It has been just over a year since I started blogging about the beer scene here in Manitoba. It’s been a really interesting and informative year. I’ve met so many passionate people who – while we don’t always agree – I’ve grown to respect immensely.
There are a few key things I didn’t know I’d learn when I started blogging; a journey that’s only made me more interested in beer, brewing and the future of beer in Manitoba.
Since I’ve begun blogging about beer I’ve also expanded my knowledge around home brewing with the assistance of a great many FANTASTIC home brewers. I’ve gone from brewing from kits, to using extract, to all-grain brewing (a focus of an upcoming blog post). It’s been incredibly challenging and exciting at the same time. Having the opportunity to attend the Winnipeg Brew Bombers’ meetings, learn from those who have been brewing a lot longer than me, and get feedback on my beers has been such a boon.
Having the opportunity to learn new techniques, brew with experienced brewers and try new things has helped me become more passionate about beer. Before I started blogging I was a huge Hophead, mostly leaning toward IPAs. Since I’ve started brewing more on my own and experimenting I’ve had what Dave Rudge calls “epiphany beers” that sparked a desire to brew new tasty treats, like a Pumpkin Spice Latte Stout (Coffee and spice infused milk stout) and now my first Gose (a salty sour beer).
Thank you to those of you who have helped me expand my beer horizons. There are many of you and I appreciate all the opportunities you’ve given me.
When I started writing, I had no idea how many beer geeks there are here in Manitoba. While we may be a small community compared to other provinces, the “craft beer enthusiasts” in Manitoba are certainly passionate. I’ve very much enjoyed the opportunity to engage with them in conversations about brewing beer, tasting beer, judging beer and straight up drinking beer.
Within this group of people are some certified BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) judges whose abilities I’ve grown to deeply respect. I’m openly envious of their talents and hope one day to join their ranks.
Our beer community has some of the best people I’ve met and for that, I’m thankful.
I had hoped for – but did not expect to see – an exponential growth of demand in Manitoba for good beer. Well it arrived in force! Not only have we seen a massive growth in the number of craft beers being brought into the Liquor Marts, we’ve seen a surge of people looking to open breweries or brewpubs. At last count there are 16 people at the Manitoba Brewers Association meetings looking to open a new home for craft beers.
I’ve heard some people opine that beer is becoming “the new wine” with the variety of styles, breweries, and quality growing. The options available to Manitobans have become more diverse and with the expected openings of Peg Beer, Barn Hammer and Torque rapidly approaching, this Manitoba summer will feature a significant leap of local craft beer in our market.
What to expect from year two
One year into this blog and I’ve already had the opportunity to be involved in a lot of exciting growth in our beer scene. I’m very thankful for that.
But blog readers – you’re the ones I’m most thankful for. Without you, I’d be writing a diary of blog posts for myself to read. I appreciate your readership. Thank you.
So, what can you expect in the coming year?
I’ll continue to bring you information about new breweries: those that are nearly open, and those on the horizon
I’ll deliver details of special events and beer releases.
I’ll share my experiments in home brewing: things I learn, the mistakes I make…
I’ll tweet and blog about wider beer trends in general
This upcoming year will be exciting. When I began we were a year away from new breweries in Manitoba; now we are weeks or months away. I look forward to continuing to bring you all the best Manitoba brews news.
Remember how I’ve been talking about all these new breweries and how they are going to be opening soon and we will be able to, finally, see our craft beer community grow? Well, we are getting REALLY close to that time.
This past week I had the chance to stop into Peg Beer Company and take a look at the progress they’ve made. While it’s still a work in progress, things are getting really close to completion. You’ll need to imagine a little bit as there is a lot of construction material still in the space, but man, it’s exciting.
Pictures from 20th of February – Lots has been done since.
Nicole said that they hope to be open by March 14th. This will be a soft opening given that they won’t have any of their own beer brewed yet. Instead, they will have special beers on tap at the pub from other breweries. Hopefully some fun stuff.
As many of you know, Peg has already announced the beers they plan to launch with. These include a Berliner Weisse, Stout, ISA, Saison and a Kettle Sour. Nicole says that they will certainly have some more beers coming down the pipe but that she can’t spoil the surprise. Though I imagine we will see an Imperial Stout and given one of the brew team, Scott Sawatzky, loves sours, we will likely see more of those. Apparently he makes a mean Black Berliner Weisse.
To begin Nicole says they will be packaging two different beers and trying to make sure they leave room in their brew house for creativity. She wants to see specialty beers and one-offs as well as rotating taps in the pub side. She’s put together a team of brewers with their different expertise and she will be drawing on them a lot. The team is made up of the aforementioned Scott Sawatzky, Jeff Weibe, Dan Simpson and Kevin Rempel. All of them were at the brewery working hard to get things ready to go. I think I may need to hire them; I’ve got some drywall I’d like to fix up in my house. One thing Nicole mentioned about the work the guys have been doing is the love they put into it. They are spending time making sure the corners on the drywall is perfect and really taking to heart the task of building a brewpub.
Nicole echoed the sentiment we heard from Torque last week, that when people come into the brewpub she wants them to feel the love the employees have for what they do and have that spill over into their experience. With the brewing community continuing to grow Nicole really wants to see that comradery that she sees in other jurisdictions. Places like Toronto where brew masters from places like Amsterdam, Steam Whistle, and other breweries who come together to just brew for fun at a little homebrew club. Having a close knit community in which the breweries work together and promote one another. Something I really am hoping to see. Collaboration pack anyone?
Nicole has also run into some of the same issues as Torque. The communication between the province and the city, who issues the permits, has resulted in delays across the board. This is the third time Nicole has acted as a General Contractor for a Brewery and there are certainly some hiccups that arise along the way. Nicole is positive about it all and working with the inspectors and permit department to get things moving forward. Still, I think it is important that if we want to have breweries open we don’t put up roadblocks. Communication between Provincial and Municipal governments to clarify rules would likely go a long way.
Nicole also told me that they have just brought Shannon Burns, formerly from Diversity, on as the Assistant Manager for Front of House. Shannon will also have a big focus on special events. With her background in catering from diversity she is a good addition to the Peg team. Not only that, Nicole said that she wants to have a big focus on special events. Without giving too much away she said that she wants to give people more reasons to come to the exchange and try to work with the already existing local business in the exchange to do some fun stuff.
At the end of the day, Nicole told me that this has been a really creative project. After all: “Food and Beer are huge creative outlets.” I for one am excited to see what she cooks up. I know I’ll be doing my best to support the craft beer industry in Manitoba, one beer at a time.
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.
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.
Tap Room Space
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Well, it seems like there are some things happening here in Manitoba in respect to Craft Beer.
For a long time we have been pretty behind when it comes to craft beer and breweries. We currently have three breweries in Manitoba. When you compare that to a small province like New Brunswick which is home to 7 that I can think of off the top of my head (likely more) it’s not really that great.
So, to have the government announce a “Craft Breweries Strategy” is a very promising step that when combined with the Growler system and the work being done on the Liquor laws here may result in some actual change and growth.
According to the press release the Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Sport and Consumer Protection Minister Ron Lemieux announced the first step as the creation of an advisory committee which will be made of of the following people:
MANITOBA CRAFT BREWERIES STRATEGY INDUSTRY ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Robert Holmberg, vice-president, liquor operations, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, and chair, Craft Brewery Industry Advisory Committee
Jim Baker, president and CEO, Manitoba Hotel Association
Noel Bernier, president and CEO, FB Hospitality
Bill Gould, president, WETT Sales and Distribution Inc.
Orest Horechko, general manager, Fort Garry Brewing Co.
Scott Jocelyn, executive director, Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association
David Rudge, brewmaster and president, Half Pints Brewing Company
Darren R. Wanless, president, Wanless Geo-Point Solutions Inc.
Lawrence Warwaruk, owner, Farmery Estate Brewery
Kerry Wolfe, senior executive director, strategic gaming and liquor development, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries
Quite a number of people there who, I hope, will bring some good insight to the table.
At the very least this is a start. We are in a sorry state for craft brewing here in Manitoba in comparison to the rest of Canada and I am hoping that we will begin to see some change in the quality and quantity of craft brewers we have.
I want to finish by saying the breweries we do have are excellent. I’m always excited by their creativity and their willingness to put out special beers and try new things. I hope that Fort Garry, Half Pints and Farmery will continue to do this and will help grow, not stifle, the craft beer competition in this province.