Brewing up a new business

Shiny metallic vats travelled thousands of kilometres so that more beer can be created close to home in Whitehorse. Gear was ordered in Portland, came by boat from Seattle to Skagway then onto a flatbed truck.

Shiny metallic vats travelled thousands of kilometres so that more beer can be created close to home in Whitehorse.

Gear was ordered in Portland, came by boat from Seattle to Skagway then onto a flatbed truck to the Yukon’s newest brewery.

Marko and Meghan Marjanovic run Winterlong Brewing Co., a tiny craft brewery on Mount Sima Road. They officially open their doors to the general public today.

When their brewers, distillers and carbonators arrived earlier this year, the setup was intimidating, Marko said.

When you order equipment from so far away, it doesn’t come with someone to talk you through it.

“We ask the company for instruction manuals, they say ‘sorry.’ So we spent the first few weeks figuring out everything,” Marko said.

“We didn’t know what any of these valves were for, we didn’t know anything. We had to just sit here and play around.”

It didn’t take too long to figure out. The pair aren’t rookies when it comes to brewing – they’ve been using their own home brew set for about nine years now.

“It’s a hobby and a craft which is really fun, and it produces a product that everybody loves – beer,” he said.

“One of the other reasons we started home brewing is because there weren’t a lot of different styles available back in that time, and so we could brew any beer we wanted too.”

The larger set-up is mammoth by comparison to the home one. It can make a total of 350 litres of beer at a time.

“It’s small for brewery standards, but it’s big for us,” Marko said.

Making beer is one part chemistry and one part finesse. Barley, hops, water and yeast is all that gets used here. It’s the various different combinations and different types of barley that give you different flavours.

As of Monday afternoon, Marko had just finished kegging an IPA and was busy sanitizing the cooling and carbonating tank before moving a stout in.

Most beers will spend two weeks aging and fermenting before they are ready to go.

Even though they’ve moved on to bigger equipment, the home-brew set still gets used from time to time.

“We still have that downstairs. We still home brew downstairs while we’re doing this so we can figure out new recipes,” he said.

So far things are going well.

The company was at this year’s Haines beer festival to show off its wares. With a German wheat beer and pale ale on tap, the line-ups didn’t dry up all weekend.

“It was beautiful weather, people were thirsty,” he said.

In 2013, residents of Yukon – and those visiting – drank enough beer, wine, and spirits to fill the main pool at the Canada Games Centre two and a half times. More than two million litres of booze, according to Statistics Canada.

The territory has led the country when it comes to the amount spent on alcohol per capita every year since the data started being collected in 1950.

But it’s more than Yukoners’ love of the suds that Marko hopes will keep his business afloat. It’s our love of buying local that he calls the “winning factor.”

“They just like buying local things. So even if we started getting a lot of beer in the liquor store, which we have, they’ll still come here because they like the sense of buying local, because we’re all stuck up in the Yukon together.”

The city’s small size means it’s easier to become your own salesperson, too.

“I know a lot of the bar owners downtown. I know everyone in the neighbourhood and people downtown. With word of mouth it’s easier to get people to come here and buy stuff,” he said.

“In larger cities I wouldn’t know the bar owners. I couldn’t go downtown and say “Hey, you want a keg? We’re a new brewery.’ Up here it’s actually pretty easy.”

Right now only one bar in town offers the stuff. James Maltby, co-owner of the downtown bar Woodcutter’s Blanket, got the first kegs of the High Noon Hef – a German wheat beer – and the Pingo Pale Ale.

“The hefeweizen we didn’t finish that weekend, we finished it the following weekend. The Pingo Pale Ale only lasted three days,” he said.

Customers were really interested to try a new local brewery, he said. “We had people come in just to try it.”

Maltby said he hopes only to carry Winterlong beer. He plans to get the new IPA for this weekend.

“After that we’ll see just how much they can produce, because they have no idea what they’re going to be selling out of the brewery. I’ll hang tight. They’ll ramp it up.”

Liquor taxes and processing fees can make it difficult for a brewery of their size to make much of a profit, especially on kegs, where they essentially break even, Marko said.

The mark-up from the Yukon Liquor Corporation is about 23 per cent for growlers on top of the 12 per cent liquor tax, he said. For kegs, it’s about 43 per cent. The federal government also takes a tax.

“We brew the beer, we sell it to the Yukon liquor corporation, we buy it back and then we sell it to the end user.”

All that happens even though the brewing and the selling is happening in the same spot. The corporation doesn’t actually touch the liquor in growlers. The transaction is all done on paper.

For kegs things get a little more complicated.

Kegs have to be brought from the brewery to the liquor corp. for all the paperwork to be filled out before they can be passed off to bar owners.

“If they could abolish that mark-up, still tax us but abolish that mark-up, beer would be cheaper for the end user and we could make a little more profit,” Marko said.

Liquor corp. spokesperson Doug Caldwell said smaller companies get a lower mark-up compared to the larger ones based on how much they produce. The corporation also promotes local products.

More than 60 per cent of YLC’s contribution to government revenues comes from the mark-up. YLC is mandated to produce a profit to help fund Yukon’s public services.

“I think we all have to appreciate that these new breweries and distillers, they’re emerging businesses in the territory and it’s going to take a bit of time for them to catch on,” Caldwell said.

“Mr. (Bob) Baxter’s brewery (Yukon Brewing) is doing very, very well, I mean, he’s been around for what, a decade now? and I think he’s really well established. That comes with time and people appreciating the product. Pricing is a small part.”

Plans for the future of Winterlong include more equipment and possibly expanding into the space next door so they can start canning their own beer.

The support they’ve gotten so far has been great, Marko said.

“It’s every home brewer’s dream.”

Winterlong Brewing Co. is open Fridays 3-6 p.m. and Saturdays 12-6 p.m.

It’s located at 83 Mount Sima Road.

Contact Ashley Joannou at