When Debara and Frank Kassik opened a brewery in North Kenai in 2006, they said some were not shy about sharing their doubts.
Frank Kassik, the head brewer, said people told the couple they were crazy for putting their own name on the brewery, as well as for locating it in Nikiski. Just over a decade later, Kassik’s is still standing and recently became the first brewery to claim 1st place Gold Pan Medals in both categories of the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival.
Kassik’s Buffalo Head Barley Wine dominated its category for the second year in a row at this year’s festival in Anchorage this month, while the brewery’s Barrel Aged Statny Statny took 1st place in the winter seasonal category, which was added to the competition in 2010.
“We’re just the little guy,” Frank Kassik said. “We’re out here in the middle of nowhere, and it’s exciting for us to know that we’re bringing the news to this community.”
“We work hard and it’s nice to be recognized,” Debara Kassik added. “It’s nice to be recognized by some of the other bigger breweries that are there.”
The Kassiks have advanced through the competition in the past since they began entering the festival 11 years ago, but have placed the last two years. Debara Kassik’s explanation is simple: “Luck.”
The couple also entered barrel-aged beers in the festival the last two years, something they hadn’t done previously, she said.
“The competition’s pretty fierce,” Frank Kassik said.
The barley wine won out of 31 entries, and there were 28 entries in the winter seasonal category. Entries come from all over the United States.
Debara Kassik said the breweries on the Kenai Peninsula support each other and thrive together — the Kassiks don’t feel like they’re in competition unless they’ve entered one.
“We don’t consider any other craft brewery in this state our competition,” Frank Kassik said. “It’s still the big guys.”
When they’re not entering festivals and competitions, the Kassiks are busy keeping up with demand, they said. Frank Kassik said he has just brought on two employees to begin training. The brewery is also in the process of bottling four of their core beers in 12-ounce bottles that will be sold in six-packs, Debara Kassik said. These should be available next month.
The winning barley wine and winter beer will be available during an event the brewery is hosting from 2-6 p.m. this Saturday. They will be sold in eight ounces and four ounces, respectively, and food will also be served.