Fairbanks, Alaska is an inland city towards the center of the arctic state. The area is a tourist destination for adventurous souls looking to experience the awe-inspiring Northern Lights; and while Fairbanks and the surrounding lands have no shortage of natural beauty, the town is also known for its outstanding hospitality, burgeoning culinary scene, and more recently, a local craft brewery.
Even the most rural cities and towns across America have been christened with unique, local craft breweries over the past two decades with particularly rapid growth occurring post-2012, according to data by American Addiction Centers. While capital city Juneau and portside metropolitan gem Anchorage had their own craft beer watering holes, Fairbanks found itself coming up dry.
That was until Bobby Wilken opened HooDoo Brewery in 2012.
Wilken himself was born and raised in Fairbanks, but his journey with small-batch brewing began during his college years in Montana. He continued on his journey at a brewing school in Chicago, followed by a European tour, hitting breweries in England, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Germany. Slowly piecing together the process for producing the perfect beverage, Wilken returned to Alaska where he joined the Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau – a regionally owned, award-winning brewery.
By 2011, Wilken and his wife Jessica were ready to make the move back to his hometown of Fairbanks and embark on their own fermentation journey. Thus, HooDoo was born. In 2012, the brewery launched. “We opened the door with no advance notice or advertising, not knowing what to expect,” Wilken recalls. Despite that, HooDoo saw fast success amongst the small city’s population, but not without overcoming challenges.
Fairbanks is the state’s third-largest city (after Anchorage and Juneau). Yet, in a state known for its remoteness, that still only puts the population at 31,000 people — less than one-half the population of Wyoming’s capital city, Cheyenne.
There are two roads to come and go, no ports for shipments (unlike the waterside cities of Anchorage and Juneau), and it is the final stop on the Alaskan Railway System. Sitting less than 200 road miles from the Arctic Circle, the state moniker of The Last Frontier may ring truest in Fairbanks.
For this reason, launching a business that demands ingredients and equipment from outside of the city is a grave task. While they do use local products where possible, some of the goods have to be shipped in from major Pacific Northwest seaports, like Seattle, requiring up to six weeks advance notice for orders. On top of the remoteness, Alaska’s extreme weather conditions posed another challenge. During the winter, long, almost entirely dark days are paired with temperatures sometimes reaching fifty degrees below zero. And, in the summer, the sun rarely takes a break.
Leveraging the available daylight, Wilken also decided to install solar panels to limit energy costs as well as large windows to let in the light and create an open feel, even during long, dark days.
HooDoo’s brews are inspired by Wilken’s time in Germany primarily, with lagers, IPAs, and Kolsch offerings. The brewery itself offers a taproom, biergarten, and of course, a brewhouse. The taproom is the most conventional, bar-style way to enjoy HooDoo. The Biergarten is an outdoor, German-inspired space to enjoy the brews, paired with local food trucks. But, the brewhouse is where the magic happens. With four, 30-barrel fermentation tanks; the space is available for free tours. At the end of the day, Wilken says his goal was simple: “I wanted to create a place where the community could gather for a few good beers.”
Since HooDoo’s opening, three additional local breweries have opened in Fairbanks.