Craft beer isn’t exactly an easy sell in Yellowknife. “It’s a Budweiser, blue-collar, mining town, so the majority of beers that are drunk here are Bud, Labatt’s Blue or Kokanee,” says Fletcher Stevens, co-founder of the city’s NWT Brewing Co., Canada’s northernmost craft brewery and brew pub.
“I grew up on Kokanee and so I know, it takes a lot to switch people over to craft.”
Add to this some other formidable obstacles. The Northwest Territories is saddled with Canada’s highest beer taxes, freight charges nearly double the price of grain and strict licensing laws make it impossible to establish a family-friendly brew pub. With those constraints, a lot of would-be beer entrepreneurs wouldn’t bother trying to set up shop, but Stevens, a mechanic with a borderline-obsessive home-brewing hobby, saw the benefits of such a remote location.
He and his scientist wife, Miranda, opened NWT in November 2015. The timing was perfect and the place filled up with locals curious to try the new IPA and to escape the cold, dark winter outside. It also helped that the season’s aurora borealis tourists were directed to the brewery by just about every local they encountered. “In a small community like this,” Stevens says, “People really support each other.”(The best evidence of this is that local officials were persuaded to reduce NWT’s tax burden by half, recognizing that the business wouldn’t succeed otherwise.)
“Two summers ago, when people could start to see what our new building was looking like, you’d have them driving by honking their horns or dropping in and wanting to see inside all the time,” Stevens recalls. “Some people would even pick up loads of lumber and haul it to another part of the property, just so they could say they’d helped the brew pub open. It was pretty cool.” Ever since, Kokanee sales have tumbled. NWT’s award-winning KickSled Cream Ale, on the other hand, has been a hit.
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