Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brew pub on tap for Winnipeg again

Wanless unites industry pros for new pub on Portage

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Beer lovers too long embarrassed Winnipeg is the only major Canadian city without a brew pub will once again be able to show their faces this December.

That's when Portage Ave BrewWorks & Kitchen will turn on its taps at 323 Portage Ave.

If that address looks familiar, it should. It was the home of the 4Play sports bar across the street from the MTS Centre before that establishment closed in January.

Owner Darren Wanless is quick to admit most of his experience in pubs is on the customer side of the bar, but the businessman has made sure to surround himself with experts.

First and foremost, he hired Doug Saville -- the founder of Two Rivers Brewing back in the late 1990s and CEO of Fort Garry Brewing before it was sold to Russell Brewing in 2007 -- to be its "brewmaster emeritus."

Rob McCaig, managing director and director of brewing at the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre just a few blocks away, is going to be Wanless's technical adviser.

He has also hired a day-to-day brewmaster, but that person's name will remain under wraps until the former Manitoban relocates from out of the province and leaves his current brewery.

Wanless is also taking over just 11,000 square feet of the former 4Play space, leaving another 5,000 square feet or so for another tenant who has already been signed -- though no name has been released yet.

"I know the business side of it. A lot of restaurants and bars fail because the chefs and bartenders don't realize the marketing and accounting sides of it will ruin their fun," he said.

Wanless caught the brew-pub bug in the late 1990s when River City Brewing opened in Osborne Village. It closed after a short run but he kept waiting for somebody else to fill the void. Then, a couple of years ago, he made the "mistake" of telling his business partner, Lovett Lewis, about his brew-pub dreams.

"He said, 'Why wait? Go ahead and do it,' " Wanless said.

Bernie Cheater, the landlord of 323 Portage Ave. and former owner of 4Play, said he had been shopping the space around since February. He had wanted to start a dinner club there but those plans fell through.

"I've a had a lot of interest in it, I just wanted the right tenant. I have a lot of confidence in (BrewWorks). I had other people come to me but I didn't feel their ideas were unique. This one is," Cheater said.

Cheater is confident BrewWorks will succeed where 4Play didn't because it will appeal to a wider array of customers than just sports fans.

"It's going to be in the entertainment section of the city. There is more activity downtown than there was before," he said.

Portage Ave BrewWorks & Kitchen won't just make beer on site to serve on draught. It will also produce recipes for special events and sell its own beer in bottles or kegs from its own store.

"It will be the freshest beer in Manitoba. You can get it out of the tap or take it home with you," Cheater said.

In the end, Wanless estimates Portage Ave BrewWorks & Kitchen will be a $2-million project. He has an investor group of five thus far who have raised about half that amount and he has also secured a business loan.

Wanless is confident the pub will be full before and after Winnipeg Jets games and concerts, but he considers those nights a bonus.

"I'd like to create something that people will come to on non-event nights," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2013 B2

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Updated on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 12:34 PM CDT: replaces photo

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