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Ciders, sours and suds on tap at Yukon Beer Festival

Mixing apricots and Jamaican-imported Scotch Bonnet peppers into a drink at home may sound like a recipe for disaster. And it probably is. But the Burnside Brewing Co.

Mixing apricots and Jamaican-imported Scotch Bonnet peppers into a drink at home may sound like a recipe for disaster.

And it probably is.

But the Burnside Brewing Co. from Portland, Oregon has successfully combined the ingredients into a marketable beer called Sweet Heat.

Their unique concoction will be one of 111 beers featured at the second annual Yukon Beer Festival this weekend.

“The spice level varies per batch and the brewers have no idea how it’s going to end up,” said Kaori Torigai, president of the Yukon Beer Festival Society.

“It’s one of those beers that might be super spicy.”

Sweet Heat isn’t a misnomer. Most Scotch Bonnets have a heat rating of 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units, whereas most jalapeno peppers have a heat rating between 2,500 and 8,000.

For this year’s event, Torigai wanted to feature a greater variety of ciders and specialty beers.

Sea Cider, a popular brewer from Vancouver Island, will have some of its products at the festival, she said.

They’ve been available at the Whitehorse liquor store from time to time but not very often.

“It’s a really popular cider, 100 times better than Growers (large Canadian cider company) and stuff like that,” she said.

“Not everyone is super into beer, they can’t drink it for whatever reasons. The beer festival is an opportunity to try things you normally wouldn’t be able to.”

Fruit beers will be available, too, such as Burnside’s blueberry mint saison.

The saison style of beer is a pale ale which is usually highly carbonated, fruity or spicy.

This one is made from local honey, Oregon blueberries and spearmint tea, according to the company’s website.

But the variety doesn’t mean beer enthusiasts won’t be able to find their favourite brews, Torigai said.

“There will be still be some good, solid IPAs, I won’t start taking them off the plate,” she said.

“It’s a good mix. I really wanted to bring in things that people like to drink but from different brands.”

Torigai has been organizing the event since March. That means connecting with various distributors down south and trying to pick a weekend for the festival when there isn’t much else going on.

October, they realized after last year’s event, isn’t a good time because it’s “chock-a-block full of stuff.”

About half a dozen brewers will be coming up to serve their own beers this weekend, an improvement over the two who made it last year - Driftwood Brewery from Victoria, B.C. and Cannery Brewing from Penticton, B.C.

And there would have likely been a lot more companies coming this year if there weren’t festivals going on elsewhere at the same time, she added.

Festival-goers purchase $1 tokens to sample beers, and the tokens are tracked to determine which are the most popular. It’s a good way for the Yukon Liquor Corporation to evaluate which beers to stock, she said.

“They haven’t quite been able to stock craft beers on a regular basis but when they do, nine times out of 10 they disappear off the shelves in a short period of time,” she said.

Torigai has enjoyed going to the Great Alaska Craft Beer and Homebrew Festival in Haines, Alaska, over the years.

Some of her friends were judges at the competition and it made her want to get involved in the Whitehorse event last year.

“Beer is good, I love it, and trying different beers is a lot more exciting than always having the same ones,” she said.

“Right now I’m really into sours. You might not be into it 100 per cent at the start, but the more you drink them and realize the complexities of flavours, it’s amazing.”

Yukon leads the country in alcohol consumption, according to Statistics Canada. The 2012-2013 sales of beer, wine and spirits amounted to $1,332 for every Yukoner. Torigai believes it’s part of the reason why the beer festival is so popular.

“The Yukon is full of highly-educated people who are well-travelled, and they have good taste,” she said.

“They come back here and they want to be able to have those beers. We have the population that’s willing to pay money for good things.”

There are a limited amount of tickets still available for all three sessions at the festival this weekend, taking place at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre.

The Friday and Saturday evening sessions start at 6 p.m. Tickets are $30 and include a tasting glass and five beer tokens.

The Saturday afternoon session begins at 1 p.m. Tickets are $25 and include a tasting glass and five beer tokens.

Tickets are available from

A portion of the money raised through sponsorship, tickets and product sales will be donated to the Yukon Literacy Coalition.

Contact Myles Dolphin at