Tag Archives: Manitoba

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

Prairie Gem Hops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Brewing,

-Beer Winnipeg

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

Manitoba Craft Breweries Stratgey

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
  • Dwayne Marling, vice-president, Manitoba–Saskatchewan, Restaurants Canada
  • 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.

-Beer Winnipeg