What a difference four years can make.
The last time Great White North Brewerianists, a Winnipeg-based organization of beer memorabilia mavens from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northwestern Ontario, hosted its governing body’s national convention was in 2013.
That summer, attendees interested in sampling locally made craft beers during their stay in Winnipeg were limited to a pair of options — ones produced by Fort Garry Brewing Company or those turned out by Half Pints Brewing Company.
"That definitely isn’t the case any longer, huh?" GWNB co-founder Rob Horwood said this week, as he listed off the final itinerary for a two-day, craft brewery bus tour that was scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, marking the official kickoff of the Collectors of Canadian Brewery Advertising’s 38th annual meet-up.
By the time readers get around to this story, close to 50 CCBA delegates, some of whom travelled to Winnipeg from as far away as Europe for this week’s get-together, will have hit close to a dozen spots in total, among them PEG Beer Co. (on Pacific Avenue), One Great City Brewing Co. (Ness Avenue), Brazen Hall Kitchen & Brewery (Pembina Highway), Little Brown Jug (William Avenue) and Torque Brewing Co. (King Edward Street). That is, when they weren’t teeing it up in Teulon or taking in a Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball game at Shaw Park.
"It’s great that the craft beer scene in Winnipeg has exploded so much in the last couple of years, and that we’re able to show off all these places to our out-of-town friends," said Horwood, who helped form GWNB in 1988, after he replied to a newspaper ad placed by co-founder Wayne Leaf that asked if there were any other people in this neck of the woods who collected beer paraphernalia such as tap handles, serving trays and stubbies.
Christmas may be months away but one item associated with the festive season will be on GWNB president Terry Mitchell’s radar when the 2017 convention continues today with a free, open-to-the-public buy, sell and trade show at the Holiday Inn (1740 Ellice Ave. W.).
Mitchell’s area of expertise is German-style beer steins. Every December since 1980, Anheuser-Busch has released a limited edition Budweiser stein to toast the holidays.
Mitchell, who joined GWNB in the mid-1990s after attending a club-sponsored open house at the Norwood Hotel, owns 35 of the 36 Yule-themed vessels issued to date. He is hoping to land the lone holdout during today’s flea market-type affair, which goes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the hotel’s main conference centre.
"I used to have ‘em all, but a while back my wife and I had a squirrel in the house and before I managed to trap it, he knocked my 2007 stein from its perch and broke it," he said, pointing to a vacant spot on a shelf in his rec room, appropriately dubbed Terry’s Pub, where the missing mug once sat.
"I’m not too worried if I don’t come across it at our convention because at the end of October, a bunch of the guys and I are headed to Minnesota for an even bigger beer show in St. Paul, and I’ve already got some contacts in the States on the lookout for me."
Mitchell, referred to by his co-collectors as "the stein guy" or "the Bud guy," took up his hobby innocently enough. About 40 years ago, he was enjoying a drink in a Castleton, N.D., watering hole when he spotted an "exquisitely detailed" lidded stein behind the bar, flanked by bottles of whiskey, rum and gin. He mentioned to the bartender how attractive the stein was, to which the fellow replied, "You want it? It’s yours."
Soon enough, Mitchell, a retired provincial government employee, was keeping his eyes open for steins, wherever he happened to be. He figures roughly half the 300 prominently displayed in the lower level of his two-story abode were gifts from generous waiting staff, while the remainder were scooped up at antique shops, second-hand stores, beer shows or, like his Budweiser Christmas steins, via mail order.
"They are," he said, when a visitor wonders if his treasures are as functional as they are ornamental, "but I’ve never used any for their intended purpose yet, and I don’t plan on starting any time soon."
(That said, when Mitchell offers a parched reporter a cold one, he doesn’t shy away from pouring it into an etched beer glass, hundreds of which he has also amassed over time.)
The oldest stein Mitchell owns dates to the Second World War. It was distributed by Drewry’s Brewery, whose original plant operated in the late 1800s near what is now the Redwood Bridge. Arguably his most fetching stein is made of porcelain and was created by the Bradford Exchange. It boasts a painted image of a saluting RCMP officer, and is topped with a sculpted metal lid showing a Mountie riding his trusty steed.
Without a doubt, though, Mitchell’s steins that garner the most attention are those that portray Bud Man, a cartoon, caped brew-sader who was billed as the "Dauntless Defender of Quality," when the marketing minds at Budweiser unleashed him on the world more than four decades ago.
"They’re very hard to find and even when you do (find them), it usually takes a fair bit of wheeling and dealing to get them," he said. (No kidding; according to the website stein-collectors.org, if a person had invested US$15,000 in Bud Man steins in 1975, back when individual steins retailed for US$5.95, that initial outlay would now be worth a cool US$1 million.)
Visitors to today’s show and sale can expect to see expect all manner of beer-related souvenirs on display, Mitchell said, adding if anybody has old beer signs, bottle openers or anything else they’d like appraised by a CCBA associate, they’re welcome to bring their trappings with them.
He expects one of the show’s biggest attention-grabbers will be an exhibit of beer coasters belonging to Steen Borup-Nielsen of Denmark, who also attended a CCBA convention in Winnipeg in 2009. According to Mitchell, Borup-Nielsen’s personal collection is so massive he was forced to buy a second home just to store the roughly 250,000 coasters he’s stockpiled from all over the globe, since pocketing his first coaster some 60 years ago, when he was a member of the Danish army stationed in Germany.
Mitchell’s own table will have a variety of keepsakes available for purchase, including a rare, framed print of a Labatt Streamliner delivery truck, the type of vehicle the 170-year-old brewery used from 1937 to 1947. He’ll also be peddling "doubles" from his collection, but not necessarily because he thinks he’s reached his limit, space-wise.
"I told my wife we can use the money I make for travelling. And of course while we’re travelling, it will give me an opportunity to buy even more stuff," he said with a chuckle.
For more information on Great White North Brewerianists, visit www.gwnbeercollectors.ca.