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Hammers to swing on brewpub
Old Town NWT Brewing Co. under construction soon

by Walter Strong
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 6, 2014

If you spent any time near Miranda and Fletcher Stevens' NWT Brewing Co. display tent on Government Dock at this weekend's Ramble and Ride, the most overheard question was when will the NWT Brewing Co. be open for business?

The second question was, of course, are you selling any beer now?

NNSL photo/graphic

Miranda Stevens and Fletcher Stevens at Yellowknife's Government Dock during Ramble and Ride weekend festivities. NWT Brewing, more than a year in the works, may be up and running early in the new year. - Walter Strong/NNSL photo

On the second question, no, NWT Brewing Co. wasn't selling beer on the weekend. Instead, Fletcher and Miranda were offering a refreshing strawberry-habanero homemade soda, something which you'll be able to find at the NWT Brewing Co. brewpub when it opens early in the new year.

Yes, early in the new year.

Assuming all goes according to plan, the doors should open to Yellowknife's only craft brewpub as early as this January in the former Bartle and Gibson shop, on the corner of School Draw and Franklin avenues.

"We're doing quite the overhaul on the property," Fletcher said. "We're in the tendering process. That will close on the 12th.

"We'll award the contract that week and we hope to mobilize by the 18th."

It's taken more than a year to get the brewpub from concept to construction. Part of the process has been NWT liquor laws which are unclear over how a brewpub can operate.

In fact, even though construction is about to move ahead with most essential permitting questions out of the way, some of the fine points of how the brewery will operate still need to be sorted out.

For example, will a Yellowknifer be able to walk in off the street and purchase retail beer?

"We're in negotiations with the liquor commission right now," Fletcher said. "They're looking at creating an outlet licence so we could sell our brewery product directly to the public."

But Fletcher doesn't expect anything to derail the overall project now. Direct to public retail sales or not, the only thing standing between construction and pulling that first pint of craft brew is the time it takes to get the renovations done, install the brewery, and get the first batches of award-winning beers certified for legal sale.

Even busy contractors who might have been hard to pin down during Yellowknife's busy summer season have stepped up to the plate with enthusiasm.

Fetcher said at least four contractors were eager to get to work on the project given its unique profile.

"When the opportunity to build a brew pub comes up, its not an everyday thing," Fletcher said.

The approximately 2,800 square-foot building will be expanded to more than 3,000 square feet, with a brewery, full kitchen, and seating for about 90, pending final determination by the fire marshal's office.

On tap, it will be predominately craft beer.

"Obviously our own beer, and then some craft taps from around Canada," Fletcher said.

NWT Brewing Co., beer had strong showings in recent craft beer competitions. Its Insect Repellent IPA won two silver medals - one at the Calgary Yeast Wranglers Year End roundup earlier this year, and another the Ales Open in Regina, the largest home-brewing competition in Canada.

"It's great that it's not just me and my friends thinking the beer is tasty," Fletcher said. "It's certified judges from across Canada grading the beer high."

Fletcher reports that pubs outside the NWT are already interested in carrying NWT Brewing Co. beers on tap, even though he's not selling it yet.

The National - a popular beer pub and eatery with four Calgary locations - wants to carry three of NWT Brewing beers. Also in Calgary, the Craft Beer Market restaurant and pub plans to carry Fletcher's IPA.

All that awaits is to get NWT Brewing Co. off the ground in Yellowknife.

Part of Fletcher's job description over the past year has included visiting beer pubs across the west and into Portland, Ore., or "Beervana" as some describe the city with its high proportion per capita of brewpubs.

But its been full-time work since January when he left his job as a journeyman technician at Kingland Ford to focus on NWT Brewing.

"Throughout this process it's been pretty tough for (Miranda) to try and balance out her two jobs and launch a brewpub, so that is why this has become my full time job," Fletcher said. "It's time consuming working on recipe development, brewing beers, visiting other breweries, setting up meetings for permitting and with architects.

"I couldn't imagine working on somebody's car and having this on my mind."

It's not just a question of renovating and installing custom brewing equipment, which is sourced from Portland Kettle Works in Oregon. Once everything is up and running, batches will have to be brewed and samples sent for certification before it can be sold.

"We may open earlier with other beers on tap," Fletcher said of possible delays in that certification process.

Getting the project cash positive is an obvious motivation to move as quickly as possible.

"We want to do it all at once, but if it seems like permitting and manufacturing licences are being delayed, it would be hard to wait," Fletcher said.

Menu-wise, you can expect non-traditional pub food.

"We've been talking to some chefs around town who have shown some interest in what we're trying to do," Fletcher said.

"It's not going to be your typical pub fare," Fletcher added. "We're going to weigh heavily on the appetizer side, giving it a tapas (bar) feel."

Yellowknifers can expect flights of beer - small three or four ounce glasses of what's on tap - to help sort out which pint(s) to order.

Four brews you can expect to find are NWT Brewing's signature Bug Repellent IPA, as well as their Honey Bucket nut brown ale, Ragged Ass Pine lager, and Bent Prop pilsner.

"We tried to use names that everyone from the North could recognize," Fletcher said.

There isn't a lot of precedent in the North for brewpubs. The most recent was Old Town's 1990s Bush Pilot's Brew Pub - and Fletcher has found it a challenge at times to bring his vision to reality.

Some things a person familiar with brewpubs in the south might take for granted are an unsettled question in the North.

For example, it doesn't look like NWT Brewing's display-worth equipment can be showcased - behind plate glass - inside the pub at the moment.

Although such displays are common in brewpubs across the country, Fletcher said NWT Brewing's equipment is designated as distillery equipment bringing restrictions along with the designation.

"We're pretty much pathfinders here," Fletcher said. "We want to say, 'hey this is what's happening out there and we'd like to be able to offer it to the people of Yellowknife.'"

Despite any complications, Fletcher said his experience with the GNWT and the city of Yellowknife has been good as far as bringing the brewpub project forward.

"They have been very open door so far," Fletcher said. "MLA's have written recommendations and gotten the ball rolling on some meetings."

For now, Fletcher sees things moving along with no major barriers on the horizon, and he's glad for that.

As for what you can expect to find once the doors open, Fletcher said, "We want to keep it rustic, in keeping with the Old Town feel."

"We don't want it to feel out of place, we're keeping history in mind."

Beyond that, Fletcher said he and Miranda don't want to give away too many design secrets at this point.

"At least now that we have construction starting this month we can finally say that much," Fletcher said.

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