Mark Rendell
Mark Rendell

Growlers before the snow melts: YK’s brewpub gearing up

Rustic Old Town meets industrial vibe and "finer side of pub food" planned

With construction underway and a government decision on liquor regulation expected in the coming weeks, the NWT Brewing Company’s much-anticipated brewpub will be up and running before the snow melts, said owner Fletcher Stevens.

And yes beer lovers, it’s settled, you’ll be able to buy beer in growlers straight from the brewpub.

We’ve heard hints of a grand opening several times before, but this time things seem to be lining up. About a month ago, extensive renovations began on the old Bartle & Gibson building between Hack’s Auto Body and the Gallery of the Midnight Sun. The brown-shingle edifice is getting a two-storey addition on one side to house the brewery and a single-storey addition on the other side to accommodate the 90-seat restaurant. Fletcher expects construction will be finished by April.

More importantly, the GNWT is finally cooperating. He received a zoning permit from the City last spring, but has been waiting for the Liquor Commission and GNWT to make several regulation and taxation changes necessary for the brewery to be economically sustainable.

The Liquor Commission has agreed to tweak existing regulations, said Fletcher, so people can buy bottles of beer from the brewpub for home consumption and get their one- or two-litre growlers filled up – likely about $10 per litre.

Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger is also set to make a decision about taxes for beer manufacturers in early December, and Fletcher is hopeful it will go his way.

As it stands, NWT brewers (if there were any) pay $2.22 of tax for every litre sold. That’s compared with a mere 20 cents per litre in Alberta or 27 cents in B.C.

Fletcher says he’s managed to wrangle the GNWT way down on taxes, though he won’t say by how much until Miltenberger’s decision.

“There’s still room to improve. But I’m happy that they’re willing to work with us. And once we get going, and maybe after a year or two, we can go back and revisit these liquor laws and maybe reduce them further,” said Fletcher.

The plan and the beers

It’s Fletcher and wife Miranda Stevens’ first crack at starting a business, but between them, they have significant experience in restaurants and hospitality.

“At first I’m sure it’s going to be her and I running off our feet constantly,” he said.

Fletcher, along with one assistant brewer, will handle the brewing side of the business and Miranda will run the front of house. They’re still on the hunt for a chef to manage the kitchen, though “we’ve got people sending us resumes like crazy.”

The restaurant will have a “rustic Old Town meets industrial” vibe and the kitchen will be serving gastropub fare, said Fletcher. The menu is still being settled but we can expect something “on the finer side of pub food.”

On the beer front, there will be four staples and a cycle of seasonal brews. The lightest is a summery pilsner called Bent Prop. Then comes Ragged Pine, an American-style pale ale, “that will work well with Yellowknifers, because we’re predominantly Budweiser drinkers, and I don’t want to offend too many people’s palates.”

There’s a nut brown ale called Honey Bucket that “comes out a little dark in colour, but it doesn’t drink like a dark beer. It’s still nice and light and refreshing – what we call sessionable in the beer industry.”

And finally, there’s Bug Repellent, the company’s flagship beer, a West-Coast-Style IPA, “more citrus flavoured than traditional English style IPA, which is more malty and bitter.”

Fletcher brewed Bug Repellent specifically for Miranda’s taste and named it in honour of a mosquito-ridden camping trip they took to the East Arm during her first visit to Yellowknife. “She was pretty much mortified. I didn’t think she’d ever come back,” said Fletcher. The beer is a humourous apology note, and “it’s a very citrusy beer and citronella candles definitely help repel misquotes.”

The IPA has already scored highly in several craft beer competitions, taking silver medals at the Calgary Yeast Wranglers Year End roundup and at the Ales Open in Regina.

Looking toward the future

While the main goal is getting the brewpub up and running, Fletcher is already dreaming big. He’s settled deals with four Calgary bars. One of them, National Beer Hall, has four locations in Calgary. Another, Craft Beer Market, has locations in Edmonton and Vancouver to which NWT Brewing could potentially expand.

“It’s going to be mostly Yellowknife to start. The reason I extended things out to Calgary is I went to school there, I got family there, and I want to be able fill their bellies with our beer and get that kind of network started there,” he said.

“Once it starts building that reputation and can self-support itself down in Calgary, well that’s when we’ll think about expanding out to maybe Kam Lake or out by the Sandpits, when there’s more property available and we’ll build an actual distribution brewery.”

Plenty of work has been done on the Old Town site over the past few weeks. | photo Mark Rendell