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Heavenly Beer the Goal of Stone Angel

Manitoba’s rapidly expanding beer scene is about to be one more brewery richer. Stone Angel Brewing aims to officially open its doors in August. But as of this month you can get an advance taste of their first flagship beer thanks to their friends at Brazen Hall. More on the beer in a moment.

Stone Angel is the creation of two Pauls – McMullan and Clerkin – and a James. I had a chance a couple weeks back to talk to the two Pauls about their plans for the brewery.

McMullan is a recovering lawyer and business person. “I have had five or six careers. Lawyer. Strategic planning consultant. I worked for the federal government. I have always liked idea of a brewery, but laws were such that it was not a one man venture”.

Then he met Paul Clerkin, a dislocated Irishman who worked in graphic design and web development.  “We met 2009” says Clerkin. “I was always bemoaning how bad bars were in Winnipeg. Our original plan was to open a kick ass pub. Then we got into homebrewing and it moved on from there. Who wants to own a  pub when can own your own brewery?”

Stone Angel is the first brewery to be licensed to open under Winnipeg’s new bylaw which permits breweries to open in commercial districts. Which is exactly what they have done, located a stone’s throw from the new Winnipeg football stadium and the University of Manitoba.

The brewery is currently under construction with a scheduled opening for August. They are installing a three-vessel 15-BBL brewhouse with three 15-BBL and one 30-BBL fermenters. They system is built to allow them to also do 2-BBL batches, which will allow them to do small-scale one-off special releases.

At the beginning they plan to do kegs only, but “in short order” are looking at canning as well as small bottle runs in 650-l bottles.

As for the beer they plan on four permanent offerings supplemented by a round of seasonals that return every year and an ongoing list of one-offs. They have just launched, thanks to Brazen Hall, their first release, Luther’s Folly, which they describe as “a mixed style, half way between a Kolsch and a Belgian Blonde”. The other anchors will be a straight up Kolsch (to which they haven’t decided whether to add fruit) and an Irish Red Ale. the fourth year-round is still to be decided.

In addition they plan a long list of seasonals and one-offs including, this summer, a blonde stout and then some more traditional porters and stouts in the winter. They also plan Belgian Dubbels and Tripels, but probably on a small-scale for the bombers.

“In general we like Northern European styles. Irish, Belgian, Dutch with some nod to the British Isles”, says Clerkin.

The name of the brewery comes straight from Margaret Laurence’s famous novel The Stone Angel. Laurence was born in nearby Neepawa and is one of Canada’s most honoured and respected authors (I hope I don’t have to tell you that). The book is not particularly uplifting, but the Pauls are taking a more positive interpretation of the name. “She is a Manitoba author”, says McMullan. He says the name represents a solid connection to Manitoba and its history and culture. Plus they worked hard to make the idea work.

“We were bouncing off ideas for a name, but none seemed to fit,” says McMullan. “We decided to take a break. then my daughter wanted to dress up as a stone cemetery angel for Halloween”. the outrageous idea sparked a new line of thinking and within weeks they had settled on the name Stone Angel.

But then came the task of crafting a logo, which fell to Clerkin. “I spent weeks looking for stone angels in cemeteries in January in Winnipeg. I trudged through four feet of snow”, he laments. However, he did successfully find some inspiration to create their current logo.

I ask the Pauls about the future and they express a very clear hope. “We are not looking to be a regional player”, says McMullan. Instead their focus is intensely local. “[In five years] we would like to be entrenched in the Winnipeg community, volunteering for non-profits, we want to keep giving back. We want to keep it fun. This is a business but also a labour of love”.

They are also looking forward to becoming a part of the burgeoning Winnipeg beer scene. “The Manitoba craft beer market is growing”, says McMullan. “Drinkers are becoming more educated and branching out. Our share of the market taken off. Victoria supports 14 to 15 breweries and is half the size of Winnipeg. Right now it is a wide open market”.

With luck Stone Angel will be a cornerstone of the Manitoba craft beer scene.

[Edited to correct an error in a a quote.]

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