Don Stead will realize his dream of owning a brewery with his wife Sherry when Grace Ridge Brewing opens up for business for the first time this Friday. Local artist Jen Depesa’s artwork will be displayed in the brewery, with a second-Friday show on May 13 at 6 p.m.
Over the Shorebird weekend — today through Sunday — the brewery will open from noon to 8 p.m.
In 1995, Don and Sherry Stead moved to Homer from San Diego, Calif., which also happens to be a national hotspot for craft breweries. In fact, Don began brewing his own beer in 1988 while the couple still lived in San Diego after Sherry bought him a $50 beer brewing kit. He continued brewing beer as a hobby when they moved to Homer, experimenting with different types of beer in five-gallon batches made in their home.
“It’s an interesting, magical process. Even though I understand the science — pouring the yeast in and then I get anxious waiting for it to start and then when it starts I’m just so happy,” Don said. “You can see the bubbles and that’s when you know the yeast is doing its job.”
Don, a retired engineer, wanted to open a brewery several years ago, but he and Sherry agreed that they wouldn’t forgo a steady paycheck and health insurance to open a business. Don’s retirement in 2014 was the catalyst.
“We were kind of thinking about doing some things to keep us busy,” Don said.
“Keep him busy,” Sherry said. “When he retired we didn’t have a paycheck or health insurance, so I said, might as well go for it.”
The Steads traveled back to San Diego in February 2015 to do research, which entailed going to breweries, like Stone Brewery and Ballast Point.
“On the airplane, we said let’s do it,” Sherry said. “And then in May we started looking for a building with a concrete floor.”
Overall, Grace Ridge Brewing encountered few obstacles as the Steads worked to get it up and running in a year’s time. They were able to acquire licensing as they built the brewery, instead of waiting until the brewery was completely finished to receive their liquor and business licensing — as often happens with breweries, Don said. Their timing in looking for a building to house Grace Ridge was serendipitous as well. They talked with UPS about leasing the space where Homer Brewing previously operated and found that UPS was planning on moving into a new space just across the street. The Steads secured a space in part of the new building in May 2015, where the Grace Ridge Brewing sign is now visible to those passing by on Ocean Drive on their way to and from the Spit.
They also ran into some trouble with their equipment, which caused some confusion in the beginning as Don worked to figure out the commercial grade brewing equipment – a giant step up from his home brewing experience. After navigating issues with grain milled too small for mash and a heating snafu that caused their first batch of beer to need to be dumped, Don got things on track. Even with the problems they encountered, they were still able to produce enough quality beer to meet their original opening date of May 12.
After the festival, the Steads do not have a firm schedule for open hours, but say they most likely will be open Thursdays through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m through the end of May. As they decide on a schedule, they will post their hours and updates on the brewery on the Grace Ridge Brewing website and Facebook page.
When in doubt, if the “Open” sign is lit up in the building’s window, all are welcome to come in and have a glass, Sherry said.
Grace Ridge Brewing’s name comes from a hike of the same name located across the bay that Sherry did with a friend. The Steads plan to keep with the theme of local names for their beers as well.
The brewery will start off selling three different brews — Kayak Beach blonde ale, Sadie Peak IPA and Oystercatcher Stout. Oystercatcher Stout gets its name from the oysters that Don adds when brewing the beer. Though oysters in beer sounds like a leap from the classic combination of oysters and beer, the shellfish give the stout a smooth finish, Don said.
In addition to the three beers they are starting off with, Grace Ridge has brown ale on the way and plans to produce a variety of other beers throughout the summer.
“We want to do a wheat beer. We want to try a Berliner Weisse, which is a slightly soured very light wheat beer obviously in Berlin where it’s classified as the champagne of beers,” Don said. “We will do a fruit beer. I haven’t decided when; it will probably be later in the summer.”
Through the experience of opening their brewery has been hectic at times, the Steads said that the support from the Alaskan brewing community — from the owners of Homer Brewing to other breweries on the Kenai Peninsula and through Alaska — has helped them navigate the hop-soaked waters.