It was a simple Christmas present that sparked Fletcher Stevens’ interest in brewing his own beer.
Several years ago, his wife Miranda gifted him with a home-brewing kit and after sitting untouched for a while, he thought he’d give it a whirl.
Now, after reading 30 odd books on the craft of brewing, influencing amendments to a few liquor laws and purchasing property, it seems the Stevenses are well on their way to opening their very own brewing company in the heart of Yellowknife, a one of a kind business in the territory.
“It’s definitely been a long time, or it seems like it has taken forever,” Fletcher said. “At the same time, the delays give us a little bit extra time to really think things through, whether it’s designing something that could have been a problem down the road or that sort of thing. You get pulled in so many different directions it’s hard to know which way is up sometimes.”
GNWT eases restrictions
Stevens managed to sway the territorial government to change its laws to allow customers to purchase growlers from the brewpub (though not while the patrons are drinking) earlier this year, but one huge hurdle remained: a flat-rate $2.22 manufacturing tax on every litre of beer sold in the territory, which posed a serious threat to a new small business like his.
After an ongoing series of negotiations with the territorial government, that problem is a thing of the past. As of Dec. 2, the GNWT enacted a small manufacturing incentive for beer produced in the territory, lessening a financial burden for the small business.
According to Peter Maher, director of liquor operations for the NWT Liquor Commission, the incentive offers tiered discounts from the full beer markup rate based on annual production rates. Brewers who produce up to 1,500 hectolitres per year receive a discount of 50 per cent of the markup, resulting in a tax rate of $1.11 per litre sold. For now, this is Stevens’ proposed level of production.
Those who produce 1,501 to 2,500 hectolitres per year receive a discount of 36 per cent and are taxed $1.42 per litre sold. With production levels over 2,501 hectolitres per year, businesses pay the full rate of $2.22 per litre sold. The discount structure is based on discussions with other liquor jurisdictions and potential NWT manufacturers.
“It’s not as quite as high of a cap as what I wanted,” Stevens said. “They’ve said that in a few years after we’ve gathered enough data on what we’re doing and how many jobs we’re providing, to balance the numbers and then we can probably revisit it. Just right now, we don’t have anything to base it off of.”
Spring opening targeted
With the latest of the NWT Brewing Co.’s regulatory issues out of the way, the next concern for the Stevenses is ensuring construction on the restaurant and brewery, formerly Bartle & Gibson based in Old Town, are completed in time to open for trial runs in the spring.
“We’ve got our crews working on the building basically until Christmas break,” Stevens said. “They’re actually moving pretty quick, which is nice, but there’s still quite a bit of other stuff we need to do on the inside.”
Most of the kitchen and brewery equipment have been ordered, with some of the gear coming in new and some second hand from auctions, supplied with wares from foreclosed businesses – a reminder to Stevens of the risk he is taking.
He believes the stress will all be worth it in the end, and envisions his business being a doorway to new culinary experiences for many.
“By doing the restaurant at the same time, we’re hoping to take craft beer and food evolution hand in hand,” he said. “We want to show people that you can actually cook with beer, you can pair food with beer – the options are just endless. Nobody’s really been doing that up here yet so let’s introduce these people to some good quality and flavours that you can get down south.”
Eventually he hopes to flow his product that way as well, with restaurants in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver already showing their interest in his flagship product, the award-winning Bug Repellent India pale ale.
Along with that brew, Stevens plans to have plenty of Bent Prop (a “yellow fizzy light lager”), Honey Bucket nut brown, Ragged Pine pale ale and Summer’s Too Short wheat beer ready for his opening. In the new year, the husband and wife duo will turn more of their attention to the restaurant side of the operation, making it a priority to delve into the stack of resumes they’ve received from prospective employees.
“We’re working on some ideas that might entice local chefs,” he said. “It’s really hard to just pick through all the resumes we’ve got. We want to keep things kind of fluid and evolve. The menu that we open with, people can expect for it to kind of change with people’s tastes.”