Share This Blog

OGC Aiming to be One Great Brewery

ogclogoAnyone who is of a certain vintage will remember driving into Winnipeg and being greeted by the blue and gold signs proclaiming Winnipeg to be “One Great City”. Those of a younger age (thankfully I straddle both!) will recognize the phrase as a title to a Weakerthans song which was something of a (punk-like) homage to their home town.

The signs met their demise in 2008, replaced by the anemic “Heart of the Continent”. But Jon Burge hopes one day city residents associate “One Great City” with the name of his brewpub. One Great City Brewing Company is close to opening in the city’s west end Polo Park neighbourhood (located not that far from mainstay Half Pints). The restaurant should be ready to open in January with beer available shortly after that.

Burge was born and raised in Winnipeg. He left a number of years ago to pursue a career in the culinary arts, training and working as a chef in fine dining restaurants in Vancouver. He also did a stint working as an Executive Chef in the work camps in northern Canada to save up money.

“My end goal was always to move back to Winnipeg and open a restaurant,” he says. And he was true to his word, returning to begin planning a restaurant project. Then, two years ago, his current business partner, Tim Hudek, approached him about the idea of a brewpub. Both of them could see the opportunity in that idea – at the time Winnipeg didn’t have a brewpub (Peg Beer Co. has since opened its doors). Burge shifted gears.

But that didn’t mean he abandoned his fine dining principles. He knows a brewpub requires a different approach to the food, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be excellent. “It will have the same fundamentals. Scratch cooking, locally sourced ingredients as much as possible, yet make it approachable and familiar.” Burge considers the concept more of a gastropub with a brewery than a brewpub, per se.

He doesn’t plan on many dishes prepared with beer as an ingredient, considering it a bit too “gimmicky”. However, he sees great potential in beer and food pairing. “People under-estimate the potential of pairing beer with food. I want to focus on that, the range of tastes you can create with that.”

The pub will seat 123 people with an additional 50 on the patio. Burge is aiming for an elegant but inviting atmosphere. At this point they hope to open the restaurant in December or January with beer production firing up in January with beer flowing a month later.

The beer will also reflect Winnipeg and its market. “I think it is a transitioning market,” says Burge. “You can’t have 10 IPAs on tap and expect to be successful.” But he also knows that doesn’t mean creating only pedestrian beer. “We will make some edgy beer, stuff that is out there to show what we can do. But we will also make beer that is approachable for those who have not yet made the transition.” He also sees the marketing shifting in the coming years. “I am sure people’s perception is going to change a lot in the coming years. So for now we have to be aware of who our are customers are. We don’t want to intimidate but want to support growth in acceptance.”

For now the plan is to have six year-round beer, a couple of regular seasonals and a series of one-offs produced on their pilot system. They also are going to reserve two taps for local guest beer. The exact line-up is still being worked out but at the moment they are thinking of offering an American blonde, a witbier, a pale ale, a double IPA, a milk stout and an ESB.

onegreatcitysignKnowing that neither he nor his partner have brewing experience, they have hired Josh Berscheid, an Olds College graduate and former Half Pints brewer, as their brewmaster. Berscheid will be working on a 10 hectolitre brewhouse, with six 20hl fermenters and 6 bright tanks (which will serve, at least as first, as their serving tanks).

With the size of the brewery, Burge recognizes that for now he can focus on building market through the pub and growler sales but over the long term the pub will not consume all the production capacity. “The next step will be to offer kegs to other restaurants and after that packaging.” They don’t have a bottling line yet, but have built into their plan the addition of bottling for retail sales. To be clear it is not about regional distribution, but simply to supplement the beer sold at the brewpub.

Actually, Burge indicates their “preferred method of expansion is a second pub location,” should demand allow.

There are a lot of breweries opening up in Winnipeg these days, including Peg, Barn Hammer and Torque (and others I will talk about soon). But Burge isn’t worried about the competition. Instead he is excited. “It is such a positive feeling, seeing all these breweries open up. We are not looking over our shoulders. We want them all to succeed. Craft beer grows as one, not individually.”

In fact, he looks at his fellow Winnipeg brewers and it heartens him. “It keeps us going through the hard days” of trying to build a brewery from scratch.

Everyone involved hopes that One Great City will soon be the home of Many Great Breweries.

[9:50am, edited to correct timeline of restaurant opening]

2 comments to OGC Aiming to be One Great Brewery

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>