Fairbanks Beer Lover Bobby Wilken Hopes to Open Hoo Doo Brewing Company this Summer
Design plans sit next to brewing equipment at Hoo Doo Brewing Company brewery, owned by beer brewer Bobby Wilken, being constructed on Fox Avenue in Fairbanks Tuesday afternoon, May 29, 2012. Eric Engman/News-Miner.
FAIRBANKS — Like many young men, Bobby Wilken spent a lot of time during his college years interested in beer. In his case, however, it looks like those countless hours pursuing a good brew may have been well spent.
Considering his current occupation, you could justify those pints of ale and pilsner as research. Wilken, 32, plans to open the Hoo Doo Brewing Company late this summer, providing a brewery in the city of Fairbanks for the first time in 70 years.
The West Valley High School graduate said his interest in beer began during his college years at the University of Montana, when he lived conveniently close to the Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula. He remembers his first experience sampling some of their beers, which immediately sparked an obsession with homebrewing.
“It was awesome,” Wilken said with a grin. “We immediately made a batch — then we were making beer all the time. It was the best thing ever.”
Wilken and his friends began to talk dreamily about opening up a brewery of their own after graduation. But despite his enthusiasm, Wilken’s business degree led him in a different direction.
After he earned his diploma he returned to Fairbanks to work as a research analyst for the consulting firm Information Insights, with his beer experience limited to making constant batches of homebrew.
The job was great, Wilken remembers, but it couldn’t compete with his dream career. Still intrigued by the prospect of becoming a professional brewer, he took a three-month break from his job in 2005 to attend the Siebel Institute of Technology, a prestigious brewing school in Chicago. It concluded with a month-long working journey to breweries throughout Europe.
John Hannafan, a Chicago brewery consultant who attended Siebel with Wilken, said the course drove home what a daunting task it is to launch a brewery. It began a five-year quest by Wilken to gain enough experience to pull it off.
“I could tell he was restless,” Hannafan said. “Even when he was working full-time, you could tell it was a stepping stone for him.”
After the course, Wilken began applying to breweries all over the country to gain more experience, eventually settling on Juneau-based Alaskan Brewing Company as his preferred destination. When he was told there were no openings, Wilken continued to call every few weeks for the next eight months to keep them aware of his interest before finally getting a job.
Wilken recalls the disappointed response he got when he told his supervisors at Information Insights he was leaving — until he told them he had landed a job at a brewery. He said they immediately let out a loud cheer.
“I remember they were just the happiest people,” he said. “They were psyched for me.”