The floe edge, called Sinaaq in Inuktitut, is where land-fast sea ice meets the open Arctic Ocean. In spring, the ice line is a gathering place for Northern marine wildlife. It’s no surprise, then, that Nunavut Brewing Co. chose this natural wonder as the title of its flagship ale—Floe Edge Northern Lights Lager.
“The lager is an ambitious beer. We knew that the market would love it,” says Katie Barbour, manager of Nunavut’s first—and only—craft brewery. Crisp and approachable, Floe Edge is a beer brewed for everyone. “Budweiser is definitely the most popular beer up here on the island,” says Barbour—she means Baffin. That’s why the brewery started with a lager, to help ease the territory into craft beer culture.
But a year after opening its doors, the brewery—built in a huge open style warehouse in the industrial area of Iqaluit known as West Forty—found itself tank tied, meaning it can’t make enough beer to keep up with demand. Not a bad place to be for a new small business.
“I have eight taps and five beer, and I can’t make any more because I have no room for it,” says Barbour. That’s largely because the favoured lager, Floe Edge, takes five to six weeks to brew, while the ales on tap can be turned around in two weeks. A new brewing tank, set to arrive on the sealift this summer, will double brewing capacity on site.
Having started with a signature blue bottle, the brewery quickly switched to cans (glass isn’t recyclable in Iqaluit). The blue bottles, which look sleek on the tables of local hotel dining rooms, are reused. Thinking again of the environment (and of the cost of shipping compressed gas via airline) the brewer is gearing up to recover the carbon dioxide it produces during fermentation, and use that gas to carbonate its beers.
To sip on a hoppy pale ale or chocolate malt porter you’ve got to visit the NuBrew tasting room itself—an open concept space that lets you look right in on the brew tanks. But Floe Edge, Frob Gold, and Aupaqtuq Arctic Red Ale all come in cans available at the Legion, or for pick up at the Iqaluit Beer and Wine Store.
Besides the brewpub, there’s only one other bar in town that offers beer on draught—though the Storehouse Bar and Grill has had beer on tap much more frequently since NuBrew opened. A new hotel on Federal Road and a Chartroom Lounge opening in Iqaluit are keen to start serving the local craft. Barbour is also in talks to serve NuBrew on Northern airlines.
Aupaqtuq, the runner up in most popular NuBrew pints, means “red” in Inuktitut. “It’s an opportunity to talk about the language,” says Barbour. Because tourists often trip over the word, the company put phonetics on its can labels.
To take the Arctic beer experience even further, the brewery is installing a pilot brew system, where it can make smaller one-off batches that yield only a few kegs. That could mean you’ll see an oyster stout on tap this summer, or a fruity beer brewed from tundra berries, and eventually a brew made using water from the nearby Sylvia Grinnell River, which NuBrew already has a licence to draw from.
“We’re just getting started,” Barbour says. “Our customers are into beer. We want to give them that portfolio.”
The Brews Above The Rest
Nunavut Brewing Co. head brewer Erik Pigeon’s beer breakdown, and suggested Northern food pairings to complement each craft from chef Jo Szakacs of Iqaluit’s Black Heart Café.
Floe Edge Northern Lights Lager
A regular lager, this familiar craft is crisp, cool, refreshing, and easy to drink.
Pair with: char gravlax or char sushi
Aupaqtuq Arctic Red Ale
A mahogany ale with hints of stone fruit, caramel, and tobacco.
Pair with: charcuterie or a curried sweet potato soup
Frob Gold Strong Ale
With an alcohol content of 6.8 per cent, this hoppy version of Floe Edge is a go-to for wine and cider lovers.
Pair with: caribou tataki or a Reuben sandwich
NuBrew Pale Ale
The closest brew on tap to an IPA, this well-hopped pour has a malt backbone with a lot of caramel and a bit of butterscotch.
Pair with: fine Canadian cheese or a blackened char club sandwich
Expect coffee and cocoa in this stormy pint, that’s both complex and sessionable.
Pair with: umingmak (muskox) stew, or the Black Heart brownie