Brewing up a busy holiday season

The smell of pungent hops, alcohol and fruit fills the small space where Winterlong Brewery owner Marko Marjanovic and his only employee, Matt Waugh, are preparing for a busy holiday season.

The smell of pungent hops, alcohol and fruit fills the small space where Winterlong Brewery owner Marko Marjanovic and his only employee, Matt Waugh, are preparing for a busy holiday season.

“We’re making barley wine,” Marjanovic says, sporting a baseball cap and T-shirt with his company’s vintage logo on it.

The small craft brewery, located on Mount Sima Road, opened its doors about six months ago.

Since then, it’s been a game of catch-up for the young entrepreneurs.

They had to close down for two weeks over the summer because they ran out of beer.

Their growler sales were doing so well they ordered more equipment and added two more taps, for a total of six, at the brewery.

They mulled over their expansion options: should they have longer store hours, or open a tap room where people can come and drink on site (which, they’ve since discovered, is illegal in the Yukon)?

They concluded that if they could get their beers on the shelves of the Whitehorse Liquor Store, they could satisfy the local bar and restaurant demand, as well as save people the trip to Mount Sima Road.

After a “smooth and easy” process with the Yukon Liquor Corporation, that’s what happened on Dec. 4 around lunchtime.

Six of the company’s beers – four IPAs, a pale ale and a smoked porter – are now on offer in 650-millilitre bottles.

Most breweries would only make one IPA, Marjanovic said, but they went with four to set themselves apart from the competition.

Choosing which beers to bottle wasn’t easy.

They could have gone with their best-sellers, such as the Oatmeal Stout, but Marjanovic preferred to go with their favourites instead.

“It just wasn’t the type of beer we wanted representing Winterlong,” he added.

They also looked at what the liquor store was offering and noticed the IPAs were in short supply.

Packaging was also challenging. Most small breweries don’t package themselves, he said, because of how expensive it is.

To use custom bottle caps, the minimum order was 100,000.

“That was a big thing,” he said.

They also ended up having to buy a shipping container just to store the 27,000 bottles they had to order.

Fortunately, they were able to find sources that focus on small breweries.

Once the beer hit the shelves, it didn’t take long for word of mouth to spread.

“The warehouse is completely out of our beer,” Marjanovic said.

“And they’re already out of two of our products.”

The next step for the growing company is figuring out how to keep up with demand.

Private liquor stores in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia have caught wind and asked for pallets of the beers too, he said.

“It’s been a little frustrating having to say no to people who want to get our beer,” he added.

“Our priority is to get the beers in Yukoners’ hands first.”

The only way to brew more beer is to find a bigger space, something they’ll consider in the New Year.

There is no interest in moving, so they’ll likely expand into a space on the same property.

Right now the brewery operates four large vessels, or fermenters, where the beer sits for two weeks.

Then, it’s transferred to a bright tank for a day or two, where the beer is cleared up and carbonated.

Finally, it’s put into kegs or bottled on site.

Expanding would require more fermenters, more bright tanks and more glycol chillers, which keep the beer cool, Marjanovic explained.

Future bottle releases will include a Russian imperial stout, an eight to 10 per cent beer that has to be aged for one to two months.

The limited release – they plan to bottle 300 of it – will only be available on site.

The strong, dark beer takes its name from Catherine the Great, who, during the 18th century, had a great fondness for it.

Winterlong Brewery will be open during the Christmas holidays, Monday to Thursday from noon to 5 p.m. They will be closed on Dec. 25, 26 and Jan. 1, 2.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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