It’s the summer time, it’s warm outside, there is project work to do, and it’s a great time to have a beer. With the progression of the craft breweries here in the city moving steadily forward, there is much to be excited about. Barn Hammer opened their tap room for growler fills this week and officially open on Wednesday. For me, my excitement this week was sitting down with the team behind Brazen Hall Kitchen and Brewery.
The interviews that I have done are each different in their own way. What has never happened was that almost 30 minutes has gone by and I haven’t even gotten to ask a question. He spent those minutes telling me how he got to where he is, and man it’s an interesting story. The passion that Kristjan Kristjansson has for this project is astounding.
Kristjan started off working in the telecom industry in sales. He loved work, seeing himself as a problem solver, but wasn’t overly excited about the company. After having a great deal of success in his first business venture, running the company he used to work for, he took a few years off. His next project would be the one he will be the most well-known for, his foray into the restaurant business. When Kristjan purchased the Round Table it wasn’t just about making money or running a business. He saw real estate as a good investment but more so, he wanted to secure a future for his family.
Having accomplished these goals, in 2010 Kristjan faced a dilemma of either shifting the focus of the Round Table or changing it to another business. The Brogue was an attempt to shift the focus of the Round Table and get more sales from the bar. Kristjan explained that he actually said no to the Molson and Labatt folks when choosing his beer and decided to focus on more local and different beers. This helped him realize that something with a focus on craft beer was a viable option.
This is when the idea of opening a Brewpub started to take hold in Kristjan’s mind and he began looking at numerous other locations while still trying to figure out what to do with the Round Table. While doing this he met Kris Kopansky, another person interested in opening a brewery. After talking with him, things just clicked and the location on the old site of the Round Table was chosen.
The team working with Kristjan is quite impressive. Steve Watson will be the brains behind the kitchen and the menu at Brazen Hall. He is a chef instructor at Patal International College. The college is a level 1 certified program through apprenticeship Manitoba and Steve is a red seal chef himself. The college works with international and indigenous students to help them find good work in the community. Steve loves the work he does, it’s something he is proud of and gives him time to spend with his family. What he was lacking was a creative outlet. When Kristjan called him up to help develop the menu at Brazen Hall he jumped at it. Not only that but he can involve his students in helping to design the menu because of the schools private status. Steve had originally helped open Brogue and has quite a lot of experience with quality assurance and creativity. He can be given a food like buffalo wings and improve on it, or create a bacon appetizer that people love. Steve’s passion for food and attention to quality bring an ability to make boring food exciting and crazy food amazing.
The third member of the team is Kris Kopansky. For the past 24 years he has been working in the restaurant sector. He first opened the Green Gates back in 1992. He’s spent time working at Pasta la vista, Fuzion grill and was finally recruited by Earl’s where he has spent the past 14 years. All of this experience has helped him understand the restaurant business, profitability, but most importantly consistency. Kris was looking to do something different. Tragically, he lost his daughter last year and was looking to create something of his own, something he could develop and develop the people around him. Kris got involved with Brazen Hall to be a part of something that he sees as special. The concept, the design, but especially the people. He wants to help create something special that will make a difference in the community.
Head brewer Jeremy Wells. Jeremy has worked at Half-Pints for the past 8 years. He started off doing labelling, deliveries, cleaning tanks, kegging and bottling. Eventually he became the delivery driver but the folks at Half Pints decided he was more valuable in the brewery than on the road. He was trained on how to brew and has been brewing there ever since. One of the things he loved about Half Pints was that creativity is encouraged.
Jeremy loved bartending and felt a desire to get back into the brew pub concept. Through a mutual friend he met Kristjan a few times, keeping Half Pints in the loop all along, and while Half Pints was interested in keeping him, he needed to do what was best for him. Now he gets to create his own beers and see the response. At Flatlander’s he was seeing people excited about a beer was really cool for Jeremy.
“It’s about being able to be excited about going to work”
Kris Kopansky chimed in at this point to say that while everyone is passionate about the task ahead, that they are all excited for the opportunity to do something special and to bring both great food and great beer to Winnipeg, he made clear that “We are not in kumbaya mode. We hold each other accountable and make sure that we are all moving towards the goal of doing something awesome.”
The plan for the brewery and kitchen is pretty straight forward. Each will be its own entity with the brewery brewing their beers and the kitchen bringing the same laser focus to its food program. The restaurant will produce awesome food and servers who explain the food, beers, and pair them together. Both of these entities will be making the best possible product they can. It’s called a Brewery and Kitchen for a reason. For Kristjan, too many pubs decide to try their hand at food, or a restaurant trying to bring business in with a brewery. Both of these models can struggle when the commitment isn’t real. The plan for Brazen Hall is to be awesome at both and have experts, Jeremy and Steve, acting as the leaders for each while Kris leads the entire team.
The team behind Brazen Hall want to write a great story, make a place that develops great people, produces quality products and supports the community. They plan to use as much local product as possible. In fact, the group wants to look into whether they can raise their own cattle for beef, grow their own hops for beer on Kristjan’s ranch, and use local farmers as much as possible. In every instance Brazen Hall wants to try their best to give to the community and support local industry.
“Being a Brewery and Kitchen is like having two chefs.”
Brazen Hall will be a 200 seat restaurant and a 10 hectoliter system. There will be tank to tap for the restaurant as well as bottling in 650ml bottles for sale from their retail store on site and later, Liquor marts. Brazen Hall will also have growler fills available at the bar so that people are able to take the beer they love home in many formats. What was clear was that they don’t want to focus on commercial sales until they know they can produce enough beer to help fill their customer’s fridges. They want their beer to be available to their consumer base first. Focus isn’t on commercial sales, but butts in the seats of Brazen Hall.
While at this point they have made a number of test batches; a best bitter, an ale, a saison, and others, they are looking to let the market decide what will become “their” beers. They plan to launch with a number of different options, listen to the feedback on the beers, and make their decision from there. They are well aware that there are a number of people in the city who still gravitate towards the yellow water, but Jeremy brews beers he would like to drink so the options provided will still be good, unique and delicious. Of course they will also be leaving room for seasonal beers and are hoping to brew fun beers that are not only great but will have customers wanting more. To continue the excitement, the team has a 70 year old lager specialist consulting with them as well.
What is exciting is that Brazen Hall is already looking to the future. They are plotting out possible locations for a second site. What will go on this site has a lot to do with the reception from Winnipeggers. If they are all about the beer it may be that the brewery expands, or it might be that it’s a bar that serves only their beer and food. Whatever it is, they are leaving it up to the market to help them determine the path forward.
“Everyone came into this project with it not being all about money or career, but about what you need to do for you and creating something special.”
A lot of people had a chance to give their first beer, a best bitter, a try at Flatlander’s. I certainly found it to be quite tasty and I’ve heard a number of comments in agreement. If this is a sign of what is to come from Brazen Hall, and their food can match, then they have a winning combination. So, when will you get a chance to check the place out? Well, they have a soft launch date counting down on their website right now: www.brazenhall.ca but for now, I’m going to say you’ll have the opportunity to check them out this fall. They do already have some pretty sweet T-shirts available, so if you are interested in supporting them now, you can.
It’s been pretty awesome following the stories of the breweries that are looking to open. To see this province’s craft beer community begin to thrive, one which I know our will be embraced, makes a lot of what I wrote a year ago seem surreal. We are at that point, Winnipeg, where by this fall we could have as many as 4 new breweries to visit. So, get out, support local, and keep trying new beers.