Tag Archives: Beer News

Barn Hammer’s Beers

Barn Hammer

It’s been a while since I’ve followed up with the folks over at Barn Hammer to see how they are doing. They are still in the midst of construction and so I wasn’t able to pop down there to talk to them. I hope to be able to once things have calmed down.  It should mean the space is looking closer to completion, that they are closer to being ready to brew, and that they are less stressed.

One of the things that has happened since I last spoke to Barn Hammer is that they’ve officially announced their core beers.  It’s been a fun time watching them tweet about them over the past weeks and seeing the fantastically designed logos.  So, while this isn’t a full and complete update on Barn Hammer, I wanted to make sure that you are up to date.

While I don’t know much about the particular versions of these beers being produced by Barn Hammer, I’ll give you an idea of the style. Overall I am pretty excited to give them all a try.

BH - Lousy Beatnik

First up we have the Lousy Beatnik Kellerbier. Also known as a Zwickelbier it is a German style that is typically not clarified or pasteurized.  The term Kellerbier literally translates to “Cellar Beer” referring to the cool lagering temperatures.  The origins of this style date back to the Middle Ages.  Compared to more traditional lagers, Kellerbiers tend to contain more of their original yeast. Essentially this is a German Lager.

 

BH - Granpas Sweater

A variation of the Stout style that developed in the late 1800s. Some brewers in England would throw a handful of oatmeal in to their grist and call it a “healthy” oatmeal stout for marketing

Generally, between an Irish Stout and a Sweet Stout on for sweetness, there are numerous varieties which can go from very dry to quite sweet. Level of bitterness also varies in this style.

The use of oatmeal can create a silky mouthfeel and richness of body, while a large amount of oatmeal can result in a fairly intense, almost oily mouthfeel.

BH - Sneak Belgique

A 400-year-old Belgian style of beer that died out in the 1950s and was later reviewed by Hoegaarden. This style has grown in popularity due to its ability to carry some nice spice and fruit notes and its refreshing nature. Typically, a bit of peppery notes, perfumy coriander and citrusy notes.

This style is overall a refreshing, elegant, tasty, moderate strength wheat based ale.

BH - Saturday Night Lumberjack

This fourth beer, which reads Pale Ale, has recently been updated, though not with such a beautiful picture, to be a Double IPA.  Brian, the brewmaster, decided to try making this as a double IPA and it was a hit. So, they decided to make that as their fourth beer instead of this Pale Ale.

The style, a Double IPA, is a beer that is an American craft beer invention that began in the 1990s. The adjective “Double” really doesn’t mean anything other than this beer is stronger than a regular IPA. You will see “Imperial” used quite regularly as well. It’s the same style.

The style should be intensely hoppy and fairly strong with an IBU (international bitterness unit) range of 60-120, an ABV of between 7.5% and 10% with a lighter colour. Drinkability of the style is important and it should be well balanced with strong malt backbone and residual sweetness.

7th stab red aleThe fifth and final beer has been announced and it is a red ale.  The beer is called “Seventh Stab” red ale because it literally was their seventh stab at making a red ale.  I know in speaking with the brewmaster Brian Westcott, that it was tough to get it tasting how they wanted while still being “red enough.  At the end of the day, they got the right balance and so, 7th try is the charm.

While not indicated, the style is most likely that of an Irish Red Ale.  While Ireland has a strong brewing tradition, the Irish Red Ale is really a variation on the English Bitter with less hopping and a bit more roasted malt added for colour and sweetness.

This style of beer is easy-drinking with subtle flavours of caramel, toffee and a bit of a grainy texture on the palate. There are certain versions of this style that will emphasize the caramel and sweetness of the malt  moreso than others.  It’s important to mention that there are many variations that exist within this style.  While a more traditional style will have less of a hop profile, there is an emerging version in the craft beer scene that is more hop forward with a higher ABV.

To end this post, Barn Hammer also has some Merchandise available should you wish to pick some up and support them as they build their brewery. You can represent a new craft brewery around town in a nice T-shirt or toque.

BH - Merch

Each of the items is $25 including tax and they are accepting cash or cheque right now.  If you’d like something, you can contact them here.

Happy New Beers Eve

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Happy New Beers Eve!

If you loved beer, living in the United States between 1920 and 1933 was an incredibly sad time.  During this time prohibition had been in effect and it was illegal for any form of alcohol to be sold or consumed.

While we did have prohibition in Canada, which began in most provinces between 1916-1918, it was more short lived.  Most of the provinces had repealed their prohibition laws to allow for some sort of sale of alcohol by 1923. Many repealed their laws in 1918. Here in Manitoba, we kept the prohibition law on the books until 1923.

In Manitoba after 1923 there remained a fairly restrictive liquor act in effect until 1956. The act allowed only for the purchase of 24 quarts a week or 72 quarts of beer per month. Liquor could only be consumed at home and it was illegal to barter or transport alcohol. 10 rate payers could also stop the establishment of a licensed premise or a beer vendor and as we know Steinbach remained dry until 2008.

You can see a pretty interesting run down of liquor laws in Manitoba here.

Prince Edward Island kept prohibition on the books the longest. Their law remained in effect until 1948!

But why is it New Beers Eve? Well the beginning of the end started with the passing of the Cullen-Harrison Act on March 22nd, 1933. This legislation enacted the 21st amendment to the US Constitution which repealed the 18th amendment which had enacted prohibition. The 18th amendment had been in effect since January 17th, 1920.

Take a look at this newspaper page from the Chattanooga News from January 14th, 1920.

The legislation came into effect on April 7th, and so April 6th became an unofficial holiday in the United States, New Beers Eve. It’s said that upon signing the legislation Franklin D. Roosevelt said “I think this would be a good time for beer”.

This act also legalized the sale in the United States of beer with an alcohol content of 3.2%(by weight) and wine with a similarly low alcohol content.  With this percentage the argument was that it was too low to be intoxicating. Still it did allow for states to have some control over their sale of alcohol. In fact many states remained dry for years with the last one dropping prohibition in 1966. To this day there are still some dry counties which prohibit the sale of alcohol. You can see where liquor laws stand now in states here.

And so, on the first New Beers Eve, April 6th, 1933, people lined up outside of breweries and taverns, who could legally open their doors at Midnight on April 7th, to enjoy their first legal beer in many years.  Franklin D. Roosevelt even took part in the celebrations and is said to have had a wagon drawn by Clydesdale horses bring beer up to the white house on April 7th, 1933. New Beers Eve also precedes another unofficial holiday, National Beer Day, which of course is every April 7th.

So, enjoy your day and enjoy your eve, let’s help our neighbors to the south celebrate the end of their prohibition. After all, those of us in Manitoba had 10 more years of beer then they did.

Bar at PEG Beer Co. Open

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I had the opportunity to attend the soft opening of PEG Beer Co this past Thursday (March 31st, 2016). To be able to be in the completed space was pretty surreal. After my visits to the space and seeing it in progress, it has been quite a transformation. Given that the team at PEG had spent a year in the planning, a year in the building, and now the doors to the one of first of the new craft breweries in Winnipeg is on its way to being open.

Right now only half of PEG Beer Co has opened its doors to the public. I say half because the brewery is still not operational. Nicole said that they hope to be able to start brewing in the next 3 weeks. All of this is dependent on the permits and getting the official go ahead to start brewing. Once they do, they should have their first beers ready in 4-6 weeks. These I am looking forward to tasting and reviewing.

PEG Complete 5

There were certainly some hiccups at the soft opening. The servers are still getting a hang of everything going on, they were working incredibly hard, and there is no PEG beer to enjoy. Instead, the brew pub has a list of beers that it is getting from the Liquor Marts and selling. They are certainly choosing some great beers which is nice, but I am much more anxious to get into the space to enjoy the beer that they will be producing themselves. Their guest beer list is here. It seems to be changing as they get new product into the Liquor Marts.

The food menu is quite diverse and provides some interesting options for patrons. From charcuterie, house-made bread and jams and flatbreads all the way to whole chickens, stuffed trout and ham served family style, there is an eclectic selection of food.  For me, I think I’ll be mostly sticking to the smaller fare. You can, of course, check out their menu here and decide what you think you might most enjoy.

For now, PEG is open Tuesday-Saturday from 4pm-11pm. I’d encourage you to get out and support them. It isn’t easy to open a new restaurant, let alone a brew pub. For all of us Winnipeggers clamoring for new craft beer, we need to make sure that we put our money where out mouth is and support these new breweries as they open. I know PEG doesn’t have beer yet, but they will, and I for one will do my best to support all the new breweries.

Craft Beer Events

Hey folks. Wanted to take a moment to write about a few craft beer related events coming up in the immediate and near future.  This won’t be a long post but I hope that people will take advantage of the opportunities to get out and try some new craft beer/support local establishments.

First, tonight (March 31st, 2016) at 7pm, PEG Beer Co. will officially open its doors to the public.

This has been a long time coming and it is so satisfying to see them open their doors.  Almost a year ago I first wrote about the plans behind this brewpub and more recently gave an update on where they are at. With all the delays and all of the hard work put in by the team, to have them open is very exciting indeed.

I hope that this will just be the start and we will be welcoming Barn Hammer, Torque, Oxus Brewing and others over the next year. As I’ve said before, I’ll say again, Winnipeg’s craft beer scene is going to be vastly different next year at this time.

Second, on April 18th at Barley Brothers Stadium, The Parallel 49 Brews Bros Vol. 2 Launch Party is happening

All 12 beers from this collaboration pack will be on tap down at the Stadium location of Barley Brothers (Pembina Highway location).  As this is a launch party for the collaboration pack, it means we will be seeing this 12 pack show up in liquor marts here in Manitoba.  The list price is $29.99 ($5 cheaper than last year) and more details about quantities at Liquor Mart locations will be coming on the Liquor Mart website as we get closer to the date.

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If you’re wondering, “what beers are going to be in this 12 pack?” Well, here is your answer:

Axe and Barrel – Paranoid (Oat Wild Pilsner)
Not your typical beer. Start with an Imperial Pilsner recipe, throw in some rice and Sorachi Ace hops, add Sake yeast and Brettanomyces clausenii, and just for good measure put in some oak spirals aged in Chardonnay and Sake. Don’t forget to finish it with lager yeast. Seem too complicated? No comment.
IBU: 68
ABV: 8.5%
Doan Brothers – Thunderstruck (Sticke Alt)
With origins in Northern Germany, this dark cool fermented ale has been turned up to 11 with some chocolate malt notes and a prominent noble dry hop. Continental Pilsner malt ensures a refined and highly drinkable beer that is deceptively strong.
IBU: 43
ABV: 6.0%
Barkerville – Run for the Hills (Golden Strong Ale)
A traditional Golden Strong Ale. Spicy and fruity yeast derived notes add a rush of Belgian character to this golden elixir. A healthy addition of sugar to the pale malt base results in a deceptively light body for a higher alcohol beer.
IBU: 31
ABV: 8.0%
Fernie Ridge – Spirit in the Sky (Havana Club Stout)
Inspired by Export Stouts and rum, the dark crystal malts and touch of molasses serve to remind the drinker of the later. Oak spirals aged in Havana Club 7-year old rum add another level of complexity to this surprisingly smooth drinking dark tawny ale.
IBU: 30
ABV: 6.5%
Bridge – Bat Outta Hell (Dark Helles Bock)
A Helles Bock that would infuriate any German beer traditionalist. A core of Continental pale malts book-ended with a touch of black malt to give it an imposing colour and a hearty dose of Hallertau Blanc hops to add a bright gooseberry aroma. A fruity malty lager that is surprisingly dark.
IBU: 28
ABV: 6.3%
Four Winds – The Boys Are Back in Town (Nectar-Face)
The love-child of Jerkface 9000 and Nectarous we’ve been waiting for. A wheat malt base kettle soured a la Four Winds, and late hopped with Mosaic and Ahtanum hops in the Parallel 49 style. A true marriage of techniques and ingredients results is a pungent dry-hopped sour.
IBU: 12
ABV: 6.0%
Cannery – Gimme Shelter (Apple IPA)
A snakebite inspired beer, using a witbier base fermented with a Saison yeast. Spicy yeast and floral citrus notes sit atop a light apple tinged wheat malt base. Dry hopped with Motueka and Citra because… well… why not?
IBU: 22
ABV: 7.0%
Hearthstone – Sympathy for the Devil (Black I.P.A.)
A rustic and uncomplicated Black IPA. Simcoe hops are made for a beer like this. A moderate malty base, a touch of Roasted Barley flavour, and a restrained ABV make this a beer you’ll be coming back to again and again.
IBU: 52
ABV: 6.5%
Category 12 – Comfortably Numb (Rye Old Ale)
A rich and malty ale with a substantial rye note was fermented with Brettanomyces lambicus to add a cherry funk. This all-malt beer uses earthy hops to balance. This beer doesn’t hide its alcohol or the spicy cherry character that it developed.
IBU: 44
ABV: 8.9%
Moody Ales – Purple Haze (Black Currant Sour)
Playing off of the woodsy resinous flavour of Black Currants, this American sour wheat ale hints at the summer to come. Brace yourself for this tart fruity treat that has perhaps the most stunning colour of any beer we’ve ever seen.
IBU: 8
ABV: 8.0%
Crannog – Suspect Device (Gruit)
A gruit spiced with organic heather flowers, juniper and dry “hopped” with fresh ginger. This mild rye ale focuses on the spicy ginger and juniper, reserving the heather for a background note to support the rich organic Munich malt base. Maybe hops aren’t necessary in every beer.
IBU: 0
ABV: 5.5%
Strange Fellows – People Are Strange (Hoppy Saison)
A classic Saison with a dose of rye malt to throw in some complexity. Taking advantage of the fruity herbal aroma of Opal hops and the spicy pepper notes from the farmhouse yeast. This is sure to be a thirst quencher.
IBU: 32
ABV: 6.5%

This is just the start of the beers that we will be seeing come into Liquor Marts from the 49th Parallel group.

They’ve got Rogue 4 hop coming out later this week and it looks like it might be getting bulletined as one of their new core products.  As well, waiting to come into Manitoba is Phillips Sax (Dark Sour Brown Ale aged on grape musts), Rogue Sriracha Stout, Rogue Brutal IPA as well as a taste of my home town, Picaroon’s Timberhog Stout.  Not sure on the date these will be coming out, so watch the Liquor Marts new listing section.

It also looks like Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries will be doing the Coast to Coaster again and there are a couple of new breweries on board for this event. Fuggles & Warlock from BC as well as a German Pilsner and a French Schwartz Beer.  Keep your eyes open for this.

Finally, for those who homebrew, there is a Pros vs Schmoes competition coming up on May 28th.

This is put on by Grain to Glass and Le Beau Café.  The best of show beer will have their beer brewed at Barnhammer after it opens.  There will be some great prizes and it’s a great opportunity to get your beer judged by certified BJCP judges.  It’s a great way to get some feedback on your homebrew and to have an opportunity to win some great prizes.

Not all beer styles are being judged.  According to the website only the follow styles will be judged:

1(D) American Wheat beer, 10 German wheat beer, 18 Pale American Ale, 19 Amber and brown beer, 20 Porter and stout, 21(B) Specialty IPA, 25(B) Saison, and 34(C) Experimental/other

You can get all the details you need by clicking here.  You can also register by clicking here.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

-Beer Winnipeg

Growler Bar Listing

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Around twitter this past week there was some conversation over the fact that new breweries opening here in Manitoba will not be able to list any product which is packaged and sold at Liquor Marts on growler bars at Liquor Marts or Beer Vendors.  There was quite a bit of concern raised over this matter and so I figured I’d ask Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MBLL) about it.

When the pilot project for growler bars launched, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries had no idea it would be as popular as it was.  Luckily this had been taken this into consideration and was part of the reason behind only listing Half Pints and Fort Garry.  Should the growler bar prove to be popular,  they could easily get access to more beer.

During this pilot they allowed both the core and seasonal beers from Half Pints and Fort Garry to be listed.  When the MBLL started making plans for the future of the growler bars they reviewed all the feedback they had received during the pilot run of the growler bars. One thing that I was told they had heard time and time again that people want fresh, unique and interesting beers. If a listed beer did extremely well on the growler bar it is then possible that they may be able to get it listed as a packaged product at the Liquor Marts.

“We have consistently heard from customers that they were looking for fresh, unique and seasonal beers, so this was an opportunity to provide customers with a selection of products that they would not be able to necessarily get in another format.”

In response to this desire, they made a choice to only allow beers not already available in the Liquor Marts to be listed on the growler bar. This would allow for consumers to be able to have access to something that they normally don’t. What I did learn was that this rule only applies to the Liquor Marts and the Beer Vendors and that brew pubs and microbreweries can sell whatever they want at their own growler stations.” So, those breweries that are opening and will have growler stations will be able to have any of their core brands, core brands of other breweries as well as seasonal beers on their growler stations. To be honest, I believe that once the brew pubs and breweries start opening we will see many more people trying to get it from the source.

The other concern that I know I and others have had is that a number of breweries owned by AB In-Bev have been listed. The MBLL is required under trade agreements to follow a non-discriminatory practice in their listing process. What this means is that if a brewery meets the criteria set the MBLL to fit within the “craft-style beer” category (This includes the type of ingredients used, brewing methods, the use of adjuncts, batch size, etc.) that they are required to consider them for listing, “ownership does not matter.”

“As long as their product meets the criteria, the listing application offers a fair process for all eligible suppliers to compete for participation; ownership does not matter.”

While the growler bars at the Liquor Marts and Beer Vendors have been our only real opportunity to get access to beer in this way, with the coming opening of Peg Beer Co. (Hopefully next week! Please!), Barn Hammer, Torque and the number of other projects on the go, I think we will see a great deal more variety available to us in the near future.  So, while the new breweries in the city may not be able to list any of their packaged beers at the Liquor Marts, it will allow for them to diversify, come up with something fun and unique for the Liquor Marts and still have whatever they choose on at their taprooms.

Whether you agree with this practice or not, feel free to contact your MLA and the MBLL directly with your concerns.  I’m looking forward to continuing to support the growing local craft beer industry.

Torque Brewing

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It’s been a little while since I’ve had a chance to post a new entry and I’m happy to be back at it. This past week I had a chance to sit down with Matt Wolff, Adam Olson and John Heim from Torque Brewing and get an update on how things are going.  Since the last time I spoke with them there have been some changes and a whole lot of progression forward.  They are getting closer and closer to opening and so it was good to catch up and hear all the news.

The team behind Torque is a quite a solid one. I got to spend a lot of time chatting with Adam, Matt and John so I can give some more details on what they bring to the team, but the other two members whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting, are: Phil Bernadin, a home brewer and mechanical engineer and Gilles Pinette, an entrepreneur and Torque’s VP of Business affairs.

Matt brings 15 years of commercial brewing experience to the Torque team. Having the knowledge and skill to run the plant and the day to day operations allows for Torque to hit the ground running.  He is anticipating being able to have a similar output to Fort Garry and is excited about the ability to ramp up their brew house and expand in the future as need be.

Adam Olson has only been home brewing for 3 years but in that time he has developed a name for himself and his award winning recipes. He came 5th overall in the brewer of the year competition and is excited to have Matt take these recipes and ramp them up to full brew scale.  As a microbiologist by trade he has a good understanding of yeast strains and is really excited to use this knowledge to start a sour program at Torque. He wants to experiment with barrel souring and wild strains.  Adam is also taking his CPA, as he will be the secretary treasurer for Torque.

John Heim is the vision man. He has the overall picture of where Torque is moving and the skill to help direct it to where the team wants it to go. With his PR expertise and sales background he is already ramping up excitement and anticipation for Torque. They have a full line of merchandise that they will be getting up on their website for sale soon and he has been working with restaurants already to help build that anticipation and is doing all the right social media things.

Even with such a strong team behind Torque Brewing, they still have a lot of work to do. They are still a few months away from having beer and are just in the process of outfitting their space with equipment and getting the test-batch system ready to go. While John didn’t want to confirm any specific beers, other than a Helles (German Lager), the team has a diverse range of beer preferences. Matt likes darker, heavier beers with good maltiness, Adam likes the oft overlooked styles like Dopplebocks, Wee Heavies and of course Sours, and John is liking heavier gravity beers like Russian Imperial Stouts and Barley wines. While this doesn’t tell us much more of the specific beers we can expect, it gives us an idea. John did say that we can expect the Helles, a higher gravity beer like a Barley Wine and of course some Sours.

So, one question I always like to get the answer to is “Why open a brewery?” It’s not an easy task, it costs a lot of money, and there is no guarantee that you’ll ever make any of it back.  Matt saw this a progression. He wanted to evolve. Matt doesn’t like being idle, he wants to keep working on beers and making them better and better. Being the VP of Brewery operations at Torque will give him the opportunity to direct the way the beer production goes, to always be striving to be better and to have more control over the creative aspects of the beers.  For Adam, it was a seed planted in a conversation that he thought about, talked about, and then took the leap. Most homebrewers have a dream to one day take their hobby to the next level, Adam just happened to get that chance.

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Torque will be located at 330-830 King Edward and with Half Pints and Barn Hammer makes a little bit of a beer triangle. They were looking for a place that was as logistically accessible as possible. With plans to put out 1 million litres of beer in year one, they needed a place that could get trucks in and out to take the beer where it needs to go. They were also looking for a high traffic space with a blank slate that would allow them to develop the brewery for their needs. The location they chose gives them all of this as well as the added advantage to being near the airport and a lot of different hotels.

So, 1 million litres of beer, that’s a lot. What they heck are they going to brew this on? Well, they have ordered a 2 vessel 30 HL brewing system that is capable of expanding to a 4 vessel system.  They’ve got mods on it that will allow for step mashing, concoction mashing as well as straight infusion. They’ve got Hot and Cold liquor support and best of all, the system is 100% Canadian made.  John told me that for Torque their motto is “whenever possible source local, then Canadian, and then US.” That’s an exciting notion and I’m looking forward to seeing it.

So, how do we get the beer? They are planning to be canning right off the hop. They are going to be doing 6 and 12 packs in 355ml cans, single 473ml cans, 4 packs in 473ml cans and then for the special occasion beers, 650ml bomber bottles.  As well, they are going to have a rather spacious tap room with growler fills. This is secondary at this point in time as they really want to focus on getting the brewery up and running. They’ve got a good ways to go but they are excited about starting.

The team at Torque wants to be the dominate craft brewer. They would like to be the Surly or Beau’s of Winnipeg. Not just through the production of great beer but as through all their actions. They want to be a respected part of the community and represent how great Winnipeg. They want people to feel their passion for craft beer from the moment they step foot in the brewery and the moment they taste their beer. They want to promote education about craft beer through Torque TV, a series of YouTube videos to help educate the public on various aspects of craft beer, by offering brewing courses and tours, and by generally being open and available to answer questions.  They want to have a team of employees who can be proud of the work that they do. The passion is really there when you talk to these guys. You can tell how excited they are.

Right now they are working with the Architects and Engineers to get the space ready. With the weight of their tanks they need to do some work on the flooring. With 6000L of beer plus the weight of the tank, you need a strong floor.  Once this is done they want to get brewing. Their hope is to have beer ready by the May long weekend as they would like to be able to participate in Flatlanders. The plan after that is to have a soft-opening to get the beer out the door and then start working on finalizing the tap room. As they grow they want to make sure they have beer for every palate and work on eating into the macro share of the market, then to expand to being at festivals, supporting beer gardens and taking an overall multipronged approach.

Since we have so many new breweries working on opening up I am always curious how the changes in legislation have impacted the breweries. What I am learning is that while the province is on board with making things like taprooms legal, they aren’t the ones who issues the permits. The City of Winnipeg and the Province aren’t on the same page as to what a taproom actually is. What rules need to be followed? What needs to be in place?  Having all these ideas and being told that “you can’t do that” has become a bit of a challenge.  As the market grows and the rules begin to get flushed out, it will become easier for breweries to open. John said that now when they call the permit department it’s a lot faster because they’ve been dealing with similar situations.

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(L-R) John Heim, Adam Olson and Matt Wolff of Torque Brewing

To finish, I want to give you all an idea of how Torque sees itself differentiating from the other breweries that are opening in the Province.  First and foremost, the sheer scale of the brewery will set them apart. They plan to have a massive scale equal to Fort Garry and be able to supply good quality beer. They also hope that the culture of the brewery and people first approach will help set them apart. They want people to feel like it is a family where everyone loves their job and the people who come into the space are met with this passion and love for craft beer.  Finally, they want to be a source of partnerships and work with likeminded companies through collaborations with other breweries and local businesses. Overall, the team at Torque are all raving fans of beer.

 

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.

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.

Manitoba Budget – Money for Craft Beer

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The Manitoba Government continues to show that it has an interest in expanding the craft brewery market here in Manitoba. With places like Ontario and BC just exploding with new breweries who are not only bringing in revenue for tourism but also through sales and taxation, it’s about time for the government to push further and open up the market to allow for new entries.

As has been noted before on this blog and in conversation with David Rudge of Half Pints, the changes in laws to allow for growler bars, and hopefully soon, tap rooms, will allow for new breweries to come into the market with lower overheads and increased chance of success.  With the government of Manitoba committing some of the $10,191,000 (Page 5) increase in Tourism and Culture to be put towards introducing measures to “boost Manitoba’s craft brewing industry” (Page 8), we see that they are putting sincere efforts into area of business that will hopefully bring about some changes to the way breweries currently operate.

The increase in funding, the promise to introduce new measures and the Craft Breweries Strategy all give me hope that we will see some opening up of the still very restrictive liquor laws here in Manitoba that will allow new breweries to flourish and bring to Manitoba the same sort of creativity and wealth of options that exist.  Not that I don’t like Manitoban beer…I love it, I’d just like to have more!

On a final note, May the fourth be with you.

– Beer Winnipeg