Home-field advantage An all-local lineup at Ballpark Brewfest will have fans trading RBIs for IPAs
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/07/2022 (316 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
At the outset of the 2022 season, Winnipeg Goldeyes general manager Andrew Collier tossed out a major curveball, telling big-business beer to hit the showers in favour of an all-local lineup.
• Shaw Park concourse
• Saturday, 2-6 p.m. (VIP admission 1-6 p.m.)
• Tickets from $50 plus fees, Ticketmaster.ca
What started as Craft Beer Corner, a small portion of the concourse dedicated to all manner of local lagers and ales, has grown into a chance for Manitoba breweries to get their wares in front of thirsty Goldeyes fans throughout Shaw Park in a venture that has benefited both the club and the local brewers.
On Saturday, 18 craft breweries from Winnipeg and beyond (as well as Winkler’s Dead Horse Cider) will be slinging samples of their brews in celebration of the all-local partnership at the inaugural Ballpark Brewfest, which gets underway at 2 p.m.
Collier had been contemplating a beer festival for years, but wasn’t sure if there was a window for another one in the summer.
“I was concerned that the market already had enough. But in talking to some representatives from different breweries, they said it was a great idea,” he says. “They figured late July was a good time to do it, because Flatlander’s Beer Festival is in June and (the Winnipeg Beer Festival at) Fort Gibraltar is in August. And to only do exclusively Manitoba brewers was the hook.”
When Collier pitched the festival to local breweries, it was a no-brainer, given the club’s relationship with the province’s breweries. “When the idea was presented that it was going to be all locals at the festival, it felt like something that we wanted to be a part of — we didn’t want to miss out,” says Andrew Sookram, owner of Sookram’s Brewing Co.
“The club supports all the local breweries… it’s great to work on something exciting again, to have beer festivals again, and in such a great environment. I’m really looking forward to it.”
In addition to the 19 producers at Ballpark Brewfest, whose booths will be set up the entire length of the concourse — because that area’s under a roof, the event is rain or shine — a number of the park’s concessions will be open for food purchases, there will be live music at home plate and more.
Your starting lineup
Here’s who will be pouring at Ballpark Brewfest…
Barn Hammer Brewing Co.
Black Wheat Brewing Co.
Brazen Brewing Co.
Dead Horse Cider Co.
Farmery Estate Brewing
Fort Garry Brewing Co.
Half Pints Brewing Co.
Interlake Brewing Co.
Kilter Brewing Co.
Lake of the Woods Brewing Co.
Little Brown Jug Brewing Co.
Low Life Barrel House
Nonsuch Brewing Co.
One Great City Brewing Co.
Oxus Brewing Co.
Sookram’s Brewing Co.
Stone Angel Brewing Co.
Trans Canada Brewing Co.
“You can get mini doughnuts and a beer, or a hotdog and a beer,” Collier says.
Admission for the festival includes entry from 2 to 6 p.m. and a miniature commemorative mug in which craft beer fans can get two-ounce sample pours (also included in the entry price). And while some breweries will be pouring their core offerings, many are bringing small-batch brews special for the fest. Among the beers Sookram’s is bringing to Ballpark Brewfest, for example, is a riff on its flagship Desert Island IPA, for this occasion brewed with mangoes. “We’re also giving a sneak peek of our Double Desert Island IPA,” Sookram notes, adding the beer will be out in cans the following week.
For those looking to enjoy more than a couple of ounces of a particular brew, nine-ounce cups (essentially a half pint) will be for sale for $4.50. Beyond the regular tickets (which are $50 plus fees), the VIP option ($80 plus fees) includes early admission and a chance to try some exclusive new brews. Torque Brewing, for example, is bringing a cask of spiced peach beer for the VIP portion. There’s also a designated-driver ticket for $10 plus fees.
Collier has been a craft beer fan for even longer than he’s been the Goldeyes GM, a position he’s held since 2001. He first went to bat for local craft breweries four years ago, when the club was considering adding another non-seated area for patrons to hang out in the concourse during the game. “We got rid of the top 10 rows of sections A and B, and put the patio deck there,” he explains. “We started thinking ‘OK, what’s going to be the hook here?’
Enter Craft Beer Corner, a spot dedicated to a rotating cast of local breweries who offer their brews on tap for baseball fans looking for new flavours. Collier talked to Shaw Park’s beer providers at the time (Labatt and Fort Garry) about the plan, and over the course of the 2018 and 2019 seasons Craft Beer Corner proved to be a hit.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down home games for the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Collier once again stepped to the plate for the locals.
“I thought, with nearly 20 Manitoba brewers at the time, why not go exclusively craft beer in the ballpark?”
Collier approached the team at Fort Garry Brewing Co. about the idea first. “They’ve been with us for a long time and they’re a Manitoba brewer,” he says. “I approached them first and said, ‘This is our plan — we want to go exclusively local.’ They thought it was a great idea.”
The next step was filling the void left by their other outgoing supplier; to do so, Collier turned to a trio of local breweries to supply beer in cans throughout the park. He approached Torque, Trans Canada and Little Brown Jug with his plan. “They were all thrilled,” he says.
There are currently four Fort Garry offerings at Shaw Park in cans, while each of the other three breweries offer two options each.
Craft Beer Corner remains, with eight taps featuring a rotating cast of locals. In the week leading up to Ballpark Brewfest, Fort Garry and Torque each had two taps, with Oxus Brewing Co. and Nonsuch Brewing Co.’s beers flowing through the other four. In August, Little Brown Jug, Kilter Brewing Co. and Trans Canada will be among the breweries taking over the taps.
Anyone with a social media account has also likely seen the 24-ounce cups shaped like a baseball bat, which are available at Craft Beer Corner during games.
Collier was skeptical they’d sell many of the beer bats. “We ordered 1,000 thinking all we’d have to do is sell 20 a game and we could get rid of them by the end of the season. We sold 300 the first night,” he says laughing.
They’ve since reordered more bats to get them through the season; Collier figures they’ll help push draft beer sales at Shaw Park beyond 2019 levels.
Collier has found most fans to be quite receptive to the switch, and with 18 different beer options available in either cans or on tap, there’s a style to suit any ball fan’s taste.
He sees the relationship with the local breweries as mutually beneficial. “We didn’t want this just to be a take scenario… We want people coming here, trying these beers and then going to the brewery tap rooms. Or they go to the tap rooms and the breweries say ‘Hey, did you know we’re also at Shaw Park? You can get a pint of our beer while watching the Goldeyes game,’” he says.
Sookram, meanwhile, is looking forward to getting back in front of craft beer fans in a festival setting.
“I can’t wait — I haven’t served at a beer festival in over two years. I’m pretty excited.”
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.