Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Meet Bob Baxter: Yukon Brewing Co.

Meet Bob Baxter, the Founder and President of the Chilkoot Brewing Co.,...err.... I mean the Yukon Brewing Co. in Whitehorse, Yukon.   Baxter, and co-founder, Alan Hansen, opened for business back in 1997 and today sells more draught beer in the Yukon than the big boys - combined!  Last year Baxter's Yukon Red Amber Ale won the distinguished Canadian Beer of the Year Award at the Canadian Brewing Awards, something the brewery is quite proud of.

Meet Bob....

Where is the Yukon Brewery and what beers do you produce?
Yukon Brewing is located in Whitehorse, Yukon, in the farthest northwest corner of Canada. There has only ever been one brewery in the Yukon, that being during the gold rush, in Dawson City, in the early 1900's. The end of the gold rush pretty much did them in, with prohibition driving the final nail. We are the first brewery ever to be located in Whitehorse. We produce eight full time brands - Yukon Gold, Chilkoot Lager, Discovery Honey ESB, Creekside Cranberry Wheat, Yukon Red, Lead Dog Strong Ale, Midnight Sun Espresso Stout, and Ice Fog IPA - plus an assortment of 'brewery only' beers available through our growler system.

Describe the history behind the brewery
Yukon Brewing was conceived like so many Yukon babies - near a campfire, late one night, on a canoe trip. Co-founders Alan Hansen and Bob Baxter sat on the side of Jennings River in the mid-90's, talking about world problems, beer, and breweries, probably in that order. One thing led to many things, and in 1997 the Chilkoot Brewing Company began sending beer out the door. By 1999, we realized that almost nobody outside of the Yukon knew what Chilkoot meant (the Chilkoot Trail was the main route to the goldfields in 1898) and we rebranded as Yukon Brewing. And our baby just became a teenager.

What is your best selling beer?
Our best selling beer in the Yukon is, without question, Yukon Gold, especially on tap. Yukon Gold is now the number one selling draught beer in the Yukon, bar none. One of those big brands is number two, but Yukon Gold outsold it by more than 50% in 2009. Yukon Gold accounts for one out of every three beers consumed on tap in the Yukon.

What's new at the brewery?
Yukon Brewing has been trying to find a better bottle filler for over two years, and this past winter we found the perfect Krones filler on the used market. We snapped it up and just finished the install within the last couple of weeks. While there is still some tweaking to do, we are totally thrilled to see our beer bottled in such a high quality way.  Of course, there is always something new here on the beer week our traditional German Hefeweizen will be ready for the growler system, and we are eagerly anticipating our birch beer coming this spring, as soon as the sap decided to start to run.

Why get into the beer biz?
The history of beer in Canada goes back to before there even was a Canada. The chance to work in an industry that has such heritage is pretty hard to pass up. And, to actually be in control of making something you love...well, find me something better to do and I just might start doing it.

What is the best aspect of working in the Canadian craft beer industry?
The Canadian craft beer industry is pretty much in its infancy, even still. So, you have a bunch of folks shepherding their products along, trying to create a market and then find their place in it. It makes sense to work together to that end and, guess what, nearly everybody does. We have traded questions and answers with so many other craft brewers, always with the idea of improving our products. The camaraderie continues to amaze me.

Where can someone find our products?
Everywhere in the Yukon...we dare you to find a licensee who doesn't serve some (if not all) of our brands. We also export to B.C., Alberta, and the Northwest Territories.

Something not many people know about the brewery?
We always get the raised-eyebrow look when we talk about our market penetration with respect to draught beer in the Yukon. In 2009 we sold more draught beer in the Yukon than those two big multi-national breweries - combined.

Advantages for small brewers over the big guys?
Boy, there are not a lot of those! Our main advantage over the big boys is the freedom to have fun with our beers. We can use crazy ingredients like birch sap or espresso coffee beans and not worry about the need to sell trainloads of it. In 2009 we bought a still and started making whiskey (which of course we won't see out of the barrels for some time to come) simply because we thought it might be kind of a funky thing to do, not because we have shareholders to please and big money to make.

Highlight of brewing career?
Actually, the highlight of my brewing career was something that happened more to my partner Alan than to me. Last year, we were invited to participate in the JD Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival in England. Sending beer that far would not be great, so instead we were invited to send a brewer to make some of our beer in a brewery across the pond, which Alan quite happily did. While the festival invites brewers from around the world to participate, we were the first ever to be invited from Canada. And, of 50 real ales in the festival, we finished 2nd overall in the peoples' choice voting. A highlight, indeed.

Cold clean lager, big hoppy pale ale, or nicely roasted stout?
Hands down, nicely roasted stout...a meal in a glass.

Favourite non-Yukon produced beer?
I guess further to the last question, I am kind of partial to the Blackheart Oatmeal Stout from Nelson Brewing...especially since I can't buy it in the Yukon, so it generally is part of a BC getaway.

Best time for a pint?
The end of the work day which, around the brewery, is often an Ice Fog the end of most days somebody here at the brewery will say "Well, guys, I think it is Fog O'Clock".


Eric said...

"Yukon Brewing was conceived like so many Yukon babies - near a campfire, late one night, on a canoe trip."


Their market penetration (which I did not know beforehand) is incredibly impressive. I wonder if it is more due to lack of other craft brewers in the area or some other factor? It would be great if craft beer in other provinces/territories could claim the same thing!

Troy Burtch said...

Eric - awesome quote eh! Brilliant.

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