Shootin’ the Brews: Skagway Edition

Last weekend, Beer Cache had the amazing opportunity to spend the better part of a day with Trevor Clifford, head brewer at Skagway Brewing Co., Skagway, Alaska.

Spring-boarding from an established ribbon-winning homebrewer to the head brewer at a brew pub takes some ingenuity. Clifford has made the most of an incredibly small space and designed a wickedly well-organized, energetic and ecologically conscious, well-oiled-machine of an operation. He also happens to be one of the most friendly and laid-back guys we have ever met.

Beer Cache: What beer made you change the way you think about beer?

Trevor Clifford: Leinenkugel. It survived Prohibition, so it is a beer with some history. It also had an awesome reusable carrying case.

BC: How on Earth did you end up with the dream job of being a head brewer?

TC: I got a couple of beer kits for Christmas and had no idea what to do with them. So I got a book from the library on homebrewing, read it, and brewed maybe 12 batches with extract before I touched the kits. It really wasn’t any different than making soup or chili.

About 10 years later [Clifford was still homebrewing as a hobby], the owner of Skagway Brewing was visiting a mutual friend in Oregon, where I was living at the time. My friend knew that Mike was starting up a brewpub and looking for a head brewer and he got us to meet for a beer. It was absolutely a case of being at the right place at the right time. I got the job offer on my birthday in February — we moved to Alaska on my wife’s birthday in March.

BC: How important is consistency in your beers?

TC: In the summer, I’m lucky that my customers are always changing, so I can constantly tweak the recipes and try out different ingredients and fermentation temperatures. The locals are loyal beer drinkers, so I worry more about producing a consistently good beer each time than the exact same beer as before.

BC: Speaking of the summer, about how much beer do you go through a week?

TC: On a typical Tuesday and Wednesday we go through about 100 gallons, or 800 pints. In the remaining five days we sell about another 100 gallons.

BC: Whoa.

TC: I know.

BC: Are there any brewing challenges due to your Northern location?

TC: They are not too bad; however, as we receive most of our ingredients via ferry, I have to be diligent with my ordering schedule. The main issue is the yeast. This has to be delivered by mail, and one shipping company comes straight to us from Juneau, but the other makes a trip up to Anchorage first. I have to be, um, FIRM, with the retailer to choose the former. [Liquid yeast has to be kept cool, and the enclosed ice packs don’t last long, so prompt delivery is key.]

BC: What SB beer would you recommend to a first-timer?

TC: It’s a toss up. A lot of people enjoy the Spruce Tip, but the [Boom Town] Brown is pretty interesting: balanced, a little more malty than an amber, but not so hopped out.

BC: What is your favourite beer that you brew?

TC: The Chilkoot IPA, for sure.

BC: What is your favourite beer (right now) that you don’t brew?

TC: Lagunitas IPA.

We were lucky enough to get a sneak peek taste of the Blue Top Porter, named after the hats worn by the White Pass porters. It blew our minds, so grab your passports and head down to Skagway for a pint.

See you there.

Please enjoy this article responsibly.

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