Public Radio for the Central Kenai Peninsula
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support KDLL, make a donation today!

Econ 919 — Sterling brewery coming soon

Ways To Subscribe
Riley Board
The taps at the forthcoming Naptowne Brewing Company.

In an unmissable log cabin in Sterling, a new local business is brewing.

Naptowne Brewing Company has been in the works for over a decade, and opens later this month across the Sterling Highway from Sterling Elementary School and near Swanson River Road. Behind Naptowne is a group of lifelong Sterling residents, who started as home brewers and are opening their first physical space.

“There’s not exactly a linear scale going from a five-gallon Igloo cooler and a turkey burner to a commercial brew system,” head brewer Jake Walgenbach said, He’s one of five friends getting the brewery started, along with his wife April, his sister Bailey Jankowski and her husband Rory, and their friend, Eric Johnson.

The log cabin home of Naptowne — a historic name for Sterling — is a former gift shop but has been mostly empty for 15 years. There’s a massive carved eagle head on the outside, and three additional wooden eagle heads which jut out over the taproom inside.

Riley Board
The Naptowne Brewing Company building in Sterling.

For two years, the team behind Naptowne has been converting the space into a brewery. Renovations included removing a second staircase, putting in a bar and adding a second bathroom.

“I think any time you take a log cabin and try to redesign it, it’s a struggle, let alone to put a brewery in it,” April Walgenbach said.

Jake, the head brewer, said Naptowne’s repertoire is mostly ale-focused, although they’re planning to expand into lagers. Many of the beers they’re now serving were converted from home-brew recipes Jake has been making for years.

Some of his favorites include a blonde IPA, a blueberry honey wheat, and a white stout called Bunny Boots that has coffee, cacao nibs and house-made vanilla paste.

And even though they aren’t open yet, Naptowne’s beer has already made a splash. At Soldotna’s Frozen RiverFest last month, they nabbed the people’s choice award for best brewers.

“That was our first public appearance, event, whatsoever,” Jake said. “That was a lot of fun, we learned a lot from Frozen RiverFest, and certainly didn’t go in expecting to win the people’s choice award.”

April said they weren’t even sure how much beer to bring. Bailey said they were also a little overeager.

“We showed up like three hours before anybody else,” she said.

When Naptowne opens later this month, they won’t serve food, but do plan to bring in food trucks to offer eating options. In the summer they’ll convert the cabin’s wrap-around porch and yard into a beer garden.

The brewery is in the basement of the cabin, where Jake and Bailey batch their different offerings. In the long term, Jake is hoping to offer tours of the brewery and brewing classes or competitions.

Riley Board
The basement brewery at Naptowne.

“Turning a passion into working for yourself, achieving what we have already with this business, is probably the most rewarding feeling I’ve ever felt,” he said.

Naptowne is Sterling’s first and only brewery — and because of new legislation that will limit the number of taprooms to one per 9,000 people, it will stay that way. Leading up to the opening, Jake said the most difficult part has been the permitting and licensing process, which included getting signatures from half the permanent residents within a one-mile radius of the brewery.

“For a while it just seemed like it was an insurmountable task,” he said. “And being on the other end of it, close to the finish line, it’s hard to relive what we went through to get to this point. It’s a pretty amazing feeling.”

For now, Jake will head up the brewing, with hopes to leave his oil industry job in the future, and Bailey will assist with brewing. April, an optometrist, will still work full time and spend her off-time working the taproom.

They’re planning a grand opening on Friday, March 17, with specifics for that event still in the works.

Riley Board is a Report For America reporter covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL.
Latest Episodes