Tag Archives: Fort Garry

Local Fall Offerings

Local Fall Offerings

We’re into October and thus comes the arrival of many fall beers – mostly pumpkin spiced yam and pumpkin beers from around the country and the United States. For some, these represent something wrong with beer, while for others they are as comforting as the first pumpkin spice latte of the season, a warm embrace of comfort and joy. As our craft beer community continues to grow (we now have four active Winnipeg-based breweries) I thought I’d write about what they are offering this fall.

Half Pints

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Every year around this time we see the release of Half Pints Oktoberfest Lager. It’s a traditional German style of beer, also called a Marzen. Before refrigeration it was nearly impossible to brew beer in the summer time due to bacterial infections caused by the increased heat. This meant most brewing had to be completed by the end of spring (March/Marzen). These beers were kept in cold storage over the spring and summer months resulting in a darker, amber colored lager with a higher alcohol content than average. They would typically be rolled out for Oktoberfest celebrations.

This is also the beer that often is transformed into “Punknfest” with pumpkin and spices added to become the “typical” pumpkin fall beer, but this has not been announced yet, nor is it a guarantee. For now, the Oktoberfest is Half Pints’ fall offering.

Appearance:  Dark amber-brown pour with a slightly off-beige head
Smell: Caramel notes, dark fruit, slight earthy hop aroma
Taste:
Nice malty sweetness brings great flavours that are kept from becoming overly sweet by some nice earthy/grassy hop notes

Torque

Even though they are the new kid on the block, this brewery is hammering their beers out of the park. I’ll be doing a write-up on their all-year offerings in the near future, but for now let’s tackle their fall offering, a Dark Pumpkin Ale called “Witching Hour”.

While called a Dark Pumpkin Ale, this beer is brewed in the catch-all style of a spiced/herb/vegetable beer. This means that while it can be brewed in a similar fashion to another style of beer – in this case an ale – the main tastes highlights are found in the additions. This style of beer can take on numerous different variations depending on the choice of malts, hops, and additions made. What I can say about this particular beer is that it is heavily malted providing a very nice caramel rich backbone to compliment the addition of pumpkin (or yams) and spices.

Appearance:  Dark brown, bordering on black, with a slight red hue with a tan head.
Smell: Dark malt, caramel sweetness, pumpkin pie spices (nutmeg, clove, allspice, cinnamon) and some roasty notes.
Taste:
The sweetness from the dark malt comes through strong and is complimented by the spices. While sweet, it does have some roasted notes to the malt that cut the sweetness just slightly making this beer not overpoweringly sweet. The cinnamon and nutmeg come through with a bit of clove.
Barn Hammer

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Barn Hammer has taken a different route altogether and has brewed a Smoke Pumpkin Saison. This was one of their first test batch beers and they’ve now produced a full run of it for sale at their brewery. Through and through this a saison.

Saisons are a sturdy farmhouse style of beer. Originally created in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium, it was traditionally brewed at the end of the cool season to last through the warmer months before refrigeration was common.  It had to be sturdy enough to last but not too strong so it would quench your thirst in the summer months. This style of beer is very complex with a lot fruit notes, spices, and earth yeast notes to the beer. They tend to combine nice fruity notes with spice and a subtle sourness or tartness. Usually there’s lots of spice with mild bitterness and a dry crisp finish and only a hint of sweetness.

This particular saison uses both beechwood smoked malt and locally sourced roasted sugar pumpkin combined with nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice and ginger to bring a little bit of smoke, spice and funk to the beer.

Appearance:  Pours a cloudy copper with an off-white head
Smell: Some spice notes from the additions, smoke notes and a bit of pepperiness.
Taste:
The beer is lightly spiced and the smoked malt comes through as the star. The spice is subtle backing up the pepperiness from the saison. There is a bit of funk to this beer.
Fort Garry

Fort Garry has once again released their Happy Jack Pumpkin Ale. This is another beer brewed in the catch-all style of a spiced/herb/vegetable beer. The main tastes highlights are found in the additions. This style of beer can take on numerous different variations depending on the choice of malts, hops, and additions made. This has additions of real pumpkin, traditional spices and then it is aged with oak. Another take on the traditional fall “pumpkin” beers being offered both locally and from afar.

Appearance:  Amber coloured with an off-white head
Smell: Roasted malty scent with an interesting almost rum aroma from the oak and vanilla that is complimented with pumpkin spices.
Taste: The vanilla, spices and oak come through well. The beer has a lighter body than expected. There are some savoury/bitter notes and the spices leave you with a bit of an aftertaste.

I always encourage people to get out and try new beer. I hope that you do and expand your beer horizons. I’m working on some other write-ups at the moment and have many folks to follow up with. So lots more to come.

As always, I appreciate everyone following.

-Beer Winnipeg

 

 

 

 

Flatlander’s 2016

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This years’ Flatlander’s Beer Festival was by far the best one to date. With 72 booths and over 240 beers, it was the largest beer festival we’ve held in Manitoba.  The number of beers isn’t always important, but the quality, variety and style variations made this year pretty darn awesome. Not only that, the local breweries were out in force and brought their A-game, giving every single one of us a reason to be proud.

I had a unique opportunity this year. I attended all three sessions of Flatlander’s in different capacities. On Friday night I had the joy of being a patron, enjoying around 70 unique beers. On Saturday I participated in the “ask a beer geek” initiative and had a great time answering questions and helping guide people towards beers. Then, on Saturday night, I had the opportunity to pour for Brewsters’ Brewing Company.  Each of these experiences brought a different perspective of the festival and dang, it was fun.

As a patron, I was incredibly impressed with how well organized the beer festival was this year. They had multiple entrances that split up the crowd, they used the concourse as well as the ice, which helped spread the crowd out to make the beers more accessible, and they had fantastic volunteers who did an awesome job helping guide people where they wanted to go.

For me, the most exciting part was the fact the first 9 booths were all local.  Barn Hammer, Farmery, Fort Garry, Half Pints, Brazen Hall, Nonsuch, Torque, One Great City and the Winnipeg Brew Bombers were there with a lot of fantastic beer.

As I said above, these local breweries brought their A-game and provided a fantastic opportunity to not only try a huge number of delicious beers, but also connect with the brewers and breweries.  The local booths were packed all night long with patrons drinking, chatting, and buying the merchandise.  I got me a Torque hat, a Barn Hammer hat and a One Great City shirt… eventually I’ll collect them all!

I can’t wait to try more of the local stuff as it starts to trickle into the market. From what I had the opportunity to taste (every single one) I am excited to continue to support local brewers. This is what I was writing about last year, what I’ve been writing about since I started this blog: We are finally seeing the craft beer community in Manitoba grow…and it’s good.

As a beer geek, I had the opportunity to answer questions people had about beers, hand out some cool swag to patrons and help guide people who didn’t really have a plan. It was a great opportunity to use some of the knowledge I’ve gathered to help others better understand and enjoy beer. I found many people are becoming really well-educated themselves, and that people were just as excited about the local beer as I was.

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While I didn’t have many questions besides “Where is the local stuff” or “Where am I?”, I did have some fun ones. One group had tried a few beers and asked “What is it about these beers I don’t like?” which was a fun one to answer. Others were curious about the use of nitro in One Great City’s Milk Stout, or what a Randall was. Overall, I was working with some really smart people and had a great time getting to meet a lot of new folks, help them enjoy their beer, and learn a little bit more myself from talking with brewers.

As a pourer for Brewsters’, I had the opportunity to stand still while the festival crowd flowed around me.  It was hectic; the first hour flew past in what felt like five minutes. I spent the first bit getting to know the beers as best I could – tasting them on Friday night helped – and talking to Don about Brewsters’. We poured four beers: River City Raspberry Wheat, Honest Paul IPA, Hammerhead Red Ale, and the Hawaiian Coconut Porter. The night ended up being a lot of fun with me repeatedly saying things such as “this is a traditional English porter, finished with real coconut. It has chocolate and coffee notes in it as well” or “this is a big 70 IBU IPA with mosaic, Citra and cascade hops with a big late hop addition that bring big grapefruit and passion fruit notes.”

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This gave me a good barometer for people who knew something about beer and those who did not.  While two years ago Flatlander’s seemed to have a large number of people asking “what’s an IPA?” this year I didn’t have a single person ask that. There will certainly always be room for people to learn more about beer, but the amount of knowledge people showed Saturday night was great to witness. I’m so happy Manitobans are increasingly embracing craft beer, are excited about new beers and local beers, and want to try something they’ve never had.

Talking with Don, a man who has been in the beer industry for close to 20 years, was fantastic. This guy really knows his beer and his product and I really hope that we see some of it come to Winnipeg. The Honest Paul IPA was delicious and I’m a sucker for a good Coconut Porter.  We’ve already got their Brewmaster Collection in Liquor Marts, but we will also see a Peach Ale coming to town for the final flight of Coast to Coaster.

Overall, I had a fantastic time at the beer festival. It helped build excitement for the local breweries, something I’ve been working hard to do, and gave people their first sampling of what is to come.  Next year’s festival will be even better as the breweries here this year – most with the help of Half Pints – will be open and brewing on their own systems. They will have grown and we will have, hopefully, even more new breweries giving us a first taste side-by-side with those from this year. While we had nine local booths at this year’s festival, I really hope to see us take up 20 booths next year.

So, fellow beer fans, I encourage you to get out and enjoy local beer this summer. Of the new folks, Barn Hammer is already sending beer out the door; you can find it at Fools & Horses and Earls right now, and Torque will hopefully be coming up close behind. Many of us have been clamouring for more craft beer so now it’s time to put our money where our mouth is – and also beer where our mouth is.  It’s time to get out and show these places that we will support them.

Let’s end today’s post with a question.  If you attended Flatlander’s, what was your favourite beer? Answer in the comments below.

MBBA Event

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the Manitoba Brewers’ Association (MBBA) meet and greet event that was held down at Fort Garry Brewing Company.

 

MBBA Shirt
The sweet MBBA Tshirt

The event was incredibly well attended and it was nice to see so many people come out to support not only local craft beer, but the Winnipeg Jets True North foundation.  This was the kickoff, if you will, for the Flatlanders’ Beer Festival happening this weekend.  If you don’t have your tickets yet, they are still available here.

The event provided an opportunity to give a try to some of the beers the local breweries have been working on.  Most only brought one to sample, leaving room for excitement at flatlanders, but the beers that they brought were all quite good.

Torque brought their American Stout, One Great City their Pale Ale, Barn Hammer brought their Double IPA, Nonsuch had their Saison, Half Pints had the MBBA collaboration brew and a Coconut Milk Stout, and Fort Gary had their Black Pearl and Buddha Lager.

The big surprise of the night was the new comer, Brazen Hall Brewery and Kitchen, who are going to be opening at the site of the Round Table.  It was an opportunity to meet them and to have a taste of their first beer, a Best Bitter.  Kristjan Kristjansson, who I hope to sit down with again, was saying that they want to combine his Icelandic heritage with the British heritage of their head brewery, Jeremy Wells.  The bitter was nice and I’m excited to hear more about them.

Brazen Hall

While this was just a first opportunity to try some of these beers, I was pretty impressed with what I tasted and I’m excited to be able to try the beers as a final product.

So, I hope that you will all try to make it to the Flatlanders’ Beer Festival this weekend. I’ll be there Friday night enjoying myself, Saturday afternoon as a Beer Geek (come ask me questions) and Saturday Night helping out pouring for Brewsters (come by and say Hi).

On one final note, the Manitoba Bartenders Guild has organized a self-guided brewery tour event that sounds like a lot of fun. I’ll be going along with them and anyone else interested in joining, come on out.  See the image below for details. It should be fun.

Brewery Tour

Thanks for reading as I follow the changing climate of beer here in the province of Manitoba, I’m pretty excited to keep following these, and other, breweries as they start moving closer to opening their doors.

-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.