A column in the Free Press this weekend - Exchange brew pub might make Irish eyes smile - correctly points out that Winnipeg does not have a brew pub. I am not quite sure why this is, but it is shameful.
The author, a Benjamin Gillies, also reminded us of the complete lack of foresight that our civic government had when it rejected a proposal to sell an abandoned pump house in the exchange district to an entrepreneur to create a unique brew pub: the Pump House Restaurant and Brewing Co. This, and the nonesense that followed whereby the city lost $600,000 in a failed attempt to do something with the building, is also shameful.
Benji (can I call you Benji? Good... thanks) goes on to propose a reviving that old brewpub idea:
"Should another developer approach the city with a solid business plan for establishing a microbrew restaurant, the government should seriously consider donating the pumping station to the project (as it did for the Red River College's downtown campus).The location is great. It's an area that growing in popularity with condo developments springing up, and an interesting development directly across the street where Sunstone Group is developing a boutique hotel and outdoor plaza area on the waterfront.
Instead of holding onto an empty building as it slowly succumbs to demolition by neglect, the city would be putting the heritage structure to productive use and earning tax revenue in the process. It would also be contributing to the growing list of unique attractions that make Winnipeg a more dynamic place to live in and visit. And that is definitely something worth raising a glass to."
The concept includes a restaurant and wine bar to be built in another old building: the Harbour Master building that juts directly out onto the Red River.
If the James Avenue Pumping Station doesn't work out, that doesn't mean that we should give up on a brew pub in the exchange district. It's a great idea, and a natural fit in my opinion. There are lots of heritage buildings with wood beams and rustic brick walls -- not to mention space for vats and equipment -- that could make a great brew pub location.
Nevertheless, I am hopeful that our local beer diversity may increase. One reason: The Government of Manitoba is slowly relaxing some of it's liquor laws. Some initial changes were made in 2011 and 2012, and you can view some more proposed changes here. (Thanks Ben). Though the changes are mostly incremental, the general tendency is to make liquor regulations less restrictive, which is a good thing for consumers. For brew pubs, one of the most important changes I think is this one:
"Brew pubs will be able to sell their product on an off-sale basis and through other retailers such as Liquor Marts."
There is also a brew pub concept brewing in Brandon MB. The Brewtinerie, to be established in an old fire hall, is not yet a sure thing but it's an exciting proposal for beeries, especially those in Brandon, and I see it as a good omen for Winnipeg.
Another local beer development that is worth mentioning is Farmery Brewing: a true made-in-Manitoba beer. Read more about it here.
While the old Waterfront pump house might have missed it's opportunity to become a brew pub, I am optimistic about the beer landscape expanding beyond our existing local beer heroes Half Pints Brewing Co. and Fort Garry Brewing Co. because of the developments mentioned above.