Chris and Lawrence Warwaruk are one step closer to their goal of bringing the country’s first estate brewery to Manitoba after purchasing a building for the future brewery site earlier this month.
The sibling entrepreneurs purchased a 15,000-square-foot building in Neepawa, a few kilometres from the existing Farmery farm in early September.
“We have a timeline where we will be up and running and producing beer out of the facility by the spring of 2016. Spring may come early or late but we are going to be focused on making sure we have beer flowing before the summer of 2016,” said Chris Warwaruk.
The building was purchased from Bob Mazer and had been the former home of the Mazer New Holland dealership.
“For us to partner with Bob Mazer, who has been a successful entrepreneur in Westman for years, is amazing. He has a lot of experience that we can gain from and certainly has a lot of insight into the ag industry.”
The building is destined for a $3-million retrofit to make it into a brewery.
“This is a beautiful structure and something we could afford to buy. We had been looking at building directly on the farm but would have had to install all the utilities,” said Warwaruk. “This wasn’t impossible, but if we wanted to do it that way it would have taken us another eight to 10 months to accomplish and we might miss out on the summer of 2016 season.”
The Warwaruks aim to have the brewery up and running by April and in the future may look to incorporate an adjoining tap or tasting room.
The brewery will employ a few local residents and has the potential for tremendous economic spinoffs for Neepawa and the surrounding rural areas.
The brewery will allow guests to get up close and personal with the process of producing Farmery, from tours in the barley and hops fields all the way through to packaging.
“From the beginning we have wanted to show people how beer is made, what it tastes like but also to be able to offer the added opportunity to open the doors and show where the ingredients are grown,” said Warwaruk.
The path to Farmery
Chris and Lawrence are two of seven Warwaruk children who were raised on a farm just north of Minnedosa.
For years the brothers watched their dad struggle to keep the family farm afloat, but were eventually forced off the land due to bankruptcy.
“Throughout our teenage years we witnessed our dad struggle trying to get out of a mountain of debt,” said Warwaruk. “Our dad was not a bad farmer, he was just hit with circumstances that were out of his control, mainly the global market, input prices and high interest rates.”
Their journey to the creation of the Farmery brand began in the late 1990s, when they moved to Winnipeg and started a restaurant on Osborne Street, called Luxsole.
Ten years later they expanded to open Gastropub, which submerged them into the local beer and liquor landscape.
After experiencing the American craft brew industry on a trip to Wisconsin, the brothers made the decision to combine their farming background with their service industry savvy to launch Farmery — a beer that encompassed the taste of the Prairies.
“When we left Wisconsin, we noticed that there were pubs down there that had 199 beers and they were all produced in Wisconsin. They were all craft beers and we quickly realized that Manitoba was way behind the curve and seven years later we still are but we are doing our best to catch up.”
With the ultimate goal of opening an estate brewery, the brothers acquired a small piece of land along Highway 16 near Neepawa and Arden Ridge, where they began growing barley and hops.
For the past three years Farmery beer has been processed under contract at the Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge, Ont.
“We are so happy that our customer base has given us the patience to get our feet underneath us so that we can have the market base to prove to the banks that we can build and sustain our own brewery,” said Warwaruk.
Now after four years of tending the crops, developing a brand and customer base, Farmery is on the brink of being able to complete its entire process of bringing a locally grown and processed beer to market in Manitoba.
“This is the middle component of putting together what we have worked for, for the past few years. Opening the brewery will be a pretty big event for us as it is closing the entire loop,” he said. “From the farm into the restaurant industry, to developing a brand and now the final piece will be opening up the doors and completely adding value to what we grow on the farm with our own brewery.”
According to Warwaruk, Farmery and all of the Warwaruks’ endeavours are driven by the philosophy of adding value to as many aspects of the operation as possible.
“In our lives we could see that we weren’t going to have the budget to purchase enough acreages to make it. So, the only way that we saw that we could make it work, even on a small quarter section footprint, was to add value to whatever we grew,” said Warwaruk.
The beer itself is made with five key ingredients, three different strains of hops, barley, yeast, water and wheat protein. It is made from 100 per cent whole grains with no added rice or corn syrup.
“We want to prove to people that you can make a go of it on a smaller footprint, if you add value,” said Warwaruk. “I don’t think that it is our mandate to convince everyone to drink beer that is all grain malt without additives, but I definitely think that there is a growing segment of the population that wants to support something local and something produced in their province.”
Always looking at new ways to utilizing products grown on the farm, the Warwaruks have moved into stone milling the barley to create Farmery beer bread and flapjack flour mixes.
Earlier this year Farmery also launched into Alberta and now holds a presence across all three Prairie provinces.
“Alberta is welcoming Farmery and really considers Farmery as local. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta seem to have a specific interpretation of local and they include all the Prairie provinces,” said Warwaruk. “That is exciting for us and I think that is something to be celebrated for sure.”
To add to an exciting time for Farmery, the local beer will be showcased at the upcoming Grey Cup event in November as the event’s official craft beer.
“The beer community is small but our customer base is strong, committed, and willing to support us. And honestly, that gives us a lot of gas in the tank to wake up in the morning, to push forward with this project and create a quality product.”