Marcy and Geoff Larson, co-founders of the Alaskan Brewing Company, speak in January of this year about their company's 29 year history of making craft beers in Juneau.

Marcy and Geoff Larson, co-founders of the Alaskan Brewing Company, speak in January of this year about their company's 29 year history of making craft beers in Juneau.

Alaskan Brewing names new CEO, renews vow to stay independent, local

Alaskan Brewing Co. has a new CEO.

In a visit to the Empire on Wednesday afternoon, company founders Geoff and Marcy Larson announced that the company’s longtime chief operations officer, Linda Thomas, will become the new day-to-day head of the company.

Geoff Larson, who has served as CEO since the company’s founding in 1986, will remain the company’s president and chairman of its board of directors.

“This is a growth change. It’s a change that’s not really profound,” Geoff said. “We’re part of our community and plan to be there still.”

[Amid craft beer shuffle, Alaskan Brewing vows to stay put.]

The Larsons said the change in leadership will allow them more time to travel, effectively evangelizing for craft brewing and Alaskan’s model of “beer-powered-beer,” which emphasizes environmentally conscientious brewing practices.

The pair recently returned from Philadelphia, where they accompanied other members of Alaskan’s staff to the national Craft Brewers Conference. Geoff Larson lectured attendees on “innovation in sustainability” last week. Both Larsons hold leadership roles in state and national brewing organizations.

Thomas is no newcomer to Alaskan Brewing, where she’s been on staff for the past 22 years, mostly as COO.

Thomas first came to the company as an accountant from Deloitte and Touche. On her first day, she and Marcy Larson spent an all-nighter working the company’s books.

“I was trying to do bookkeeping on top of dropping boxes down the packaging line, so we had a few things to catch up with,” Marcy recalled.

“Under our leadership, it’s been a bit more chaotic than it might have been,” Marcy said, implying that things will stabilize under Thomas’ guidance.

She said the company’s playful, fun attitude — something emphasized in marketing materials — will remain.

“We have huge opportunities that we should be capitalizing on,” Thomas said. “My focus is on driving the company to make sure it’s financially stable.”

[Brewprint for progress: Alaskan Brewing Co. unveils warehouse, tasting room, giftshop.]

The Larsons said they didn’t want to make a “big deal” out of the announcement, but with significant changes occurring in craft brewing nationally, they wanted the company’s customers and Juneau neighbors to know about it.

“It’s like shifting sands all the time,” Geoff said of the industry changes.

Alaskan, with about 112 full-time employees in Juneau, is the largest manufacturer in the capital city, excluding seafood processing. It produces 160,000 barrels of beer per year and is the No. 22 craft brewer in the country. There are more than 4,200 craft breweries in the United States, according to figures provided by the Brewers Association.

Craft beer — which comes from breweries that produce less than 6 million barrels per year — is distinguished from bulk beer like Budweiser or Coors.

Those two beers are produced by titanic multinational corporations. Budweiser, for example, is owned by Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev. Craft breweries tend to be owned by independent, local companies, and craft breweries’ share of the national beer market is growing. According to Brewers Association figures, it reached 11 percent last year.

That has the big breweries going on a shopping spree — as national beers’ share declines, they’ve begun buying smaller breweries.

In five days in late December, InBev bought three prominent craft breweries, adding them to four others it acquired earlier in 2015. InBev also owns a 32 percent share of Craft Brewers Alliance Inc., a company that owns the Kona (Hawaii), Goose Island (Chicago), Widmer (Portland) and Redhook (Washington) breweries.

“The marketplace is changing,” Geoff said. “We’re having to compete against nationals and internationals in the Lower 48.”

The Larsons and Thomas said they remain firm in their intent to keep Alaskan local and independent.

“Marcy and Geoff are the majority shareholders, and they care,” Thomas said. “It’s just kind of part of our being, and the independence is important. That’s part of being in Alaska.”

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com

Related stories:

Alaskan launches new year-round beer

Alaskan, other breweries speak against tax increase

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