A passion for pints

Craft beer enthusiasts find new home in Barley Brothers

Photo by Anastasia Chipelski

Most restaurants plan a concept and a menu, and then pair their liquors accordingly – but at Barley Brothers in Winnipeg, it’s all about the beer.

Raj Maniar, who holds the title of Beer Manager, puts together an ever-rotating menu of 72 craft beers, which are the central focus of the restaurant. Their beer menu “is bigger than most people’s food menus,” says Maniar. “Here the food complements the alcohol – well, the beer.”

While their menu boasts some familiar pub fare, if you look a little closer you’ll also find beer incorporated into many of the dishes as well. Their house-made Senf—a German Beer Mustard—“goes with everything,” says Maniar.

House-made, fresh, hot pretzels dipped in the Senf or Obatzda (Bavarian Beer Cheese Dip) are exceptional treats to share while working your way through a pint, or a flight, or two.

The menu may be designed to complement the beer, but that doesn’t mean it was given any less care. “I really try to [ . . . ] make as much stuff in-house and be doing stuff where people can learn. I really like that in a restaurant,” says chef Paul Stafford.

Meat for the burgers is ground in-house, and Stafford is particularly pleased with the smoker in the Barley Brothers kitchen. “I love the fact that I have a restaurant where I can just make my own sausages.”

Some classic sausages—like the bratwurst—can be found peppered throughout the menu, but they’re also offered up on their own as a sampler, alongside sauerkraut and German potato salad. Other treats include Atlantic oysters, which Stafford paired with a mignonette and stabilized beer foam.

“Beer and oysters is such a classic combination,” says Stafford, and he hints at the possibility of offering buck-a-shuck in the near future.

While their culinary influences are somewhat varied, the roots of the restaurant are undoubtedly local. Maniar explains that the sepia-toned images decorating the walls of the dining room are a mix of old Manitoba breweries and of the restaurant owners on their childhood farms.

These “local boys” own a few other Winnipeg restaurants, including Corrientes, Hermanos, Carnaval, and Prairie 360. They’re considering opening a second Barley Bothers in the summer or fall, based on the recent success of the first.

“The concept’s going to be duplicated, but the menu’s going to be a little bit different, the beer’s going to be a little bit different, the feel might be a little bit different,” says Maniar.

This expansion would also make room for more taps—in their current setup, 72 is the limit—and an even larger beer menu. While some pubs will contract their taps out to larger breweries, Maniar maintains control and doesn’t sell taps, which “gives me full range for what I bring in.”

Of course, there will always be room for local standards. Maniar has pledged to save some taps for Half Pints and Fort Garry: “Local stuff is always going to be here [ . . . ] Besides that, everything’s up for grabs.”

Nicole Barry, co-owner of Half Pints, reflects on how the craft beer scene in Winnipeg has changed.

“We started in 2004, but had been working on it since early 2003. At the time there was just Fort Garry, who had just been bought by Russell Brewing Company. It was a craft beer wasteland, which we were happy to help change – and I think we succeeded!”

Even five years ago, most craft beer enthusiasts had just a few tiny shelves at the MLCC to peruse, so the availability of special local seasonal offerings on tap is more than welcome at Barley Brothers.

“The thing about craft breweries is they’re the ones that are going to be pushing the envelope. [They’re] doing old, cool, traditional European stuff, or doing old prohibition stuff, but it’s going to be different,” says Maniar. Take, for example, Anderson Valley’s Wild Turkey Barrel Aged Stout—a distinctively chocolatey, bourbon-tinged stout—which was earmarked as a staff favourite early on.

The proof is in the pint, and while it could take a while to work through all 72, Maniar is confident that his bartenders can offer at least a few recommendations: “We’re trying to develop a culture, more than just our business.”