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Better Know A Beer City, Part 2 – Winnipeg!

Happy Canada Day! Although I failed to mention it in my introductory post, I am in fact a proud Canadian. Some of my best memories from childhood are from my family’s annual trip back to Toronto in late June. We would spend Canada Day at The Weston Golf & Country Club, where we would alternate between golf, curling, tennis, and road races for a good portion of the day. The day was always punctuated with a huge buffet (poutine, anyone?), a spirited version of “O Canada,” and a patriotic display of red and white fireworks. Canada Day celebrates the confederation of Canada through the enactment of the Constitution Act in 1867.

Unfortunately I was too young to be thinking about beer at that time, and now I find it harder and harder to make time for trips back to Canada. I would really love the chance to spend more time visiting the breweries popping up all over the country (especially in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia) – there is truly excellent beer being produced in the Great White North. Canada and its citizens have also been excellent supporters of the American craft beer industry. Canada is American craft beer’s largest export market by a long shot. With shipments increasing 93% by volume in 2013, the country now consumes almost 47% of total exports (131,511 of 282,526 barrels). Also, much of the barley used by craft brewers is grown in Canada!

The Manitoba Coat of Arms, granted in 1905by aRoyal WarrantofKing Edward VII. The Manitoba Coat of Arms, granted in 1905by aRoyal WarrantofKing Edward VII.

A few months ago I made my first trip to Canada since 2011. I departed from Virginia, passed through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and finally arrived in Winnipeg, Manitoba! Winnipeg (aka The Peg) serves as the capital city of the prairie province of Manitoba and contains over 60% of the total population of the province. While it is impossible to overstate how cold Manitoba can be in the winter (Winnipeg’s daily mean temperature in January: 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit), the plentiful lakes and rivers throughout the province make it a fantastic place for summertime activities. It’s also not as far away as Americans might think; Winnipeg and New York City are actually the exact same distance from Chicago.

The craft beer industry in Winnipeg isn’t as mature as what can be found in major beer-producing provinces like Ontario and Quebec. Some recent law changes have spurred new growth, however, and there are now plenty of options to satisfy the curious craft beer consumer. My favorite brewery in Winnipeg is Half Pints Brewing Company, which opened in 2006 and now produces just under 30,000 BBL of beer annually. Half Pints beer can be found throughout the Prairie provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, for you non-Canadians) and, as of a few months ago, in Ontario and British Columbia as well. When I visited The Peg I very much enjoyed Little Scrapper IPA and Stir Stick Stout, two of their year-round beers. The seasonal Humulus Ludicrous (a big, hoppy Double IPA) was also outstanding. They can all be found in bottles at the government-controlled Manitoba Liquor Marts found throughout Winnipeg.

The elusive Manitoban Land Whale. The elusive Manitoban Land Whale.

I managed to visit two excellent craft beer-focused restaurants during my stay in Winnipeg. Barley Brothers, which opened in late 2013, pours more than 50 drafts from Canadian, American, and even Italian craft breweries. The wide selection of beer nicely complements the upscale bar food offered at what the owners call “Winnipeg’s Only Craft Beer Pub.” The more established craft beer bar in town is Luxalune Gastropub, which features over 150 bottles and 8 draft lines. The tapas-style food is consistently delicious and pairs well with the Canadian craft brews that fill the taps and the beer fridge. The owners have plans to open a new “Estate Brewery” where they would brew their Farmery Premium Lager using their own barley crop. The beer is currently brewed under contract at the Muskoka Brewery in Ontario. 

I anticipate that the craft beer industry in Winnipeg, and all of Manitoba, will begin picking up steam in the coming years. There are already a few openings planned, including Portage Ave. BrewWorks and Kitchen, which will be Winnipeg’s only brewpub once a proper space can be leased. I encourage you to visit The Peg and enjoy everything it has to offer, craft beer-related and otherwise. Just make sure that your trip is scheduled for somewhere between May and September!