Interview with the Alaskan Brewing Co.

Right on the heels of my recent interview with Jon Cadoux of Peak Organic Brewing, this evening I got to chat with Heather Conlin, the Special Projects Manager of Alaskan Brewing Co. Here is what she had to say:

What is your role at Alaskan Brewing?
My role has sort of evolved over time, but currently I work in human resources and am the special projects manager. So I do a lot of hiring, employee motivation, and performance reviews; my special projects have evolved, too. I started as a chemist in the brewery lab 7 years ago and then worked in both production and quality assurance, before settling on what I do now. My current special project is marketing, but I’ve worked with our I.T. department for the development of our production database, I’ve also worked on our website, and even on the retail side of the brewery. I’ve done a little bit of everything, really; we have a very collaborate environment here, you work where your interests lie. Alaskan Brewing has an active Rough Draft Program where employees from any department can participate – I’m currently working on convincing our brewer to try a Belgium Whit. It’s neat because we can really make those things happen.

How did you come to work there?
It’s funny; everyone has a story for how they end up in Alaska. Some people are born here but most people just sort of end up here – most people come on vacation and just never go home. I was born in Alaska but not technically raised there. But, after grad school—at the time having lived here none of my adult life—I decided to go home. So I packed up a 1974 motor home and headed out. When I got here, I looked for the best job available; I started at the university as an adjunct professor of business, but when I saw the brewery was hiring a chemist, I thought “how fun would that be” and before I knew it, they had hired me. And I’ve never been happier.  

What is your favorite part about working for a brewery?
That every day is totally different: I wake up am and excited to come here. Also, you never know what the day is going to bring. The employees are what make it all happen – they’re passionate and are driving us to succeed every day; it’s an exciting environment to be in.

…About Alaska?
I’ve been fortunate to explore throughout the state recently and one of the things that’s so amazing is Alaska is HUGE, it is still very much a frontier – so really just the sheer size; but also the diversity of climates and the wildlife across the state. Believe it or not, Juneau is in the middle of a temperate rainforest, and right on the water, so we have all sorts of wild animals here that really are part of our lives. On the other hand, If you go further north, the terrain changes completely – I drove the Top of the World Highway through the artic tundra earlier this year. Every community in Alaska is so unique and the people here approach life with open eyes; there is a real can-do will about everyone and everyone is ready to take on life. It is harder to live life here, so relationships and bonds are a lot stronger.

What is the coastal CODE program and what is Alaskan Brewing Co. doing to help?
Well, Coastal CODE started earlier this year to coincide with the launch of our Alaskan IPA. We have a long history of corporate philanthropy and environmental stewardship, and saw the CODE program as an opportunity to give financially to both of those. The program is really both a call to action and a grant-making fund; it’s completely non-profit and run by a group called Ocean foundation. The program has an advisory board which meets quarterly and awards 3 grants a quarter to support coastal clean up, awareness, education, and our Paddle Out events. There is one such event going on in California right now—with one of the extreme athletes—to raise awareness about the harmful effects of plastics in the ocean. He is currently paddling the length of California and talking to people about how they can help at every stop along the way. We’re also planning beach cleanups around each of his stops. Really we’re just trying to get the community out there and aware of what’s going on with our oceans and their health.

Why should we care?
Oceans take up the largest percentage of mass on the earth and most people directly use the resources of the ocean in one way or another every day – we use it for recreation, fishing, and transportation – and people’s health depends on it. Every stream & river everywhere flows into the ocean, so even if you’re in a landlocked state, you are still directly tied to the ocean. Oceans are a very large piece of the puzzle when it comes to global warning, too, and Alaska especially sees the effects of that. Here’s a neat fact for you: 180 million Americans make a total of two billion visits to oceans a year, and 75% of all recreation in this country occurs within a ½ mile of our shorelines. We should all feel comfortable using our oceans and using them responsibly. 

How can others get involved?
There are a number of ways people can be involved: start by visiting our website, www.coastalcode.org; there you can buy a t-shirt to show your support, and $5 of each sale goes directly to the fund. You can find volunteer info and links on the site, and you can donate directly to the fund. But best of all, drink our Alaskan IPA – 1% of all sales of the beer go directly to the fund, which is what is granted out to non-profits.

What is the IPA all about?
The IPA is currently available in 9 states, however only on the west coast (sorry). It’s the newest product in our product line and features awesome graphics inspired by the coast of Yakutat, AK – a well-known cold water surfing destination. We recently funded a two-week beach clean up there, and sent our entire Brew Crew to Yakutat to help clean. We cleaned a total of about seven tons of garbage from the beach. There is no natural barrier there to protect the beach from man-made elements, so the beach collects garbage that flows in from all over the world. We found some very “interesting” stuff.

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