Iqaluit brewery’s a survivor after ‘a tough 5 years’
NuBrew manager, head brewer reflect on challenges of running Canada’s northernmost brewery
Nunavut Brewing Co. is marking five years of business in Iqaluit this week. Five “tough” years.
NuBrew first opened its doors on Aug. 24, 2018, but for a while even that looked uncertain. The brewery needed city council to approve a higher volume of water deliveries than were previously allowed, in order to fill the tanks used to brew beer.
The challenges kept on coming.
The tap room was closed for at least eight months during the pandemic that started in early 2020, at one point the entire staff contracted COVID-19, and water shortages have forced the brewery to adapt.
“It’s been a tough five years,” said general manager Jason Oldham.
“This summer, I think, is hopefully the tipping point to get us towards moving to a business that might actually see some profits in the next couple of years and really start boosting the local economy.”
Being Canada’s northernmost craft brewery, NuBrew faces challenges southern breweries do not.
Deliveries of supplies and equipment are more expensive because they depend on a short sealift season. And repairs take longer due to a lack of parts and a shortage of brewery technicians.
There are also territorial liquor laws that don’t allow the brewery to sell cans for customers to take home.
NuBrew managers hoped those laws would change in a plebiscite last year, but Iqaluit voters shot that down.
“I wish that we would be able to sell product out the door, because I think a lot of tourists that come in, a lot of people want to take it south to friends. But the community has spoken,” Oldham said.
And then there’s the challenge of running a brewery in a territory where stigma remains around alcohol use.
Head brewer Sam Fleming said he understands the sense of alcohol being a problem in the community.
He said NuBrew made the decision not to sell shots and other higher-alcohol drinks, and to limit its menu to wine, cider, alcohol-free drinks and its in-house beer.
“We’re just here to make a nice product and we’re not trying to get people drunk here, we’re trying to make a really nice place to hang out,” Fleming said.
Looking ahead, Oldham said the brewery hopes to eventually export its beer to other provinces and territories. Fleming said that within five years he would like to be able to offer an expanded tap room to seat more people.
“It’s a good problem to have, but it’d be nice for this bar to be a little bigger,” he said.
“We’ve already started planning all this… It’s so much work, but there’s three full-time staff here, we can only move so fast.”