This is a really exciting time for craft beer in Winnipeg. With changes to the liquor laws making it more appealing for breweries to open, making brew pubs possible, and expansion of the growler bars, craft beer drinkers have a lot to be revved up about.
I spoke with Nicole Barry from Peg Beer Co. last week and this week I had the opportunity to sit down with Tyler Birch and Brian Westcott, the small but mighty team behind the new Winnipeg brewery Barn Hammer.
Tyler and Brian are an excellent team, bringing two important strengths to the brewery – business and craftsmanship. Tyler owns and operates a fencing company with his father Ted. TnT Fenceworks has been successfully operating for the past 10 years successful. While working there, Tyler became interested in home brewing and spotted the low number of breweries in Manitoba compared to other provinces. With his sincere love of beer and interest in brewing, Tyler wanted to do something to fill that gap and began working through the process to create Barn Hammer Brewin Co.
When the laws began to change, it made it more appealing and helped Tyler get his plan off the ground.
By chance, Brian Westcott, former production manager for Alley Kat Brewing Company in Edmonton, was looking to move to Manitoba. Brian started brewing in university with about 6 or 7 carboys on the go at any given time. His first degree was in Biochemistry and when he got a job in Fort St. John he found himself with a lot of time to read about brewing and decided to become a professional brewer. He was hired by Alley Kat Brewing, but after about 18 months on the job, he wanted to learn more. So, Brian headed back to school and as a graduate of Scotland’s M.Sc. program in brewery science worked for another 7 years at Alley Kat but was always hoping to move back to Manitoba. (His wife is a native of northern Manitoba.)
The timing on their move couldn’t have been better. After meeting with Tyler to discuss the vision of the brewery, Barn Hammer officially had a head brewer and a partner to round out Tyler’s home brewing knowledge.
While Tyler has not been involved in the brewing industry at all, he has a strong business sense from running TnT for the past 10 years. This combined with Brian’s extensive experience working in all aspects of brewing make for a dynamite combination. Add the fact Tyler’s wife Sable is an accomplished graphic artist and this three person team has a lot of the bases covered for getting a brewery up and running.
Tyler started planning about a year ago- again, mostly due to the fact Winnipeg is so far behind the rest of the country in the local craft market. Now he gets to work with Brian to create beer “I want to drink” while using his already honed business skills to get that beer into the hands of Manitobans.
One of the biggest challenges Tyler and Brian faced was finding a good location. They wanted an industrial site that wouldn’t be so far away people would be hesitant to visit. They also needed a landlord who was willing to lease. Plus there was an extra self-imposed condition: it had to be close enough Tyler could bike to work.
Luckily they found this location at 595 Wall Street and have begun renovations for their planned opening in December.
When it comes to the actual beers they will be producing, the team at Barn Hammer has some ideas, names and concepts but are really only in the test brewing stage. With Sable on board, they have a unified label design in mind but still have to finalize their beers. When they open in December the goal is to have two beers canned with a seasonal on tap at their brewery. Brian told me he was just getting a Winter Ale test batch underway – a little weird being summer, but something they hope to have ready when they open. At the brewery opening they plan to give the public an opportunity to try some of their beers on tap – an activity they want to continue as they try new things out and experiment.
Barn Hammer will be running a 15 barrel system and plan to be producing a little over 1000 HLs in the first year with the goal of moving up to 5000 H/L in a few years. Both Tyler and Brian want to grow to a comfortable size where they can produce beer they like while still experimenting and staying truly small and local. With their plan of having a couple of mainstays and constant experimentation, I think Winnipeggers and Manitobans will welcome this newcomer and be excited for the new brews as they become available.
As I said before, Tyler and Brian hope to have two beers in cans to start with the rest in the tap room and growler area. Their focus for the opening will be the brewery itself, but they told me with 100% certainty they’ll have a growler fill area when they open, so we’ll be able to head in and try things out right from the get go. I was really excited when Brian told me they would be keeping things experimental and “interesting” -Tyler and Brian don’t’ want to get complacent, they want to stay small and focus on the craft of brewing beer.
I am always interested in how those involved in brewing view beer. It’s something that has come up in a number of my interviews and the answer, I find, is very telling. Brian reiterated what I’ve heard from those passionate about beer when he told me beer is a “beautiful meld of science and art. Beer is one of those things where you can be as scientific as you like, but at the end of the day there is some art to it”. Tyler said beer is a “gathering place. Everyone has different tastes but the debate and discussion unifies beer drinkers.”
The name for the brewery comes from Tyler’s experience out at the lake. Their cabin has an old Barn on its land and one summer his father, Ted, decided to try and pull it down using his truck. The truck was not up to the task and as a joke Tyler started calling it the “Barn Hammer” and the name stuck.
Barn Hammer plans to open in December of this year with two beers ready to be canned with at least one seasonal on tap for growler fills. Be sure to follow them @barnhammerbeer on Twitter and add them to your list of breweries to visit once they open. I’m really excited to see what beers they have in store for us.