By Caroleine James
Wrangell Sentinel 

James Leslie brews up plans for a bespoke beer flavor in Wrangell


October 11, 2023 | View PDF

Wrangell may soon be home to its own unique variety of beer.

James Leslie of Alaska Waters has plans to open the town’s first brewery in a century, and though he still has plenty of permitting hurdles left to clear, the borough assembly had no objection to his state brewery license at its Sept. 26 meeting. He hopes to start brewing in winter of next year at the very earliest.

Opening a brewery “has always been bouncing around in my head,” said Leslie. “I’ve messed around with brewing a little bit. It would be cool if there was a brewery here in Wrangell.”

The long-term plan includes patio seating outside of 56° North, where the driftwood moose sculpture is currently located, a brewery in the storage space at the back of the building and, eventually, a canning facility. The business could hold a beer garden during the Fourth of July and distribute its product to local restaurants and bars.

“I think it would be a good thing for Wrangell to have its own flavor,” Leslie said.

He’s a longtime casual fan of the art of beer-making — his mother dabbled in brewing when he was younger and whenever he travels to a new town, he likes to check out its local beverage offerings.

After working through the substantial amounts of paperwork required to serve alcohol on Alaska Waters jet boat tours, he decided he might as well “go for the stars and see how far we can get this” by applying for a brewery license as well.

Making beer in-house would allow him to provide wintertime work for his seasonal tour employees and serve his own brews to tourists on jet boats.

The name of the establishment is still to be determined, but Leslie is tentatively considering “The Sand Bar,” which evokes the Stikine River Delta.

The lengthy permitting process isn’t the only thing delaying the business’s potential start date. Perfecting the product will also take time. “I’m capable of making beer,” Leslie said, “but I need to learn how to make good beer.”

Given enough practice and enough taste testers willing to provide candid criticism, he’s confident that he’ll be able to produce a beverage that will do the community proud. “Wrangell is a great place to start a brewery because people will give me honest feedback,” he said. In a small town that values a good brew, it will be impossible not to find out if his work is below par.

After his state permits clear, Leslie’s will start modifying the room at the back of 56° North to hold the facility and start moving in brewing equipment. The renovations that will be required are “all totally doable, it’s just not going to happen overnight,” he said. “As soon as I get the OK from the state – and I just got the okay from the city — then I’ll start putting some money into the actual infrastructure.”


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