Note: In accordance with measures implemented to curb the spread of Covid-19, Skagway Brewing is currently open for curbside pickup or delivery on Friday and Saturday evenings only. Follow the latest service updates on the company's Facebook page.
Since opening a new downtown Skagway location in February 2019, Skagway Brewing Co. has sharpened its focus on fresh, farm-to-table fare.
In fact, the brewpub's farm is a 600-foot aeroponic garden located just one floor above its dining room.
"We recognized four or five years ago that getting fresh salad greens and herbs was impossible," said Skagway Brewing owner Mike Healy. "The best-case scenario was that items were harvested on a Monday, brought to the barge in Seattle on a Tuesday, and we'd get them the following week.
"After struggling through this, and seeing the amount of waste from those products, my head chef and I put our heads together," Healy said. "We decided that if we couldn't get the product we needed, we should grow it ourselves."
Healy took over Skagway Brewing in 2007, and set out to revitalize the Klondike Gold Rush-era brand that dates back to 1897. He initially focused on beer, but the brewpub's from-scratch appetizers, sandwiches and seafood dishes also proved more popular than he expected.
When it was time to expand operations, Healy drew on his construction and farming background to outline a facility with a bigger brewing system, separate bar and dining areas, a gift shop, and an outdoor patio with a retractable roof.
Healy also prioritized sustainability.
Builders integrated reclaimed wooden planks and beams into the three-floor structure. A biodiesel processor now turns more than 5,000 gallons of used cooking oil a year into fuel. That biodiesel powers a boiler linked to the building's in-floor heating system, the domestic hot water system and the steam used in the brewing process.
The brewpub's aeroponic garden supplies 100% of the salad greens and 80% of the herbs used in the restaurant. Photo Credit: Rebecca Hylton for Skagway Brewing Co.
A custom-built carbon dioxide (CO2) recovery system pipes CO2 from the Skagway Brewing's fermenter to the aeroponic garden, where it gently boosts plant growth. The garden, which supplies 100% of the salad greens and 80% of the herbs used in the restaurant, minimizes shipping-related emissions and water use.
"In aeroponic gardening, plants' roots are suspended in air, and then we regularly mist those roots with a nutrient-rich water solution. The water that gets misted onto those roots goes down into a trough and gets reused," said Healy. "Aeroponic gardening requires a fraction of the water used in dirt farming. And because the roots are suspended in air, they're able to absorb more oxygen, and things grow much faster."
Though it's about one-sixth the size of the brewpub's kitchen, the small vertical garden supplies at least five types of lettuce at any given time, along with basil, kale, tomatoes and other ingredients. Healy hopes to grow strawberries next.
"We're only really utilizing about 40% of the garden right now, and another 60% is for experiments," Healy said. "There's not a lot of information out there about aeroponic gardening, so we're blazing our own path in some ways."
When the brewery fully reopens following its Covid-19 adjustments, Healy hopes to develop facility tours that combine beer and food samples with details of the building's environmentally friendly features.
"Our tours will be more focused on the sustainability aspect of our operation and how our building performs, as opposed to a traditional brewery tour," Healy said. "You'll get the benefit of learning about a cool building while drinking some great beer."