Story last updated at 2:56 p.m. Thursday, May 16, 2002

Champagne Palace taps into beer brewing
By Marcus K. Garner
Morris News Service-Alaska

photo: business
  Photo by Hal Spence, Peninsula Clarion
Lasse Halmes, does some welding on fermenting tanks in the basement of Alice's Champagne Palace.  
HOMER -- As beer grows from being simply the elixir of the common man to an art form to be traded in, Homer is establishing itself as a place where connoisseurs of barley and grain ferments can look for a taste unique to the Kenai Peninsula. With one brewery in existence, and another on the way, the Kachemak Bay area could easily become the beer capital of the peninsula.

Dave and Trudy Ritchie, owners of Alice's Champagne Palace, are in the process of adding a brewing component to their popular tavern.

"We thought a brew pub would be a fun thing to have in Homer," said Dave Ritchie. "Most of our beer is draft beer, which is expensive. So we're going to make it ourselves."

With the opening of Fat Rack Pizza in the front corner of the building last month, the addition of the brewery will make Alice's a self-contained social establishment.

"We'll be able to brew a maximum of seven barrels (31 gallons) at a time," Ritchie said. "A lot of people are really excited about it. All the brewing people in Anchorage are really helpful and have been asking about when it will open."

He said he is uncertain of when work will be completed because he and his wife are working from personal finances.

"We're able to do as we go along," Ritchie said. "It's nice because you don't have to meet deadlines for bankers. You couldn't do it with a contractor. We do it all ourselves, otherwise; it ain't happening."

Ritchie is building the brewery himself with help from Lasse Holmes, a former partner in the Homer Brewing Co. Ritchie broke ground on the project last fall, and the goal, Holmes said, was to take advantage of the building's three levels to produce an efficient brewing process.

"Gravity is what's so great about this place," he said. "You don't have to pump anything, so the beer is clean."

Holmes is referring to the process of moving grain from it's storage house to the boiler where it is boiled and malted and where the byproduct is moved to cool storage holds to ferment. He said this three-stage process will be split up on Alice's three floors to use the Earth's gravitational energy to transfer product along.

"It will start at the top with the grain house," Holmes said. "Grain will run down to the brew house for brewing, and end up in the cellar for fermenting."

Work to begin building the brewery involved laying new slabs of cement on all three levels and reinforcing the structure to support the weight of two 31-gallon boiling cauldrons filled with water and grain products.

Ritchie said he purchased a lot of his equipment second-hand from Anchorage brewer Borealis Brewing Co. owner S.J. Klein.

"He doesn't brew his own (beer) anymore," he said. Ritchie said he did not expect to find himself competing against Homer Brewing Co., however, despite the close proximity and similar products.

"They're our friends and our neighbors," he said. "We don't look at them as competition."

According to Alice's Alaska liquor license, the Ritchies can sell retail beer, which means they can distribute their product or sell in their establishment. Homer Brewing can only distribute.

Homer Brewing Co. co-owner Karen Berger said she didn't expect to go head to head with Alice's.

"As long as the Ritchies own the business, I don't think they're looking to put us out of business," she said. "There are a lot of different palates to go around."

Holmes said Alice's expects to have several of its first brews ready by the summer.

"We're heading to (making) just the best beer," he said. "This summer, we'll have four main brews. It's gotta be good, or we won't sell it."

Berger and Ritchie both said they see a bigger picture. Berger said the opportunity for learning about beer is great for a community like Homer.

"It's a beautiful thing," she said. "You're heightening the level of appreciation of beer and the education."

Ritchie said he wants to make Homer an oasis for home-grown beer. "Our aim, from a business standpoint," he said, "is to (import) no more draft beer from outside Homer."

<> Marcus K. Garner is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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