It seems like there’s been an explosion of microbreweries in Winnipeg as of late, but there’s one you may not be familiar with – even though it’s been around for 17 years now.
They malt their own barley and continuously brew 300 litre batches of a Vienna lager and a brown ale. Then, they pour it all down the drain.
“Who’d do such a thing?” you may ask.
It’s the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre located in the Grain Commission building just south of Portage and Main. This independent, non-profit organization’s primary goal is to provide technical support for our farmers, seeders, malters, brewers, and exporters.
The small in-house microbrewery and malting equipment allows them to evaluate the quality of our barley. And Canada exports a lot of barley.
I was fortunate to be on a tour of the facility organized by Seema Goel of the University of Manitoba as part of Science Odyssey Week, which was sponsored by several of our commercial microbreweries: Half Pints, Torque, Barn Hammer, and Little Brown Jug.
A medieval historian, Roisin Cossar, was on hand to explain the history of brewing. Just another household process in the Middle Ages, usually performed by the womenfolk and totally devoid of any scientific approach.
Physicist, astronomer, and former Rhodes Scholar John Page explained not just the importance of bubbles in beer, but how they can be measured using ultrasonic techniques.
Biochemist Jamie Galka, an accomplished home brewer who has taught brewing technology at the University of Winnipeg, explained the differences between types of malting barley.
There’s far more to the organization than just a brewery, but an excellent overview of the latter was provided by Aaron Onio. As the centre’s microbiologist, he oversees the day-to-day operation of the malt lab and brewery.
Aaron explained how he first started there as a co-op student from the University of Manitoba. Doesn’t that sound like a dream job for a student? You get to make and drink beer all whilst getting credit towards your degree, and they pay you for it as well. Then, when he graduated, there was a full time job waiting for him.
Fortunately for our tour group, not all the beer was flushed down the drain from the current batches as we were allowed to sample it that night. And it was wonderful.
They say this is the only facility of its kind in the world. If they pour all that beer down the drain every month, I say thank goodness for that.