Beer fans in Manitoba have plenty to be excited about. Barley Brothers, a craft beer pub, is slated to open on Empress Street (in the old Kelsey's location) this fall. Winnipeg Brew Bombers and Half Pints Brewing Co. are presenting the first annual Pro/Am Brew Challenge for home brewers in late November (more on this soon -- for now visit winnipegbrewbombers.ca for details). And of course Portage Ave Brew Works & Kitchen is shooting for a December opening across from the MTS Centre.
But if you want to quench your excitement sooner rather than later, you can always head east on the Trans-Canada Highway, take the turn to Kenora and look for the old fire hall -- home of Lake of the Woods Brewing Company.
The brewpub is the brainchild of Taras Manzie, and is one of the closest options for Manitobans looking to swig something in the same place it's made. Visitors can sit at the brewpub's restaurant and grab some food (which I'm told is quite good), or pick up any of the four beers in 1.89-litre "growler" bottles and/or souvenirs (shirts, hats, hoodies, beer koozies, bottle openers, etc.) to take away.
The front area of the building (occupied by the restaurant) was the old fire hall and dates back a century, while the rear of the brewpub is newer and had been used by police for vehicles and prisoner detention. "The packaging area was a jail house," says brewmaster Bernhard Wieland while taking me on a tour of the facilities in August. "When we ripped out the office floor there were concrete cutouts from where the cells had been."
Wieland went through the master brewers program at University of California-Davis before cutting his teeth as a brewmaster in Hannover, Germany. He then worked at Fort Garry Brewing Co., and Vancouver Island Brewery before heading to Kenora. The beers brewed at the brewpub are from Wieland's recipes.
Pressed for a favourite among the three beers brewed at the time of my tour (the Big Timber IPA was added in September), Wieland picked the Papermaker Pilsner. "It was drinking pilsner in Prague the summer after high school that got me thinking about a career in brewing," he explained.
Wieland suggests hanging on to the beer for no more than a few months to ensure freshness; once a growler is open, you'll want to finish it in a few days.
Sales-wise, the brewpub will focus on draft accounts in northwestern Ontario first. "We'll wait and see how things quiet down after the tourists are gone," said Wieland.
Could Lake of the Woods Brewing Company's beer hit the shelves of Manitoba Liquor Marts? That could depend on changes to liquor regulations slated to pass in December, but they'd have to clear a few hurdles, including transportation costs and whether their 1.89-litre growlers would meet Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries packaging regulations. If it were to show up in Manitoba, I'd venture it would be via draft accounts at lounges and pubs.
Business boomed at the brewpub this summer: batches sold out in days and the restaurant was hopping. If the brewpub can make it through the winter -- and by all accounts it should -- next year will give them a full season to really prosper.
Lake of the Woods beers
All beers $16 plus HST at the brewery in 1.89-litre bottles (or $12 plus HST for a refill of the bottle)
Medium-gold in colour, with a medium, white head. The Papermaker brings toasted malt, honey and light, pleasant herbal notes from Saaz hops. The herbal/bitter notes come through on the palate, yet there's an attractive creamy, yeasty component as well. My favourite of the bunch. 'Ö'Ö'Ö'Ö
Firehouse Amber Ale
Deep copper in colour with a slightly off-white head, it brings candied nut, malt and toasty aromas. It's a crisp amber ale thanks to 28 IBU, yet retains bright toasty malt flavours with that light bitterness on the short but clean finish. 'Ö'Ö1/2
Medium-gold in colour, with rich malt notes on the nose as well as floral and citrus rind notes as well. It's light, slightly creamy and super smooth, with mild sweet malt and toasted oat flavours on the palate. A good choice for budding beer drinkers. 'Ö'Ö'Ö
Big Timber India Pale Ale
Deep copper in colour, with caramel and Tootsie Roll aromas -- but not as much in the way of hops notes as I anticipated. They're more apparent on the palate, bringing crisp, bitter chocolate notes to the toasted malt and toffee flavours. There's some weight to this IPA. Thumbs up. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2
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