It’s a quandary every brewery whose brand is tied to a specific place faces as they look to expand beyond their local community: How do we share our roots as well as our beer with new audiences, and will they care?
“It is an interesting question for all regional craft breweries,” says Andy Kline, Alaskan Brewing Company’s communications manager. “How do you translate to a market that can be thousands of miles away from your brewery?”
It’s a familiar story here in the Midwest, with breweries like 612Brew, Excelsior, Great Lakes, Fargo, New Glarus, Red Wing, and so many others affixing their home to their label. Away from familiar audiences, can a brewery’s message—of a neighborhood’s vibe, nature’s beauty, a region’s history—be correctly conveyed to beer drinkers across the country, or the world?
Alaskan Brewing thinks it can. The wildlife and landscapes that define their home state is part of their DNA, and helps define the company, from the orcas, eagles, and king crabs that adorn their labels to their commitment to keeping all brewing operations in Juneau, despite the challenges that decision presents when it comes to distribution to the lower 48 states.
Even as they have expanded their reach (they now distribute to 16 of the lower 48 states) and their facilities (up to 47,000 square feet from the original 2,000-square-foot warehouse they started in—and still use today), Alaksan’s focus on nature has remained. Rugged and pristine, the Alaskan wilderness is an ever-present fixture at the brewery itself and in the lives of the people who work there.
“Growing up in Alaska, I was surrounded by vast mountain ranges, valleys, lakes, and wildlife, and the challenge of full exploration being fairly impossible,” says Alaskan sales representative Bianca Burbank, who currently lives in Minnesota. “While some of my peers may remember baseball outings with their family, I will always remember moose hunting, camping trips, or day trips to a mountain to rock climb.”
Adds Kline, “The fact that bears, moose, eagles, marmots, salmon, caribou, wolves, and whales can be seen on any given day within minutes from our front door is why so many of us are here.”
Shawn Reupke, regional market manger in Minnesota, has made several trips to Alaskan’s homebase in Juneau and traveled elsewhere around the state. “You can see all of these places and events through pictures, but from a ‘Lower 48’er’ there is no picture that I have seen that does all of these places justice,” he says.
Even if an image can’t fully capture the majesty of Alaska, Alaskan tries its best to display it’s state’s grandeur through its branding and imagery. To do so, Alaskan opts for depictions of real scenes from life in Alaska. “We don’t use a studio,” says marketing manager Will Race. “Alaskan Brewing tells it like it is.”
What “it” is to consumers who have only experienced Alaska through textbooks and Discovery Channel specials can vary widely. Like tasting notes, every beer drinker has a different takeaway, formed by past experiences, current surroundings, likes and dislikes—even the season. But no matter their opinions, Alaskan seeks to provide its drinkers near and far with a clear picture of the state they love.
“I believe Alaskan Brewing is able to deliver an Alaskan experience to anyone, no matter where they live,” Burbank says. Adds Kline: “I think the real thing people are connecting with is their idea of what Alaska is to them. As long as we stay true to what we know Alaska is all about, people will connect with it.”