Brewing on the Edge of the World: Canada's Arctic - Part II

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NOTE: This is the second part of a two-part article. The first part can be found here: Brewing on the Edge of the World: Canada's Arctic - Part I
Now, I will cover my brewing practices, as made necessary by my environment. But first, a few notes on that environment.

Igloolik Reservoir Pump House
Water is, I'm sure we can all agree, the most important ingredient to brewing beer and wine. As such, the quality of the water is important. I will admit, that I haven't read any of the many posts regarding water quality, water analysis, water treatment, or water sources. I haven't read them because up here, there are three sources of water, and treating them isn't something I'm capable of. The three sources of water are:
Tap water
Water from the tap is delivered to our homes via large tanker trucks. There is a flow switch which activates a light outside the house when the water level is low, and when the light comes on, any passing truck knows to stop by and fill it up. This water is picked up at the reservoir, which has a few chemicals added to it somewhere between the open body of water to the truck. The pump house is shown in the above photo. This water, while potable, isn't necessarily the best. We often find bits of sand at the bottom of our glass, and once in a while has a slight yellow tinge to it. Just recently, there was a Boil Water Advisory. Though that has since been resolved, I have switched to using reverse osmosis water from the stores.
Because the water in our homes is limited, I don't use a wort chiller. The only way I could use a wort chiller is if the water could be run back into the house tank. While this is possible as the delivery pipe is just outside my living room window, I'd rather not keep my window open that long in the middle of -60 C winters.
Store Bought Water

A dependable source of water at the local store (!)
The reverse osmosis water you can buy from the store goes through several filters before it comes to you in half-liter "squirts". You simply place your water jug/bucket under the spigot, and every time you press the button, half a liter gets squirted into it. This takes time when you need a 6 gallon bucket filled, but at least I know the water is clean. If I don't want the town to know that a batch of beer or wine is about to get made, I'll simply use the 5 gallon water jugs you can buy at the store. I made the mistake of filling up the Ale Pails directly one time, and everybody I passed by knew what was about to happen once I got home. The following week I had received so many phone calls from people looking for some drinks that I made sure to always use unmarked containers after that, but at this point people know what it means when I'm picking up water.
Ice and Snow

A more dependable source of water in the Arctic
As shown in this photo, people will have large chunks of ice hauled in out of the sea, and leave them outside their homes. The locals are able to tell the difference between fresh and salt ice, and so they use the fresh water blocks for their tea and coffee. I've tried using this in a batch of beer once. While the Cerveza turned out great, the effort involved in collecting enough snow and ice to melt and boil for a 5 gallon batch was simply not worth it. I have since vowed to stick to the RO water from the store.
My Keezer

After I recalculated the costs, it was close to two grand!
It took some doing, but I finally managed to build a keezer for myself. Given the shipping rates I paid for the parts, and the cost of the freezer from the local Northern store, I wound up paying just about $1750 for a 2 keg system.
I noticed that of every 5 gallon batch I made, I was able to drink 6 bottles. The rest seems to have grown wings and flown away on their own. Between people helping themselves, and my little brother trading them off to the weed dealer, they weren't lasting that long. I needed a way to keep this liquid gold inside the house. So I began purchasing piecemeal parts to build this keezer. It took several months (6 months for the CO2 in transit), but it's finally complete.
Now I'm the ONLY guy in town with cold beer on tap! There's nothing quite like coming home after work and being able to pull a pint into a glass. And the best part is, I can put whatever I like into those kegs!
Want an IPA? It's a little hoppy for my tastes, but it's there. A Cooper's Canadian Blonde is a great refreshing beer to have with dinner. The stouts I still put into bottles, but the Brewer's Best Summer Ale is great in a keg! (never mind summer, we go from Spring to Autumn here).

I was given these tusks because somebody heard I was looking for tap handles
I've even got my mitts on a pair of walrus tusks, which I plan on having made into carved tap handles. Problem is, the GOOD carvers will cost quite a bit. But I don't want just any old hack working on these tusks, they're valuable even in this untouched state.
About a third of the cost of this keezer was the CO2 tank itself. Not only did I have to find a place in Ottawa that sold them (which was easy enough), I had to pay another homebrewer to pick it up, pack it for shipping, and deliver it to the airport with the appropriate paperwork. Then comes the Dangerous Goods paperwork (which has an upfront cost), and the cargo shipping fees. This 10 lb tank cost me $455 all told. Talk about motivation to prevent leaks!
Having a keezer, however, poses another problem. It's another target for break-ins. If it gets around that there's 10 gallons of beer available on tap, then it's another reason for me to lock the door at night. The tap locks were a necessary expense (at $70 each for the model that fits a 630ss, PLUS shipping!). These locks also prevent all the sudden guests and visitors we have from being able to help themselves. Unfortunately, my mother (who lets me live here rent free, so I feel obligated) expects me to be a good host and allow HER guests to have all they want.
High cost of Power

Don't leave the TV on if you're not watching!
This one is fairly straight forward. The cost of power in Igloolik Nunavut is very high at $0.63 per KwH. This means that our electric stove should NOT be used for extended boils, especially given how many watts you'd need to bring a large pot to a boil. It is for this reason I only boil about 1 gallon of water to mix in the sugar and LME kits.
This is also the cost of my keezer's power. This appears to be listed at 242 KwH/year, so it's not so bad, assuming the STC 1000 doesn't affect this number too much.
Just running my customized Alienware gaming computer (I tend to game around 8 hours a day at least) causes my hydro bills to come up to $700. This goes up if my brother is home playing on the Playstation downstairs.
Outdoor climate and weather

Kids still walk to school, but southern kids get "snow days"
The temperature outside can reach levels as low as -60C, if you include humidex and windchill. This means that I can't do outdoor boils. The land around is quite flat, which makes the wind a ferocious beast that's constantly battering on the doors and windows of our homes. Even if I had access to propane, the heat would be blown or drawn away from the burner and pot. Manufacturing a sort of flashing around the burner and pot would further add to the costs. I have simply resigned myself to sticking to the pre-hopped LME kits I can buy online.
This outdoor weather could provide an alternative to wort chilling. But since I use the pre-hopped LME kits, there is no need to chill the wort.

Overstuffed crawlspace
In the middle of winter the crawl space under the floor by the front door makes an excellent location for lagering. This area is usually between 6 and 13 degrees, depending on how close to the hot water tank I want to get. Due to the CO2 that comes out of the fermentors, I'm unsure if it's a good idea to have it close to the hot water tank at all, so I haven't tried to lager more than twice.
Northern built homes
Homes built in the arctic are usually on a budget, which means large spacious homes are a luxury nobody can afford. If you want storage space, then you're meant to build a shack of your own somewhere on your property. Many people use the plywood and lumber from disassembling their sealift crates, or scavenge the lumber from "Canadian tire" (the dump). A few have purchased the sea containers and use those as their sheds.

Average yard, complete with homemade shed and vehicle for spare parts
These aren't heated, so these are for storing excess furniture (you can afford excess furniture? Rich family indeed), hunting gear, tools, spare parts and other such items.
Inside the homes, there isn't much space for storing brews. I currently use my bedroom closet for storing bottled goods. There is a crawlspace near the back door I use to store empty bottles, fermenting brews that are kept at room temperature, and unused brewing equipment. In my case, this equipment is limited to Ale Pails, hoses, stir spoons and siphons.
The smells that come out of the fermentors are able to spread out to the whole house. If you were to visit my home during the fortnight after brew day, all you'd smell are the gasses coming out of those buckets.
If I were able to brew outdoors, or even in the nearby shack, I wouldn't have the propane to do it. Given the headaches that getting a can of CO2 up here caused, I do not want to try getting propane. I could get a canister of it through the sea-lift, but I don't want to have to buy a year's supply of it.
There is a source of naphthalene gas, but everybody in town seems to use that for their Coleman stoves. I don't want to compete with the hunters, trappers, and those who live out in cabins for this gas just to make something I can do on my kitchen stove.

Where everything's stored in the back crawlspace
Now that Ive covered the parameters of my environment, on to my actual brewing. This is not going to be that extensive. For all the reasons stated thus far, I stick mostly to the kit n kilo process.
StarSan is quite acidic, and as such, qualifies as a Dangerous Good, and cannot be sent by airmail. I had to order a 5 pound bucket of One Step white powder for my sanitation. I use a tablespoon of this in a 1 gallon bucket of water to sanitize everything. The label on the bucket says it sanitizes on contact. I make sure everything gets wet with it, but at this stage all I need to sanitize are the bucket, spoon, hydrometer (lately havent been using this), and thermometer.
Once Ive brought a gallon of water to a boil (and have a can of Coopers LME sitting in a pot of hot water), Ill pour it into the bucket and mix in the sugar. Then pour in the LME, and fill the LME can with hot water. Stir this to get all the LME I can get, and pour that into the bucket as well. Stir this hot mixture until its all dissolved in the water, and then pour in 3 gallons of pre-boiled cool water. Pour from a height to get some splash aeration. Take the temperature. If its outside the temp range of the yeast packet that came with the LME, then add the last gallon of warmer/cooler water.
Once its at temp, I sprinkle in the dry yeast packet on top of the foam. Lately I havent been using the hydrometer, because it has always been within the range specified in the instructions found under the lid of the LME. Put on the lid and airlock, and place this bucket in the back crawlspace for about 10 days.
For the next week, the entire house is going to smell. I find it smells like the Ontario Beer Store. Kind of like somebody poured beer on the floor and left it there. Ive heard from somebody that if my ferments smell like beer on the floor then Im doing something wrong. However, the beer has always turned out good (with the exception of 2 beers infected). Im not sure what needs to change, if anything.
After about 10 days (and two days of hydrometer readings), I usually batch prime, then bottle. Since glass bottles are hard to come by up here, I tend to use soda bottles. But I have had glass bottles, so Ill explain how I bottle those.
Since crown capped bottles are about as plentiful as flying pigs, I have to use threaded bottles. You can still put crown caps on them! I have a small wing capper that still does the job. I find I just pull down on the wings and listen closely for the sound of the glass stressing. I can also feel the tension in the glass, and have learned how much will actually break the neck. Only about 1 in 5 Labatt Blue bottles will actually completely cap, and perhaps 1 in 6 of Molson Ex bottles. Then I test the caps with a light pull of my fingertips. In every 5 gallon batch I bottle into these threaded bottles, only 1 will not be air tight. For the Pepsi bottles, those are fairly straight forward. Sanitize, fill, twist the cap on, and keep in a dark room.
In this home, I find I have a hard time making any of these batches last two weeks. After about 4 days, my mother will be getting into the bottles because theyre good enough. Personally, I dont find them to be drinkable until a MINIMUM of 1 week in the bottle, but theyre better after 3, if they last that long.
The old lady tends to invite all her friends over once she starts dipping into the bottles, and by the next day, more than half the batch is gone. Then Im expected to split whats left between myself and her, then she will share her half with others, and come asking me for more. I live there rent free, so I feel obligated to share. I chalk all this up to experience in learning to brew, and the tax on this experience is about 90% of my product. Meanwhile, Im anxiously awaiting my return to Ottawa.
All in all, home brewing is a rewarding hobby (I imagine it's much more rewarding if you can go all grain!) that allows you to experiment with everything from the water, the temperatures, the ingredients, and even how much time it spends in a vessel. It is also a source of annoyance, grief, and wanting to throttle everybody you see. It is equal parts joy and anger, for me.
I hate that the town is full of alcoholics who are constantly looking for an excuse to drop in. I hate that my mother, who would share the last scrap of food out of her pantry if you were hungry, also seems to think she's required to share *MY* hard work with others.
I love that everybody enjoys something I made. However, I'm sure I could skunk every bucket I make and they'd still drink it, so I don't know how much pride I should have with my work.
If it weren't for my decision to return to Ottawa, I would definitely continue brewing. As it is, I'm trying to find a local buyer for my keezer (even with my airline discount, If i were to bring it with me, the cargo rates would be more expensive than building a BIGGER keezer in Ottawa), and using that money to facilitate my move.
This town is where I began my foray into home brewing. While I've stuck mostly to pre-hopped kits of LME by Coopers and Muntons, I have done some minor experiments with different sugars (very little effect on the final product) and hops. I eagerly await my return to the south, where I would be able to afford to play with different grains and wheats to get those chocolate, caramel, and honey flavours I've been wanting.
Now that this town has taught me valuable lessons in penny-pinching, dissemination, discretion and working with limited supplies, I want to see what I can do in a place like Ottawa where supplies and equipment are easier to come by. Wish me luck
I won't complain about having it difficult ever again. I wish you the best Venari. I think it's great that you can extract a lesson of all the hard work and hardship instead of feeling sorry for yourself and falling into the same vicious cycle that people around you are. Cheers brother!
I really enjoyed your 2 part article! Thank you for sharing. I now feel very privileged to have what I have and to be able to brew the way I do. The coolest thing about homebrewing is adapting to what you can work with and making your setup work for you. It's always very interesting to me to see how everyone's process varies from brewer to brewer. A very unique perspective that I do not envy! lol. I have to say... I commend you for brewing in that environment and also for putting up with the grief that comes with it. I hope you can get down south soon! Cheers!!
Great article thanks for sharing. You know home brewing is worth the trouble when you go thru such hardships to get it done.
Great article! Amazing to see the focus you have to continue with this hobby with all the battles you have to fight. Sure makes my brewing look like a cake walk by comparison. Keep up the good work!
Just throwing an idea out there but what if you had two wart chillers in a closed loop with a pump. You could chill your wart and melt the snow for your next batch in a bucket outside. You'd have to run a line from inside to out and be sure not to let it freeze and crack your chiller outside (glycol?). I would be tempted to set up a similar contraption along into your ferm chamber(and fridge?) with an stc1000 to save energy. It seems like a big waste to be paying for cold or water if it is abundant.
This is a nice story but it's all over the place, which makes me question some of it. Am I the only one to notice some inconsistencies? For instance:
- Electricity is expensive, and internet is slow and capped at 10GB/month, yet you said you game for 8 hours a day? Playing what?
- You show your keezer and say how much better it is to use than bottling, and how much it cost to put it together and get the CO2, but then in your brewing process you say you bottle and not anything about kegging...
- This was pretty funny to me, but the pic of the RO system has a caption of "A dependable source of water...", yet the sign on the machine says "Out of Order", lol!
And then the whole Go Fund Me thing.....you paid over $2k for the keezer - sell it and there's your plane ticket. You wouldn't be taking them with you I presume.
I play offline games.
I didn't write anything about hte kegging because it seems to be a fairly simply process, and probably the same as yours. But I wrote about the threaded bottles being capped because it's what I have.
Everybody wants the keezer. Nobody wants to pay for it.
Venari! Start bootlegging! Tell your mother to give you a break so you can do you and get out of there! Start piling cash under that mattress!
I really enjoyed your articles, thanks for writing them up. Another option to save CO2 in your tank for the kegerator is to batch prime the beer in the corney keg, give it a couple of weeks in a warm spot and then hook it up to the kegerator. You only use about 70% of the sugar you do for bottling, so that's another plus. Your first couple of pints will be cloudy from the sediment, but it should clear up after that. I hate paying $32 to refill my 10lb CO2 tank...I can't imagine paying over 10 times that. Best of luck getting back to Ottawa.
I put the caption under the "dependable water supply" pic. I helped edit the article and that picture was missing a caption. I'm aware of the out of order sign, that was the joke, glad you got it (?). Note the caption under the next picture.
I'm not sure what you mean when you reference the hot water heater, crawlspace, and escaping CO2 from laggering? CO2 isn't explosive, although it sounds like your hot water heater is electric, so that's not a concern.
Are you worried about asphyxiation from displacement of Oxygen?
Just curious. Interesting article, thanks for sharing!
@madison The Hot water tank is run on #2 oil, and as such, if I were to ferment in that area, the CO2 would suffocate the air supply to the burner.
Dude, this guy is making beer under some pretty hard circumstances and you're nitpicking about some 'inconsistencies' in his writing? Clearly, you have too much time on your hands...
So... you game for 8 hours a day, you have one of the most expensive laptops on the market, you spent over $1400 for a keezer, and you're living rent free.
I thought your first article was interesting, but after you started painting a more transparent picture of yourself and at the end of the article you ask for money I have to say I find that pathetic and irritating.
The computer (desktop, not laptop) was a gift from 2010. Two upgrades are all that was required to keep it almost current.
The keezer was built over 7 months of purchasing piecemeal parts online. It took 6 months just to receive my CO2 through air cargo.
The food costs, coupled with paying bills, are what's draining my wallet. My main job only pays 28 hours a week, and the jail job is "on call".
I do not find your request for funding 'irritating'.
Nice to read a fairly unique article for once. You could sell out the desktop (or just the AW case can be worth a silly amount) on RedFlagDeals or something to get some cash, but that assumes outgoing shipments aren't too painful. I have shipped TO Nunavut fine, but not from.
Just brilliant. Thanks again for putting these two great pieces together. It must have taken a lot of time and effort. Really enjoyed reading both. The pictures are great especially the RO machine and the land iceberg. This is a part of the world I will likely never see. Great to have been able to experience it through your writing.
Thanks for being so open and clear about where you live and the challenges you face, (not only those related to brewing). You must truly have a passion for the hobby to be able to do it in this type of challenging environment. Hats off mate.
BTW. When is the next part? Cooking with Venari! Been searching but still can't get my hands on any walrus stomach clams here in TX.
@Gavin C The things I cook are probably the same things you cook.
The "country food" we eat here is usually frozen (raw), or simply boiled, so there's not much cooking to be done. But I expect you southerners might like the boiled whale blubber.
The clams are eaten as-is, to the best of my knowledge.
No worries. After seeing some of your posts in the cooking thread I thought I'd just poke some fun. Always wanted to try whale. Once again, stellar reads. Cheers!
It's interesting to read, it reminds me a lot of the very northern towns here in Finland, but they still lack the isolation part, as we tend to have better road access even up north than northern canada/alaska.
I only have to wait 2 weeks for ingredients, and mailorder only costs 8-12 euro's per shipment(up to 60 pounds).
Feels weird complaining about not having local brewing stores compared to what you have to go through....
Wow! i thought Brewing in Yellowknife was expensive and a Chore during Winter! I didn't read all the comments so i don't know if this was said already, but you should try carbing your kegs with Sugar, it is not always a common practice but it would save you a lot of CO2, and at 455$ a 10lb bottle every dollar counts!
Keep fighting the good fight!
Wasn't sure where to put this, then figured this article's comment section would be good.
A big thank you to all contributors to the GoFundMe. You're all making a difference in the change in quality of my life!
This is a great read. Thanks!
I hate to have to tell you this, but when you get to Ottawa you'll still be in Canada.
Definitely enjoyable reading. I really appreciated the irony that almost everyone in town is an alcoholic (at least that's the picture you painted), yet you're the home brewer.
And the prices you pay for stuff is unconscionable. It scares me to think what the bro owes to the weed man. I do have one prediction, once back in Ottawa you'll stay there or move further south.
I thought I had it hard up here at 64.5 degrees north in Nome, AK. Basically shipping costs, lack of local stock, high energy cost (half of yours) and running a hose for water to the neighbors (challenging at sub-zero temps) - but I'll not complain. Seems I've got it pretty danged easy. Interesting challenges - thanks for sharing.
More like REAL " adventures in homebrewing" to me! That's a lot of money & herculean effort to brew some good beer! Great story of hardship. We had it bad on top of that mountain in PA, but this is a new extreme! Our water lines froze in winter, coming from the cistern on top of the hill behind the house. We had a wood cooking stove to cook & heat with, as the furnace couldn't keep up with 12' ceilings in the old house. It was pegged together out of solid white oak in 1853! We hunted & fished for meat, as pop was still back in Cleveland working during the week. The nearest town was 8-10 miles away. So I understand some of what you're going through. I hope you make it south ASAP!
I don't understand why some people denigrate whatever are your life choices. I am currently (temporarily) in Iqaluit and I can tell you, while probably easier than Igloolik, brewing here would be a PITA. As for the alcoholics downtown, I'm with you. Glad you didn't get your keezer stolen by now.
Some people on here don't realize what it is to rely on a undependable water truck to get something to flush your morning glory with, even less getting outside at -60 in a blizzard. So unless you've lived in the arctic, please refrain from commenting how much sense Venari's decisions make to you in your comfortable bungalow down south. You have no idea what it is up there. Really.
And how would you expect someone to live in an Innu village where half of the year is in the dark without something to pass time like, say, a computer? You must be the kind of people that bitch in november when the sun sets at 16:30. Come on.
Rant done. Smarten up, people.
Congratulations on homebrewing in such conditions and cheers to you buddy !
Great story! One suggestion: I think your Mom and her drinking buddies should pony up for the keezer. Kind of a "deferred payment" for the 100s of gallons of beer that, only by your diligent efforts and at your expense, made their life in the arctic exponentially more bearable. Just sayin'.
It's unlikely it's going to be sold.
If it's not sold by the time I leave town, I'll just abandon it here. It's quite the investment, but I value my sanity more than I value the money I sunk into it.
That is some incredible hurdles to have overcome. Not sure there is more well-earned homebrew out there!
The tendency for indigenous peoples not being able to ration their alcohol has been something the 'settlers' have used to their advantage far too much throughout history, so kudos for steering clear of that one.
Hi venari ! I'm an all grain brewer who flies all around the canadian arctic. In fact, I was in igloolik a couple of days ago. I fly for kudlik, you might know our company ? Anyway, It's cool to know that someone from igloolik is brewing ! I also met a guy from pond inlet that does the same as you. You'll definitely enjoy brewing in ottawa, much much easier for sure haha