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The Beer District

musknuckleIn what has unintentionally become a series on new Saskatchewan-based breweries (see other profiles here and here), I today profile Regina’s new entrant in what is Saskatchewan’s microbrewery mini-boom. District Brewing is Regina’s first non-brewpub microbrewery in the modern era. And they launch on the scene this fall high in confidence and with a savvy marketing strategy.

Three years ago Byron Wiebe was finishing business school, with a major in marketing, when he starting working on an idea to open a brewery in Regina. “I saw there was an opportunity in Regina,” says Wiebe. “There are no other breweries. It is taking off elsewhere but not in Saskatchewan. That makes Regina a great place to open a craft brewery.” Alas, he had the business and marketing smarts, but little knowledge of how to make beer. By pure happenstance through a mutual friend, he learned about Jay Cook who at the time was working for Labatt in London and was hankering to return to his roots in Saskatchewan. The two talked and District Brewing was borne.

District Brewing’s business model is simple and straightforward. “One beer,” says Wiebe. For the moment they are brewing only one beer. “Because craft is new in the public mindset here we want a “transitional beer” as our first. 100% malt, fuller than Coors and Canadian but it won’t scare those customers away”.

The result is Müs Knuckle Lager, a pale lager that Wiebe describes as similar to a Munich Helles. The plan is to establish the brand with the lager, promoting it as “Saskatchewan’s beer” to introduce mainstream beer drinkers, in particular younger drinkers, to the concept of craft beer. “Later we will start experimenting more”, offering more assertive styles.

Müs Knuckle is packaged in green bottles, “to set ourselves apart” says Wiebe. He isn’t concerned about potential skunking. He says the box will be light impermeable and they will encourage consumers to drink while fresh. Plus, at first, they are placing a lot of emphasis on keg sales, which eliminates that problem.

“Regina is our primary market now, but we will be in SLGA stores soon” says Wiebe. Expansion to Alberta is in their more medium range plans, likely once they have developed other beer styles. “The Alberta market is pretty crowded. Once we have something unique to offer is when we move into Alberta”.

Wiebe suggests their model is not unlike Steam Whistle in Toronto. While the style is different the focus and approach is quite similar, he says.

District predicts the first batch will roll off the bottling line in the last week of September.

5 comments to The Beer District

  • I grow weary of this “we’ll start with a middle of the road lager so as not to scare anyone off.” That was okay 20 years ago, it ain’t okay now. Beer drinkers have changed. Don’t bore us with another lager, there are a million already out there. Maverick, Yellowhead, Ribstone, Kohler on and on.

    • beerguy

      I hear ya, Libarbarian. But I think guys like you and I are impatient. The Saskatchewan market has not yet had a lot of exposure to flavourful beer. Paddock Wood has been great, and their recent explosion of growth very encouraging. Bushwakker has a great niche place in the Regina beer scene, but is still niche. I can understand why a new entrant might be nervous about going for big IPAs and robust porters. I am not justifying their approach. I am simply acknowledging it is a tough market still, despite the gains we have made.

      Keep pushing and demanding more. That is how progress happens. But don’t dismiss them before you have tried the beer. I haven’t, yet. I am not prepared to make judgement on what they actually brew. And that is what really matters.

  • Chad

    Did they happen to explain their thought process behind the name of their beer? (if you’re not sure what I’m referring to, google “moose knuckle”)

  • Meh. Recent beer successes like Central City or Beau’s have come from being different, not being the same. I can tell by their language that they want to be middle of the roaders, a Regina version of Saskatoon’s Great Western Brewing. And the guy is fresh out of MARKETING at business school and he isn’t interested in differentiation of his product? Man, kids these days.

  • lonny

    Jay cooke was one of only 5 master brewmasters in the country for labatt’s. He was schooled in munich at the siebel institute. He is brewing a helles, one of the most prestigious styles of beer in the history of beer.
    He helped create some of the top micros (paddockwood) currently available in Canada and in time he will release additional styles of beer. More than 80% of Beau’s sales are a kolsch (a drinkable lagered ale).
    whether we agree with the business start up plan, do we not owe them at least ‘a taste’ before comment.

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