Hockey-themed brewery opens in Eagle River
Editor's Note: Harry J. McDonald never was the manager of the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center. McDonald lobbied heavily for the construction of the rink and coached there. The rink was originally named the Fire Lake Recreation Center. The rink was renamed in 1994 after his death.
When Odd Man Rush Brewing opens this weekend, four of the company’s homemade brews – and possibly a fifth – will be on tap for patrons to try.
The brewery is a venture by three local hockey aficionados and former players – Ross Johnson (Rossco), Reid McDonald (Reido) and Brian Swanson (Swanny).
Inside, the bar is made in part from the old handrail that circled the ice at the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center in Eagle River. The old scoreboard from “The Mac,” as locals refer to the ice rink, hangs on one of the walls.
“We bought that scoreboard,” McDonald said. “We had to have it. All three of us grew up playing hockey there. We all put points on that scoreboard. Heck, we all probably put penalty points up there too.”
A Zamboni sign hangs on the wall opposite the scoreboard. Harry McDonald’s former college hockey jersey, from his days as a Gopher at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, hangs on one of the upstairs walls in a glass casing.
“Had to have Dad’s old jersey,” McDonald said.
Much of the interior is constructed from local materials.
“We wanted to use repurposed materials as much as possible,” Johnson said.
The bottom half of the brewery’s walls in the tasting area are covered in corrugated metal. The rusty sections are cleaned up enough so it won’t shed, but the rust remains a noticeable clue to the metal’s history – it originally came from the Wallace Ranch at the base of Mount Baldy.
McDonald said he met with Till Wallace – a pioneering homesteader – just prior to his death last spring to request donation of the metal. He also asked Wallace for wood from a pile of timbers that McDonald had watched survive the weathering of rain, snow and wind over the course of nearly two decades.
“I had hiked by that pile of timbers for at least 15 years,” McDonald said, “and I always thought that the way the wood had naturally eroded looked like mountain peaks. The knots in the wood around which the erosion occurred look like that. All made by Mother Nature.”
The top half of the walls are covered in pallet board collected from various local businesses. The bar backsplash is covered in Alaska motor vehicle license plates. A local neighbor brought by a license plate collage in the shape of the state with the letters OMR as the center focus.
The trio put out a Facebook call for cassette tapes to be glued to the walls bordering the bathrooms. They received hundreds.
When asked if accurate reading of the artist’s names and recordings might serve as an unofficial in-house sobriety test, McDonald laughed and said no. The wall’s contents ought to be a fun walk down memory lane for much of the brewery’s likely clientele – folks in their 40s and 50s who grew up with the 80s music that’s posted there, such as AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Duran Duran, Journey, Metallica, U2 and Van Halen to name a few.
The brewery’s upstairs seating area features a major local throwback piece of décor – the sign from Regal Eagle Brewing in the now defunct North Slope Restaurant.
“It was the state’s first micro-brewery,” McDonald said. “Again, we had to have it. It was a big part of the community for a long time.”
The trio welcomes more local décor. During The Star’s visit to the brewery last week, Carrig Hindman, an Eagle River chiropractor, brought in a Northland hockey stick signed by numerous stars of the game from the 1960s through the 1980s.
Of course, the main draw is the brew.
Odd Man Rush’s first four offerings cater to a diverse palette. The brews range from beers with a minimal hoppy taste, to stout brews that linger on your taste buds.
The Wes Goldie is a blonde ale named for the Alaska Aces right-winger. It has 16 IBUs – a beer geek term for International Bitterness Units – and has a light flavor.
The Willie O’Ree, an oatmeal stout with 30 IBUs, is named for the first African American player in the National Hockey League.
Coach Mac’s Kilt is a Scottish ale with 33 IBUs – named for McDonald’s father. It’s a smooth, creamy dark brew with plenty of vanilla notes in it.
The Enforcer is an India Pale Ale with 67 IBUs.
If Eagle River beer drinkers keep with national trends, McDonald expects it to be the brewery’s leading pour.
“Like it or not, right now, a brewery is judged by its IPA,” he said. “It just is the most popular style now.”
The trio decided to use the hockey term, “enforcer,” in naming this its most stout concoction for a couple of reasons.
Noting that every hockey team needs an “enforcer,” the guy that responds to dirty play by the opposing team, McDonald said every beer line-up needs one as well.
“You either hate or love the enforcer in hockey,” he said. “Same thing with this beer.”
If it isn’t on tap by Friday night’s grand opening, the trio’s fifth brew – a black IPA – will be available soon, McDonald said.
The trio also has a Hefeweizen – a wheat-based style commonly associated with German blends – brewing.
That ought to be ready in a couple of weeks, McDonald said.
The three brew masters aren’t afraid to experiment with unique recipes as well. They plan to offer seasonal brew with enticing names reflective of their ingredients, such as a smoked oyster stout, a light, citrusy Gose and a whiskey barrel aged imperial IPA.
The brewery features a 10-barrel brewing system and a three 20-barrel fermenting system. This allows the trio to brew two batches of beer and then ferment both together.
It beats the heck out of the kitchen-based brewing system the trio used when their enterprise was a home-based venture offering samples to friends and families. McDonald notes their patient wives appreciate the move to a professional location.
Johnson was the first brewer of the trio. He started in college but dropped the hobby afterwards. Swanson was the next to pick it up. He and McDonald were coaching Mustang hockey together when Swanson mentioned his new project. McDonald had just built his new home and was ready to try.
“I got in to it hard core,” he said. “I have to say, the wives were not too impressed when we were in the kitchens. That is why we moved it out to the garage.”
Johnson interjected with a laugh, “That’s why I went over to Reed’s house.”
It didn’t take long for the trio’s efforts to gain a following among their friends – hockey fans or not.
With the help of a Kickstarter campaign and labor skills from friends and family members who are carpenters, electricians and plumbers by day, Odd Man Rush Brewing was launched.
For now, the trio’s goals are simple: Brew good-tasting beer.
“We want to offer homemade beer that is fresh and local,” Swanson said. “We offer a friendly atmosphere where folks can come in, chat and stay for a beer.”
Odd Man Rush Brewing holds its grand opening Friday night from 5 to 8 p.m. at 10930 Mausel Street, Unit A-1 in Eagle River in the new strip mall owned by Eklunta, Inc. across from Community Covenant Church. Find Odd Man Rush Brewing on Facebook or at its website www.oddmanrushbrewing.com. Phone number is 696-BEER.
Connect with Amy Armstrong via email at [email protected] or online at www.facebook.com/pages/Armstrong-Communications-Words-by-Amy-Marie.