The new Kenai River Brewing facility was officially dedicated and ribbon cut last week as hundreds turned out to wish the co-owners and workers success. The thriving business all started when home brewing buddies Doug Hogue and Wendell Dutcher were changing a fuel filter on Doug’s truck, “I didn’t know how to do it and Wendell said ‘Ah! It won’t take too long,’ and five minutes later we decided to drink some beer and while enjoying our home brew we complimented each other by saying we should open up a brewery,” Doug recalled in an interview with the Dispatch. Hogue was a school teacher before they started the brewery and Wendell’s wife was his teaching partner, “That’s how we got to know each other and would talk a lot about our home brewing and shared tips and when the idea of doing in commercially came up we agreed it might be a fun thing to do. But believe me, no one had a vision of what we are standing in front of today. We started with the idea of moving into a small building and we knew we might eventually outgrow that facility but thought we’d just look for another pre-built place we could move into. But we couldn’t find a good building so we built one with the help of designer Tony Doyle we went with a cannery, industrial look which is easy for a brewery with large fermenters to pull off,” he said.
Hague attributes the Kenai River Brewery brand popularity to his sales people, “We have great sales people that have become like an extended family of this whole business and they promote our product and once we moved to canned beer that brought us more exposure being available at a lot more venues, package and grocery stores and helped get the product known to craft beer lovers,” explained Hogue. The original homesteader of the new location of Kenai River Brewery, Marge Mullen was on hand for the ribbon cutting and when someone hollered out “Did you home brew at the homestead Marge?” she replied, “Of course!” “We’re trying to find a picture of their homebrew percolating behind the wood stove where she said they had it but we haven’t found it yet, but she said the always had some brewing for fellowship with friends and fellow homesteaders who would come to visit and help out when needed. We very much want to keep that Alaskan image of a place where friends and visitors can stop by to have a chat or share a story over a taste of our beer. I think the spirit came with the land and plan to continue it,” said Doug. The upgraded tap room features enough space for about 85 and people can bring food in or order a burger from the Blue Moon cart outside and Yo Taco will be there on Monday’s, “We’re hoping in the fall to open a kitchen inside where we can offer some food of our own,” he added.
The brewery has roughly tripled the company’s capacity to about 7,000 barrels from their former 2,200 some barrels. The new building offers more storage space and room for larger canning machines but the owners don’t have plans to start shipping beer outside Alaska anytime soon, “The state of Alaska is our priority,” Hogue said. “We don’t plan to ship out at this point, and I don’t see that happening.” A new 19-foot tall fermenter will be able to process 3,100 gallons at once, and new boiling barrels will allow the brewers to keep up.
The brewery is in position to be part of a more walkable space along the Soldotna Creek and Kenai River. From the Aspen Hotel, people can walk all the way along the river via trails or boardwalks until they reach Swiftwater Park, though Soldotna Creek Park and other conservation easements. Behind the new brewery building, parcels of the former Mullen homestead have been given for conservation purposes and are likely to remain wild. “Soldotna doesn’t have a city center yet and we’re hoping the new facility will really stimulate that and keep visitors longer on this side of the bridge,” added Hogue.