Friday night I took a little hometown tour. It’s called the Ale Trail tour, and it’s run by the Winnipeg Trolley Company. I was one of several social media and tourist type people who had been invited. My connection to the company is that Ben Gillies, the owner of the Winnipeg Trolley Company is also majority owner of Fools and Horses, my favourite coffee shop. I’d asked him about the trollies a couple of months ago, and he told me that this tour was being planned and he’d make sure I got an invite. So, thanks for that.
Winnipeg Trolley Company offers several different tours. Among these are the Ale Trail tours, which was the tour I took on Friday night. These Ale Trails are offered twice a week. Once on Wednesday and once on Friday. There are three craft breweries on each tour, encompassing five of Winnipeg’s breweries, and one distillery. This, by the way, covers only about half of the craft breweries in Winnipeg. Our three locations were: Little Brown Jug, Capital K Distillery, and One Great City.
The tour runs from 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm, so it takes a full evening. However, it’s definitely worth the time it takes. Depending on how much you drink on the tour you may want to make sure you have a cab available at the end. It also ends early enough that a bus home is still a reasonable option.
Little Brown Jug
The tours all start at The Forks. There were about 17 of us who got on the bus, meaning that it was about half full. Our first stop was at Little Brown Jug in the Exchange District. While we rode to the location Ben regaled us with accounts of the role that beer played in the earliest days of Winnipeg along with some noteworthy features of downtown Winnipeg, and the events that made them noteworthy.
Given the amount of information on the tour it’s a good event if you want to learn more about your city. It’s an even better event if you are bringing visitors along, as they will learn a nice bit of information(some quite amusing) about the history of this city. The tickets are $74.95, but that is for a full evening and includes three beverages(food is extra, but you are not required to order any). Non brewery tours have different pricing.
History on the Go
I spend a lot of time in the downtown, and know a good bit of the history. One interesting tidbit though, was after the Union Bank Building, Canada’s first skyscraper was built, there were doubts that the fire department had enough power in their hoses to fight a fire at the top of the building. This was adequately demonstrated, much to the relief of the constructions workers on the roof. They hadn’t been warned of the demo and had to find things to cling on to, to avoid being washed off the roof.
Little Brown Jug itself is located in what was originally the old livery stable for Winnipeg City Hall. The building has had many other uses since that time and becoming a Brewery. Little Brown Jug(LBJ) features a tap room along with the brewing and shipping areas. This means that while beer is available for purchased, they don’t serve food.
Along with being the first beer we were going to try, LBJ’s 1919(the year of the Winnipeg General Strike), LBJ was also where Ben gave us a brief talk on how to go about beer tasting. A professional beer taster is called a cicerone, much like a sommelier a professional wine taster. Ours was more of a quick crash course. If I remember correctly there were five steps:
1.) Pour the Beer
2.) Observe the Beer, colour, etc.
3.) Swirl and breathe the Beer in
4.) Cover, swirl and take a deeper breath.
5.) Taste, making sure to allow the Beer to fully cover your mouth.
I admit, I may not have got that entirely correct. It was kind of noisy and I might not have heard everything in the correct order. However, as you can see, it’s not that much different from the way in which you would taste a wine.
If you want more information on 1919 itself, this page of the LBJ website will give you all the details of the ingredients, process etc.
Winnipeg Trolley to Capital K Distillery
After finishing up at LBJ, we boarded the trolley again and headed out to Capital K Distillery. We were met there by Jason Kang, the owner of the distillery. Jason is a welcoming and enthusiastic entrepreneur who has in a short period of time, along with his team, created an award winning product at Capital K. He’s also a hard-working owner. After meeting him in the evening at the distillery, I ran into him again Saturday morning at the St. Norbert Farmers Market where Capital K has a stall.
Our visit started out in the back of the distillery where we viewed the equipment and Jason explained to us the process that goes into making their spirits.
Getting the Feel of Distilling
Just inside the door there was a large bin of grain. We were encouraged to run our hands through it and to give it a sniff and even a taste if we wanted to. The talk in general was very hands on.
I’ve never been much of a drinker, so I don’t know a lot of what goes into making things such as vodka. One of the things that stood out to me is that all distilling produces methanol, along with ethanol, and if I heard correctly, small amounts of other alcohols. However, it is the methanol that is the content most responsible for hangovers, and lousy taste. Generally speaking, the more methanol the worse the taste. Capital K works very hard to take out all the methanol, which is what makes their such a quality product. Prior to tonight I had only tried their Gin, but found it very good.
Going Through the Distilling Process
As Jason explained the process to us he had us take a sniff of the insides of a couple of the containers of alcohol. These were ones where the methanol was still present, and the smell was fairly obnoxious. It was interesting that even when this is distilled out it doesn’t go to waste, as it can be used to wash the floors and clean out the drains. Finally he gave us a container that had the pure alcohol in it. We dipped a finger in this and discovered that it was quite sweet, and that all the funky qualities are gone.
After the presentation we went back into the tasting room and enjoyed a Manitoba Mule Cocktail. We were also given the opportunity to have tasting sips of several of the other beverages. I tried the Dill Pickle Vodka, the Espresso Vodka, and Oaken Rhumb. I’m not really a rum fan, but quite liked the Oaken Rhumb.
One Great City
Our final stop was at One Great City Brewery and restaurant. One Great City(It takes it’s name from an old City of Winnipeg slogan) is located in Madison Square a shopping mall just a little west of Polo Park Mall. We could also order food at this stop. To facilitate this, they gave us menus while at Capital K and our food orders were phoned in prior to our arrival.
Given it’s mall location, I was a bit surprised when I walked into One Great City. First the room is quite spacious. Second, they so a really good job of spacing out the tables. Even though it’s got the requisite elements of a sports bar, the tables are far apart enough from each other, that you don’t feel that the table next to you is intruding into your space in any way.
As the last stop in the tour, One Great City didn’t feature any talk, but rather gave us the opportunity for conversation among the people on the tour. In general this is a good feature of the tour. While Ben is a great MC he also allows times for people to talk or ask questions. There’s a nice learning component, and there is time for simply socializing. The tour is also well organized, with the Trolley Company and the establishments working well together.
Winnipeg Trolley Company at One Great City
When we arrived at One Great City, our table was set up and they were just finishing putting out our water. While they were bringing out our beer flights, one of the servers came around to make sure they knew which food order was coming out to which tour member. The whole process was smooth and efficient. Our beer flight, pictured above, included from top left, clockwise: Falcon Blonde, Belgian Esprit, The Queen’s Best Bitter, and the Canadian Common, which has another word in front of it, which I can’t seem to remember and I think my phone auto-corrected. My preferred was the Belgian Esprit. Although there was a full flight offered I only had a few sips of the Belgian and the Queen’s.
My food consisted of the Beer and Cheese Soup. The soup is rich and creamy, but the highlight is actually the two fried cheese croutons that are served in it. A nice touch of crunch and sweetness to accentuate the rich, thick soup. I also ordered the Kimchi Cajun wings. These are a dry rubbed wing. The flavour is more Cajun than Kimchi, but the skin is crispy, the meat is really tender. I quite enjoyed the Togarashi Buttermilk Ranch dip.
While enjoying the food I was also enjoying the conversation with Sean and Sean(Shawn, Sian?) two members of the Winnipeg Brew Bombers. we were sharing one of the tables with Susan and Tineke from Downtown Winnipeg Biz. The evening is billed as running from 7:00 to 11:00 but we were back on the road heading back to The Forks by 10:30, so 11:00 would definitely be the latest the evening would end. Checking out a Winnipeg Trolley Company tour is a great way to start a weekend.