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'A rising tide lifts all ships': Winnipeg craft brewers pouring it on thick in 2017

Winnipeg is adding at least five more craft beer brands to its repertoire in 2017.

At Little Brown Jug Brewing Company, brewmaster's assistant Jeremy Grisim, brewmaster Bernhard Wieland and founder Kevin Selch are preparing for their grand opening on Sunday.

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski/Metro

At Little Brown Jug Brewing Company, brewmaster's assistant Jeremy Grisim, brewmaster Bernhard Wieland and founder Kevin Selch are preparing for their grand opening on Sunday.

With at least five new brewers on tap this year, Winnipeg’s craft beer scene is vying to be among the top of the hops.

Thanks to more relaxed laws by the province and city over the last two years, new beer-based businesses are flowing en masse.

Little Brown Jug Brewing Company, a taproom and bottle shop, opened its doors in the Exchange District in December, but is having its official grand opening Sunday at 5 p.m. (336 William Ave.).

Founder Kevin Selch said he wasn’t planning a party, but the five restaurants nearest the brewery—King’s Head Pub, Peasant Cookery, King + Bannatyne, Yellow Dog Tavern and The Merchant Kitchen—offered to cater an event "as kind of a ‘Welcome to the neighbourhood’ potluck."

Selch said their generosity helped reinforce why he wanted to build a business downtown and contribute to the vibrancy of the neighbourhood.

He suggested thirsty visitors stop by LBJ on Wednesdays when the brewmasters are operating in full swing.

"You get the sights, the smells, the sounds of a brewery process. So it really allows people to experience what’s going on here and that’s pretty unique about our location and setup," Selch said.

Another new addition, One Great City Brewing Co., is scheduled to open in May at 1596 Ness Ave.

Business manager Tim Hudek said getting the company off the ground took about three years. Though city zoning bylaw changes in January helped speed up the process, he said government could still do more to spur suds.

"When you’re running a brewpub, you’re dealing with three different levels of government and in some cases, multiple individuals or departments at each level. Because we’re a brewpub, we’re under a manufacturing designation as well as a restaurant designation," Hudek explained.

"It’s not that we don’t want to comply, but it’d certainly be easier if there was some kind of streamlined process for this."

Paul Clerkin of Stone Angel Brewing Co.— set to open at in August at 1875 Pembina Hwy.—said he’d like to see the cap of 50 patrons per taproom lifted as well.

"I don’t think it will lead to super pubs where people have got 300 people in a taproom," he said. "This is Winnipeg, the market will not sustain that."

Though some legislation could use more mulling, the brewers agreed having more options in town can only boost business on the whole.

"Craft beer drinkers are not exclusively loyal the way that traditional beer drinkers are," Hudek said. "The way we look at it is a rising tide lifts all ships. So I’m not looking at bringing customers away from Torque Brewing Co. or away from Half Pints Brewing Co. I’m looking to bring more customers into the craft beer market away from Molson and Labatt."

"Winnipeg is a very new craft beer market, but there’s still a whole bunch of growth potential and sales growth potential," Clerkin said.

"Perhaps in 20 years time it will be a whole different (story)," he added, with a laugh. "But right now it is a very giving, very sharing community."

Other brewers on tap for 2017:

Trans Canada Brewing Co. (1290 Kenaston Blvd.) – opening late summer

OXUS Brewing Co. (1180 Sanford St.) – opening TBA

Nonsuch La Brasserie and Brewing Co. (location TBA) – opening TBA

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