Mandy with Gwyn. (Submitted/Lakes District News)

Burns Lake’s Ursa Minor Brewery aiming to become a tourist destination

Ursa Minor Brewing, started by the Nicholas family at their Ootsa Lake farm, became an instant local hit, despite starting their business during one of the toughest years.

In June last year, Nathan and Gwyn Nicholas hosted a beer tasting for their newly launched brewery. Located at the family’s farm at Ootsa Lake, the brewery opened during a global pandemic saw many fewer visitors than expected, but that didn’t stop the family-owned and operated brewery.

“A lot of the COVID-funding that the businesses were eligible to get, we couldn’t get because we hadn’t been in business long enough. That was the downside of having started the business in the middle of the pandemic, but the upside is the people in the community have been very supportive,” Nathan says.

Last year, while the brewery didn’t have any international visitors, they got quite a few visitors from Smithers and Prince George. The visitors travelling the furthest? The team welcomed fans from as far away as Calgary and Toronto.

“We were surprised at how many people came last year despite COVID. Because we are small, we are hoping to make us more of a destination and a tourist point,” he says.

The brewery has big plans for summer and hopes to have a picnic area for people to come bring their lunches, enjoy the brewery’s beer and stay a little longer.

“This was something that came up a lot with our customers and they wanted our place to be more of a destination. So we are taking steps to work on all that,” he says.

“We’re also always working on new brews. I have a group of people in Burns Lake, some friends, who are like my tasters. So I make small batches and test it on this taste group. We are also working on some experimental brews with smaller batches and ones that would get popular with the customers, would be put into larger production,” Nathan says. “I’m the kind of guy who is always experimenting with new stuff.”

What started as Nicholas’ passion project, evolved into a business after the couple started brainstorming and planning the actual brewery. They started working on plans for the brewery four years back and finally launched the brand last year.

The brand, the labels and the design has all been designed by their daughter Mandy. Their older daughter, Molly, helped with the brewery last summer and is hoping to come work part-time again this summer when she returns from university.

Currently, the brewery is hoping to raise funds to support The Pines. Last month, the family gave a portion of the proceeds from the sale of their newest brew in supporting the Give a Hug to our elders in the Pines. They donated $10 from each of the 20 cases of Misery Slippers Winter Ale.

The Nicholas family has set up an account at the Bulkley Valley Credit Union and is encouraging any businesses and individuals wanting to donate, to do so by the end of April.

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