Craft brewing industry hopping, looking to draw visitors in Saskatchewan

Brewers hope to draw customers in a similar way to Niagara and Okanagan wineries

The tap is pulled forward, a pint glass tilted at an angle below, ready for the flow of golden liquid. Maybe it's an India Pale Ale, a blond, a sour or perhaps something a little darker like a Belgian-style Flanders.

Whatever quenches your thirst, craft brewers in Regina are offering beer selections to please the palate.

The guys at Rebellion Brewing brewed their 300th batch this month. That's the equivalent of one million pints since the company opened about two years ago.

"That's pretty awesome,'' said Mark Heise, who was a home brewer and became one of Rebellion's founders along with Jamie Singer. "And I don't think our attitude has changed a whole lot—we still are just trying to make really fun, exciting beers that we enjoy.''

Singer says the craft beer industry is growing across Canada and it's just starting to explode in Saskatchewan.

He says there's a feeling of camaraderie in the industry and everyone can work together to make Regina and the region a draw for craft beer.

"Our whole idea is very akin to what the winery region in the Okanagan is or Niagara region is,'' said Singer. "They're all competitors, but ultimately, also, if you can pull people into that local stuff and get them drinking really great craft beer, or wine in the Okanagan, everybody else is going to be turned on to it too ... and we start to grow that whole market together.''

Rebellion is in Regina's Warehouse District.

The tap room has 16 beers on tap, including beer from other Saskatchewan breweries, such as Nokomis Craft Ales, a microbrewery in Nokomis, about 135 kilometres north of Regina.

There's a limited food menu, but it's all local, from the pizza to the pretzels to the meat pies. In the summer, food trucks set up out front, so people can grab a bite and bring it into the tap room to eat with their pint.

"It's about just celebrating and enjoying things that make your community unique,'' said Heise.

Singer says the Bushwakker Brewpub, also in the Warehouse District, set the foundation for craft beer in Regina.

The Bushwakker Brewpub opened more than 25 years ago.

It's a full restaurant with the brewery attached. The walls have works from Saskatchewan artists, photographs from Regina's history—including when the Warehouse District was hit by a tornado in 1912—and local music pours from the speakers.

Bushwakker bar manager Grant Frew says craft brewers, like Bushwakker, Rebellion and Regina's Malty National, are "all about making really good beer.''

"The smaller breweries, we're making smaller batches of beer, we can use nothing but malted barley—that's the only thing that we use to produce the alcohol—and that has much more flavour,'' explained Frew.

The first Saturday of December has come to be known as Mead Day in Regina.

The brew pub uses honey from the nearby community of Lumsden to make its Blackberry Mead and people wait for hours in anticipation.

"The first people in line set up their ice-fishing tent at 3:45 in the afternoon _ so that was 19 hours and 15 minutes before the mead went on sale,'' said Frew.

"And then the second people in line were a couple of gentlemen from Manitoba and they were dressed up like astronauts ... and they made up a special little logo that said 'Mission to Mead' and they brought along a cutout of Chris Hatfield with them.''

All 6,000 bottles were sold out by the afternoon.

The Bushwakker Brewpub sells more than 30 beers, including its own specialty and seasonal beers, plus one tap dedicated to guest beers such as Nokomis, Black Bridge Brewery in Swift Current, Paddock Wood microbrewery in Saskatoon and Malty National.

Malty National is a microbrewery nestled in Regina's Heritage neighbourhood, in a building with a coffee shop and a vintage record and clothing store. It opened in March 2016.

Kelsey Beach, one of the owners of Malty National, says they brew six times a month, so there are always new beers. One beer was brewed with hops donated by local residents.

"Every brewery has its own taste and flavour profile ... and you can't get beers like the Bushwakker or Rebellion or Malty National elsewhere in Canada,'' said Beach. "If you come to visit the craft breweries in Regina, you'll get something that you can't get elsewhere.''

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