Gone Pro is a series of Q&As with breweries with homebrewing roots. If you would like to see a brewery featured here, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is your name and what do you do at the brewery?
Meghan Marjanovic, I co-own Winterlong Brewing Co. with my husband Marko, and we both wear many hats. I manage our Tasting Room and Front of House staff. We share in administrative tasks and recipe development, and I brew occasionally and assist on the packaging line. Marko is our Head Brewer and oversees our two other brewery staff, ordering, brew schedules, etc.
How and when did you start homebrewing?
We both started homebrewing in university (mid 2000s), when Marko got his first homebrew kit. This was back in Vancouver, when craft breweries were a lot sparser in BC. It was a fun hobby to do in a basement suite and we were just getting into craft beer. We didn’t start doing all-grain brewing until we moved north to Whitehorse, YT.
Why did you decide to go pro, and what was the process like?
We were getting really serious into homebrewing after moving to the Yukon, and even built our house with a homebrewing electric setup in the basement. We worked on recipes constantly and shared our beer with friends. The craft beer scene was pretty limited up north, with one other brewery and the craft beer selection at the government liquor stores was lackluster. We thought about starting our own craft brewery for years to share our passion in beer with a wider audience.
We read any books we could find on starting a brewery, read blogs and articles, and started exploring different business models and brewery sizing. We started with a 3 bbl electric brewhouse in a leased space and brewed once a week, selling growler fills two days a week. We still had some security with our day jobs at that time. We now have a 7 bbl system, own the whole building we started in. We have two full-time brewery staff and work full-time ourselves at the business as well.
How has your homebrewing background helped your career in the brewing industry?
It definitely has helped a lot with creativity and problem solving. With homebrewing, we have always had that experimentation background, trying different things and being open to different ideas. It has also helped us know what doesn’t work and what does work when trying ingredients because we’ve experimented a lot over the years. Also with homebrewing if you’ve delved into it deeply, you get that deep understanding of the brewing process, which is an important foundation for a career in the industry.
Also with that DIY attitude, we were able to build up pieces of the brewery ourselves. Our original mill, keg filling set up [and] keg washer were all DIY and saved us a lot of money.
What is a favourite beer that you’ve brewed (homebrew or pro), and describe it in three words.
Many favourites, but some that stand out are our hazy IPAs, especially HazySexyCool. It’s juicy, tropical, citrusy. We were inspired to make this beer after a trip to San Diego, CA four years ago.
What inspires your brews?
Definitely we are inspired by travel and tasting a lot of different beers. Any vacation we go on has to involve craft beer. When I taste something I really like, I always ask myself, is this something we want to make. We brew the beer we like to drink and we always keep our horizons open. We do not limit ourselves to certain styles and still very much enjoy classic well-made beer.
We also find inspiration from local ingredients and working with others in our community, like our favourite local coffee roaster and working with ingredients we can forage in our backyards (from juniper, to rose hips to spruce tips).
What is something unexpected that you learned while transitioning from homebrewing to pro brewing?
It’s a much longer brew day. Haha, not sure I thought about it much initially, but I remember expecting a half day and it turned out to be a full eight hours that first day. There’s also a lot of moving hoses around (as we don’t have everything plumbed in) and turning this pump and that pump on. Lots of cleaning, 20 minutes recirculating this and 20 minutes recirculating that.
What sets your brewery apart from others?
Always a tough question, because many breweries have the same priorities—making good beer, keeping it fresh, using high quality ingredients, etc. We don’t like to take ourselves too seriously. We have a laid back, welcoming attitude. I think that attitude shines through when you visit our space, drink our beers, and meet our staff. We love where we live. The Yukon is amazing and we always feel so lucky with the amazing customers we have. We enjoy treating them with a great range of beer styles.
Any tips for folks thinking about going pro?
There are some big learning curves to getting all the processes down. There is so much to learn and you’re dealing with really different equipment and environments. For example cleaning and sanitizing tanks, transfers, carbing, different packaging set ups. Each brewery may do things a little differently and have different types of equipment. It helps to set up some visits at other breweries of similar size or to have someone on your team who is familiar with brewing at actual breweries. You can also get experience working in other parts of the brewery first, like the packaging line. With opening your own brewery, it’s a lot more work than you think and not all about brewing! There’s the business and administrative side to figure out as well. Again if you have a well rounded team with different expertise, or people who are quick learners, or even people to contract out to for jobs beyond your expertise. Make the best beer possible! Make sure you know what beer flaws smell and taste like and how to avoid them. Making good beer is one of the best things you can do for your brewery, your consumers, your community and the craft beer industry as a whole.
Cover photo courtesy of Meghan Marjanovic. Marko and Meghan with their homebrewing setup before going pro.
Winterlong Brewing Co.
83 Mt Sima Rd