Interview with Oxus Brewing Company

Manitoba is pretty far behind when it comes to the craft beer scene. Our liquor laws received a complete overhaul in 2014 and the brewery scene has taken notice.  While no one has told me the laws have made it easier to open a brewery, I’ve heard that the attitude of the liquor commission and liquor and gaming authority has shifted as has the appeal.  With growler bars, tap rooms and a clamoring public it is no wonder that there are more breweries wanting to get into the game.

I’ve spoken with Barn Hammer and Peg City Beer Co over the past few weeks and this week I had the opportunity to sit down with the guy behind Oxus Brewing Company. 

The young computer programmer is an immigrant who came to Canada from Tajikistan.  When he lived in Tajikistan they had 4 or 5 breweries that brewed what’s called “Czech style” beer. Despite what you might think, it was not a pilsner but more of a “Russian style beer” as Sean describes it.  It was in Tajikistan that Sean’s desire to open a brewery really began but the process was very difficult and he was forced to put his dream on hold.

Sean has lived in Canada for the past 5 years and moved to Winnipeg in 2012.  Since arriving here, Sean, who is a programmer by trade, has been working at his own company doing software development.  Since living in Winnipeg he has delved deeper into the brewing process. As a member of the Winnipeg Brew Bombers for the past two years he has had the opportunity to learn from some really talented brewers and worked very hard at becoming one himself.  Sean, who has always wanted to open a brewery, decided that now was the time to do it.

Once that decision was made he read every book and blog he could about starting a brewery while also meeting with David Rudge of Half Pints for advice and guidance on the process.  For the past year, Sean has been working out the details and perfecting his recipes with the hope of opening up the doors of a brewery in the summer of 2016.

It is his goal is to open Aurora Craft Brewery debt free and as such will most likely be the smallest brewery in Manitoba.  He’s already purchased the brewery equipment and plans to have a maximum brewing capacity of Aurora will be 1800 h/l, though at opening the capacity will likely be about half that.

The 28 year old says that they will for sure have a growler fill station and two session beers to start.  As it is still very early in the planning process he hasn’t decided on style but he said you can bet on finding hoppy beer.

Sean decided to do some session beers (an ABV of under 5%) because he likes the idea of being able to have a few drinks without knocking your socks off.  He was emphatic that when he says “a session” he doesn’t mean a weak, flavourless beer.  He is also very optimistic that he will be able to put out bi-weekly specials similar to the test batch Tuesday done by Half-Pints.

As this is very early on in the process for Sean, he has not yet chosen a location.  He is looking in the St. James area and wants to secure a site as soon as possible.  While Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries and the Liquor Gaming Authority have both been very helpful, he needs to have a location to move forward with the licencing process.  Finding the space is crucial.

The most difficult thing Sean had to overcome was the fear that he will lose everything.  As with any business, there are no guarantees, but Sean has sunk his entire life savings into this venture and it truly is his dream.  Sean is not only passionate about beer but he told me starting the brewery “wasn’t about money.”  Although he put his savings into this and hopes it succeeds, first and foremost he wants to do something he loves and make good beer that people enjoy. Sean wanted to do something that he could call “the work of my life.”  Sean wants to “dedicate my time to making high quality beer and being part of the community.”

Sean is doing this venture alone: he is going to be the owner and brewmaster. While there might be others on the team, right now it is him and him alone.  With his passion and drive I am optimistic for what is to come.  I asked him what he would say to people who are skeptical with an opening date so far away.  He said that “I want to do something I love and I’ve put my savings into this and I am willing to take this brewery all the way.”

One thing that has become clear from these interviews is how much the brewing community relies on and respects one another.  Sean has met with a number of the people behind the other breweries and has echoed statements I’ve heard about how helpful they all have been.  He told me “it’s amazing how much people are willing to help.”  With the amount of beer being produced Sean doesn’t think that he will ever see the other breweries as competition, instead it is an opportunity to put more craft beer on the shelves of Manitoba liquor stores and on tap in Manitoba bars.

Every time I get the chance to sit down with someone and talk to them about their plans I’m excited for the future of brewing in Manitoba.

-Beer Winnipeg

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