Runnin’ With The Devil In Juneau – CoolBot Helps Devil’s Club Brewing Company Stockpile Brews For Cruise Season

Jake Ridle is a Juneau, Alaska native who flew the coop during his “career of schooling,” earning an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts, Bachelor’s Degree in International Business and a Master’s Degree in Global Supply Chain Management before recently returning home to roost — ahem, to brew

Jake and his friends had been homebrewing as a hobby for years, even having concocted some award winning beers along the way. When they decided to open a “neighborhood brew pub style” brewery in their hometown, there was only one other microbrewery operating nearby. “Everything classically gets to Alaska about five years late,” Jake discloses. Devil’s Club started brewing in January 2018 and opened its doors on April 20 of that same year. Devil’s Club Brewing Company is a small, four barrel brewhouse which lubricates the local community year round, but really thrives during the summer months of Juneau’s massive cruise ship season, during which time their modest population surges from around 30,000 to 1.5 million tourists between the months of May and September. “Our population literally doubles when those ships are in town each day,” tells Jake.

Jake describes the unique layout of Devil’s Club Brewing Company, “We’re located in the heart of downtown, a historic building that was most recently was a bank. When the bank sold the building, the owner split it up into different storefronts. Because it’s downtown, we’re really cramped for space. Our cold storage in the brewery is also where the taps flow from and is pretty tight.”

Jake and company quickly recognized that “the amount of beer they could produce exceeded what our capacity was for cold storage.” They decided to get an offsite facility for storage of their raw materials (grain, hops, etc.) and overflow beer, which was when they decided to start looking at a new cold box option. “That’s where CoolBot came in. Our current cold room in the brewery is a DIY cold room with a CoolBot and A/C unit, so we just took that model and got it professionally made. Now we’re able to consistently make beer and if the cold room (on-site at the brewery) is full, we can bring it to our offsite cold storage to store it. Now instead of being behind on production, we can build up our volume.

Devil’s Club Brewing Company owns two CoolBots, a DIY build in the taproom and a complete 12’x8’x8’ CoolBot turnkey walk-in cooler in their storage facility. “Because of unique laws in Alaska, we can only produce beer in the licensed area where we pour from, our brewery and taproom. So we have to make the beer at the brewery but we’re allowed to store it elsewhere, so it’s important for us to have the off site storage, maximizes facility,” Jake tells us.

The distance from Devil’s Club Brewing Company’s taproom to its storage facility is just about ten miles, but for locals, it might as well be from New York to Los Angeles. “To put in perspective,” explains Jake, “people who live in the valley don’t go downtown and visa versa.” 

Jake and company heard about the CoolBot at a craft brewers conference in Denver, CO a few years ago. “It’s a massive event,” tells Jake. “We met these guys brewing in Florida who told us about the CoolBot, so when we built out our brewery that’s how we decided to do it. Some more traditional cold boxes can be ridiculously priced, fluctuating all over the place. So we went with the cheaper options because we’re just a few poor guys trying to start a brewery and didn’t really have money on our side. Everything we did, we did as cheaply as possible utilizing a lot of our own labor. We were able to build the homemade cold room with the CoolBot in the brewery, which probably saved us like $30-40K. The first CoolBot system we had was about 100 sq ft, with the unique layout of our space it just made sense. To get a custom cold room designed would’ve been outrageously expensive. CoolBot was the best option for us within our limitations, and it allowed us to open, earn money and then have more options going forward.

For their DIY taproom build, Jake’s crew was able to find all of the materials they required at their local Home Depot in Juneau, where “essentially everything gets imported anyways,” laughs Jake. “We’ve got lots of timber, but that’s about it!” 

“Having to frame and insulate the room by making do with what we were able to get worked surprisingly well,” says Jake. There are twelve taps in the brewery, usually all featuring unique flavors at all times. The brewery’s DIY cold box is about 9’x16’, so having stackable kegs was crucial for Devil’s Club Brewery so that they could fit the maximum amount of beer in their limited space. 

“We also found it incredibly easy to install the turnkey CoolBot,” says Jake. “It was very simple to order the structure and assemble it, and we obviously needed an electrician but that cost was minimal and didn’t take too long. So from when the turnkey unit arrived until it was up and running was about two days. We built it in a few hours, the electrician came and then it was good to go. Since we’re always cramped for space, it was great to be able to customize it. We were able to shape our cold box for what made sense for our space. We have a 48 inch door, which is huge because beer is incredibly heavy and being able to get a pallet in and out was very useful, for sure. We also have the no-floor model, and not having the floor insulated doesn’t affect us much given the climate here.” 

Now both of Devil’s Club Brewing Company’s CoolBots operate harmoniously between the brewery and the storage facility. “It’s pretty fun and a lot of work,” concludes Jake.

In order to get to Juneau, you have to take a boat or fly in. There are no roads in or out. This presents obvious challenges for any small business, especially when you’re needing to order large shipments of raw product and material for brewing (or, you know, a turnkey walk-in cooler, for example!) from “down south” or the “Lower 48,” as most Alaskans refer to the rest of the country. 

“It took about three weeks for the turnkey cooler to arrive in Juneau from when I placed the order. It was pretty awesome that it didn’t take six months, honestly. Shipping is fairly streamlined, but it just takes a while. What is unique for us is that if we forget to order a specific type of grain, we can’t just go order it or pick it up somewhere. We have to be very meticulous in forecasting what ingredients we need and generally have a large surplus to pick from at all times. One, it takes forever to get here, and two, the shipping costs are enormous. We spent more money to make more money with the storage facility, which is pretty normal for a brewery. For example, you can order grain by the pallet but because shipping a pallet of grain costs about $550, it makes more sense to just order by the container load.”

And now they’ve got the space to store both a 20 foot container of grain, and the additional beer that the grain will ultimately become.

“In Juneau, our mean temperature is around 60 degrees in the summertime and winter averages probably around 30 degrees. We’re right on the ocean, which gives us more of a mild climate. However, because of the landscape, we can’t grow much here. Very little farming happens in Alaska, so all of our barley and hops get shipped in. Alaska’s water is pristine, so that’s great. It’s very soft water, and easy to manipulate depending on the style of beer. Significant amounts of berries grow wild around here, so we do lots of foraging for unique flavors,” Jake explains. “Most ingredients are sourced from the Pacific Northwest, specifically Washington and Oregon, which is well known for its favorable climate for hops. The barley mostly comes from Washington, Idaho, Canada and Montana, is delivered to Seattle and then barged up to us in Alaska, which takes about a week. It takes about two weeks for anything we order to get to Alaska.”

Jake’s colorful background also includes living in Italy for a bit, working in the culinary industry. He’s a self described “logistics guy” who loves efficiency. And because of his extensive knowledge of how to “do that and do it well,” his role with Devil’s Club Brewing Company is so much more than “Brew Boy.” Jake manages the incredibly strategic ordering and managing of ingredients from all over the Pacific Northwest, timing things seasonally and factoring in expensive shipping rates and timing to his far flung corner of the world. 

Devil’s Club Brewery Company typically holds inventory of around 1500 gallons/month, but with their new CoolBot in their storage facility arriving about a month ago, they project being able to “continually make beer, especially beer that ages well.” Plus, they’ll also be able to “sell more volume in the summer without it being chaotic,” since they’ll be able to store more at a time. “Historically, when the brewery cold box was full, we’d have to stop brewing,” says Jake. 

“We make all sorts of types of beers. Of course, the customer usually gets what they want, which is a lot of IPAs and hoppy beers. Fruit beers are really big right now. The fruity beers have a short window each year where we forage a bunch of berries and generally make a saison or a sour and let that sit for a number of months then once the berry season happens, we’ll transfer the saison style beer or sour onto those berries to let it condition and macerate for a few more months before package it. For a beer like that, turnaround is usually around nine months to a year, just for the complexity of it,” details Jake. 

Between the amount of tourism that comes into Juneau and the local support, Devil’s Club Brewing Company doesn’t really need to distribute outside of their own taps. But, being that all of the brewery owners are “fairly young and want to continuously grow,” they don’t like saying no. “So if a restaurant or bar wants some of our beer, we’ll try our best to make that happen,” says Jake.

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