The following is an interview with Marko Marjanovic of a brand new microbrewery in the Yukon called Winterlong Brewing Company. He answered a few questions for me that give some great insight into how a brand new brewery works and what he did to invest in it.
Scott (CraftBeer.ca): You just opened Winter Long Brewing Company this year in May. Explain to me how long it has been coming. Have you been sitting on brewing recipes and ideas for years? What motivated you to push forward in 2015? What’s the market like?
Marko (Winterlong): In the summer of 2014, Meghan and I noticed the growing need for more craft beer in the Yukon. At parties and around the campfire, we kept seeing people who would normally drink light lagers, now holding double IPAs and imperial stouts. We had been home brewing for 8 years, so brewing wasn’t new to us, but starting a capital intensive business was. That September, we decided to go for it, and opened our doors at Winterlong Brewing Co. 9 months later, May 2015.
Scott: I lived in a very northern community for several years and I understand the logistics of businesses operating above the 55th parallel. I imagine it is difficult to operate a business let alone a brewery that far up north. Explain some of the issues or difficulties in managing a craft brewery up there. Are the biggest issues related to the cost of shipping?
Marko: Being so far north, shipping is the biggest issue. We’re 2500km away from Vancouver, which is the closest hub of most brewing supplies to us. But there are some advantages of operating a brewery in Whitehorse. We’re only 175km from Skagway, Alaska, which is a sea port, and so we can take advantage of receiving items by boat. Of course it still takes time, so we have to make sure we’re on top of things when ordering ingredients and supplies.
Scott: Yukon Brewing Company has maintained a virtual monopoly on the craft beer market in the Yukon since 1997. Is there room for the two companies? What does Winterlong Brewing Co. offer that your competitor might not? Will you be working together to bring awareness to craft brews of the Yukon?
Marko: There is always room for more breweries in any city. Would you be satisfied if there was only one restaurant where you live? It really just depends on the size of each brewery and if they are willing to export or not. Multiple large breweries who don’t want to export would saturate the market very quickly, but at our current size, we’re more like a corner store than a supermarket. The fact that there is already a well-established microbrewery in the Yukon was a huge help to our success, as they’ve been helping raise craft beer awareness to Yukoners for years – introducing growlers early on and more recently special release bombers. In terms of our beer style, we’ve focused on more hop forward, west coast style beers, whereas, Yukon Brewing has a lot more malt forward, English style ales.
Scott: I notice on your website you have four beers available locally on tap: High Noon Hef, Pingo Pale Ale, Weekend Warrior IPA, and Sweater Weather Stout. Besides the usual characteristics of these craft beers, how would you describe each and which are you selling the most of?
Marko: We’ve been open for 3.5 months and have brewed close to 10 different beers, so the selection is often changing week to week. We have brewed some beers such as Pingo Pale Ale several times as it’s been popular with the regulars, but we are constantly trying out new styles as well. At our small scale, it is easy to try out new beers, and since we don’t bottle (yet), we aren’t restricted by having to design labels for each new beer. Our most popular beers so far were the Getting’ Tipsy Spruce Tip Ale and Reckless Abandon Double IPA, which we’ll be putting out again soon.
Scott: You proudly display your Yukon Liquor Manufacturing license. Congratulations! Job well done! What’s the next step from brewing to bottling for Winterlong Brewing Co.? How long will it be before beer geeks can get their hands on your product?
Marko: We just received two more fermenters, which will effectively double our brewing capacity. We also purchased a small bottling machine to dabble in the packaging world. However, we’re still hardly able to keep up to demand for filling growlers at our brewery, and we’re only open 12 hours per week. We will see how the winter goes, as we’re still only 3.5 months old!
Scott: I imagine I’m not alone in that many of our readers are eager to go on a trip up to the Yukon and visit Whitehorse. Besides visiting your awesome brewery and sampling some great craft beers where should we visit? Any local secrets for great cuisine? What would you recommend that we can’t find in any travel brochure?
Marko: The Yukon has some incredibly wild scenery. If you like the outdoors, a road trip or backpacking adventure is really the way to go. For the hikers, I run yukonhiking.ca, an online trail guide for the Yukon with over 60 different hiking routes across the territory. Otherwise a drive to Kluane National Park or Tombstone Territorial Park should be on your list. Of course, you’re going to want to stock up with Winterlong Brewing Co. beer before you start your adventure.
Scott: Thanks for doing this. I really enjoyed your answers. If I could just add one short question, do you have any advice for potential microbrews? How would you advise someone who is eager to start investing in their own craft brewing company?
Marko: Before we started Winterlong Brewing Co., we read over and over how whatever you think it might cost and however long you think it will take, double it. We thought we would play it smarter and that somehow those rules wouldn’t apply to us. Well, we were wrong – double it. We were also warned that if we made good beer we would outgrow a 3 BBL brewery quickly, and that we should perhaps save our money and start with a bigger system. After 2 weeks, we realized that was true.