Pop the cork on Manitoba’s booming craft beer industry


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I’ve been writing about beer on and off since 2005 just as a way to cope with my boring life. I remember thinking that it would be awesome if a brewery that made great beer (sans Fort Garry) opened in Manitoba.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/08/2016 (2192 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I’ve been writing about beer on and off since 2005 just as a way to cope with my boring life. I remember thinking that it would be awesome if a brewery that made great beer (sans Fort Garry) opened in Manitoba.

The following year, Half Pints opened up on Keewatin Avenue in Winnipeg and soon later moved to Roseberry Street in the city’s St. James neighbourhood. Last week, Half Pints celebrated their 10th anniversary with an invite-only party (to which I wasn’t invited). Since 2006, Half Pints remained the “newest” brewery in Manitoba … that is until Barn Hammer opened back in July.

This week’s First Draught takes a look at Winnipeg’s three newest up-and-coming breweries: Barn Hammer Brewing, Torque Brewing and Brasserie Nonsuch.

Submitted Patrons savour new brew from Barn Hammer in Manitoba’s only “tasting room.”

As a beer geek who has been to some of the best brewpub in the world and sampled some of the best beer ever made, I’m giddy as a child on Christmas morning seeing that Winnipeg and Manitoba’s craft beer industry is absolutely booming! This is only the beginning, folks.


In early July, Barn Hammer received City of Winnipeg and provincial approval to begin brewing their beer on site at their brewery on Wall Street, just off Portage Avenue. On July 13, Barn Hammer opened their tasting room to the general public.

A tasting room is essentially a small pub that only serves the brewery’s own beer on tap. There’s no prepared food but you can bring your lunch with you as you savour their Le Sneak Belgique Witbier, and at times, you’ll see one of Winnipeg’s magnificent food trucks parked out in front if you really want a hot bite to eat.

As soon as I arrived to Barn Hammer last Friday afternoon, I was greeted by their bartending staff. Seeing that there was a line of thirsty beer geeks wanting to fill up their growlers, and I had no idea what beer I wanted to try, I stepped out of line to go over the beer menu.

Barn Hammer co-owner Tyler Birch greeted me as soon as he saw me staring at the beer menu not knowing what to try. With the brewery being open for only a month or so, I wanted to see how things were going since I first met him and brewmaster Brian Westcott (former brewmaster for Edmonton’s Alley Kat Brewing) back in February.

At that time, Barn Hammer was supposed to be up and running several months earlier but there were some construction woes and potential fire hazards that needed to be changed in order for the brewery to open up.

Now that the brewery is up and running, Tyler has told me that he is kind of shocked to see how successful they’ve been. When they picked out the brewery site, he felt that it was actually plenty large, with enough room to expand and a good amount of space to put in a canning/bottling line eventually.

Now, he has no plans to ever bottle or can because the demand for beer in kegs and growler fills is just too much for their capacity — that’s a great problem to have!

While I was there, there was a steady stream of people coming in, some getting growlers filled, others sitting down and having a 16-ounce pint of beer — it was such a great sight to see.

One thing Tyler couldn’t stress enough is that Manitoba needs more education when it comes to beer — that the local beer drinker needs to be more experimental, pubs need to be more welcoming to craft beer and the Liquor Mart staff needs a bit of an education refresher when it comes to craft beer and styles.

He also said he gets several people asking him every day, “Where’s another tasting room in town?” Well, that’s the thing. Barn Hammer’s tasting room is the only one that currently exists in all of Manitoba — until Torque opens theirs next month.

If you want to check out Barn Hammer, they are located at 595 Wall Street in Winnipeg, just off Portage Avenue, a few buildings north of the Belgian Credit Union. Beer is around $4.25 to $6.75 depending on serving size (10 to 16 ounce options available).


After leaving Barn Hammer, I had to make a stop at Torque Brewing at 330-830 King Edward Street, just off Wellington Avenue. Last week Torque received government approval to start brewing so I absolutely needed to visit the brewery mechanics to see how things were going.

As I arrived, the brewery was in full operation. They had already brewed many of their beers including their Diesel Fitter Stout and What the Helles Lager, so they were slowly fermenting.

This was my lucky day — they were working on their Belgian-style witbier, Witty Belgian Ale, as I arrived. Since the factory is still relatively new, it didn’t have that wet grain aroma everywhere. I peeked my head into the brewing kettle to smell a wheaty, wet bread aroma. They didn’t add the coriander or orange zest yet so it was in the beginning stages.

The secret ingredient for Torque’s Witty Belgian Ale? Freshly scraped lemon, lime and orange peels to give the beer an extra fresh zest.

Brew technician Adam (yes, I’m going to call the brewers at Torque “brew technicians” because it only seems fitting) and his young son spent a few hours of the early evening scraping as many citrus fruits as possible, and not only that — Adam’s wife was expecting their newborn daughter that same evening! According to Adam, he really had to get the fruit shavings ready even though I feel that being at the hospital

waiting on your new baby daughter would’ve been more important.

Brew technician Matt was too busy stroking his slowly growing beard and saying “cool beans!” to everything interesting … I kid, he was making sure the witbier was getting boiled at the right temperature, amongst other things.

Torque will start canning their beers as soon as their first batch of beer is fully fermented in the next week or so. We will likely see their beers at local Liquor Marts, but if you want to see their beers available elsewhere, let your local beer vendors, bars, pubs and restaurants know you absolutely want to see their beer on tap.


Then there’s the new boys on the block: Brasserie Nonsuch. I first heard about Nonsuch back in the spring, and when I checked out their website, I got a serious vibe that they were going to do a Quebec/Belgian style of brewing.

While you won’t be seeing Nonsuch’s beer on Liquor Mart shelves or on tap at pubs anytime soon, they are currently negotiating on a lease for their brewery so they hope to be up and running by summer 2017.

While they aren’t running yet, they gave beer connoisseurs a sample of what to expect at Flatlanders Beer Festival, where they showed off their Kölsch and Belgian Saison. For some reason I only tried their Saison but I really enjoyed it as it reminded me of what I miss about a traditional saison — a sweet, citrusy, wheaty treat that’s like a Belgian witbier, but a tad more sour.

At the helm of Brasserie Nonsuch is Matthew Sabourin, a Franco-Manitobain who, like me, has a deep love for traditional Belgian-style beers.

None of the folks over at Nonsuch has previous industrial brewery experience; rather, they all come from arts and entertainment backgrounds, such as the film industry, software development and branding/graphics design. They’re not your typical backgrounds for guys opening up a brewery but that’s exactly how the craft beer scene is — fuelled by people who weren’t traditional brewers for most of their lives.

One thing that will be keeping Nonsuch distinct from every other Manitoba brewery is that they aim to focus only on Belgian and European styles of beers with no interest in North American styles. Why? Matthew states that Belgian styles are amongst the best styles of beer in the world, so it’s only fitting to focus on it with a Prairie twist.

Another cool tidbit is that they are going to be focusing on selling their beers in 750 ml cork and caged bottles, like what you see from Unibroue. This allows for the beer to further develop away from the brewery and age for many years.

I wish Brasserie Nonsuch all the best in the coming months.

Remember to support Manitoba’s breweries — not only do they create jobs for the local community, the money also goes back into the community!

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