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Trans Canada Creating Cross-Drinker Appeal

When you name your brewery after Canada’s national highway, you have some pretty big shoes to fill. The Trans Canada Highway is an iconic symbol of our vast country. It ties the country together, creating memories for thousands of Canadians that have trekked across all or even parts of it on epic road trips.

But that is what Winnipeg’s Trans Canada Brewing has done. Actually, according to owner Matt Talman, the brewery isn’t named after the highway; it is named after what the highway represents. “We wanted to have a bit of a nostalgic brand,” he says. “The brand centres around Canadiana and the Canadian experience. We have the look and feel of a throwback to bring people back to some of their memories of past. That is exemplified in the era of when Trans Canada was used for all kinds of developments, airlines, the highway. It is something everybody can associate with.”

“Plus,” he adds, “it also leaves us with opportunities for collaborations and things we can do, such as different styles from the regions of Canada.”

Trans Canada is having its grand opening this coming weekend, so if you are in Winnipeg make a point of stopping by. It is Winnipeg’s ninth brewery, which is quite the change from a couple years ago.

Talman comes by both business and beer honestly. “I come from entrepreneurial family. It has always been goal to open own my own business at some point.” The Winnipeg boy got a business degree from University of Western Ontario, after having travelled extensively around the world. His beer passion came about the traditional way, through taking up homebrewing. “I started homebrewing in college. I  started with kits and then moved to all-grain, a 1-gallon stove top. I enjoyed learning  about the brewing process, creating something on my own. Simply I fell in love with the brewing process, craft beer.” Talman talks about cutting his craft beer teeth on Half Pints and Fort Garry, at the time the only independent brewers in town.

He started seriously working on Trans Canada in late 2014, at a time when the beer scene looked very different in Manitoba. “At that time in Manitoba, there was basically Half Pints and Fort Garry, although I think Farmery had just started. There were all kinds of rumours of legislation changes, more people exploring craft beer, and places were expanding options. I felt it was time for another brewery so we could have more well-made local craft beer.”

Many things have changed since Talman’s early planning, but rather than be worried, he is excited. “There are big things happening in the Winnipeg market. Consumers are rapidly becoming more aware of craft beer. I am excited for the opportunity to add to the momentum of craft beer in Manitoba and offer even more choices.”

A central aspect of Trans Canada’s plans include their on-site, 120 seat tap room, located “three doors down from Fort Garry. We wanted to build in a showcase tap room on site, that would offer brand introduction, and provide a welcoming experience for our beer.” They originally planned a full-scale restaurant but scaled that back. Now they will be offering pizzas through Timmy Tom’s Pizzeria, what Talman describes as a “store within a store” concept. He wants to keep the Trans Canada name associated with beer.

The brewery itself is rather ambitious. They have installed two brew systems. The large system includes a 35-hl brewhouse and eight 70-hl fermenters. They also have a 5-hl pilot small batch system with six 10-hl fermenters. They also have two bottling lines –  the main line will do 355 ml and 650 ml bottles while a smaller cage-and-cork system will do 750-ml champagne style bottles. The dual set-up is to maximize flexibility so they can simultaneously produce beer for broader distribution and specialty limited releases. Their head brewer, former Amsterdam brewer Morghain Wielgosz, has her hands full.

In addition they have six 40-hl foeders (the French oak vats designed for aging sour beer), a first for Manitoba.

With that kind of set up, you can appreciate the planned beer line-up is quite diverse. “Our goals is a wide assortment of beer. We decide that with the market the way it is we wanted to be a brewery that consumers could find a wide variety of options.”

When fully up and running they envision 10 to 15 beer available at the tap room at any given time. They will have four core beer, which have not yet finalized – they are wanting to see how initial reactions go before committing to full production runs. They have also not yet worked out what will be released in the 750-ml corked bottles, wanting to get the first phase of the launch out of the way before tackling that step.

At launch they will have 12 beer, all from the small batch brewhouse, which will offer a sneak peak into the range of their offerings. Talman says there will be a witbier, raspberry ale, ISA, IPA, Double IPA a couple of saisons and a Czech dark lager, just to name a few.

The size and scope of the operation give the impression of a fairly ambitious operation. But Talman insists their focus is strictly local. “Our initial goal is Manitoba,” he says. In five years he hopes the brewery is one that “Manitoba consumers talk about in terms of their experience in the tap room or the varieties of beer we brew. And we hope to be reaching out throughout Manitoba, being available throughout the province.”

As for out of province, Talman doesn’t rule it out but not in the near future. “If the business case is there we might consider it one day.”

For now, Winnipeg is about to get a brewery of the likes it has not seen before.

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