The world of suds has official definitions of what constitutes a craft beer.
That doesn’t prevent Marko Marjanovic from offering his own. “For myself, it’s a beer that’s brewed by passionate people who want to create a flavourful beer that’s been hand-crafted, that’s been selected based on the flavours that they want in their beer,” he suggests. “It’s not something that is cheap, not something brewed for the masses, but something that’s brewed from the heart, and brewed because they want it to taste good.”
In May, Marjanovic and his wife, Meghan, opened the doors to their own small craft beer operation on Mount Sima Road in Whitehorse, called Winterlong Brewing Co.
On their first day, they filled more than 100 growlers, and also became one of only two licensed breweries in a territory that boasts three commercial distilleries of hard liquor.
The Marjanovics have been together since high school and share several hobbies, but it was during their university days a decade ago that they decided to do something about the lack of flavourful options in their tipple of choice. “We were still buying American and Belgian beers, because at that time there weren’t many Canadian craft breweries, and there weren’t many craft beer bars. This was in Vancouver.”
The mass-produced product of Canada’s beer behemoths didn’t interest them. “Some of the larger brands, the beer inside is mostly tasteless, fizzy yellow water,” Marjanovic says. “The only differentiating feature between some of the bigger brands is their marketing. The beer inside is brewed to be inoffensive, not very flavourful, very watery - not very appealing to somebody who wants flavour in their drinks.”
Their best bet, it seemed, was to start making their own. “Home brewing was one way for us to have any style of beer that we wanted. And we enjoyed the local craft aspect of it, where we could make a product ourselves and enjoy the fruits of our own labour.”
Little did they know that discerning beer drinkers would soon get to benefit from a veritable explosion of micro-breweries and brew pubs all across Canada. “It started in Victoria, on the Island. There were a few brew pubs there, and a few breweries, and then slowly it made its way over to Vancouver. Since then it’s just skyrocketed.”
So, with more flavourful beer options readily available, were they tempted to abandon their kettles and stop sparging their mash at home?
Far from it. The Marjanovics remained avid home brewers even after moving to the Yukon eight years ago, and have regularly displayed their output at popular events in Alaska, such as the Haines Beer Fest and the Skagway Home Brew Festival.
Their different concoctions have regularly received a positive response - and various awards - at both festivals.
Marjanovic admits that going commercial was a big decision for the couple. “We had a lot of friends who were asking for our beer and they wanted to buy it, which is not legal, so we weren’t able to really share our beer very much,” he says. “Meghan and I wanted to bring our passion of craft beer to our friends and family and the people in the Yukon. We took some time to think about it, and then said, ‘Let’s just do it’.”
They deliberately decided to start small, to minimize their risk.
For now, their product is only available in 1.0-litre and 1.9-litre growlers, but that may change eventually. “After about two weeks of being open, we knew we were already running out of beer very quickly, so we’ve already ordered more vessels to double our size, and we’ve rented more space,” Marjanovic says. “A year from now, we hope to have either cans and bottles in liquor stores, and/or kegs at some of the bars. That’s what we’re going to be looking at, so that people in downtown Whitehorse can conveniently get our beer as well.”
As the new kids on the block, do they have any worries about Winterlong having to share the market with the well-established Yukon Brewing Company?
Not at all, according to Marjanovic. “In the brewing world, the saying is a rising tide floats all boats. As more breweries come up and expand the knowledge to the people about beer, it actually benefi ts all breweries,” he says. “Of course there’s always friendly competition there, too, but collaboration and getting the word out there really helps everyone.”
There may even be some advantages to being smaller in stature, he suggests. For one thing, with smaller batch runs, there is less at stake if an experiment doesn’t quite work.
Being new also means being able to test-drive new ideas more easily without having to engage in large-scale branding and marketing. “We’ve been brewing a new beer almost every week for the last seven weeks, but we’ve found that some people really gravitate toward a few that we’ve made,” Marjanovic says. “So we’re going to continue to have a core three or four beers that we’ll be brewing all the time, and then we’ll always be experimenting at least once with a new beer.”
As for marketing, so far it’s all been done through social media. We use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and word of mouth, and that’s all we’ve had to use right now to sell all of our beer,” he says.
But that, too, may change eventually.
For more information about hours of operation and what’s on tap to fi ll a Winterlong growler, check out http://winterlongbrewing.com/