Beer right here

The rise of local brew culture

Craft beer culture is taking over Winnipeg, one step at a time.

The recent opening of Barley Brothers, Manitoba’s first craft beer pub, and an upcoming Winnipeg brew pub are part of it, but our beer culture is not limited to highly trained professionals and business owners. Home brewers, amateur beer-appreciation groups and more are on the rise.

Alain Beaudry, a local economist and business consultant who started a beer-appreciation group a few years ago, explains that his excitement about beer grew from the appeal of high quality products and the unique accessibility of the beverage.

“I tried wine, whiskey, and while I can appreciate them without being an aficionado, my palette is either not discernible enough, or just not confident enough for those drinks” he says. “I like beer because the differences are blatant and obvious… although characteristics of beer can also be subtle.”

During the group’s Beer Night, participants bring a few interesting beers along for everyone to sample. On arrival, the host takes the beers out of sight until it is time to sample them. After a few sips, conversation heats up as those in attendance discuss what they tasted.

...there has been a recent revival of interest in more flavourful beer. Winnipeg’s been behind the times on that, actually, but we’re making progress.

Andrew Unger, Winnipeg beer reviewer

Beaudry says people have come to Beer Night and harshly criticized a brew they considered a favourite. With a blind taste test paired against other beers, palettes have shifted.

Winnipeg beer reviewer Andrew Unger explains this change in expectations. “Before prohibition there were many breweries and a much wider range of flavours, too. Prohibition killed that culture and in the decades afterwards the beer industry has been dominated by large multinational corporations that mass produce poor quality generic beer.

“It’s sad because these macro lagers have shaped many people’s expectations of what a beer should taste like. Fortunately there has been a recent revival of interest in more flavourful beer. Winnipeg’s been behind the times on that, actually, but we’re making progress.”

The city’s oldest microbrewery, Fort Garry Brewing Company, established in 1930, was joined by Half Pints Brewing Company in 2006 and last year by Farmery Estate Brewery, which makes a lager from crops grown on a Neepawa-based farm. The aforementioned Barley Brothers is new for 2013, and Winnipeg will soon see its first brew pub, tentatively titled Portage Ave. BrewWorks and Kitchen.

Beaudry explains the growth of beer culture in Winnipeg is part of a larger trend towards higher-quality consumables. Unger supports the need for diversity, saying the selection here is less than what exists in Regina, and people in Winnipeg are often unaware of how limited their selection is.

Where the selection cannot be found, the home brewer enters, reports Ken Yost.

“Pay attention to politics,” he says. “We need to push and drive to allow beer to be brought in without going through the MLCC. We need to push to have laws loosened regarding open liquor at sporting events, and tailgates… these are all things that cost little to nothing at all, but would have a giant impact on beer in this province.”

Published in Volume 68, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 13, 2013)

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