Yukoners will soon be able to drink pints of beer at a local brewery.
Winterlong Brewing Co. is set to open the territory’s first ever tasting room.
That will allow the Whitehorse company more freedom to experiment with its beers, said co-owner Marko Marjanovic.
“We don’t have to worry about printing (bottle) labels, getting them designed,” he said. “We brew them, write on a chalkboard and serve them.”
The small craft brewery on Mount Sima Road is aging its Russian imperial stout in whiskey barrels freshly received from the Port Chilkoot Distillery in Haines, Alaska.
Marjanovic said the company releases a new beer roughly every two weeks.
Currently, Yukon Brewing and Winterlong can only give customers up to two ounces of free beer sample when visitors tour their breweries.
A real tasting room, with fresh pints straight from the kegs, has never been attempted.
Recent changes in pricing structures, announced by the Yukon Liquor Corporation in August, paved the way for tasting rooms, Marjanovic said.
He acknowledges there are still some loopholes YLC has to figure out, the main one being how to tax pints.
Unlike B.C., where the liquor tax is added to the consumer’s bill, in Yukon the bar owners pay it and adjust their prices accordingly.
But Winterlong won’t be selling kegs to anybody from its tasting room, which means that as it stands it wouldn’t pay the liquor tax.
“Obviously the Yukon government doesn’t like that,” Marjanovic said. “(The liquor corporation) said ‘strive towards opening and we’ll figure out a way.’”
Every week there are tourists who take cabs to the brewery for a fresh pint, he said, only to be severely disappointed.
“Everywhere else in Canada or the world if you go to a brewery you can drink beer, but in the Yukon you can’t,” he said.
“It’s been really frustrating.”
The change means significant renovations for Winterlong’s brewery. The former brewing area is now the tasting room, and the new brewing area has been moved a couple of metres back into a hangar-like space that could fit a small plane.
Inside the future tasting room on Tuesday, Marjanovic was still hard at work finishing the decoration.
The room will be able to accommodate 40 people and will have tabletops mounted on whiskey barrels.
Part of the room is already painted with the brewery’s signature turquoise colour, and has wooden ceiling panels.
Winterlong opened 18 months ago. So far the brewery hasn’t been able to solve a recurring, but welcome, problem: it doesn’t produce enough beer.
“Every few months we double or triple our capacity,” Marjanovic said.
When he started, it was just him and his wife Meghan brewing. Now the company has hired two brewers to help with the workload.
The demand for craft beer was simply nowhere near his original expectations.
“We thought it was just going to be a fun hobby on the weekend,” Marjanovic said.
Recently the couple brewed the Mountain Hero Saison, for Winterlong’s first anniversary.
“We brewed it thinking we would have enough from June until November,” Marjanovic said.
The batch sold out in two weeks.
“Which is really why this tasting room is going to be great, we get to experiment with beer, we get feedback immediately from people,” he said.
The Mountain Hero Saison is a Belgian wheat beer. It’s made from special yeast imported from Belgium. The beer has about 15 per cent wheat.
“It’s quite dry and refreshing,” Marjanovic said.
The type of beers offered at Winterlong change every week. On Tuesday, among the half dozen listed in the tasting room was a red IPA.
It’s an IPA with added barley malt that gives the beer its red colour and a “caramel-toffee character.”
The brewery had almost sold out of a spruce tip beer made a couple weeks earlier.
Marjanovic said Winterlong’s small size allows it to try new recipes without having to worry whether the beers will be hits.
“We’re not here to make mainstream beer, we’re here to make beer we want to drink,” he said.
“A lot of people appreciate that.”
Contact Pierre Chauvin at email@example.com