Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Agassiz ale no longer made in Manitoba

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THE final vestige of the Agassiz Brewing Company may be about to disappear from the province's beer-scape.Catfish Cream Ale, its last recipe standing, will no longer be produced under contract by one-time rival, Fort Garry Brewing Co.

Orest Horechko, general manager of Fort Garry, said he regrets having to make the move but it was a numbers decision.

"We're busier doing our own stuff and we don't seem to have the time to make other brands that are taking up room in our warehouse. We only have so many tanks," he said.

Joe Constant, a partner in New Manitoba Brewing Ltd., which has overseen the Agassiz brands for the last several years, said there's a 50-50 chance he'll be able to resuscitate Catfish. He said he asked the city's other microbrewery, Half Pints, if it could brew it for him, but was told it didn't have any room either. He is now in preliminary discussions with one microbrewery in Saskatchewan and another in Alberta.

"It comes down to cost. The farther that you go to produce your beer, the more expensive it becomes and the less money you make in the end. The margins are so tight because of the competition," he said.

Agassiz was one of a trio of new microbreweries, including Fort Garry and Two Rivers Brewing, that burst onto Manitoba's beer scene more than a decade ago to produce and bottle locally made beer. But Agassiz's volumes of its Catfish, Bison Blonde Lager, Premium Pilsner, Dark Lager and Harvest Haze Hefeweizen recipes weren't sufficient to sustain its plant and it was closed in 2002. Agassiz temporarily outsourced production to an Ontario brewery before coming to terms with Fort Garry on a co-packing arrangement in 2006.

Gary De Pape, the Fort Garry Brewing alumnus who founded Agassiz but left the company after a dispute with partners in 2000, said the microbrewery has had a "long, ugly walk down death row" for the past several years. Still, he felt it served a purpose in Manitoba.

"Agassiz helped change the market. Now we're all drinking different beers. It's not the same old, same old like it was 10 years ago."

Horechko said Fort Garry, which is owned by B.C.-based Russell Breweries Inc., said it recently signed on to provide a pair of recipes, called Cobblestone Lager and Cobblestone Pale Ale, to the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant in Winnipeg. It also just launched a limited run of its Fort Gibraltar recipe in cans, as it does every year at this time, in conjunction with the Festival du Voyageur.

Derek Boucher, owner/operator of the Old Spaghetti Factory, said he wanted to have a signature beer for his restaurant and felt a microbrewery could come up with the best recipe.

"It lets us brand something for ourselves and at the same time, offer one of the micros some good exposure with a high-volume chain," he said. "Sales (of the Cobblestone beers) are pretty good. We have six beers on tap and they fare well with the popular brand names."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2010 A11

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