Fort Garry Brewing
by Dallas Reimer
(Beer Delegate, MB, Canada)
Fort Garry Brewing Company, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Fort Garry Brewing
Winnipeg, MB, Canada
I spent last Sunday forgetting about daylight savings time, walking nine kilometres home, eating a ham and cheese sandwich at the Golf Dome and most importantly, taking a private tour of the birthplace of Winnipeg’s finest beer: the Fort Garry Brewing Company.
I had agreed to be there at 10am, so I set my alarm for 8am to give myself enough time to shower and shake off the after-effects of Saturday night.
I woke up with the alarm, poured myself a cup of strong coffee and sat down on the couch in front of the television. After watching an early morning re-run of Cheers, I flipped over to the weather channel to see how comfortable my long journey would be.
It was close to 3 degrees Celsius outside, but when I looked at the clock in the upper right corner, I knew something was wrong. Daylight savings time...
Despite repeated warnings from my co-workers, the newspaper, the local newsman, several Internet sites, emails from pretty much everyone and now the weather channel, I forgot to set my clock ahead one hour for this year’s premature daylight savings romp.
The time was now, in reality, 9.30am. The car was still in the shop, so I quickly called a cab then emailed Mr. Saville at Fort Garry Brewing to tell him I might be late. I threw on a hat to cover my greasy, disheveled hair and ran to the door to wait for the taxi. I waited for half an hour.
When my cab driver finally showed up, I told him the address and we started rolling. He had no idea where it was that I wanted to go. We agreed to go down Kenaston (Fort Garry Brewing is located at 130 Lowson Crescent, which is off Kenaston) and hope to see the brewery’s sign.
Halfway there, I realized that I forgot my camera. I told my driver what happened and he pulled across three lanes of traffic so I could run into a nearby grocery store to buy a disposable. What I found was an $11.99 job which included a camera, roll of film, batteries and a faux leather carrying case. Though worried about the quality of my pictures, I merrily tore apart the packaging and assembled my temporary camera in the backseat of the taxi.
It took twenty-five minutes to drive to the general area of the brewery and another ten to actually find it. Surprising, since it had no less than two large signs and an enormous delivery truck covered in Fort Garry Brewing Company logos out front. My original ETA: 10am. Actual arrival time: 10.40am. Not a good start to my leisurely Sunday tour.
I opened the glass doors to the brewery and walked into the empty front office. Doug Saville, the president, said hello from his perch high above and I climbed the stairs to meet him. He was unfazed by my tardiness, as I imagine the president of a company who produces and therefore supplies his employees with beer would be. Doug shook my hand warmly and led me to the board room, where he answered some pressing questions.
The Fort Garry Brewing Company originally opened in 1930 and produced beer until 1960, when it was sold to Canadian brew giant Molson. Richard Hoeschen, great-great grandson of John Hoeschen Sr., who was the first president of the company, developed a taste for beer in his travels to Europe and resurrected the brewery in 1994. It grew quickly and in 1999, they moved to a new 25,000 square foot building to house their new equipment and keep up with demand.
In 2002, talks started with the Two Rivers Brewing Company regarding a merger. Sadly, Richard Hoeschen was battling cancer at the time and could not take part. He passed away in September 2002 of Hodgkin's disease.
Less than a year later, the merger was complete and Two Rivers brand beer was rolling off the Fort Garry Brewing bottling lines and into happy hands across Manitoba. Doug Saville, my tour guide and the former president of Two Rivers Brewing, became the president of Fort Garry Brewing.
Under his leadership, Manitoba-brewed beer is now available as far west as Alberta and plans are in place to migrate east, to Ontario. He predicts this may happen sometime in Spring 2007. (I predict that this will provoke a mass migration from Manitoba to Ontario as soon as Summer 2007.)
Fort Garry Brewing produces 30,000 hectolitres of beer annually, operating at 60% capacity. This translates to 3,000,000 litres, which further translates to just over 8,797,653 bottles full. Assuming that you and three friends can have a good time with eight bottles apiece, that means that FGBC, in one year, produces enough beer for the four of you to party over a quarter million times. Highly unlikely, but nice to think about.
Our first trip was to a room containing the computerised brewing system. A window looked out into another, yet unknown room. It was too dark to see what it contained. He ran through the procedures for producing each type of beer. I scribbled in my notebook, hoping to unravel their secret but I was unable to keep up. Doug knew his stuff and wasn’t about to let a commoner like me in on it.
I asked a number of obviously novice questions that I was secretly embarrassed about, but he didn’t flinch. My ignorance was no match for his vast knowledge of beer production. I snapped a few pictures as Doug flicked on the lights in the next room of Fort Garry Brewing. I turned around and saw them come on, one by one, to reveal the baby’s womb, as it were. It was where my beer was born.
Doug led me through a door to the actual Fort Garry brewing room. Four mammoth brewing tanks, each with their own separate purpose, stood before me. He explained what each did as I scribbled excitedly into my notebook. He opened each of the tanks and let me peer inside. I leaned in close to look at the myriad of pipes and machinery and what was called a CIP (cleaning in place) system. I took more pictures, but I had little film and we had more important things to see. Up ahead were the fermenting tanks.
We entered another door that led to a long set of descending stairs. This was what I'd come to see. I'd seen them in pictures, beer commercials and the movie Strange Brew, but never in person. Now finally, before my misty eyes lay a veritable meadow of colossal fermenting tanks, each filled with enough beer to satisfy a man for years. It wasn't ready to drink just yet, but I knew it would be someday. It was like waiting for my 18th birthday all over again.
I used a good portion of my film in this room, unaware of the majestic spoils that lay ahead. I took one more picture of the label of a tank containing an obscene amount of Fort Garry Dark Ale (click for review), then vowed to conserve the rest. There was much more to come.
Two large machines took the beer from their comfortable resting places in the fermenting tanks and pumped it through pipes and into the bottling and canning machines in the next room. The Fort Garry Brewing bottling machine, to me, was an engineering marvel. It filled the bottles, applied glue and labels, then capped them each in just a few seconds. The canning machine was nearly as impressive, filling eight at a time while simultaneously carbonating the beer, then capping the cans. Doug seemed especially proud of this room and all the equipment in it.
After the bottling room, the beer was carried manually into the packaging room, where the boxes were made and the beer prepared for retail sale. The first thing I saw when we entered was a tower of kegs no less than fifteen feet tall. I had to catch my breath: I felt like a homeless man in Fort Knox. We talked more about how and where the beer is distributed, but to be honest, I was incredibly distracted and neglected to take notes.
Near the loading dock, I stood in a large open area reserved for forklifts and yet more beer. The entirety of Fort Garry Brewing's warehouse stock was in view from that point. Bottles, cans, kegs, two litre plastic bottles; it was all here. It was all so strangely wonderful.
As we wandered back through the brewery and towards the front door, I wondered what it would be like to work at Fort Garry Brewing. I imagined a camaraderie of sorts; reminiscent of the steel factory in the movie Deer Hunter. We would toil and sweat for the beer. We would watch each other’s backs. Then when the day was over, we would head to our good friend’s bar where we’d drink a good portion of what we produced.
Singing and fighting would ensue. Bonds would be made and broken. Some of us would go home with the few women who dared to turn up, but at the end of the night those of us who were left would drain the last of our bottles, pat each other's backs and go home to sleep it off so we could do it all again the next day.
I imagine this, but maybe it's just a job like everything else. Call me a dreamer.
You can read what I think about Fort Garry Pale Ale here.