My footsteps in the arena of local beer lore are child-sized compared to those of Bill Wright and Dave Craig. Their recent book 300 Years of Beer: An Illustrated History of Brewing in Manitoba will take you down bubbly streams of excellence. Their work succeeds Norm Gorman’s 1980s self-published effort A List of Manitoba Breweries and their Locations, and they will be succeeded later this year when the periodical Manitoba History publishes Graham Stinnett’s article “The Early History of Brewing in Winnipeg: From Hudson’s Bay to Patrick Shea, 1668- 1902” (No. 73, Fall 2013).
Two years ago Stinnett showed me his personal cache of flight glasses from former local breweries. Bars used to serve flights of beer—larger than shot glasses, smaller than pint glasses—for customers to savour a selection of a brewery’s offerings. I had been collecting bottles and cans of current local alcohol for a few years, when I realized there was a vast wilderness of brewerania. My small collection from Half Pints, Fort Garry, the vanished D. D. Leobard winery, and the revamped Rigby Orchards now covers a much wider area. I have a pitcher and mugs from Shea’s, numerous flight glasses from Pelissier’s, Frontier, Kiewel, Drewry’s, Carling, O’Keefe, and Labatt, as well as t-shirts, coasters, bottle openers, and a small variety of other items. My prized possession is a wooden-handled barley scoop used at Kiewel Brewing Co. Ltd. in St. Boniface (1925-1976). Two employees of the antique store from which I purchased the scoop estimate it is from no later than the 1930s, when the entire scoop would have been made of metal or plastic.
The earliest permanent brewery in the area that would become Manitoba opened in 1694 at York Factory, and a permanent brewery was first established in what would develop into Winnipeg in 1869. Last year, Scotland’s Innis and Gunn’s Original beer carried a tribute on the label to the Selkirk settlers who arrived here in 1812 (with a number of Gunns among them). Manitoba’s Father of Confederation may not have looked favourably upon this celebration – Louis Riel was an ardent prohibitionist and worried about the effects of alcohol on Metis communities. Winnipeg’s brewing history includes the contribution of critical stances against alcohol consumption, involving the sad tale of a winter drowning that led to the current legislation on the price of beer.
Winnipeg now has two operational breweries: Half Pints Brewing Company (the only local craft brewery) and Fort Garry Brewing Co. Ltd. (the province’s oldest microbrewery). Half Pints prides itself on fierce localism and quality over quantity, while Fort Garry seeks growth and a larger share of the market, and is no longer Manitoba-owned (it was sold to British Columbia’s Russell Brewing Co. in 2007). There is also Farmery Estate Brewery, Canada’s first-ever estate brewery (all the ingredients are grown on the estate – in this case the family farm near Neepawa), run by the brothers who own Luxalune on Osborne. The farmery has a local sensibility that seeks a wide audience.
Barley Brothers, Winnipeg’s first craft-beer pub, opens in October, two months before Portage Avenue BrewWorks and Kitchen. The beers on offer at Barley Brothers will be from North American breweries, and will bring dozens of new beers to the local market.
Standard Lager, first brewed here by Drewry’s and later Carling- O’Keefe, is now made by Molson Coors Brewing Company (the world’s seventh largest brewery by volume). The beer is not brewed here, but the Keystone Province is nearly the exclusive market. With the possibility of more breweries on their way in Winnipeg, perhaps there will be a change to the province’s top-selling beer: Bud Light. In an interesting reciprocation, Budweiser’s famous Clydesdales are from Winnipeg. And for courtroom drama, check out the history of litigation in which the owners of Standard Lager have faced off against Budweiser over trademark infringement concerning their labels.