Two breweries vie for liquor license

City keeps neutral in contest to establish town’s 1st brewery

No Road Brewing head brewer Micah Renfeldt, center, testifies before City Councilman David Glasen, left, and Mayor Clay Koplin, right, listen. (Dec. 1, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/for The Cordova Times

At its Wednesday, Dec. 1 meeting, Cordova City Council voted not to protest the liquor license applications of two breweries hoping to open their doors in Cordova. Because Alaska’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office may grant only one brewery liquor license to a community the size of Cordova, at least one of the applications will presumably be denied following the office’s public hearings in January.

Though the decision to grant or deny a particular license application rests with the state, AMCO staff told the city that they would consider any recommendations provided by the Council, City Clerk Susan Bourgeois said. Protests of license applications are typically lodged because of specific safety-related, financial or zoning issues, and not simply because Council members disapprove of an applicant. Under Alaska law, the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is not obliged to deny a protested application if the board judges the protest to be “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”

Councilman David Glasen said he was “excited to try some beer,” but was less enthused by the prospect of choosing one brewery over another. Glasen suggested he would support the business that would make the most money for the city.

“It’s terrible to have to pick between two breweries, oy!” Glasen remarked.

No Road Brewing, one of the applicants, is owned by Christiana Fincher and by Curtis Fincher, who is the city’s public relations manager. Witches Brew, the other applicant, is owned by Brooke Stewart, who also owns the food truck Witch Kitchen.

No Road Brewing is obtaining a $230,000 loan from First National Bank of Alaska to fund the purchase of a used commercial brewing system, fermenting vessels, a refrigeration system, 80 kegs and other equipment, Curtis Fincher said. Along with a copy of its license application to AMCO, the owners of No Road Brewing submitted 66 letters of recommendation to the Council.

“Cordova’s always split on a lot of matters, so it’s interesting to see the type of support that’s here tonight, and, I’m sure, the additional support that will continue to come in,” said Jeremiah Beckett, one of several community members who urged Council to support No Road Brewing. “I think, after talking with both of them, and just seeing what they’ve done around town, that it’s real easy to see who has a more solid plan, the right financial support, community involvement and outreach … I think everyone knows that No Road is the only road in Cordova.”

No Road Brewing and mariculture company Noble Ocean Farms have discussed the possibility of creating a kelp beer, Noble Ocean Farms President Skye Steritz told Council.

Should No Road Brewing be licensed to open, owners project it would sell about 190 barrels’ worth of beer per year, with 150 barrels sold via the brewery’s taproom and 40 sold to local bars and restaurants, yielding about $40,000-$45,000 of sales tax revenue to the city. Five percent of No Road Brewing’s net income would be donated to the Cordova Community Foundation, Curtis Fincher said.

“The options you have before you tonight are, on the one hand, a license application with literally no other public information behind it, and, on the other, a cogent, organized, civic-minded business that’s ready to roll from day one,” Curtis Fincher told Council. However, he also commended Stewart for completing the laborious process of lodging an application.

The Witch Kitchen food truck. (Dec. 1, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/for The Cordova Times

Stewart told the Council that she had secured financing for Witches Brew, and that she had met in Juneau with the Pink Boots Society, a nonprofit to support woman working in brewing. Stewart said she had been unaware of the option to submit letters of support to the Council’s meeting packet, but that she did have letters of support from community members. If licensed, Witches Brew would be prepared to open by spring or summer 2022, she said.

“I’ve put my heart and soul into providing food for everybody in town who wants it,” Stewart said. “I think that I just deserve a chance and a shot to provide good beer for the businesses … I really believe in what I’m doing, and I enjoy what I’m doing.”

Additionally, Stewart contrasted Witches Brew’s chosen facility on Breakwater Avenue to No Road Brewing’s proposal to lease a piling-mounted building on Cordova Harbor currently leased by Prince William Sound Science Center. This proposal drew a critical letter to the Council from community member James Burton, who wrote that, while a brewery would be a fun addition to the town, more discussion was necessary before leasing the building to a new tenant.

“I have a space for it,” Stewart said. “There’s not any conflicting opinions about the space that’s being proposed, like the science center.”

Fincher said that the issue of No Road Brewing’s proposal to lease the building was irrelevant to the discussion of the breweries’ license applications, and that No Road Brewing already had a suitable space under lease.

Councilman Tom Bailer said he found Witches Brew’s business plan inadequate and that he did not wish to support the brewery’s application. However, other Council members were wary of officially preferencing one business over another.

“I feel, as a governing body of our community, whose unified goal has been to develop local businesses and grow economic diversity, that it would be bad karma to pick one or the other,” Vice Mayor Cathy Sherman said. However, Sherman pointed out that AMCO would accept public comment ahead of its January hearing.

Councilwoman Melina Meyer said she wanted to discuss approaching AMCO about the possibility of issuing more than one brewery liquor license for Cordova. Meyer said she would probably write a letter in support of both businesses, and that she did not want a monopoly to be established.

Curtis Fincher said the owners of No Road Brewing were grateful for the people who spoke on their behalf at the meeting and said that the Council’s discussion went as expected.

“We respect their hands-off stance as public officials at this stage and hope to have at least won their support as individuals,” Curtis Fincher wrote in an email. “That said, we hope they understand that in not weighing in as a governing body they are leaving a great deal up to chance — ABC will literally pick licenses out of a hat in some instances.”

Following the Council’s votes to waive protest of both licenses, Stewart said she appreciated the Council’s neutral stance.

“I just want a fair shot at making microbrewery beer for this community,” Stewart said.