City of suds Mapping your way through Winnipeg's brewery scene a tapography of ever-growing tastes
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/07/2020 (867 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Five years ago, a map of craft breweries in Winnipeg would have had exactly two points on it — Half Pints Brewing Co.’s Roseberry Street brewery and Fort Garry Brewing Co.’s facility on Lowson Crescent.
Today the city is home to more than 14 physical breweries with over a half-dozen contract brewers and brewery offshoots/side projects. It’s one of the reasons Rob Stansel pulled together a postcard-sized beer map earlier this year, which he then distributed to the city’s breweries as well as to a handful of popular watering holes that serve local lagers and ales.
Stansel, a sommelier and historian by training, is an avid beer fan who, with partners Danielle Sheedy and Pierre Verrier, recently started Middle Tap (middletap.com), an online portal for stories about the local craft beer industry and the people working at the city’s breweries. His map was originally created with tourists in mind; when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shut down non-essential travel, he decided to produce the map anyway for locals curious about exploring our beer culture.
“In other markets I’ve always encountered stuff like this. Those of us stuck in the city can get to know where our breweries are,” he says.
The pandemic has also meant there’s likely to be a pause in new breweries opening in the city — maybe a good thing, given how quickly the industry here has been growing. “There’s been talk about a craft beer bubble for a few years now; the growth has seemed almost unsustainable,” says Stansel.
“This year I think we’re going to see a deepening of quality and an entrenching of brands. In many cases you’re going to see beer that was put in barrels a couple years ago being released, core beer recipes getting sharpened a bit.”
The best way to learn more about beer, of course, is to taste it — and many of the city’s breweries feature tap rooms for the beer-curious and devoted hop heads to get their fix of fresh local craft brews. Here, in alphabetical order, is where our city’s lagers and ales are being made…
Barn Hammer Brewing Co., 595 Wall St.
“They have that real West End brewery mentality… they’re a neighbourhood brewery in the purest sense,” Stansel says. The company’s “friendly neighbour” mentality has made its tap room a favourite among craft beer fans in the city.
The core lineup and seasonal beers are consistently well-made, while the Low Life Barrel House side project lets it experiment with wild yeasts, funkier styles and barrel aging.
• If you go, try this: Playing it safe? The Lousy Beatnik Amber Lager is very popular. Looking for new flavours? Explore the Low Life line of fun, funky beer.
Brazen Hall Kitchen & Brewery, 800 Pembina Hwy.
Brazen Hall has managed to balance making consistent beer and crowd-pleasing food. Its Nordic-inspired flagship beers are now available in cans citywide, while smaller-batch cask releases are tapped on site.
“Jeremy (Wells), the brewer, is a fantastic guy… they’ve got their bière de garde, which not a lot of people are doing here, and do hit their core styles well — like the blonde, and I’ve always liked their amber,” says Stansel, who is also a fan of the kitchen’s burgers and brisket.
• If you go, try this: The aforementioned Vakten bière de garde, the Longsword Pilsner or the Jarpur Amber Ale.
Fort Garry Brewing Co., 130 Lowson Cres.
Manitoba’s oldest craft brewery doesn’t have a tap room on site, but it does offer curbside pickup service and its wares are widely available at Liquor Marts and vendors.
Fort Garry’s core beers (including the Pale, Dark and Rouge) are its staples, but it also does the occasional radler and seasonal brew, including its Happy Jack Pumpkin Ale and its divisive Dill Pickle Pale Ale.
• If you go, try this: There’s no tap room at Fort Garry; grab the Frontier Pilsner, a dry-hopped lager, from the brewery, Liquor Mart or beer vendor. It’s available on its own in a 473ml can or as part of the brewery’s Manitoba 150 Celebration pack.
Half Pints Brewing Co., 550 Roseberry St.
Since 2006, this scrappy local brewery has done anything but rest on its laurels, and in large part is responsible for the state of craft beer in Winnipeg today.
“Middle Tap is the name of my website; it comes from the fact that at my former watering hole, Little Scrapper IPA was the middle tap at the bar,” says Stansel. Half Pints’ core beers are dialed in nicely at this point, and it’s not afraid to push the envelope with seasonal smaller-batch brews, serious ageable beer as well as its playful Staff Series Sunday releases.
• If you go, try this: Bikey McBikeFace Grapefruit Lager and Double Standard Lager are two summer hits; if you like your beers hoppier, the Little Scrapper set the bar for all other local IPAs.
Kilter Brewing Co., 450 Rue Deschambault
Kilter is a buzz-worthy brewery that moved into its St. Boniface space earlier this year, after starting out brewing at Stone Angel. It typically announces new brews via social media, which almost always sell out the same day they’re posted on the website.
“To me, they’re right at the forefront of trending beer style-wise,” Stansel says. The Juicii New England IPA is the city’s gold standard for fruit-driven beer. “I love the fact that they push the envelope and the conversation about what beer can be — what flavours you can put in beer,” says Stansel.
• If you go, try this: The tap room at Kilter is apparently almost ready to go, but for now, the brewery’s rotating releases will have to be enjoyed at home. Start with the hazy and delicious Juicii New England IPA.
Lake of the Woods Brewing Co., True North Square (242 Hargrave St.)
Downtown Winnipeg may not be lake country, but that hasn’t stopped Lake of the Woods Brewing Co. from dropping anchor in True North Square. Its ground-level tap room and patio are now open, while most of the guts of the brewery is on the second floor, in the middle of Hargrave Street Market. Its first batches of beer made in Winnipeg are now flowing, with core brews and seasonal offerings available on-site.
• If you go, try this: The Sultana Gold Blonde Ale is a solid, approachable brew, and the Lakeside Kolsch is crisp and clean.
Little Brown Jug, 336 William Ave.
Best-known for its flagship 1919 Belgian Pale Ale, Little Brown Jug was the first brewery to set up shop in downtown Winnipeg. “I love that space, I love their branding, the tap bank with the subway tile, the friendly people there. They did a great job getting the 1919 on tap everywhere,” Stansel says. The brewery is now branching out, offering more seasonal brews and looking to expand its year-round core offerings.
• If you go, try this: The 1919 Belgian Pale Ale is the beer around which LBJ established itself, and its 2020 Summer Lager is a delicious, crowd-pleasing addition to the lineup.
Nonsuch Brewing Co., 125 Pacific Ave.
Nonsuch is much more than their stylish, highly Instagrammable umbrella and rain rooms. They recently added chef Tyrone Welchinski in the kitchen to create dishes to go with their solid lineup of Belgian-inspired brews. Then there’s Vessel, a new offshoot/side project that allows head brewer Mark Borowski to get experimental. “Mark is a very artistic brewer, a thoughtful guy, really talented… He’s very sensory-driven,” says Stansel.
• If you go, try this: On the Nonsuch side of things, the spicy, gutsy saison is stellar, as is the Belgian blonde. From Vessel, the Pineapple Peat smoked pale ale offers subtle but complex flavours.
One Great City Brewing Co., 1596 Ness Ave.
This Polo Park-area brew pub has become a solidly popular spot amid the surrounding chain restaurants — and with good reason. On the food side of things, OCG has been a big hit, and recently introduced a Detroit-style pizza that’s proven popular. Beer-wise, it’s nothing to scoff at either, with a core lineup featuring a New England IPA, milk stout, bitter ale and more.
• If you go, try this: For those looking for fruity and hoppy, the Intrepid New England IPA is fresh and accessible. For a heavier brew, try the Tipsy Cow Milk Stout, which Stansel recommends trying with the wings.
Oxus Brewing Company, 1180 Sanford St.
On March 14, Oxus had the grand opening for its modest tap room. By March 18, the tap room was limited to takeout beer only because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Oxus is back at it now, and its beers continue to make waves. “They have a small system, but make some great beer,” says Stansel. He particularly likes the Altbier: “It’s a great, approachable style; pretty malty but not overly hoppy.” Those looking for a break after running up and down Garbage Hill (or tobogganing in the winter) would be wise to pop in.
• If you go, try this: The aforementioned Altbier or the rich, flavourful Juice of the Oats oatmeal stout.
Sookram’s Brewing Co., 479-B Warsaw Ave.
Andrew Sookram’s enthusiasm is infectious — the guy clearly loves what he does. “My first impression was how pumped this guy was to be brewing beer and serving it to people,” Stansel says. Sookram’s core beers have quickly become favourites among craft beer fans. “One after another, they’re just knocking it out of the park. I cracked one of their more recent releases and sat down and wrote about it for an hour. It sent me on a journey,” Stansel says. Sookram’s is currently only doing delivery and pickup orders; the cosy tap room should reopen near the end of July.
• If you go, try this: Both the malt-driven MacGuffin California Common and the Cosmos dry-hopped sour from the Sookram’s core lineup are highly recommended, as are pretty much any of the seasonal brews.
Stone Angel Brewing Co., 1875 Pembina Hwy.
Since opening its doors, Stone Angel has been honing its brand of British-style brews, with the Pauls (Clerkin and McMullan) leading the charge in the expansive tap room and patio. “They’re doing a lot more malt-forward beers — they’re not hop heads, and they admit that,” says Stansel. “They don’t do hazy beers, high alcohol — they do really sessionable beers.” The brewery has also taken to releasing new ciders on tap every Wednesday.
• If you go, try this: On a hot summer day, Stone Angel’s Onkel Georg radler is tough to beat; the Redhanded ale is also a surefire winner.
Torque Brewing Co., 330-830 King Edward St.
In addition to brewing its own core beers and seasonal/experimental brews, Torque has been shouldering much of the load with contract brewers making beer on its sizable system — Devil May Care, Winnipeg Brew Werks, Grain to Glass and more all brew here. “Out of the gate, what made them interesting to me was the Diesel Fitter, an American-style stout with lots of bitterness — even their wit bier had big flavours,” says Stansel. Torque has shifted much of its focus to its blonde ale, and offers core and seasonal mixed packs.
• If you go, try this: Those new to local craft beer will like the approachable blonde ale, on a hot day the Poolside ISA hits the spot, and the Hazy Whaler New England IPA continues to get better. Also worth trying from the contract brewers are Devil May Care’s Get Up Offa That Thang brown ale and Starstuff American pale ale, as well as Winnipeg Brew Werks’ doppelbock.
Trans Canada Brewing Co., 1-1290 Kenaston Blvd.
When Trans Canada Brewing Co. opened in late 2017, it took the local beer scene by surprise; no expense was spared in the sprawling 15,000-square-foot brewery, which offers a wide range of beer under the guidance of head brewer Morgan Wielgosz. The brewery has been pumping out a winning combination of solid core beer and small-batch experimental brews, including its county sour series, ever since. “Morgan is one of the brightest beer minds in the city,” Stansel explains. It also offers great pizza in the spacious tap room.
• If you go, try this: The extensive list of core, small-batch and seasonal brews on tap changes regularly at Trans Canada. The fruit-infused county sour series is very good, as are the Avenger IPA and the Portager Bohemian Pilsner.
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.
Beers of the week
Sookram’s Brewing Co. MacGuffin California Common (Winnipeg — $3.99/473ml can, brewery, Liquor Marts, beer vendors)
There’s not too much hoppiness to be found aromatically in this bright orange-copper coloured brew, but rather plenty of fresh roasted malt and a toasty caramel note. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied and dry, with loads of roasted malt, toasty oat and caramel notes working well with slightly lifted hoppy notes on the finish and just five per cent alcohol. It’s a solid summer brew for those who like a bit more character than your standard lager. 4/5
Low Life Barrel House Kiss Kiss Peach Brett Saison (Winnipeg — $4.65/473ml can, brewery and select beer vendors)
From this Barn Hammer side project comes a tart saison aged in oak for three months and then combined with 350 pounds of peaches and mosaic hops. It’s medium gold and hazy in appearance; aromatically there are green apple, peach and yeasty notes in here. Light-bodied and quite tart, the peach and yeasty notes work beautifully together on the palate, with focused racy acidity and a long, lovely finish from the six per cent alcohol. For the adventurous beer drinker or your wine-loving pal looking to dabble in craft beer. 4.5/5
Oxus Brewing Company Altbier (Winnipeg — $3.49/473ml can, brewery, Liquor Marts, beer vendors)
Deep reddish copper in colour with an off-white head, this German-inspired ale offers loads of primary fresh malt on the nose as well as bright caramel, hints of bitterness and a Tootsie Roll note. It’s a rich, robust ale, with those malt/caramel flavours not getting overly sweet, a very subtle bit of underlying hoppy bitterness and a five per cent alcohol level that’s just right. A winner, especially for enjoying with sharp cheeses or cooler evenings. 4/5
Devil May Care turns two
It doesn’t have its own brewing space yet, but Devil May Care Brewing Co. is celebrating two years of beers today beginning at 3 p.m. at the Beer Can, the outdoor beer garden at 220 Main St. In addition special beers of its own, Oxus, Half Pints, Sookram’s, Torque and Grain to Glass will all be pouring new brews and there will be live music and food. Admission is free.
Updated on Monday, July 20, 2020 12:07 PM CDT: Adds map.