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The Wait Won’t Be Long for Winterlong

winterlongbrewingWould you believe me if I told you that soon Whitehorse will have one of the highest number of craft breweries per capita anywhere in North America? I wouldn’t blame you for thinking I had been drinking too much Lead Dog Ale. But it is true.

By the summer solstice the land of the midnight sun and city of 28,000 people will be home to a second brewery, Winterlong Brewing Company, to accompany longtime mainstay Yukon Brewing.  Winterlong is the brainchild of husband-wife team of Marko and Meghan Marjanovic. The Marjanovics have been a passsionate homebrewing team for the past few years. They have so gotten into the art and science of zymurgy that decided to make the jump to professional brewing.

“Opening a brewery is pretty much every homebrewers dream,” says Marko in a recent telephone interview. “The craft beer scene is exploding. But Yukon hasn’t caught up. We have a government liquor store and it doesn’t bring in any craft beer. The bars don’t bring anything either. My friends kept coming over and asking if they could buy our beer, which obviously I can’t do legally. So we decided to make jump to serve craft beer fans in Whitehorse”.

The vision came together a year ago while Marko was taking some time off to camp and hike in the Yukon mountains. “I came home, mentioned it to my wife and she agreed.” And the rest will soon be history.

Their plan is to go small – nano small. A 3-barrel brewhouse with two fermenters is currently being shipped to their 800 square foot store front in a light industrial area just outside Whitehorse. Their first steps will be to brew once a week, meaning a total annual production of 150 barrels (about 180 hl). “We will sell beer Friday night and Saturday during the day, and maybe brew on Sundays”, says Marko.

When asked why start small when the economics are much harder. Marko says starting as a nano gives them the opportunity to get their feet wet without risking everything. “We are starting small because there is less risk, and we are not sure we are going to enjoy this lifestyle,” he says. “It is something of a test. We have got to figure out if people will like our beer.” For the time being both will keep their day jobs (he is a software engineer and she is a biologist), and they will be equal partners in the brewery. “We will do everything together: brew together, fill growlers together, clean together, marketing, everything”.

The original plan was to actually open a tasting room in downtown Whitehorse but it ran into difficulties with government agencies. They also have decided to do growler fills only, as Yukon’s differential tax rates make packaging in kegs “not economically viable,” says Marko. “Taxes for kegs are almost triple as for growlers”.

The name is simple. “Winters are long in Yukon. We didn’t want to be too cliché, but wanted something Yukoners would recognize”. He says it came to him one night while sampling beer when his wife was away. “She liked it and I remembered it, so that meant it worked”.

As for the ever-important question of what kind of beer they will brew, Marko says they are intentionally going a different direction than their neighbours. While Yukon Brewing is known for its balanced, English-influenced ales, Winterlong’s anchor beer will be a “west coast pale ale, a west coast IPA and an American-style stout. We will be hop-centric”. A fourth tap will be reserved for rotational offerings, including “a German hefe, smoker porters, imperial stouts, a double IPA”. They are still debating names for their beer.

The question remains, is Whitehorse big enough for two breweries? Marko thinks so. “Yukon have been great, very supportive”. He says Yukon owner Bob Baxter is highly respected in the city. “I would ask the liquor corporation how something worked and they would say ‘just ask Bob’.”

“Yukon are in a good position, very popular. We are going to stir the waters a bit but they will barely notice us”.  Plus, he adds, “our style of beer may not appeal to many Yukon Brewing drinkers”.

The Marjanovics don’t really have any ambitious expansion plans. “If things go well we might brew more often. We might look at a canning line and maybe taking over another bay in the building but we will keep the same brewhouse”, says Marko.

And as a fortunate byproduct, the opening of Winterlong will mean Whitehorse will have 7.2 breweries per 100,000 population, easily tops in Canada.

 

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