Yukon Brewing wins top national prize

Yukon Red is beer of the year. Yukon Brewing Company's amber ale won the top honour at the Canadian Brewing Awards, held in Toronto last Friday. "It's a great pat on the back," said president Bob Baxter.

Yukon Red is beer of the year.

Yukon Brewing Company’s amber ale won the top honour at the Canadian Brewing Awards, held in Toronto last Friday.

“It’s a great pat on the back,” said president Bob Baxter.

Over 270 beers entered the competition, up from 239 last year.

And, for the first year, all 18 contest judges had passed an examination by the Beer Judge Certification Program, a US-based group of beer connoisseurs who instruct on the finer points of describing and rating beer.

This sanction was a testament to the competition’s rigour, said Baxter.

Yukon Red first won top-prize in its category, then went on to become the “winner of the winners” by beating out all other 25 gold-placed beers.

It scored 45 out of 50. “I’m told it was the only beer in the 40s,” said Baxter. “It was head-and-shoulders above the rankings of the rest of them.”

The award brought the Whitehorse brewery some positive press, with the Edmonton Journal hailing it as “small but mighty.”

The Midnight Sun Espresso Stout also won honourable mention at the awards.

Yukon Brewing received praise earlier this year when, in June, its Lead Dog Ale placed second in the UK’s Real Ale Festival.

The 13-year-old brewery has expanded seven times since its inception. It currently sells about 600,000 litres of beer annually. That’s slightly more than 1 million pints.

It may sound like a lot, but the company remains “a gnat” compared to industry heavyweights, said Baxter.

Besides enjoying strong local demand in a territory full of heavy drinkers, the brewery also exports to the Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta.

“We’re doing some looking now at Manitoba and Saskatchewan, but the farther away you get the more expensive your product is, because of freight,” he said. “At what point does the price justify the product? That’s what we’re wrestling with.”

The company hopes to break into bigger markets with a foray into distilling whiskey.

“A spirit, you add another buck or two to a $50 bottle, no big deal. You add a buck or two to a bottle of beer and it’s a much different thing,” said Baxter.

Bourbon barrels are already on the premises, and Baxter plans to start distilling this winter.

But it will be at least three years before the product will have been aged long enough to be called whiskey.

“How much longer than that, we don’t know,” said Baxter. “We’ll know when we taste it.”

The brewery also plans to sell unaged spirits, which, “if the planets align,” may be available by Christmas, said Baxter.

Yukon Brewing is also preparing a new seasonal brew in time for Halloween: pumpkin beer.

The beer won’t be bottled or canned, so in order to get it you’ll need to stop by the brewery and ask for a half-gallon growler of the batch.

It tastes like pumpkin pie, with hints of nutmeg and cloves, but without it being “cloying and sweet,” said Baxter.

“We wanted it to still be beer, but complemented by the pumpkin flavours,” he said.

“We tasted it out of the tank. It’s pretty darn good.”

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