The International Bird Beer Label Association, celebrating their 30th anniversary, has selected Homer’s Grace Ridge Brewery as the 2023 Brewery of the Year in honor of their Oystercatcher Stout brew label featuring a bird image.
The Oystercatcher Stout is also being released by the brewery as a holiday beer this year. Previously it has only been brewed during the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival during the bird migration event in May.
“We have always just made this brew for Shorebird and this is the first year we’ve made it for the holidays,” Grace Ridge Brewery owner Sherry Stead told the Homer News. “This beer is very well received — people love it. We just packaged 300 bottles a few days ago.”
In an email to IBBLA co-founder Jack Stein, Stead explained that the brew came out of desire to include local ingredients in the brewery’s drafts. Stead provided a copy of the email to the Homer News.
Grace Ridge Brewery owner Sherry Stead shared the recipe with IBBLA and the Homer News and the original concept for the brew.
“When we first opened the brewery in 2016 we wanted to incorporate local ingredients. The icon shorebird for 2016 festival was the oystercatcher. Kachemak Bay also has some of the best oysters in the world,” she said.
For a 93-gallon batch, the brewery includes 10 dozen large oysters picked from the bay and boils them for an hour in the boil kettle with the black ale. The oysters are then removed.
“The beer comes out a bit smokey and smooths out any bitterness,” Stead said. “We have made the beer every year since then and it is one of our best known brews.”
International Bird Beer Label Association was founded in 1993 by Stein and Homer local residents Conrad and Carmen Field for “bird-watching, beer-drinking people,” Stein said. The organization maintains a collection of beer labels that show or identify some portion of bird image on the label.
Other co-founders of the association are Conrad and Carmen Field. Carmen passed away in 2016 and the label for the Oystercatcher Stout beer and also includes a small acknowledgment, “For Carmen.” The Fields have a long history in the community of Homer with contributions to local environmental and conservation organizations.
“The Fields and I decided to start this organization of bird watching, beer drinking people,” he said. It was founded in 1993 and now features a collection of beer labels that show or identify some portion of bird image on the label.
“Over the years we have accumulated over 700 labels with a bird image,” Stein said. “Carmen was the one who was originally handled the submissions and paper work for the images. As the decades have passed, I have always wanted to do something more with the organization and I knew that the Fields had put something together with Audubon and the Homer’s annual bird festival,” Stein said.
Stein’s home location is in the Florida Keys, where there is widespread community interest in the wild bird sanctuary, similar to the interest Homer and Kachemak Bay receives as a site of international significance in annually migrating shorebirds and the annual Kachemak Bay Shore Bird Festival.
Conrad Field, well-known local sea bird biologist, botanist and artist turned the discussion away from simply the bird beer label but the popular activity of bird-watching in Homer in general. He noted that in addition to the notable spring migration in Kachemak Bay, winter is also a very good season for bird-watching in Homer.
“We have all the sea ducks and other birds down from the north — everyone goes crazy when they see the gray owls. We can see a lot of people out skiing with their binoculars looking for birds,” Field said.
Stein compared that to bird-watching in the Florida Keys as a year-round activity. “We see people out fishing, kayaking and hiking year-round but if we plan something like your Shorebird Festival, it would be in the fall or the spring because we’re located right on a migratory flyway, too,” he said. “No matter what, people watch birds year-round and beer seems to fit into the scenario as well.”
The Shorebird Festival will often include a bird trivia contest hosted at Land’s End and sponsored by Homer’s Grog Shop. The Grog Shop was previously owned by Homer resident Mel Strydom. “We would have Mel find a few bottles with bird labels on them and we would auction off an opportunity to become a member of the IBBLA,” Field said.
Stein noted that he and Field are continuing efforts to find more ways to provide a service with the IBBLA that supports international birding and ecotourism beyond simply a collection of beer labels.
“We want to have all the ‘ingredients’ in place to do a good thing in the world of birding,” he said. In Florida, Field is attempting to organize another one-day bird festival that will contribute lectures and discussions related to responsible birding. He has already found an auditorium there that has offered to provide the space to do it.
As for the notable local brew, the latest holiday batch of Oystercatcher Stout is available for purchase at Grace Ridge Brewing in Homer.