Brothers brew up new business venture in Neepawa area


By: Kate Jackman-Atkinson

Last Thursday, the Neepawa and District Chamber of Commerce held a luncheon with the theme “entrepreneurship in action”. The event’s guest speakers were brothers Lawrence and Chris Warwaruk, the owners of the Farmery Estate Brewery.

They are two years into the project, which when complete, will see them brewing beer in the Arden area with inputs, such as hops and barley, grown by them on the farm. It will also have a tourist component, offering educational tours of the brewery as well as tours of the fields where the hops and barley are grown.  

The Farmery will be Canada’s first estate brewery. The project began two years ago with the purchase of two pieces of property in the Arden area, one of which was a Saskatoon berry farm. For the last two years, they have grown hops and barley on their land.

Lawrence said that when he purchased the berry farm, “I had the original vision to grow grapes, but you can’t grow grapes in Manitoba… So we created what we can do here, [which is] grow barley.”
The brothers grew up on a farm in the Erickson area but for the last 10 years, they have been involved in the food and beverage industry in Winnipeg.

In 2008, they opened Luxalune Gastropub, which features 150 different kinds of beer. While they have quite a bit of experience in the purchase and consumption side of the industry, the Farmery is the brothers’ first experience with the production side.

Lawrence, who moved to the Arden farm with his family in order to operate the Farmery, explained why they chose to establish the Farmery in the Neepawa area. He explains that in 2007, they sold part of the family farm and found themselves driving back and forth to Erickson along Highway 16.

He explains that he kept seeing the signs describing Neepawa as ‘the land of plenty’. Since the brothers are hoping to attract visitors to the brewery, the high-traffic volume along Highway 16 was another reason why they chose the Neepawa area.

A couple of changes made the idea of establishing an estate brewery more viable. The first is a broader trend toward craft-brewed beer, something the brothers see with their customers at Luxalune.  The other was a change to the province’s liquor laws that allows pub owners to also hold a manufacturing license, which means that they promote their own beer in their pub.

About four years ago, the brothers visited Wisconsin, a state with over 90 microbreweries. Lawrence explained that in restaurants, it was common to see 120 different local beers on the menu, and added, “That’s the trend.” He explained that in British Columbia and the Greater Toronto Area, 15 to 18 per cent of liquor store beer sales come from craft brewed beers. In Manitoba he said, “We haven’t really been touched by it,” and added, “There’s lots of potential…If we do it right, there’s no way we can’t succeed.”

The brothers worked with the Canadian Malt Barley Technical Centre to develop a recipe and in early 2012, they produced their first test batch with a brewery in Comox. This test batch was well-received by patrons at Luxalune. Chris said that they expected it to last three to four months, but it sold out within seven weeks.

He explained, “People really connected with the flavor profile and who’s behind it.”
Later this summer, they received their second test batch made by a craft brewery in Muskoka, Ont.

They had samples of this batch available for attendees at the Chamber luncheon.

Chris explained that their flagship beer is a lager that was chosen in order to appeal to the largest segment of the market. He said that people have asked them why they didn’t make something different and unique as their initial product and he explains that they wanted a large potential customer base for their product adding, “We’re doing it for sustainability.”

While the plan is to build an estate brewery on the Arden land, this might not happen for another three of four years as the brothers are first focusing on developing the product. They also want to gain an understanding about demand so that they know how big to build the brewery.

About the Farmery project, Lawrence explained, “It’s a big job… The most important part is the sustainability of the project. It’s a very competitive market.” Chris adds, “The fatal mistake [for craft beers] is inconsistency, so we’re focusing on growing the product and proving to people that we know what we’re doing.”

This extends to the grains to be used in the beer and they want to make sure they can grow the hops and barley needed to achieve a consistent product.

As they brew further batches, more of their crops will be included in the product.

Their next step will be to sell the product through Manitoba liquor stores, which they are hoping will happen before Christmas, as well as other licensees. In addition to bottles, the beer will also be packaged in key kegs, which are made of cardboard and plastic and therefore don’t have the added cost of shipping empty kegs.

“We’re not scared of trying new things," said Chris.