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

MLCC Beer Listing Process

So, one thing that I’m asked and that I myself am really curious about, is the process the Manitoba Liquor Commission uses for selecting beers to sell.  Being the ever curious beer drinker I am, I started investigating and got a great deal of information from the source.

Laurel at the MLCC was incredible helpful and spent a great deal of time pulling the information together for me. I want thank her right from the get-go for her help in this matter.  Thank you Laurel!

The MLCC has a listing committee who follow the same procedures for every type of liquor product that is going to be listed for sale in Manitoba.  Producers and product reps are required to submit a listing application and sample of their product for review by the “Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Listing Committee”. (I’d like to be on that committee please.)

The decision as to whether to list a given product is based on the following factors:

  • sales statistics/trends from the previous year;
    • They evaluate statistics and trends based on the country of origin, style of product, packaging (whether it is a single serve/multi pack, can or bottle and container size), etc.
  • sales history for the brewery or brand family;
  • beer scores from online sources;
  • taste profile (taking into account all the different customer types that purchase beer);
  • innovation of labels;
  • limited, extremely rare special releases;
  • marketing strategy provided from agent/representative; and,
  • whether the product meets our social responsibility mandate.

Overall there are a lot of factors that go into considering whether a product is listed or not just at the committee level.  There are a number of other factors taken into consideration; ones the public can have a direct impact on and some we cannot.  The MLCC Category Manager and Product Ambassador for Beer regularly meet with existing producers to discuss the beers they are planning on releasing and to see if there are any seasonal or limited release offerings (like all the pumpkin beer we saw on the shelves in the fall). They also look at whether they are planning to send a representative to participate in tasting festivals, such as Flatlanders.

The main way we, the public, can have a direct impact on the liquor listing process is by requesting products.  Laurel told me this is a key factor they use for determining product listing. These requests can be submitted by email, social media, or local blogs.  I guess I better start spending more time talking about beers I want to come to Manitoba.

The MLCC is always looking for products and producers who are creating a buzz with customers; making these facts known through contacting the LC is one way we can hopefully see our favourite beers show up on Manitoba shelves. As Laurel said “we are listening and taking notes.”

When listing, the MLCC says they try to ensure there is a broad representation of beers from around the world as well as a broad representation of styles.  They use customer demand and buying habits as a means of determining what styles of beer to carry.  Over the past two years they have been trying to list more one-time seasonal beers from breweries to give more variety to the core list of beers they always carry and are constantly looking to add to their craft beer base. Laurel said “This year we have added to our core listings and will look to maintain if not increase the core listings going forward.”

An exciting point: Manitoba Liquor Marts are committed to supporting all licensed and regulated local breweries that are producing quality beer products.  This means that if you open a brewery in Manitoba and produce good beer that is legal to be sold, it will be carried at Manitoba Liquor Marts.  This is something I know I am excited to see as a slew of new craft breweries work toward their openings. I can’t wait to fill my fridge with a variety of local offerings.

Laurel wanted to highlight some of the initiatives that are coming out of the Manitoba government’s Craft Breweries Strategy.  She said this isn’t a complete list, but some of the steps that have been taken or are coming down the pipe include:

  • the expansion of craft beer growler bars (detailed announcement coming in late November/early December);
  • launching a website for new craft breweries to find information and local resources to help get their businesses started – see ManitobaBrewHub.ca;
  • licensing tasting rooms adjacent to local breweries; and
  • other internal process and policy reviews.

The big thing Laurel noted – I know I’ve seen this as well – is the vocal nature of the craft beer community.  Manitobans are starting to ask for better beer and there are a lot of people, myself included, who are passionate about good quality beer on Manitoban shelves.  Laurel said this group is “driving the demand for new and unique craft beers in the marketplace.”

There is a lot of information here and I am providing it to you to review and come to your own conclusions on what you think.  There are certainly some aspects of the criteria that I don’t agree with; I don’t think using previous years’ sales metrics will give an accurate measure of how well a new beer will sell here, but, from a corporate perspective, I understand it’s an important measure.  In the end, the MLCC needs to balance listing new products with being financially sound and it is heartening to see there are serious efforts being made to list more craft beers in Manitoba.

So, to you the people who read this blog, take action in the ways that we can! Start contacting the MLCC and let them know what beers you want to see on the shelves in Manitoba.  Be vocal, be passionate, and let’s keep pushing this cart forward.

First day of Beer School

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I sat down with a couple of friends that you might describe as beer novices.  They tend to drink the same beers and are hesitant to explore others. I wanted to talk to them to find out what keeps them from trying different beers, what they like and dislike in beer, and to drink a Half Pints Dead Ringer with them and get their opinion on it. So, let’s get to it.

Frank and Jason are average beer drinkers.  Frank tends to go for an Alexander Keith’s while Jason will often go for a Miller Light.  They go for these beers because they like the taste and they are refreshing.  Jason said he likes Miller Light because it is “smooth and refreshing” and he likes to have it after working out or doing work in the yard. While both of them have had a number of different beers they both tend to stick with these two beers of choice.

Frank and Jason are both willing to try new beers they just have some difficulty with experimenting and are looking for beer that they like to drink.  Jason likes to drink good quality union made beer that is a value, or a beer with some history.  Overall they both want to drink beers that are refreshing and that you don’t have to “work” to drink.

Frank enjoys “being able to drink the whole thing and something that tastes good cold. I don’t like bitterness in beer.” While Frank is pretty clear on what he doesn’t like, Jason doesn’t really know what he doesn’t like.  He just knows that he doesn’t like it because it’s “really strong”.

We ended up getting into a conversation about styles of beer. Both Frank and Jason didn’t really know very many different styles and Jason said “I never refer to them by style, I don’t know enough.”  Even so, Jason has recently gotten the “strength” to try different beers.  He says that the growler bars have been a big help in that for him.  He is now loving Sultana Gold and drinks that along with his Miller Light.

After getting this basic information down, I cracked open the bottle of Dead Ringer.  We talked about what style of beer it was, what they should expect in the taste and what IBUs were. I’m doing this with them as a means of education and to help them navigate beers they may not otherwise try. After a short conversation we started drinking.

Jason really liked it but said it isn’t something he “would have if [he] was out for wings.”  Frank also liked it thinking that it wasn’t overly bitter and thought, if he could get it, he’d drink it. Frank lives outside the city and relies a lot on the beer vendors which really limits his beer choice.  They both described it as a “sipping beer”.

Talking about the beer itself Jason raised some really interesting points. He said that he probably wouldn’t have bought this beer if he saw it in the Liquor Marts because of the label and the fact it has “strong beer” written on it.  Not being familiar with IBU, styles, and what to expect, he would be turned off by the “skeleton on the label”.

Jason said “A lot of what stops me from trying more is cost and fear of knowing what it tastes like. I like going to beer fest with someone who knows what they are talking about. I think sample packs are a really good way to try new beer”.  Jason has kids and doesn’t go out that often, so he relies on the Liquor Marts for his beer.  He is hesitant to try new beers because he doesn’t want to spend the money and not like it.  So, for now, his fridge is 15 miller light and 8 sultana gold.

Out of this experience I learned a few things. I learned that being knowledgeable about beer is important.  Without some sort of general beer knowledge, it might be difficult to take that first step into trying a beer you’ve never had before.  Jason wants to try different beers but he doesn’t know anything about them and doesn’t want to waste his money.  Having the opportunity to try the beers before buying them or having someone who is knowledgeable about beer to help him make his decision would be helpful.

Jason said that he was thankful to have a friend who know about beer.  We attended Flatlanders together and I was able to help him understand the various styles of beers he was trying and explain things about the beers to him before he tried them. Having this conversation made him more open to trying beers he might not otherwise try.  I think having good knowledgeable staff and opportunities for beers to be tasted would go along way into helping people take that first step.

We dubbed this evening “Beer School” and I think we are going to continue it.  Jason and Frank both were really interested in learning about Dead Ringer and talking about the style of beer.  So, we are going to continue down this path trying beers from different styles and talking about them.

Defining Craft Beer in Canada

Whenever I am talking to people about the virtues of craft beer there is invariably one question that I get asked: What is craft beer?  To answer that question we really need to look at what a craft brewery is.

This is a question that seems very difficult to answer right now.  While there are craft beer associations popping up across Canada (Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia) they do not necessarily represent all of the local breweries in their area nor do they seem to offer a clear definition of what craft beer might be.

Provincial governments, who regulate liquor sales in their respective provinces, have no clear definition of craft beer in their legal frameworks.  Instead, what does exist are terms like “small brewery, microbrewery, macrobrewery and nanobrewery” in which sizes in hectolitres are used to determine the classification mostly for taxation purposes.  Even these definitions vary widely.  In Saskatchewan to be considered a small brewery you need to produce less than 5,000 HL, while in New Brunswick it is 1.5 Million HL.  The British Columbia craft beer association represents breweries that produce less than 160,000 HL each year (Source) while Ontario Crafter Brewers set their limit at 400,000 HL. (Source)

Yet none of this actually defines what craft beer actually is.  The Ontario Craft Brewers association gives a definition, similar to that of the US brewers’ association, to define what craft beer means to their members saying:

Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB) are local and defined as:

SMALL – Most Ontario Craft Brewers are small and many are family-owned. The current maximum size of an Ontario Craft Brewer is 400,000 hectolitres of annual worldwide beer production.

INDEPENDENT – Locally-owned and is not significantly controlled by a beer company who does not qualify as an Ontario Craft Brewer.

TRADITIONAL – Pledge to brew traditional and innovative beers according to the

Ontario Craft Brewers’ Brewing Philosophy. The original Philosophy was signed on

April 12, 2006 and was updated in September 2013. It is set out below.

Ontario Craft Brewers must locate and run their primary breweries in Ontario, close to the markets and the communities they serve. The breweries are open to the public, other brewers and beer enthusiasts.

(Source, p. 2)

U.S. Brewers Association

Small – Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships.

Independent – Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

Traditional – A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.

The following are some concepts related to craft beer and craft brewers:

  • Craft brewers are small brewers.
  • The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation. Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent.
  • Craft beer is generally made with traditional ingredients like malted barley; interesting and sometimes non-traditional ingredients are often added for distinctiveness.
  • Craft brewers tend to be very involved in their communities through philanthropy, product donations, volunteerism and sponsorship of events.
  • Craft brewers have distinctive, individualistic approaches to connecting with their customers.
  • Craft brewers maintain integrity by what they brew and their general independence, free from a substantial interest by a non-craft brewer.
  • The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a craft brewer.

(Source)

This definition uses more than just the size of the brewery as a means of defining what craft beer actually is.  The US based brewers’ association lays out some concepts surrounding craft beer as well, which expand and start to develop a definition of craft beer – something I’d like to see replicated in Canada. Craft Brewers must meet these criteria in order to qualify to use the associations’ logo on their beer.

When we think of craft beer though, size isn’t what necessarily comes to mind.  Take Sierra Nevada for example in the United States.  Many would consider them to be a craft brewery, yet, they produce over 900,000 HL and so would not fall into the some of the size restrictions here in Canada.  What is important in respect to size limitation is that it be consistent.

With  Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABinBev) buying SABMiller to become the largest beer company in the world, I think it is important that craft beer be defined in a way that is consistent and recognizable and national.  Even more so, if we want this definition to mean something more and to protect what craft beer means and is, then this definition needs to be put into law.

This is where the conversation comes in.  There is no clear definition of craft beer that can be used Canada wide, yet, there is a great deal of opinion and anyone you ask will likely have their own way of defining craft beer.  www.hoptahouse.ca wrote an article similar to this one and cited a book from 1986 saying:

The term appears to have been coined by Vince Cottone, author of Good Beer Guide: Breweries and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest (Homestead Book Co., Seattle, 1986). Cottone had a very narrow definition in mind, saying that craft beers are produced by “a small brewery using traditional methods and ingredients to produce a handcrafted, uncompromised beer that is marketed locally.” Cottone’s definition was so strict that that he excluded pasteurized beers, as well as brewers that use malt extracts.

While this provides a good starting point for what craft beer is, it is incomplete, so I’d like to offer a definition of my own.  I want to stress that this is my opinion and I know there will be others that disagree or have a different definition.  Part of the problem I suppose, but here we go.

For me, craft beer is a locally owned brewery that produces handcrafted beers.  They are breweries who are making beer for the love of the craft, who are creative, experimental, and willing to try out of the box ideas.  A brewery that is not afraid to make a beer not everyone will like but will make beer that they want to drink.

This is an important conversation to have. With Manitobans buying 76.2 Million Litres of beer between May 2014 and May 2015, this is not a small market.  And yet, 81.5% of this market is dominated by the Macro-breweries represented mostly by ABinBev.  The market for Craft Beer has room to grow.

Yet we have seen craft breweries in Canada and elsewhere purchased by ABinBev as they try to get their foot into the craft beer market in an attempt to halt market share loss.   Canadian micro-breweries now have 4.2% of beer sales but have also grown by 19% in dollars and 12% in litres over the past year (Source). The problem is, does this include Goose Island (owned by ABinBev) and Mill Street (recently bought by ABinBev) and does that even matter?  Is non-craft beer “bad” beer?  Does being craft beer automatically make you good?  We also need to ask those questions when defining craft beer.

While there is great work being done by brewery associations in their respective provinces, and while a definition for craft beer is starting to become clearer in some provinces, without a nationwide definition and laws to support it, it’s hard to know what craft beer really is and whether what you are buying is what you think it is.  At least with the Ontario Craft Brewers and the American Brewers’ Association beers which meet their criteria and are members are identified right on the bottle.  Seeing something like this Canada wide that helps beer drinkers recognize beers as “craft beers” would be great, we just need to make sure the reason we are doing it is sound.

To conclude, I sent out a tweet asking for people to define what craft beer is to them. I didn’t get back many responses but I did get a few.  If you’d like to share how you view craft beer I’d be happy to add.  Still, I’d like to finish by sharing the definitions I did receive with you:

@ThousandThought – Going with: Locally owned and operated, committed to quality ingredients and practices, prioritizing craft before profit.

@colinkoop – Craft beer is brewed by an independently-owned brewery using natural high-quality ingredients. It is an artisanal product that can both adhere to style guidelines and bend them. Craft beer feeds back into its local economy and culture. It focuses on quality over quantity and profit. Craft brewers grow craft beer culture by respecting other craft breweries and embracing a collaborative/cooperative marketplace.

J.M. – Meticulously crafted, small batch beer. Often with particular flavours and themes not found in your typical macrobrewery.

M.S – A passion to explore the flavour and strength of different ingredients and different brewing methods.

@beerideas – Beer Ideas responded on his own blog. Check out his essay about craft beer here.

All Brew’d Up

As the last of my Spruce Tree IPA begins to dwindle down it comes time to brew once again.  This is my second batch since getting back into scratch brewing and I wanted to try another style of beer I really like.

Anyone who has followed this blog knows that Peak Organic White IPA got my top pick for the Craft Beer Advent Calendar last year.  I’ve had a number of White IPAs and it is definitely a style that I really enjoy.  I also like to be creative and try things I haven’t had before.  It’s why I got into home brewing, I wanted to try different things out, see what works and what doesn’t, and make beer I want to drink.  So, rather than the tradition orange and coriander combination oft found in White IPAs, I went with lemon and thyme.

I never did get around to posting an update to my Spruce Tree IPA.  It turned out really well.  I was very happy with it and the spruce definitely comes through. I’ve had the opportunity to share it with a number of people who I trust and overall the reception has been good. I do end up with a bit of cold haze in the beer and there are times when the spruce isn’t as strong as I’d like, but overall I am happy with it.  I did make a few of mistakes and I am trying to learn from this time.

First off, I didn’t treat my water.  For those who don’t know chlorine and chloromine are often found in city water.  It’s a way for them to ensure the water clean.  Chlorine boils off during the brew process, but chlormine does not and can interact with the proteins in your wort and make for a funky taste.  I lucked out on my Spruce IPA that I didn’t end up with a noticeable change with this interaction, but this time I treated my water to remove the chloromine.  This should improve this batch of beer.

The second mistake I made was not cold crashing.  I was new to doing this before I picked it back up and something I’ve recently learned is that you want to cool your beer down after the boil as quickly as possible.  This is a cold crash.  It also helps with the cold break to allow the particulate in your wort  to drop to the bottom so you don’t transfer it over to the fermenter resulting in a clearer beer.  As well, dimethyl sulfide is a compound which forms in wort when it is hot.  This is boiled off but if you don’t cool your beer quickly it can form again resulting in off flavours in the finished beer.   Again I was lucky to avoid any significant off flavours, but something I wanted to learn from and made sure I did on this batch.

The third (yes I made three) mistake I made was not considering the hop profiles.  I was so excited to get started I just grabbed a few hops not even considering how they might play with the spruce.  This time around I made sure to consider this and end up using Chinook hops from Prairie Gem Hops.

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Overall, I am quite pleased with this batch so far.  It smells really good and I’m hoping that the taste will be there at the end of the day as well.  As I am still new to this, I don’t mash.  So for this recipe I used extract.  I also ended up using pellitized hops for the knockout.

Recipe:

5.25lbs pale malt extract
2.5lbs wheat malt extract

2oz dried chinook hops (Praire Gem, 60 minutes)

5 oz dextrose (30 minutes)
whirfloc tab (30 minutes)

1/2 oz dried lemon peel (5 minutes)
1 oz fresh thyme (5 minutes)

Centennial (knock-out)
Willamette (knock-out)

wyeast 3787 (High gravity trappist yeast)

Now I just play the waiting game.  I’ll let you know how this one turns out.

-Beer Winnipeg

Prairie Gem Hops

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As a beer drinker and a home brewer I am always looking for good quality beer and ingredients. I think it is important to support local farmers and industries so that our businesses in our province can thrive and be successfully.  I’m a huge supporter of local farms and buy from them as often as I can. So when I heard that there was a hop farm just outside the perimeter I had to check it out.

Sandra Gowan and Paul Ebbinghaus started Prairie Gem Hops and have been growing in Manitoba since 2009.  Sandra was a gardener and grew a variety of vegetables and plants and was always interested in pushing the limits of what can be grown in the Manitoba climate.  After reading an article about the hop shortage she decided to begin researching hop growing and eventually decided to give it a try.

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Her and her husband started with 3 varieties of hops to see how they would fair.  After a successful grow season they started adding varieties, moving to 12 and eventually to 18 different hop varieties. As well as a spin on a native hop (Brewers Gold) she produces many others including chinook, nugget, centennial, galena, sterling, cascade and Willamette.  All this is grown on a ¼ acres of farm land. While Sandra has 225 plants, producing hops is a little bit like making maple syrup.  You need more than you get.  From 5lbs of hops Sandra will produce 1lb of dried hops for sale.  Last year Sandra produced 280lbs of dried hops from her 225 plants.

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Prairie Gem Hops does their best to grow their plants as safely as possible.  They don’t use any chemicals and focus on composted fertilizer to provide the nutrients her plants need.  This becomes a challenge when fighting bugs, but Sandra wants to make sure her product is grown in the safest way possible and is willing to deal with them naturally.

The hops that are produced at Prairie Gem Hops are used not only in commercial beers, selling to breweries like Fort Garry, but also for the home brewer market.  Sandra sells to Grape and Grain as well as Hop and Vine and is willing to sell directly to home brewers.

Prairie Gem is harvesting now and this is the perfect time to be looking at buying hops.  Sandra is willing to accommodate brewers who are looking to make a fresh (wet) hopped beer with fresh local hops as well. This is also a great time to be growing hops in Manitoba due to the growth in the craft beer.  With all the breweries looking to open there is also the hope that they will be trying local producers to meet their brewing needs.

Sandra’s farm is fantastic.  She is passionate about growing hops and has a fantastic product. While there are a number of producers of hops to choose from, supporting local businesses is really important for me, it’s why I focus on local beer and breweries.  I’ve talked about how the brewing industry is incredibly supportive of new breweries opening their doors and I only hope that these same breweries will start to look local when brewing beer. I know that I’ll be using Sandra’s chinook hops for my next home brew and I hope others will do the same.

Happy Brewing,

-Beer Winnipeg

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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