THE SUN HAS LONG GONE DOWN, ALTHOUGH IT’S A STRETCH TO SAY THAT IT REALLY EVER COMES UP ON A JANUARY DAY THIS FAR NORTH. ON THE CORNER OF AN INDUSTRIAL STREET IN FAIRBANKS THOUGH, A 1970S PIPELINE-ERA WAREHOUSE IS LIT WARM THROUGH THE PERPETUAL DARK.
Two red, pug-snouted German fire trucks, like mascots of this place, frame the entrance to a courtyard dotted with wooden tables dusted in new snow. A soaring pergola winks with strands of lights. At the center of this scene, clustered around flames burning merrily in concrete fire pits shaped like icebergs, bundled-up figures bring pints of beer to fire-warmed lips, punctuating the 30-degree-below night with laughter.
Welcome to Hoodoo Brewing Company in the core of Alaska.
Hoodoo founder Bobby Wilken’s roots run deep here. Both sets of his grandparents moved up to Fairbanks in the early 1950s. His entire family still lives in this city surrounded by Alaska woods. When it came time to go to college, Wilken chose University of Montana in Missoula for that town’s similarity to Fairbanks, and he happened to light upon it at the dawn of the micro-brew scene. Inspired, he tried his own hand at home brewing. His first beer was an extra pale ale he named Cool. “It was a really genius name,” Wilken quips. (Now, he foregoes names altogether; his beers are simply called Hoodoo IPA, Hoodoo Kolsch, Hoodoo Stout… you get the drift).
the brewery offers a little light in the long dark
From there, Wilken knew he’d never escape brewing. After returning to Fairbanks and landing an office job with his business degree, he dreamed only of opening a brewery. Eventually, he negotiated a sabbatical from the cubicle to attend the Siebel Master Brewing Program in Chicago and Munich. “I loved the German beer culture, how it’s part of everyday life. It’s more about celebration, rather than something that has so many rules attached to it,” says Wilken. And he loved the spaces in Munich: the spotless breweries and the beautiful beer gardens that accentuated the whole experience.
Back in Alaska, Wilkens quit his office job for good in favor of a coveted brew master position at Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau—which he finally landed after calling them faithfully every two weeks for months on end in hopes of snagging a rare opening on that prestigious brew team. Five years later, Wilkens was ready to move back to Fairbanks to start the hard work of opening his own brewery.
He found an old building in the industrial district and set about renovating it into his Alaskan version of the beautiful spaces he’d absorbed in Munich. He installed a wall of windows, concrete countertops, and old electrical spools for tables in the taproom to honor the place’s industrial history, balanced with warm cherrywood trim. He hung rotating pieces from local artists and a massive rack from his latest moose. Outside, Jessica ringed the beer garden in an oasis of flowers, vegetables and hops plants.
Finally, he named his own brewery: Hoodoo Brewing Company, for the Hoodoo Mountains in Alaska that he grew up exploring on snowmobiles with his brother.
An average day in Hoodoo yields a slice of Fairbanks culture. Young 21-year-olds new to beer stand around the bar, across from an aging crew that comes in every Wednesday without fail to nurse their stouts by the windows. In the garden, children run loose under their parents’ watch, including Wilkens’s own kids, now six and ten. “One of us would go pick them up from school and bring them back to the brewery while we work, and most of their class would already be there with their families,” jokes Wilkens. It’s a community space, and that’s part of the beauty he envisioned.
Wilkens will never leave Fairbanks again. It’s not a place for everyone, he says, with its interminable winters. But the brewery offers a little light in the long dark, and it’s just as much home now as its namesake mountains and surrounding Alaska woods.