name to their first beer, the Dalton Trail ale, and they stayed there for fifteen years.
They use local ingredients like spruce tips and rose hips in their beer, but the local flavor doesn’t stop there—Haines artist John Svensen designed their logo and woodworker Sean Bryant created tasting room furniture using old rail ties from Eldred Rock that washed up in Mud Bay. Recently, they moved to a larger location on Main Street. Guests can stay in the tasting room or check out the Chilkat Range from the back porch.
Kitayama used to teach at the elementary school was on this lot before. Some of her former second graders are now of age to come see her at the brewery. Jeanne was teaching full time a t the beginning, but she’s always done most of the office work. Now you’ll often find her behind the bar pulling pints.
“I said I’d help him go one more step, and this is the step we’re at,” she said.
Haines Brewing Company is a local institution that’s part of a bigger trend. Alaska has over 40 local breweries. A report released this March says brewing alone contributes over $100 million dollars to the state’s economy.
Out on the back porch, Wheeler, Kitayama, and employee Beth Douthit clink glasses full of the anniversary ale they’ll release on Friday.
Haines Brewing Company produced 420 barrels of beer last year. Wheeler says that pales in comparison to some national brewers, but he has a different definition of success than barrels brewed.
“It’s not about the amount. No, it’s about the quality,” Wheeler grinned.
The back porch is full of locals and visitors who seem to appreciate the effort.