Growler Program Expansion

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When you have a thesis you are trying to write on a deadline it certainly makes the “more fun” type of writing more difficult.  With that said, in 5 days I will be starting my 24-day journey through the beers and breweries of the Craft Beer Advent Calendar.  This is what really got me into blogging about beer last year and was a really interesting and educational process.  Take a look at my round-up from last year here.

I just had the opportunity to attend a media event for the expansion of the Growler bar program in Manitoba.  Robert Holmberg, Vice President of Liquor Operations for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries was on hand as well as Ron Lemieux, Minister Responsible for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries.

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Minister Lemieux and VP Robert Holmberg filling some howlers

They announced the first phase of a three-year plan: the expansion of the current growler bar program to four new locations as well as the introduction of the 946ml “Howler”.  There will also be an expansion to 7 new beer vendors over the next 6 months bringing the total number of growler bars in the province to 18.

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As well as seeing more growler bars, beers from outside the province are now being considered for the growler bar.  Robert Holmberg told me they will be using their internal “craft style beer” definition as a means of determining if a brewery fits their criteria with emphasis placed on uniqueness, style and saleability.  (I imagine they’ll use the same selection criteria they have for listing beers.)  He also indicated it might not be the case that all liquor marts have the same beers on the growler bar, promoting variety and customer experimentation.

Robert Holmberg also said while focus will be placed on local breweries, Manitoba wants to respect free trade and make sure the process is fair for everyone. Operationally it is easier for MLL to sell local breweries as they are right here in the province and it is easier to get the beer.  For beers coming from outside the province and/or country, there are a number of logistical factors that come into play.  Still, if the breweries meet the “uniqueness, style, saleability” criteria, why not have more selection?

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Beers on tap at Growler Bar Expansion. Two from outside Manitoba (Blue Point (ABinBev owned N.Y. brewery) and Tree Brewing (Kelowna, BC).

I also asked Mr. Holmberg about the expansion process and if this, being the first year of expansion, means we might eventually see growler bars in all of the Liquor Marts around the province.  He told me this is not the plan, adding that growler bars usually get their start in microbreweries and this is where he thinks it will return.  With a number of breweries slated to open – four by next summer (hopefully) and many more to come (last count was up to 16) – Mr. Holmberg believes people will want to get their growlers filled at the source.  He said he can see the expansion going to a certain point before MLL starts looking at retraction.  In the end, they will listen to what consumers say.

Here is the press release from the event, which gives a few more details.  For me, the howler is a smart idea and the expansion of the growler bar program can only increase access to good beer.  While I’m not completely excited with an AB in Bev beer being listed on the growler bar (Blue Point), overall things seem positive.  Manitoba is far behind other provinces in the craft beer market and it is good to see we are starting to catch up.

– Beer Winnipeg

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