Craft Beer in Winnipeg: A Survey

Rick Didora / Heavy Table

For the past few decades, the Canadian city of Winnipeg has been home to only a couple of breweries (give or take a brief opening or closing). A law (akin to Minnesota’s so-called Surly Bill) was passed last year making it far easier to open a brewery in Manitoba, and Winnipeg is taking full advantage. Half a dozen breweries are now open in Winnipeg, and 20 brewery permits are currently awaiting approval.

Rick Didora / Heavy Table

Barn Hammer Brewing

Barn Hammer is Winnipeg’s first taproom, and it celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. Barn Hammer serves the majority of beer in its taproom in pints and growlers, and they distribute to several nearby restaurants. Co-owner Tyler Birch is often behind the bar, helping to make the beer even more approachable. He points out the challenges as well as the opportunities in the taproom model in an area unfamiliar with the concept. Barn Hammer strives to appeal to those new to craft beer while also satisfying the robust home-brewing community.

A case in point is the Big Water Gose ($4 for 10 ounces), a restrained version of the traditional German beer that is mildly tart and also contains salt. “We wanted to keep it appealing for everyone because it’s for charity,” says Birch. Part of the proceeds are donated to the Lake Winnipeg Foundation. Gose is a style gaining steam for its refreshing qualities without being truly sour, which is reflected perfectly in this example. A faint lime-zest quality meets bread crust with little lingering flavor.

Barn Hammer Brewing Company, 595 Wall St, Winnipeg, MB. Mon-Tue closed, Wed-Thu 4-10 p.m., Fri 3-11 p.m., Sat noon-11 p.m., Sun 2-6 p.m.

Paige Didora / Heavy Table

PEG Beer Co.

Upon its grand opening in October of last year, PEG Beer Co. felt like a bridge to the present beer boom. This was in part because owner Nicole Barry was an owner of Half Pints, which was Winnipeg’s only modern craft brewery when it opened in 2006. Half Pints distributes throughout Manitoba and recently added a taproom, not unlike Summit Brewing in St Paul. Its flagship beer, Little Scrapper IPA, is still the gold standard for local beer for many Winnipeggers.

PEG is distinct from its parent, though. It follows a brewpub model with a full restaurant with guest taps and bottled beer. Despite in-house baking and pickling, excellent flatbreads, and a full bar, the beer doesn’t get overshadowed. Servers do well to point out new releases or make beer suggestions, and the brewing equipment is partially visible.

Try the Life Coach India session ale ($6.50 for 16 ounces) to appreciate how flavorful a hoppy beer can be at less than 5 percent ABV. The aroma is superb, with herbaceous and bitter citrus notes. While many young breweries struggle to deliver on both hop flavor and bitterness, the Life Coach stands out in both areas. Also on the bitter spectrum is the brand new Black IPA ($6.50 for 16 ounces) with its surprisingly full-bodied nature and a persistent bitterness matched with mild toasted notes. It’s strikingly similar to Indeed Midnight Ryder.

PEG Beer Co., 125 Pacific Ave, Winnipeg, MB; 204.416.2337. Sun-Thu 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-midnight.

Rick Didora / Heavy Table

Brazen Hall Kitchen and Brewery

Known to locals for occupying the building that formerly housed The Round Table (a Medieval-themed steakhouse), Brazen Hall has maintained only echoes of the past tenant, adding modern updates inside and out. Imagery of armor is interpreted in a more modern fashion, and the steel brewing equipment adds to the look. As with PEG, there is a full restaurant as well as plans to add guest beers to the lineup. Director of operations Kris Kopansky says that the brewing can barely keep up with demand. At the same time, marketing is tricky. “We have a hard time knowing what will sell,” he notes, because there is little local craft-brewing history to consider.

A flight is five 4 ounce pours for $10 (pictured top), and the beer was a mixed bag in terms of success. Try the Amber Ale, which pushes the boundaries of intensity within the style, bordering on British Nut Brown territory. Its aroma of caramelized nuts and faint marshmallow is far from other amber ales and lagers, while the unexpectedly bitter finish contrasts with the sweetness of the initial sip. The IPA is not the classic that experienced drinkers would appreciate, but the interpretation speaks to the young market. It is more of a hoppy pale ale, with navel orange in the aroma and significant residual sugar preventing extreme bitterness.

Brazen Hall, 800 Pembina Highway, Winnipeg, MB; 204.543.7980. Tue-Fri 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m., Sat 11:30 a.m.-midnight, Sun 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m., Mon 11:30 a.m.-midnight.

Rick Didora / Heavy Table

Other notable breweries include One Great City Brewing Co., in the St. James neighborhood, which is food-forward and lacks much of a beer identity. Torque Brewing Co. is gaining popularity and is already canning a few beers for liquor stores, including the dry and spicy Witty Belgian ale, plus a less successful helles lager. Little Brown Jug is serving one Belgian-style beer exclusively and recently expanded its fermentation space, but it suffers from lack of consistency. Finally, on the horizon is nautically-inspired Nonsuch Brewing Co., with a strong home brewer at the helm.

Of the handful of startups, over half cited Twin Cities breweries as being sources of inspiration. HammerHeart Brewing Company, Lakes and Legends Brewing Company, and Dangerous Man Brewing Company were the most talked about.

The 60 miles from the United States border to Winnipeg are becoming less of a hurdle for beer seekers as Manitoba cultivates its brewing identity. The excitement of growth feels undeniably similar to the Twin Cities several years ago, and the camaraderie among these small businesses is strong.