Whether you’re visiting Skagway by boat or by highway from Whitehorse, a visit isn’t complete unless you’ve tried the local beer.
Healy was born and raised in Yankton, South Dakota and first visited Skagway in 1999.
“So a buddy and I decided to go on a roadtrip to the East Coast. At the last minute, we decided to head to Skagway to visit a friend instead,” said Healy. “Though we were only in Skagway for a couple of weeks, this little town left a lasting impression on me. The people were so nice and the area so beautiful.”
After his visit, Healy obtained a degree in business administration from Black Hills State University in South Dakota and decided to open his own business when he moved to Skagway in 2003.
“I had always remembered the economic opportunities from the visitor traffic in Skagway,” he said. “A couple friends and I decided to start a coffee and smoothie shop there, Glacial Smoothies & Espresso, which we operated for 10 years before selling the business late 2012 in order give full attention to Brew Co’s potential.”
We wanted to find out more about how Skagway Brewing Company started and what the expansion will look like in 2019.
How did Skagway Brewing Company start?
For me, Skagway Brewing started around 2003, when I realized that there was more to life than cheap, watered-down beer. At the time, I had never considered brewing beer, let alone opening a brewery. My entrepreneurial side kicked in a few years later while I was driving tours up and down the pass. Every day I’d drive by the flatbed trailer, which held the beautiful stainless steel brewing equipment from when Skagway Brewing was open from 1997 to 2002 under different ownership. Around that time, a friend gave me a home brewing kit, and I was fascinated by the process. Things just all of a sudden clicked.
Since I had some food and beverage experience already, I began looking into the feasibility of opening a brewpub. The timing was great because the former owner of the equipment was constructing a new building and wanted someone to operate a brewpub in the space. My father and I formed a company in January of 2007, then purchased the equipment and name rights, opening the doors in July of 2007.
Have you always wanted to run a brewery?
I had not always wanted to open a brewery, though I had wanted to open up another restaurant for some time.
You’ve grown drastically and become synonymous with a visit to Skagway. How has it changed since you started?
The Skagway Brewing Company has changed so much! When we first opened, we intended to be a brewery with a small restaurant component. We are now a small brewery with a large restaurant. The brewery component would have also increased alongside the restaurant component, but we’ve been maxed out on brew space since day one.
How do you feel about that?
That increase in the restaurant side of our operation has caused us to give up our tour program. The tour room is now a walk-in freezer, and we had to time our ordering very closely with our brew schedule, because our brewer’s grain storage space got eaten up by restaurant supplies. The high demand for our beer has brought some challenges. Not only has it prevented us from selling our product to other bars, but it has caused us to bring in product from other breweries to serve on our own taps because we just can’t keep up. Additionally, we don’t have the tank space or time to work on new recipes. It feels really good to hear you say we are synonymous with a trip to Skagway. In our company, we are very aware that if we take pride in what we do, great product and service will follow. It’s nice to know that is working!
How or why did you decide to expand?
I’ve been trying to expand to a new building for nearly seven years. That is when we initially outgrew our space! And every year since, the wait to be seated has been getting longer and longer. Funding has been the major hold-up, as banks just really don’t like to lend to anything with a restaurant component.
What will the expansion actually look like?
Our expansion is really two-part. We’re moving the existing operation to the new building, and we’re remodelling our existing location to become a taqueria-style Mexican restaurant. The new Brewing Company facility will see an increase in seating of more than 200 per cent. On the first floor we’ll have the main bar, which looks into the Brewery and will feature a stagel, along with a large outdoor beer garden with a retractable awning, and a spacious gift shop. The second floor will feature the dining rooms with a small bar. There will also be outdoor seating on the second-floor deck, which faces south and runs the length of the front of the building.
So more beer?
The brewery will see all new equipment, with batch sizes going from four barrels at present, to 10 barrel batches. The increase in batch size, along with the additional tanks, means an overall production capacity increase of nearly 500 per cent.
What about the menu?
The menu will chiefly remain the same, but with the acquisition of our new large pellet smoker, look to see some smoked meats on the menu, along with a variety of dinner entrées.
The addition of the garden will bring about some big changes to our operation as leafy greens and herbs (for salads, dressings, and marinades) will be produced and harvested from our onsite indoor garden. To understand the magnitude of this, I’ll share our present “greens” scenario. Currently, the best-case sequence of events is that our greens were harvested right before we placed our order, which is then delivered to the barge in Seattle. We receive them nine days later in Skagway. We have a high standard for quality, so we end up disposing of a staggering amount of produce. Luckily, much goes to feed some of the local residents’ chickens, so it isn’t a total waste.
How do you deal with the limitations of food produce in a town like Skagway?
We’re doing a couple of unique things from a sustainability standpoint. We will use the waste CO2 from our brewing process to increase the capacity of our indoor garden. All of the domestic hot water in the building, the in-floor radiant heat, and the steam used in the brewing process will be tempered from a boiler that runs on homemade biodiesel. We’ll take the waste vegetable oil from our fryers, combine it with a few other inputs, and run it through a machine that cleans the oil, de-waterizes it and produces a biodiesel with the same properties as heating oil. Healy is also the president of the Skagway Development Corporation, a non-profit organization devoted to helping develop small business, enhance the economy, and offer assistance to smaller non-profit organizations in Skagway.
You can visit them at http://www.SkagwayBrewing.com or find their events on Facebook.