Category Archives: Interview

Interview – Colin Enquist,

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So, yesterday I decided to do something a little bit different.  Rather than interviewing a brew master or someone trying to open a new brewery here in Manitoba (though that is coming), I decided to sit down and chat with Colin Enquist of 49th Parallel Group.

For those of you who do not know Colin, he is a 30 year old graduate of the creative communications program at Red River College who aspires to someday be a screenwriter.  For now, he has the very interesting job of being the territory manager for 49th Parallel group here in Manitoba.

49th Parallel group is an agency that specializes in the marketing, selling and promoting of craft beer in Western Canada. Representing 20 breweries across North America, the goal of the group is to help spread the wealth of craft beer into various marketplaces and dealing with all the red tape that comes along with it.

Colin, like most of us, started off not really liking beer.  It wasn’t until he moved to Edmonton where he really got into beer. He was out one night and wanted to have a drink, so he grabbed a beer, “It was a Kilkenny Irish cream, not a great beer but it was new to me”.  From that point Colin says that he was hooked on trying new beers.  When he moved back to Manitoba he started meeting people who were into craft beer and growing his interest.  He met his good friend Adrian Trimble, with whom he hosts the great podcast “Pubchat”, and eventually had the opportunity to work for 49th Parallel group representing craft breweries here in Manitoba.

Colin started off doing this gig part-time while he went through the creative communications program.  When he graduated he was offered the job full-time and has been working there ever since.  For about 2 ½ years Colin has been working hard to try and get craft beer onto the shelves of the Manitoba Liquor Marts.  This mostly entails making sales calls to the LCs, being the contact if there are problems or questions, doing tastings and training and most of all “trying to educate people about craft beer”.  It also involves writing beer themed recipes and doing a “beer and book” pairing from time to time as well.  You’ll have to follow him on twitter @49thparallelmb to get the beer and book pairings.

I asked Colin about the biggest difference he notices between provinces.  Colin told me that it’s what sells.  Here in Manitoba we are mostly a “can market”.  Beers in tall-boy cans seem to sell better here than in other markets.  “This may have to do with the cabin lifestyle” Colin told me.  This is different in other provinces “In Alberta it’s mostly 6 packs and the 650ml bottles do really well”.

We also talked a lot about craft beer, obviously.  Since Colin is someone who has the opportunity to drink so many beers I wanted to know his favorites.  He told me that Stouts are his favorite style of beer and that right now his favorite beer is probably Ten Fidy Russian Imperial Stout made by Oskar Blues. When it comes to breweries he’d have to list Flying Monkey’s, “I love pretty much everything they do”, and Oskar Blues out of Denver.

Colin and I also talked about the red tape and all the challenges in place to getting the beer on the shelves in the province of Manitoba.  When you compare our craft beer market to that across Canada we are really quite far behind.  When you look at a city like Vancouver with over 1000 breweries compared to Winnipeg where we have two, (three if you count the Brewing and Malting Barley Research Institute), you can see the vast difference in growth.  While there is progress being made, it’s slow but Colin did say that he noticed a huge difference in the knowledge of attendees at this year’s Flatlander’s beer festival compared to the last two years.

We are also seeing for the first time an upswing in potential breweries opening.  With Peg Beer Co, and Barn Hammer Brewing Company announcing their plans to open, we are seeing progress here in Manitoba.

Since I was sitting down with the Territory Manager I figured I should ask what we might be seeing coming in the near future.  Colin told me that we should be seeing:

  • Rogue Double IPA and Kolsch
  • Phillips Barn Stormer Saison IPA and the Phillips Anniversary Beer
  • Parallel 49 Cornhop IPA

So, keep your eyes peeled for those as well as the rest of the awesome stuff they bring to the shelves.

I have to say, it was really great to sit down with Colin and chat with him about beer.  His knowledge about beer is just phenomenal.  As someone who is passionate about beer and brewing it’s also nice to sit down with someone who has that same, if not higher, level of passion.  It’s great to know that there are people like Colin and the 49th Parallel group working hard to get craft beer into Liquor Marts and to help these breweries thrive.

So, be sure to check out the beers at your local liquor mart, check their website for the new products arriving and be sure to follow Colin on twitter @49thparallelmb to get the latest news from the source.  You should probably also follow me on twitter @beerwinnipeg if you haven’t already.

Next for me is I’ll be sitting down with Nicole Barry of Peg Beer Co to chat with her about opening a new brewery here in Manitoba.  I also hope to be able to sit down with the folks at Barn Hammer, and of course, I’ll be posting about the progress of my homebrew and reviews of beers I try.

Thanks for reading.

-Beer Winnipeg

Interview With Fort Garry’s Brewmaster Matt Wolff

I got the opportunity to meet with Matt Wolff, the head brewmaster of Fort Garry Brewing Co.  I had a conversation with him about brewing in Manitoba and the future of craft beer.  I’ve been curious about Fort Garry’s take on the direction our province is going. As the largest brewery in Manitoba I wanted to see what plans they have and how these changes have impacted their brewing.

History of the Brewery

Fort Garry is Manitoba’s oldest Microbrewery and really does have a storied history.  Established in 1930 by B.W. Hoeschen it produced two brands of beer to start; Frontier Beer and Frontier stout.  These beers gained recognition when they won best in class in England against other commonwealth breweries.

In the 1960s Fort Garry was sold to Molson and was brewed under the label Molson’s Fort Garry Brewery Co.  This company ran for 30 years until 1990 when Molson merged with Carling-Okeefe and closed the facility that was Fort Garry Brewing.

Bringing it back into the family, Richard Hoeschen, the great-great grandson of the original owner, who Matt Wolff describes as “a true visionary”, and John Hoeschen Sr. resurrected the brewery under the original Fort Garry name.  As well original beers like “Frontier Pilsner” they also introduced a family of full flavor beers to the market.  At this time really starting to crave something besides the status quo.  To keep up with demand they built a state of the art facility at 130 Lowson Cresent in 1998 taking up a full 25,000 square feet. This facility was unique as it was built to be a brewery rather than a warehouse space renovated to fit the bill.

In 2001 Richard Hoescehn passed away.  Under his leadership Fort Garry had become a household name.  Matt told me that there were some struggles at this point within the brewery but people wouldn’t stay quiet long about their desire for something different.  In 2006 the President of Russell Brewing in BC sampled some of Fort Garry Dark and fell in love with the beer.  He was sol captivated by the quality of the beer and the love Manitobans had for their local brew that in 2008 Fort Garry Brewing amalgamated with Russell Brewing Company with a goal to build on the legacy of the Hoeschen Family.

About Matt

Matt Wolff is an interesting character and brings a long history with Fort Garry to his role as Brew Master.  When he was just 18 and a new graduate from high school, his brother’s future father in law started the Two Rivers brewery.  Being essentially a dream job for an 18 year old he started working their part-time.  Starting with remedial tasks he worked his way up to doing the packaging and filtration.

When Two River amalgamated with Fort Garry in 2003 he continued to work there part time while doing a degree in air craft maintenance at Red River College.  When he graduated he took a job at the St. Andrews air field for a couple of years but found that job wasn’t for him.  He came back to work at Fort Garry full-time, this time in the brew house.  Matt uses his skills as an aircraft technician to solve mechanical issues on the fly, “We don’t have to always wait for someone to come fix it, I can usually either do it myself or I have a connection.”

When the brew master and president retired Matt was given the opportunity to take over as Fort Garry’s brewmaster.  This also was when we started seeing the craft beer movements from the east and west starting to make inroads into Manitoba.

Still, it wasn’t until after the amalgamation with Russel Brewing Co. that Fort Garry started coming out with their first new beers.  Fort Garry saw great success originally with its Munich Eisbock which then expanded into the brewmaster series.

With this success and the introduction of the growler bars there was more of a demand for fresh and new beers. This year Fort Garry is putting out 2 new beer every 6 weeks.  A huge step forward in drawing in the demand for new beers.  This isn’t easy, Matt told me that “On top of maintaining our flagship beers, finding time to sit down with the guys and hammer out a recipes is one of the hardest parts of brewing.

About the Brewery

As I had mentioned, in 1998 the location still used today by Fort Garry was built.  This doesn’t mean they’ve stayed stagnant.  The brewery itself is completely automated running on a computer system that monitors the process at every stage of production.  Today they don’t even need to clean the tanks by hand as the computer system will measure out the proper cleaning solution and do an over the top job in cleaning every aspect of the brewing process.  Matt said that “when we are inspected they say we clean as well as Dairy Farms, which is a pretty high standard”.

The brewery even has a lab so that they can do tests on the beer at various stages and make sure that there are no hiccups along the way.  Spot tests are done on the tanks at different stages to be certain that the cleaning was done well and the beer is brewed to the highest possible standards of quality.

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With a 4 vessel system and a 100 hectolitre kettle they can brew 10,000 litres of wort which translates into about 8,000 litres of beer for fermentation.  They have two different fermentation tanks, 15,000 litres and the other at 8,000.  This allows for some versatility in batch sizes.  The smallest batch the tanks can brew is 1,500 litres. This limits their ability to do some niche small batch brews which plays a role in the recipe choices by Matt and his team. “We can’t do something like a Triple IPA, so instead we make a really good IPA”. During peak production time in the summer Fort Garry employs 22 staff incl20150525_145517510_iOSuding part-time and temp staff.  On the brewing side there is Matt and 3 others.

At any given time they have all of their core brands brewing in various stages with seasonals and new beers entering into the mix as needed.  They have a cellar comprised of 21 tanks hold beers in various stages of the brewing process.  The total capacity of this cellar is 2000 HL which means they have a lot of space and gives them the ability to have some in the hopper ready to go.

Growler Bars and Creativity

This is still one of the main reasons I wanted to meet with Matt as well.  The growler bars as we saw from my previous interview with David Rudge have had a huge impact on the ability for brewers to be creative.  Given that Fort Garry is larger and run a bit differently, I wanted to see what the translation was.

One of the hardest things about brewing for Matt is recipe development on top of maintaining a presence with the core beers.  Because they can’t brew batches under 1,500 litres they really need to consider not only creativity of the beer but also accessibility.  They don’t want to produce a beer and then just have it sit on the shelves.  As a company it is a combination of being creative but also being able to sell beer.

It has been really important for Matt and his team to get new beers out.  They want to keep the taps moving and the ability to produce beer without having to worry about packaging and labeling has made this a much easier process.

Wanting to supply the growler station every 6 weeks has really opened up the creativity of the brewing team and has pushed them to be innovative.  The process at Fort Garry starts with brain storming.  The team tastes a lot of other beers from around Canada to find good examples of styles.  They take notes on what they like and what they feel they could improve on.  Matt said that “the ideas often start simple like let’s make a wit, then become more complex like with our Sassy Saskatoon”.

Matt said they “don’t want to make just another beer they want it to be big and bold while at the same time accessible to a large group of people.”

Their first test is done in their small 20 gallon pilot system and this is sometimes a big flop which means going back to the drawing board.  Once they have something they think it at the level it needs to be they present it to the General Manager, some of their reps and even bring it to the Winnipeg Brew Bombers or River City of Manitoba Brewers for some feedback.  This isn’t a yay/nay process that would impede the creativity, rather so long as they do the best they can do, that’s the goal.  I asked Matt about expansion plans and he said it’s always something they need to look at.  Maybe with the next expansion we will see a small brewing unit for those specialty beers!

Still, with the need to be putting out so many new beers in short times, the growler bars have given them the opportunity to brew new beers but also gauge the success and decide which could be put out in cans as well.  Matt told me that the next two new brews coming down the pipe, Maple Cream and Sassy Saskatoon, will be released in cans and growlers.  Growlers are a lot of beer and “being able to pick up a couple of cans after you’ve tried it out makes the beer more accessible”.  It also allows for you to try multiple different beers at a given time.

This has been really important for Fort Garry in peaking interest in their beers.  Matt said that “when you see the same thing on the shelf over and over it’s easy to want to try something new.”  Fort Garry needs to keep fresh and trying new things otherwise those people seeking new tastes and new beers will grab something else.

At the same time, growler bars have certainly helped to increase sales for Fort Garry and bring people back to them.  I think Manitobans crave good local craft beer and with Fort Garry working hard to deliver I understand why they are seeing an uptick in sales.

They will be tasting there new beers at Flatlanders on June 4th and 5th, and I know I’ll be there with bells on.  I got to see the mock up for the Maple Cream Ale can, and it looks and sounds tasty!

Craft Breweries Initiative

I’ve talked a bit about the new initiatives coming from the province.  With the ability for breweries to open tasting rooms and the confirmation I received from the MLCC that growler bars are here to stay, this opens the doors for more craft breweries to enter the market here in Manitoba without the immediate concern for packing and shipping.

Matt believes that there is still room to grow here in Manitoba and is excited about the breweries that could be opening.  He said that “if we look west and we look east we see how many breweries they are able to support.”  This growth is putting pressure on big breweries to let go of franchise places and allow for craft breweries to move in.  Matt doesn’t believe this is competition but rather “more good beer on tap”.

I think we will also see the breweries will feed off one another and as Matt said he hopes the “complacency will be gone.”  New beers also means we might see more collaboration.  Matt and I talked about the “Brews Brothers” mixer pack from Parallel 49 and how it’d be really cool to do something like that here in Manitoba.

Matt is also a really strong supporter of new breweries in general.  He told me that he “wished I knew who all the players were. I’d love to talk to them and help them out.”  This is really the kind of guy Matt seems to be.  He wants to help people brew beer, something he is obviously passionate about.  He provides space for the Winnipeg Brew Bombers and the River City of Manitoba Brewers, two home brew groups in the city, offers courses and even orders malts and hops from distributors that will only deal with brewers.  So when Matt says he just wants “more good beer on tap”, I believe him.

With Peg City Brewing being officially announced by Nicole Barry and the possibility of a couple of more down the road, Matt says he “wouldn’t be surprised that if in one year there might be 10 breweries”. That would be a sight to see.

I think that a lot of this boom we are seeing has to do with the loosing of laws and the fact that a brewery can now be entirely profitable without sending a single bottle or can out the door. Things still have some movement, but Manitoba is getting with the times in respect to liquor laws.

Overall, meeting with Matt was fantastic.  He was a down to earth and really friendly guy.  Given all he knows and all his work he still finds time to help out the local home brew clubs.  As the biggest brewery in Manitoba Fort Garry still has a passion for quality Manitoban beer and with Matt at the helm of the brewing side they’ve started producing some unique and tasty beers.  I hope that this trend continues and that we see more of what this brewery has to offer.  I for one will be doing my part to support local craft beer here in Manitoba, I hope you’ll do the same.

Interview with David Rudge

I had the opportunity to visit Half Pints and speak with the president and head brewer David Rudge.  I had been curious about the brewery itself, their plans for this upcoming year as well as how the growler bar and his appointment to the provincial “Craft Breweries Initiative” were going.  He was kind enough to give me his time and for the entire visit I did not feel rushed or as if he had somewhere else to be – quite nice from someone who has grown such a successful brewery, not what I expected.

About the Brewery

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Image of the brewing room at Half Pints. Casks are available at the Grove Pub!

I have already given a rundown of the history of Half Pints in my review of the Doc Emmett Brown Ale. I won’t go over all that again.  Rather, I was able to learn about where the brewery stands today.

At present Half Pints has a brewing capacity of about 6,000 Hectalitres.  They have a number of fermenting drums and numerous storage ones as well and are able to produce a variety of beers at any given time.  Typically their 4 main beers on the go (Little Scrapper, Bulldog Amber, St. James Pale Ale, and Stir Stick Stout.)  As well, they tend to have at least one seasonal in progress with another in the pipe to come up shortly. On top of that, their growler brews for the growler bar and any test batches that they may be working on could be bubbling away.  All in all there are around 8 or 9 different beers on the go in the brewery at any given time.

This year David told me he plans to switch things up a bit.  He doesn’t like doing the same thing over and over again and so this year of the 15 beers that will be produced, 9 will be new beers.  He wants to bring back some of the beers they brewed in their first year (2007) as well as some new ones.

Half Pints is made up of 12 full time staff members who do a variety of tasks from brewing to filling/bottling to repairs and technical work on the equipment.  David told me their bottling technician had souped up their Meenans bottler to be not only fill industry standard bottles, but also to be able to fill the 650ml bottles they use for seasonal beers.

What’s really interesting about their staffing is that in the summer, David will hire a brewing student.  The only requirement is that the student be a Manitoban.  It’s a move that’s really important to David and something he has been doing for a while.  In fact, one of the brewers at Half Pints is a former student who was introduced to the brewery in this way.  David told me that you “don’t go to school to learn what to do right, you go to school to learn what to do when everything goes wrong”.  Giving people the opportunity to work alongside experienced brewers is a great way to build capacity and allow for internal creative growth. He told me the crew at Half Pints are like a family.  I can see from his supportive attitude where this stems from.

Growler Bars and Creativity

One of the main reasons I wanted to sit down with David was because of the introduction of growler bars to Manitoba.  I wanted to find out what sort of impact this had on his ability to be creative with the beers they brew and what overarching impact he felt it might have on brewing in Manitoba.

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The growler bar at Half Pints

The implementation of the growler bars has allowed for a different group of people to access the beers from Half Pints.  He told me “It’s a different set of people” who seem to be coming in for the growlers.  It’s giving Half Pints the opportunity to hit a different market than they would hit with their bottled beer. What David had noticed was that there are a lot of younger people coming in to buy growlers.  It is likely a university and young professional crowd who are seeking to get a better bang for their craft beer buck.

The growler bars have also seemed to have had an impact on distribution.  Since the opening of the growler bars, Half Pints has pulled a lot of its export back.  They recently stopped shipping beer to Alberta which, according to David, was a big deal given they had been shipping beer there quite a while.  What was interesting was that the decision wasn’t due to lack of popularity but more due to the fact they don’t have enough extra beer to send.

Along with this ability to reach a different customer group, the growler bars have also allowed Half Pints to venture into more creative territory.  “Before, we would have to be ordering labels 6 months in advance for beers.”  Now, beers do not need to be labelled if they will be sold at growler bars.  Instead, Half Pints just needs to indicate the value of the ingredients to MLCC and then, using a formula, MLCC gives them the price at which they need to sell the beer.  This allows for them to come up with new beer ideas on the fly and gives the opportunity to really let the creative juices flow.

I asked David whether they would be doing things like Test Batch Tuesday or experimenting with beers if the growler bars did not exist.  His response was a resounding “No.”  This creativity is really important to David and the Half Pints crew.  He told me he doesn’t really understand why some breweries will see a beer made somewhere else and try to emulate it.  He thinks that the creativity of a brewery and the ability to come up with their own ideas is really important.

So, what about Test Batch Tuesdays?  

For those who don’t know, this year Half Pints has started a more regular test batch tasting opportunity.  Tuesday mornings a 50L keg (about 25 growlers) will be tapped.  Inside it will contain a test recipe a staff member wanted to try out.  They tweet out when they tap the keg, so if this interests you make sure to follow @halfpintsbrewco and @halfpintsbrucru on twitter.

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Test Batch Tuesday – Rum Soaked Oaked Stout

The idea came from just wanting to try out different things.  Using 50L batches they will either use a Magic Brew System to brew something totally unique from scratch or pull some of an existing beer out during different stages of brewing so they can experiment with it. The idea behind this is not only to give some creative freedom to the brewers but also to actually test out different recipes to see if they might want to take it further to a larger batch in the future to sell at the growler bars or perhaps even bottle.

They started out doing these on Saturdays but ended up with too many people lining up for a taste and being disappointed when the batch ran out.  The shift was made to Tuesday morning’s but a similar issue has arisen.  I asked David if he might try alternating times and he said that in the future they might look at shifting the times to allow for different groups of people to get out and grab some of the test brew.

What was nice to hear is the test batch might not be the last chance to try the beer.  It might show up in a larger batch in the future.

The amount of respect and trust David has for the crew at Half Pints is really admirable. He has really let them go with the creative aspect and opened the door to trying new things.  He told me that when Half Pints opened, the expectations for beer was so low people were fine with the status quo.  Since opening and pushing the creative boundaries, other breweries in the MB market are needing to step up their game and start considering some creative options.  I think we can really see this in action with Fort Garry starting to expand outside their main brews.

Craft Breweries Initiative

As well as all the work that David does at Half Pints to keep the beer flowing, he has also recently been appointed to the Manitoba Governments Craft Breweries Strategy.  As the only brewer on the committee he brings a really unique perspective to the table.  We had a really good conversation around the recent changes to the laws here in Manitoba and how it has opened the doors for new breweries to start up.  In fact, David was one of the people who fought with the MLCC to allow for growlers to be sold.  He didn’t do this just so that he could benefit from them but also so the next person in Manitoba who opens up a brewery doesn’t have to be beholden to bars and contracts for selling beer.

With the laws as they stand today, a small guy could open a brewery tomorrow and not have to worry about bottling, canning, or selling his beer to bars.  He can sell 100% of his beer to growler bars and still be profitable.  He told me the amount of equipment and labour required to run a small brewery requires about 2 people and that given the laws today it can still be profitable.

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Another shot of the brewing room at Half Pints

David hopes in the near future the laws can be further expanded to allow for taprooms to be opened in Manitoba.  For those who don’t know, taprooms would allow for pints of beer to be sold in the same location as growlers.  This would allow for small breweries to essentially sell 100% of their beer at the brewery and not be reliant on any other party for the sale of their beer.  According to David this opportunity for growth is necessary to the survival of the local craft beer industry.

I was curious whether David was concerned about the creation of competition within the province.  His response really told me a lot about his character: he doesn’t consider it competition.  He doesn’t even consider Fort Garry competition.  If he had the choice between getting Fort Garry’s tap at a bar or no tap at all, he’d prefer no tap.  He wants to be taking Molson’s tap or Labatt’s tap and wants to see local craft beer grow and prosper.  Given the growth in demand for craft beer and the government’s willingness to support and grow the industry, I can see this type of shift happening.

Will they ever go to Investor’s Group Field or the MTS centre?  I asked David and he told me that it likely won’t happen in the near future.  Labatt’s and Bud sign contracts with these venues and typically take a hit on cost so that they can advertise at the games.  Given the fact people are willing to pay $9 a beer, he doesn’t think there will be any quick movement on behalf of these venues to swap out brews.

Overall, I’m really excited about the conversation I had with David.  Not only is he a really down to earth guy who loves beer, he has some really solid ideas and a really good plan for the next year.  I’m excited to see what he and the folks at Half Pints come up with this next year and I am going to do my darndest to try as much of the new brew they put out.  Overall, Half Pints is a brewery that makes buying beer in Manitoba not just about the quality but also about the people who brew it.  I for one am proud to support Manitoba craft beer.