Agriculture

Little Brown Jug brewing up beer culture

Manitoba Microbreweries popping up to meet consumer demand for craft brews
 
Little Brown Jug Brewing Company’s beer ‘1919’ is a nod to the Winnipeg General Strike, while also paying homage to agricultural innovation in Manitoba - because it’s made with Brewers Gold. The first commercially available hops, Brewers Gold was developed in 1919 when the wild Manitoba hop was cross-pollinated with an unknown English hop.
 
“I had been going to Vermont and bringing back this refreshing Belgian beer,” said Kevin Selch, founder of Little Brown Jug (LBJ). “I always looked forward to coming home from work and cracking one of those open. My goal was to create a beer that had that same easy-drinking feeling.”

Selch opened LBJ in December 2016 with help from key partners and investors, and $60,000 of funding support from the Growing Forward 2 (GF2) Growing Value - Commercialization program. LBJ’s brewery/taproom has a prime location in Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District at 336 William Avenue, inside the old livery building. LBJ is one of seven new breweries (including brewpubs) that have opened in Winnipeg since July 2016.
 
“It’s an exciting time here for craft beer,” said Selch. “If you look at what has happened in other markets, there are a lot of opportunities to be had in Manitoba.”
 
Kathy Sawchuk, a business development specialist at Manitoba Agriculture’s Food and Agri-Product Processing branch, said Manitoba Agriculture acknowledges the economic potential of the industry and has supported four local breweries with GF2 Growing Value - Commercialization funding as a result. The branch also offers business and marketing consulting services, which are supported by training events and resource materials, to new and existing local breweries in an effort to help grow Manitoba’s craft beer industry.
 
“Interest in craft-style beer continues to increase and is the fastest growing beer segment in Manitoba,” said Sawchuk. “Consumers have more Manitoba product options to pick from in liquor marts, beer vendors, bars and restaurants than in the past which has helped local craft breweries perform well in the Manitoba market.”
 
Little Brown Jug is part of Manitoba’s craft beer boom, responding directly to the trend of consumers moving towards quality over quantity as baby boomers age. According to Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, craft-style beer continues to be one of their fastest-growing product categories - up eight per cent in dollar sales in 2017 - and shows no signs of slowing down.
 
Jeff Fidyk, a business development specialist in Manitoba Agriculture’s Food & Agri-Product Processing Branch, said millennials are more “sophisticated” than previous generations in terms of their alcohol preferences. In a recent survey, only 27 per cent of millennials identified beer as their alcoholic beverage of choice, and 42 per cent identified wine as their alcoholic beverage of choice.

“Even in their younger years when they are still getting established, they are choosing quality over quantity,” says Fidyk. “Their perception that locally-made food and beverages are superior to national brands is helpful for companies like LBJ in influencing their beverage choices.”

In Manitoba, food and beverage manufacturing is the second largest manufacturing sector, accounting for 24 per cent of the province’s total manufacturing revenue, and this industry is continuing to grow its economic footprint. In April 2016, Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries introduced reduced markups for craft breweries based on production levels, allowing small craft brewers to keep more of their sales revenue to grow their businesses. LBJ hopes to have a canning line in place by summer 2017 so their beer can reach an even greater audience.
 
“Having people come in and share their feedback has been great. We’re trying to achieve something greater with our presence. It’s not just that they like the product, it’s that people have a real personal connection and they get that we’re trying to do something larger," said Selch.
 
Microbreweries, such as Little Brown Jug, need agricultural inputs and trained staff to operate - contributing to a healthy provincial economy.
 
Many local breweries try to use local Manitoban or Canadian ingredients. Little Brown Jug estimates its consumption of malt barley will be 63,750 kgs after three years in business; the value to Manitoba producers of this volume of malting barley is estimated at approximately $102,000.
 
LBJ currently staffs nine employees, and will likely expand as production scales up. According to Sawchuk, over 63 positions have been created within Manitoba’s craft beer industry, and another six to eight local breweries are anticipated to open their doors in 2017 and into 2018.
 
“The craft brewing sector is extremely underdeveloped in comparison to other jurisdictions,” said Sawchuk. “From an economic perspective, the potential for the province is great.”
 
There’s no better time to become a brewer. Want to become part of the industry? Get more information on Manitoba’s craft brewing and distilling industry here.
 
Get a crash course on craft beer consumption here.