Iqaluit brewery’s a survivor after ‘a tough 5 years’

NuBrew manager, head brewer reflect on challenges of running Canada’s northernmost brewery

Head brewer Sam Fleming, left, and general manager Jason Oldham are marking NuBrew’s fifth anniversary this week. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

By Jeff Pelletier - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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.”

Share This Story

(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by A Patron on

    I have heard and it is for the most part right that American and Canadian beer drinkers can be differentiated in the way the beer is poured, one has a head on its pour and the other pours without spilling a drop, guess which?

  2. Posted by mike on

    they do great stuff! and show that Beer can be consumed in proper manner and be safe and fun. I love NUBrew

  3. Posted by John K on

    I loved the Brewery and it’s still my favourite place when ever I visit.

    Maybe it’s due to the location but I would rarely ever see people oblivious drunk or overly rowdy which makes it a lot more comfortable than The Chart Room or Storehouse.

    I also really miss being allowed to order my own take out right to the bar. I have yet to find a similar situation in the South.

  4. Posted by Maq Pat on

    Rounds the story out to mention the brewery has received more that half a million dollars in public grant money, and benefited immensely from a series of changes in the licour laws and rules, including I belive most recently to allow it to be co-licenced as a cocktail lounge. I’m currious if the limit to wine, cider and in house beer is a licensing restriction, I would guess it is.

    Nubrew has been kicking around this export concept for years. Export is a Very dubious market at best, NuBrew’s main advantages are: people like to drink local (exported it is no longer local), it currently doesn’t have the added cost of coming up on sealift (exporting not only erases that advantage, it reverses it), local production means drinkers don’t run into old beer that’s been warehoused since last sealift (another advantage reversed by exporting).

    If NuBrew wants more market, they should focus where they have all the advantages: locally. Track total beer sales at the beer and wine store (publicly reported) then determine the obstacles to stealing sales from imported and “domestic” beers. I’d expect NuBrews production capacity is among the main limiting factors (further underscoring why export is a bad idea).

    While I’m confident they understand the customer at their pub. Why are people choosing or not choosing local when the buy at the beer and wine store? NuBrew can and should be focused there.

    • Posted by The Micro Brewery Market is in demand on

      Ours is a tiny market, to be economically viable I can’t see any way around expansion into the southern market. The idea that people prefer ‘local’ is true, but there is also a demand for micro-brews from other small locales. In other words artisan, craft beer from elsewhere is also in demand.

      • Posted by Maq-Pat on

        Nunavut consumes many times more beer then NuBrew can produce. Yes it is a tiny market, but an even tinyer operation. Something like 70% of beer sold in Yukon is from Yukon Brewing, I’d be surprised if NuBrew is even close to 7% of Nunavut yet.

        In Nunavut NuBrew is unique, in a southern market they are one of COUNTLESS cool and exotic artisanal craft beers.


Comments are closed.