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Homemade beer lovers unite
Brewers create group to counter high prices, lack of access

Daniel Campbell
Northern News Services
Published Friday, July 5, 2013

Before Alex Power moved to Yellowknife from Ottawa a couple months ago, he traded his air conditioner for a 25-kilogram bag of malt.

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Aaliya Adam takes a sample sip of Alex Power's India Pale Ale, which is still in the fermenting stage. - Daniel Campbell/NNSL photo

He figured it might be hard to find supplies for his hobby - brewing beer at home - in Yellowknife, so he made more room in his bags for brewing gear.

Yellowknife doesn't have a dedicated home brewing store, but some brewing supplies can be purchased at the Yellowknife Co-op. Still, Power says he expects to ship in much of his brewing ingredients and equipment.

"I've gone from having the best brewing setup in Ottawa to having nothing."

But Power isn't letting the hurdles of supply get in the way of his passion.

He's gathered about a dozen or so hop-happy Yellowknifers to form a co-op of sorts, officially dubbed, "Yellowknife Beer Connoisseurs Society." The group hopes to get deals on shipping ingredients in bulk, share brewing ideas and talk about favourite brews to create an easier environment for beer lovers and brewers in Yellowknife.

Logistics in the North can make it hard to get up here and beer is no exception. From a lack of selection to sky-high prices, it's enough to make your average beer-guzzler weep.

An oft-cited woe is pricing. A six-pack of specialty craft beer can fetch more than $20 at one of Yellowknife's two liquor stores. It's no surprise Northerners are among the top spenders per capita in Canada on booze per year.

In 2012, people in the Northwest Territories spent $48,615,000 on liquor, $20,152,000 of that on beer, Statistics Canada states in a report. That's $1,172 per person, per year on alcohol. NWT is second only to its neighbour to the west. Yukoners spent $1,319 per capita on liquor last year. Ontarians, on the other hand, spent just $653 on liquor in 2012.

Further complicating matters is access to information on beer. Beer-curious, web-savvy Yellowknifers might notice only one of their two liquor stores has a website and it is challenging. The home page is mostly blank and when "Beer" is clicked a "Not Found" message pops up in the browser.

Down south, a typical beer recipe for home brewing can cost $20 to $30 and makes 20 litres of beer, or 60 standard bottles. A home brewer could be paying as little as 35 cents per bottle.

But Power says there are other incentives for brewing at home. While working in a yeast lab completing a master's degree at the University of Ottawa, he was put on to the idea of brewing by two chemical engineers who couldn't believe he wasn't using his knowledge of yeast to make beer.

Since then, Power has worked on harvesting and storing his own strains of yeast. When he brews his own beer, he's able to customize it to his tastes. He plans on brewing an 11 per cent strong ale he'll call, ironically, of course, "Northern Light."

Aalyia Adam, a Yellowknifer born and raised, said she's looking forward to Power showing her the ropes of home brewing. She hasn't brewed her own beer yet, but when she does, she wants to try something different.

"I'd like to try and make something with lavender infused in it," she said.

Beer, in its purest form, is a simple drink. Water, malt, hops and yeast tend to be the only ingredients in most beers. But Power says he has trouble getting a hold of even these basic supplies in Yellowknife.

"It costs $50 to get a bag of malt shipped up here, or one dollar per pound."

Power says an average bag of malt costs around $50 alone, so paying the cost of the malt times two for shipping seems a bit much for him. He says he hasn't been able to find any hops in town and there's only one type of yeast available in the city.

"My next step would be to start my own yeast farm here."

Power hopes by joining with the newly-dubbed Yellowknife Beer Connoisseurs Society, he'll be able to cut down on the costs of getting ingredients and supplies up North.

"By getting a bunch of people to buy in bulk, we could really save on the shipping costs," Power said.

One point well agreed upon by the society's members on Thursday was a partnership with the Edmonton Brewers Guild, making them sister societies. Power thinks partnering with the next closest beer club might get them better access to equipment.

Power is also working on getting a deal with Ontario Beer Kegs, a home brew supply warehouse based in Mitchell, Ont.. In the meantime, Power has been making do with what he has on hand, including pulling out a braided metal tube used for gas and using cut-up window screens as filters.

The 12-member society has a new website,, which should be ready in four days. They invite not only home brewers but beer lovers to their society. They plan to hold meetings at least once monthly, with special events throughout the year.

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