Craft beer lovers can rejoice. Once again, Homer is back to a two-brewery town. After a hiatus this fall and winter, Homer’s second brewery, Grace Ridge Brewing, reopened last Friday at its new location at 870 Smoky Bay Way off Lake Street.
Started in May 2016 at a rented space on Ocean Drive by co-owners Sherry and Don Stead and their children Steven and Scott, Grace Ridge Brewing is the second brewery in Homer. The first brewery in town and on the Kenai Peninsula, Homer Brewing Company on Lakeshore Drive, just celebrated its 25th anniversary.
Grace Ridge moved out of its old space last fall and now has its own building. Double the former size, the new 2,400-square-foot brewery and tap room stands like a white wedge down the street from Ulmer’s Drug and Hardware. The tasting and serving area is about the same size, but brewmaster Don Stead said with more brewing tanks and a bigger work area, Grace Ridge can now brew four times its former capacity. Grace Ridge includes a 400-square-foot cold storage room.
“That really helps us be able to plan out our year,” Stead said. “… We don’t get all stressed out for summer time when they heavy usage comes along. It helps us levelize our brewery throughout the year.”
Designed by architect Chris Cole of 61 North, Jay-Brant General Contractors of Homer built the brewery. The shed-roof design has simple lines. With white panels, it’s a departure from the dull brown or tan colors seen on many Homer buildings. As with the Ocean Drive location, it has an outdoor beer garden with an Alaska twist: a propane-fuel fire table that puts the heat at chest level. Don Stead said there will be a fire pit this summer, too.
Inside, a bar stands along the wall in front of the cooler, and there are more tables and chairs scattered around the tasting room area. The high ceilings offer more ventilation and airflow, giving the brewery a safer feeling as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The roof line helps with that feeling,” Stead said. “There is a lot more room here.”
As with the old location, a wall of art provides a pop of color and a space for local and Alaska artists to show their work. Don Stead said they plan to continue monthly shows with First Friday openings. Grace Ridge missed the February First Friday opening, but Homer artist Jen Depesa attended last Friday’s reopening, which featured an exhibit of her paintings.
Stead said Grace Ridge has purchased a canning line and will begin selling beers to go in 16-ounce cans. Currently they sell 32-ounce cans.
“They’re great to-go packages,” Stead said of the 32-ouncers. “We would suggest to everyone they share it with somebody. It’s a little bit large. … It’s also very labor intensive. We fill it at the tap (and) it becomes a more perishable product.”
The smaller cans will last longer and allow Grace Ridge to sell to more markets. Currently, they sell the big cans to the Grog Shop in Homer and Country Liquors on the central peninsula. They also want to start serving more in bars.
“I think we’ll start to be able to pick up some other package stores and move our product that way,” Stead said. “We’re excited about expanding our market.”
Grace Ridge also sells beer in kegs and can fill growlers to go. Its basic brew line — “the four flagships,” Stead calls them — are the Sadie Peak IPA, the Kayak Beach Blonde, the Otter Beach Amber and the Coal Point Milk Stout. Other flavors will be rotated in. For the reopening, Grace Ridge offered its First Beer, a Belgian pale ale.
Breweries with tasting rooms differ from bars in that they can sell no more than 32 ounces of beer per person a day on the premises and close earlier. They can sell up to 5 gallons per person a day to go.
Under Alaska’s alcohol laws, the Homer area can have no more than two breweries with tasting rooms. Senate Bill 9, passed by the State Senate last week and now moving to the House, would place a cap of one brewery with a tasting room per 12,000 people. Grace Ridge and Homer Brew are grandfathered in if the new law passes. There can be more breweries that are only manufacturing facilities, however.
Like many construction projects during the pandemic, Grace Ridge had some supply chain and other issues that slowed down construction. A garage door ordered a year ago has yet to arrive and be installed, for example. Shipment of new tanks also got delayed.
“It just complicated the way we had to do things,” Stead said.
Some touches from the original brewery will continue, like Grace Ridge’s tradition of taking tips and donating them to local nonprofit organizations. It also has a tip jar for staff.
New beers and ales are announced on Grace Ridge’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/graceridgebrewing. For winter, Grace Ridge is open 3-7 p.m. daily. Call 907-435-0601 for more information.
“We’ve got some nice beers coming up this springtime,” Stead said. “We just brewed a nice hazy IPA.”
Stead said the reopening last weekend went well.
“We had a great crowd,” he said. “It was well attended. We appreciated seeing our old friends. A lot of people came to wish us well and say congratulations.”