Bleeding Heart Brewing

Bleeding Heart Brewing sustained damage during the recent windstorm.

Our breweries in Palmer and Wasilla got a (butt) kicking with this week’s windstorm that blew through the area between Sunday and Wednesday, but I’m relieved to report that nary a drop of beer was spilled. Oh, there was damage, but three of the four breweries out there reported in that “it’s okay, we made it through.”

According to Matanuska Brewing Company owner Matthew Tomter, “Like many others affected by the wind, the power went out and the building got cold really fast. In our situation, the wind blew out the window in the ventilation system in the boiler room. This room has a mechanical louvered window that’s actuated to help control the temperature in the room. It was blown out. We get there at midnight that first night. It was minus 13 outside. We went in, got generators going, fired up all the heaters, and once the temperature starting coming, up, water started shooting out from everywhere. All the pipes and all the plumbing had frozen, and the pumps that push the water around froze and broke.”

Tomter and his team didn’t screw around. “We immediately got on the horn to the east coast, and with the time difference, we located pumps and had them next-day aired, and they’re being installed right now,” he said on Tuesday. “Forget about the cost of the pumps, we don’t even want to go there. I haven’t seen the bill yet, but it was probably five or six grand just in shipping.”

Two roofs were also blown off Matanuska Brewing buildings. One loss was particularly noteworthy.

“The roof blew off of our 40 foot by 60 foot beer cooler. It’s our beer cellar. All our oak aged beer is conditioning in there. The roof flew over two buildings and landed in an empty field. It skipped over the top of Bleeding Heart Brewing Company and took out their gas line, took out their fence, and landed in the field next to them.” Can you say “collateral damage?” And, how ironic that the damage was to a neighboring brewery.

According to Bleeding Heat Brewery co-owner Zack Lanphier in an Instagram message on Tuesday, “due to extreme weather and damage, we will be closed until further notice. There’s so much to be done before we can open again, and most of it can’t begin until these winds slow down. Stay safe, hunkered down and warm; we’ll share some beers upon our re-emergence.”

Bleeding Heart can’t fault Matanuska; beer neighbors are beer neighbors, and the two brewery’s products are different enough that there’s really no competition for selling beer or filling barstool. Both breweries are unique, but Mother Nature, for all her faults, is equal opportunity, and her wrath nailed them both this time.

Nearby Arkose brewery, also in Palmer, did okay. “We’d been without power for a couple of days, says taproom employee Gary Howell. “No, no real damage. Just our brewery sign a little bit, but the building fared well,” he reports, although the brewery was closed and couldn’t sell beer for a couple of days. At a minimum, Arkose lost revenue.

Bearpaw River Brewing Company has two locations in the Valley. The original location is on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway, and the bigger, brand new production facility with food service, is on Railroad Avenue in downtown Wasilla. Both are okay.

“Yeah, the power went out at both locations,” says one of the owners, Jake Wade. “We shut down early on Sunday and sent everyone home. There wasn’t anyone at either place anyway,” he says, citing the fact that potential customers got out of the weather and hunkered down early.

“We were closed yesterday and today,” Wade told me on Tuesday. “We plan on opening tomorrow. The only real damage was to the glycol chiller in the back of the building at the original location. The roof blew off of it,” he says of the very limited structural damage.

“Everything in the tanks is fine; there was no loss of beer,” he says of the brewery’s liquid assets. “But, you lose quite a bit of money, especially at our new facility where we depend on that coming in at this point in our operations.”

Did our breweries get off easy this time? It could have been worse. A lot worse.

So, with no loss of beer and “minimal” losses in terms of structural damage, what’s the net effect? For often thin-margined craft breweries, it’s revenue. Any day any brewery is closed for unforeseen circumstances, its money not being made. That money pays bills, pays off debt and pays wages to employees that depend on it. These are losses that aren’t always factored into even the most well thought out business plans. Oh, sure most facilities are insured in the event of losses due to natural disasters, but it’s rarely at replacement value, doesn’t do anything for employees and is always slow in coming.

“It’s my employees that are taking a hit,” says Tomter. “None of them have power or heat. We took all of the generators we got to run heaters in the brewery, and once power and heat was back up, we gave them to the employees to heat their houses and tried to help that way.”

Our “brewers,” and I mean that to represent not only the guys that make the beer, but the guys that own and run their businesses, and their employees are a resilient sort. They improvise, adapt, and overcome, which is the age old survivalist attitude that keeps America, and especially Alaska running strong.

“No one ever said life in Alaska would be all that easy. We will re-open today at 4 pm, Tomter said on Tuesday. “We welcome anyone and everyone that needs a beer after this crazy storm to stop by and have one on us. Everyone coming in tonight will get the first beer free.”

Tomter and his partners put their own personal money up to buy people, many of which came out of their still powerless, unheated houses, their first beer on Tuesday night. Matanuska didn’t advertise this; they just did it. That’s what breweries do, even in hard times.

“How did it go last night,” I asked Tomter on Wednesday morning?

“It was packed. People loved it,” he says.

I think part of that was because it was so unexpected in the wake of such a thing.

“We’re all Alaskans,” explains Tomter. “We’ll be fine. You can’t just give up. Put your bunny boots on and your beaver hat, and get out there and fix it and clean it up. We just don’t have time for Mother Nature.” You’ve got to love that. I do.

What can you do? Get out to the Valley and visit our affected breweries. Buy their beer. Buy their swag. Buy a meal if they serve one. Show some craft beer-loving support and a true beer drinker’s solidarity. Make a day trip out of it. Visit them all, with a designated driver, of course.

Oh, and if you run into Tomter? Buy that guy a beer.

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