Alaskan Brewing Company unsure how steel, aluminum tariffs will affect manufacturing

The canning line at the Alaskan Brewing Company on March 8, 2018 (Video by David Purdy/KTOO)

The Trump administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs have a Southeast Alaska business unsure how it’ll be affected.

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The Alaskan Brewing Company employs about 100 people making beer in Juneau.

The almost fully automatic canning line is behind the towering steel tanks that brew the beer.

A pallet full of empty aluminum cans is loaded into a machine, which feeds them into the almost fully automatic assembly line.

They slide down a series of conveyor belts. Along the way they’re washed, filled, sealed and finally packed into boxes.

The brewery buys those empty cans – ready to fill – from another manufacturer.

“We’re sort of almost an end user,” Andy Kline, the brewery’s communications director, said. “Not quite the end user drinking the beer – but we’re almost an end user of that aluminum.”

Since it has a supplier, the brewery is insulated to some degree from fluctuations in the cost of materials.

“We don’t directly pay that raw material cost,” Kline said. “That’s the other thing that’s hard to predict – what the multiplier effect of a raw material cost will cost to us kind of buying an end product.”

The price of steel actually concerns Kline just as much as aluminum, he said.

The two-story vats that brew the beer and the maze of pipes connecting them are all made of stainless steel.

Expanding the brewery’s infrastructure means a lot of money goes into steel.

But Kline doesn’t seem too worried. Making beer in Alaska, he says the brewery is no stranger to unusual supply chain concerns.

“We’re in one of the most unique positions in the United States for a beer supplier,” Kline said. “Every single thing we get in – 98 percent, about, of all of our materials are brought in by barge.”

The remote location requires some flexibility and creativity.

A few years ago, for instance, the brewery started taking the spent grain leftover after the brewing process, and burning it for fuel. Before then, they had to ship it out to dispose of in the Lower 48.

Why make beer in a place with so many unusual challenges?

For the brewery, it’s practically a founding principle. Showcasing the manufacturing possibilities of Alaska is actually in their mission statement.

Kline said the brewery doesn’t foresee any specific changes – there’s no plans for price increases or big layoffs – for now.

The brewery is just keeping an eye out for any impact the tariffs might have.

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