Winterlong Brewing Co. is absolutely, positively, not a mass production brewery — in spite of market forces.
The owners, Marko and Meghan Marjanovic, call market research “playing around.”
They call complications “the fun part” and frustrations are “challenges.”
And, when they have finished playing around and overcoming the frustrating fun parts, yet another beer is born. Then they see people lining up out the door of their new tasting room to have growlers filled and bottles snatched up.
With the tasting room only a couple of months old, they must hear a lot of discussion around the merits of the latest beer.
“Not really,” says Marko. “It’s mostly conversations bouncing back and forth among friends.
“It is casual, welcoming, you see a mix of people from construction workers and locals and 20-somethings all mixing and sitting at each other’s tables.”
“We are new here,” says Meghan, “so people are also chatting about the tasting room.”
Indeed, the tasting room is bright and funky. Tabletops sit upon kegs and bar-height stools are comfortable. There are no televisions to show the game and no salty snacks to encourage thirst for another beer.
“We are a neighbourhood pub,” Marko says of the tasting room part of the business. “We aren’t open late and we are not promoting the idea of sitting here and drinking a lot of beer.
“You can drink a pint or two and take some home.”
“We encourage people to cab here and we like to see people leave their cars overnight when they have to,” adds Meghan. “And we are looking into arranging a downtown shuttle that can come at closing time and at certain times of the day.”
They are also looking at having live entertainment; they have already hosted crib tournaments and an oyster event with a local supplier.
“And we’ve been dabbling in foods,” says Marko. “Scotch eggs and two different meat pies with local beef and our oatmeal stout… it’s a real local experience.
“So, some people are now coming here for the food.”
This is still a brewery, but instead of finding a good recipe that satisfies a broad demographic and producing it in mind-numbing quantities, the Marjanovics like to play around and create unique beers.
To explain why, they offer the coffee in front of them as an example: “This is Kicking Horse Coffee, but we also drink Bean North, Midnight Sun and Atlin Mountain,” Marko says.
“Oh, and we just found another one, too: Fire Bean Coffee Roasters,” Meghan says.
“That’s what we do,” Marko continues. “We like to experiment and try different things.
“Improving beer is a subjective thing; the perfect beer to somebody may be too hoppy for somebody else.
“The perfect beer is the one that is perfect for the moment,” says Meghan. “My tastes change depending on the day or the time of day.”
“The stereotypical winter beer is darker and stronger.
“This winter, we will have three or four …”
Marko gets excited and jumps in: “ …yeah, really special beers. There will be a barley wine which is a dark fruit-flavoured nine per cent beer and a Russian pale stout that is really a dark and roasty stout that we put into oak barrels we got from the Port Chilkoot Distillery out of Haines Alaska that used them for whiskey.
“And we are putting a Belgian Triple in the oak barrels, too.”
“Those will be popular for sure,” says Meghan with a smile.
The frustrating part (er, challenging part) is it takes three weeks for the Marjanovics to know if a beer will turn out okay.
There are only four main ingredients for beer: malted barley, water, yeast and hops. But there are hundreds of varieties of each and the water can be mineralized in different ways.
Experimenting takes place in the 350-litre fermenters in the back so that mistakes won’t be as costly as the fermenters twice that size.
To accommodate the ever-changing menu of beers, they had custom tap handles made with little chalkboards on the handles.
When a new beer is ready, they go straight to social media on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
“They come in droves,” says Marko.
“One beer, Spruce Tips, is brewed in the summer with hand-picked spruce tips. It sells out in a day; there are lineups all day.”
Winterlong is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.; on Fridays and Saturdays it is open noon to 8 p.m.; on Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
Winterlong’s tasting room and off sales outlet is located at 83 Mt. Sima Rd. To get there head south on the Alaska Hwy, turn right onto Mt. Sima Rd, and it’s the second building on the right.