Above: Glenn Brady stands in front of the Duckering Building on the Troth Yeddha’ campus. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
During his final semester in college in 1992, Glenn Brady ’93 was a poor, thirsty University of Alaska Fairbanks student on an exchange program in Sweden. He was craving a few beers but couldn’t convince himself to splurge on the country’s heavily taxed alcoholic beverages.
So the lifelong Alaskan did what you might expect from a creative young engineering student. He gathered a collection of bottles and equipment and set up a home-brewing operation in the bathroom of his dorm. Soon enough, he had his own supply of mediocre low-budget suds.
“This was a matter of economics — it started as cost savings and efficiency,” Brady ’93 said. “In retrospect it wasn’t that good, but it achieved the desired effect.”
That modest experiment turned out to be a surprisingly pivotal moment. Nearly three decades later, as a full-time engineer and the co-owner of Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Co., Brady can credit that batch of bathroom beer for helping launch a diverse and fascinating career.
Unfortunately, that story added a few more layers in 2020.
As both a business owner and a leading voice for industry groups at the state and national levels, Brady has had an uncommon perspective on the enormous challenges that restaurants and bars have faced during a pandemic.
The Silver Gulch brewery in Fox, about 10 miles north of Fairbanks, gradually reopened in May after a long closure. The next step, Brady said, is to figure out how to reboot in a post-pandemic world.
“Even if things were to magically reset tomorrow, the damage is still done,” he said. “Even when we go back to normal, things are going to be different.”
A family tradition: Staying busy
Brady jokingly gives both the credit and blame to his late grandmother for his habit of following multiple career paths at the same time. Darlene Brown arrived in Alaska before statehood and built up a thriving earthmoving business, Cadwallader Trucking, during the post-pipeline era. She also launched a successful restaurant between major construction projects, operating the Sunset Strip off the Old Richardson Highway.
Brady credits much of his business acumen and mechanical aptitude to his grandparents and their “old school” values of hard work and innovative problem-solving. Some of Brady’s earliest memories include working with his grandmother in her restaurants in elementary school. His parents, Mark Brady and Donna Brady ’90, ’92, started Sun-Air Sheet Metal, where Glenn still works today.
That family business mix of hospitality and construction made an impression. Although he considered a career in the Air Force, Brady decided to remain home and study mechanical engineering at UAF after graduating from Lathrop High School.
His job as a student worker at the campus power plant became a surprising influence. It foreshadowed Brady’s engineering work in the decades that followed, which included jobs on almost every coal-fired plant in the Interior.
The UAF power plant was also where Brady bonded with Charles “Chilkoot” Ward ’86, a fellow homebrewer who managed the facility. During a particularly loose tasting session a few years later, they started pondering an interesting question: Why not start a brewery in Fairbanks?
“Beer was involved,” Ward said with a chuckle. “We were basically sitting there in my garage, making 10 gallons of beer, and it was one of those offhand comments. ‘For the amount of labor we’re putting in, we could make 600 gallons of beer.’”
Brady, it turned out, had a spot where it could happen. The Fox Roadhouse, an old tin-sided building owned by his grandmother, was still in the family. The spot was in need of major renovation, but it wasn’t hard to squint and picture it as the home of a brewery.
“I always felt like Fairbanks was lacking a venue like that,” he said. “Fairbanks needed it, and I kind of had the place. Logical isn’t the word I would use, but it was natural and obvious.”
Brady and Ward launched Silver Gulch in 1998, when microbreweries were still an oddity in Alaska. It was illegal to charge customers for on-site tastings, so they decided to offer a few beers to people who volunteered to work on the bottling line.
Photo caption: The Silver Gulch Brewing & Bottling Co. is located in Fox, Alaska, about 10 miles north of Fairbanks. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
The business end of brewing
Silver Gulch has become a much different place in the past few decades, and not just because of Brady’s business instincts. He’s a prominent state and national leader in the industry, serving as a board member with the National Restaurant Association and the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, and most recently as chair of Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.