Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/6/2020 (473 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When Nonsuch Brewing Co. set sail at its 125 Pacific Ave. location, the owners already had other beer on the brain — namely, brews that didn’t quite fit in to their Belgian/European-inspired lineup.
But those ideas sat docked in notebooks and laptops until the folks at Nonsuch could establish themselves as a stand-alone brand and a destination. Their highly Instagrammable Umbrella Room and Rain Room opened, the taps were flowing freely… and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Enter Vessel Beer — an offshoot of Nonsuch featuring beers that fall outside its regular portfolio, paired with artists who express themselves on the beer’s 473-ml can packaging. The new website (vessel.beer) just went live, and its first beer is being released June 12.
"COVID gave us that little push — we didn’t know how long things would last," says Matthew Sabourin, president and co-founder of Nonsuch. "(Vessel) allows us to explore whatever we decide not to include under the Nonsuch umbrella."
"Beer is our vessel to express our creativity," adds Nonsuch vice-president Ben Myers. "We’re giving a canvas for other artists, a vessel for other artists, to put their artwork on it and showcase their works. And it’s a way for us to collaborate with like-minded artists as well."
Vessel’s first beer is Salty Dog, a cocktail-inspired brew featuring Himalayan sea salt, grapefruit rind, juniper and more. Production on the Salty Dog is 6,600 473-ml cans, which will retail for $4.40 each and be available at Nonsuch and select beer vendors and Liquor Marts. Thirsty Winnipeggers can also order the new brew through Vessel’s website.
With such a collaboration, what’s on the can is as important as what’s in it. The Salty Dog’s design was done by local animator, illustrator and designer Nick Luchak (of Area Man Studio) who, along with future artists, will receive 10 cents per can.
"Being an artist isn’t easy — lots of times people expect artists to do work for free," says Sabourin. "We’re all artists. A lot of us came from the film industry, we’re musicians, we’re filmmakers… We understand that world. To have the opportunity to connect and do what we love, but also connect with other people who are doing what they love… it’s more than just a cool picture on a beer."
Vessel plans on rolling out a new beer every three to four weeks, with a focus on summery, cocktail-inspired brews, India pale ales and milkshake-inspired beers. And at Nonsuch’s East Exchange District location they’re getting ready, having just acquired an additional adjacent 5,000 square feet for more brewery equipment, including a canning line of their own. (A second patio along Lily Street is also being added in the next week or two.)
Future collaborations could even include feedback from the artists on the types of beer going into the cans. "We could be in a position where we don’t know what the beer will be, we don’t know what the can’s going to look like — we just want to work with you," says Sabourin. "Then the sky’s the limit: What kind of beer do you like? Maybe the artist is a stout person — let’s start there."
Out in cottage country, a local bakery has taken to using its core ingredients — water, yeast and wheat — to start making small batches of beer to be enjoyed on the premises.
Falcon Lake Bakery is now also home to Whiteshell Brewpub, which is currently offering one beer made on-site — an IPA — in addition to food from the attached smokehouse.
Edward Walker owns both the bakery and brew pub, and started Whiteshell Brewing Co. as a new way to connect with cottagers in the area. "We’re noticing a bit of an earlier start to the summer this season," he says, potentially as a result of fewer people working from offices.
The bakery was already undergoing renovations to accommodate the brew pub component when the pandemic started taking shape. "We got ahead of it and figured out what the new world might look like — for the next little while anyways — and put together a space that’s well-suited to manage it," explains Walker.
For now, Whiteshell Brewpub is offering just the one beer from its small pilot system, but plans are in place to get into canning and potentially having a go at other styles.
"We’re not thinking massive expansion — just focusing on what we do well here and expand as we’re able to," Walker says. "We’re trying to do something good out here… it’s exciting to be doing it, but it’s also a tough time to be doing it."
Elsewhere in the province, southern Manitoba is slated to get its first craft brewery. Morden’s Rendezvous Brewery & Taproom has been updating its social media page with developments on its space. They’ve got an online Indiegogo fundraising campaign underway to help cover costs, with a variety of incentives offered. The campaign runs until June 15 — for more information on the brewery and the campaign see wfp.to/rendezvous.
Devil May Care Brewing Co., who have been brewing at Stone Angel Brewing Co.’s Pembina Highway facility, are moving their production over to Torque Brewing Co.’s King Edward Street brewery.
In an online post, Devil May Care cited the inability to satisfy demand for their bigger brews as one of the reasons for the move. They expect stock to dwindle on their beers at local Liquor Marts and beer vendors until they can begin brewing at Torque later this month and, at some point down the road, find a space of their own.
Torque provides contract brewing for a number of brands, including Blank Canvas, Winnipeg Brew Werks, Grain to Glass and La Shoppe. Earlier this year, Kilter Brewing Co., who had also been brewing at Stone Angel, opened up its own facility in St. Boniface.
Beers of the week
Brazen Hall Steel Cut Blonde Ale (Winnipeg — $4.19/473ml cans, brewery, Liquor Marts and beer vendors)
Medium gold in colour and clear with a slightly off-white head, this blonde ale from Brazen Hall’s flagship collection brings big malty notes on the nose to go with the fresh oat and subtle honeycomb aromas. On the medium-bodied palate a citrus component emerges, working well with the grain and honeyed notes (that avoid bringing sweetness), while the carbonation is soft and creamy and the 4.5 per cent alcohol quite unobtrusive. A slightly richer, softer summer beer with plenty of flavour. 3.5/5
Fort Garry Brewing Co. Frontier Pilsner (Winnipeg — $3.48/473ml cans, Liquor Marts and beer vendors)
Pale gold in colour and clear, the recipe on this pilsner dates back to 1932, although apparently it has been tweaked for this latest incarnation (it’s now being labelled as "dry-hopped"). It offers rich malty notes on the nose, with secondary wheat, herbal and yeast aromas. On the light-plus-bodied palate there’s a hint of sweetness that comes with the malty and bread dough flavours, but there’s enough bitterness to keep things lively. A solid brew from Fort Garry — their best beer in some time. 3.5/5
Stone Angel Brewing Co. Brewery Not Plaza Cherry Lime Sour (Winnipeg — $4.05/473ml cans, brewery, select beer vendors)
Limes and Montmorency cherries bring the sour components of this ale, which is deep reddish gold and slightly hazy. There’s citrus rind and tart cherry on the nose to go along with easygoing malty aromas. It’s mainly dry, with just a hint of sweetness that comes from the cherry note, while the lime pushes through with some acidity. The fresh malt note persists, and the five per cent alcohol isn’t the least bit obtrusive. Fresh, crisp and delightfully tart (but not mouth-puckering sour), it’s ideal for scorching hot weather. 4/5
Devil May Care Brewing Co. Don’t Stand So Close to Me Dark Amber Ale (Winnipeg — $3.79/473ml cans, brewery and select beer vendors)
This socially distant dark amber ale is deep reddish copper with a light beige head; aromatically it comes through with an enticing combination of roasted malt, caramel, citrus rind and herbal notes. Those caramel notes don’t bring much sweetness on the medium-bodied palate — a good thing — while the roasted malt and subtle citrus/herbal flavours bring an attractive combination of body and bitterness. It’s 5.3 per cent alcohol, and balances serious flavour with lots of fun. Another good offering from Devil May Care. 4.5/5
Barn Hammer Brewing Co. Loamgrown (Winnipeg — $4.65/473ml cans, brewery and select beer vendors)
This saskatoon milkshake IPA with lactose is medium copper in colour and hazy with a white head, and on the nose the berry component comes through with some vanilla and subtle malty and herbal notes. The vanilla/lactose note picks up big time on the medium-plus bodied palate, with little discernable IPA-ish bitterness but plenty of creamy, berry-driven flavours reminiscent of Barn Hammer’s popular Pemby Tang orange milkshake IPA. The six per cent alcohol bolsters the slightly herbal notes on the finish. 3/5
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.