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Investors pitch craft brewery
Partners say company would replace beer imports but not increase consumption

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Monday, June 29, 2015

Buoyed by a recent plebiscite that showed overwhelming support for beer and wine sales in the Nunavut capital, a group of investors came to Iqaluit city council expressing their intent to launch their own craft brewery.

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Cody Dean and Sheldon Nimchuk spoke at the June 23 Iqaluit city council meeting to ask for support of their project, the Nunavut Brewing Company, which hopes to brew and bottle beer in Iqaluit by 2017. - Casey Lessard/NNSL photo

The five business partners want to make and sell their own beer in Iqaluit through the Nunavut Brewing Company by 2017.

"We do have some serious investors who believe there is a market opportunity and that the benefits of that local production could be seen in the years to come," investor Sheldon Nimchuk told councillors, "if indeed the craft brewery proves to be successful and produces a good product for the constituency."

The group is encouraged by the success of Yukon Brewing, which started in 1997 and has taken 60 to 70 per cent of the territory's beer market share, he said.

"We certainly don't see it as adding anything to the existing products," he said, suggesting beer consumption would likely not increase overall, "but more importantly, the opportunity to gain market share similar to what the Yukon brewery did since its inception would mean that the reliance on the imported product would be reduced over time."

That has happened only thanks to Yukon Brewing's commitment to supporting the community, he said, and the community has returned the favour.

"Yukoners were quite proud that they have their own brewery and people drinking the craft beers produced from that brewery," he said.

"That local brewery has brought a lot to the community and is a source of pride," councillor Stephen Mansell said in agreement, adding he lived in Whitehorse briefly.

Despite being a vocal opponent of the beer and wine store, councillor Simon Nattaq showed his support for the brewery and suggested it would be a good way to stop bootlegging in the community.

Councillor Terry Dobbin, who launched the petition to call a plebiscite into opening a beer and wine store, supported the brewery as a chance to increase manufacturing and employ residents.

"Beer and Smirnoff, both are alcohol, but it's not really comparing apples with apples," he said, addressing those opposed to beer in the city. "Smirnoff is hard liquor, it's heroin. Whereas beer is like marijuana. Marijuana is getting to be legal in a lot of territories."

Deputy mayor Romeyn Stevenson, acting as mayor because Mary Wilman declared a conflict due to her husband's role as chair of the Liquor Commission, supported the business case for a manufacturing facility.

"The manufacturing sector of Iqaluit is miniscule, other than construction obviously, but of products that people are going to buy and sell, there's not very many mostly because of the cost of importing stuff to make things," he said.

Nimchuk pointed out that 95 per cent of the product is water, which can be sourced locally. He also expressed the group's intention to focus on bottles, not cans, because they are easier to recycle and reuse. The group already has a lease on land that is zoned for a manufacturing facility, and expects to invest $2 to 3 million in the project's facility and equipment to get to the production stage, Nimchuk said. The group is looking to develop value-added products, such as bottled water, to use the equipment at full capacity. The group is going through the legal channels to get the project off the ground. Initially, consumers would have to use the usual channels of going through the Liquor Commission or going to a bar to access the product. But the Liquor Act allows for both a brewery and a retail store associated with it, Nimchuk said.

"We're cognizant it might be a little more than what the community is ready for at the moment, and looking at the opportunity to strictly sell to the Commission," he said.

Investor Cody Dean said the group hopes to export its products eventually.

"To me that's the most exciting thing about the whole project," Dean said. "Taking something from here and sharing it with the world. There's no limits."

The matter is slated to be discussed again at the next council meeting, July 14.

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