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Little-known microbrewery near Portage and Main makes beer science

Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre
The Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre tests the quality of Canadian malt barley by brewing and taste testing thousands of litres of beer. Jordan Pearn / Global News

WINNIPEG — At a time of day when most Manitobans are brewing their second cup of coffee, a small office on Main Street is serving up something completely different for its staff: morning beers.

Every Friday at 9:30 a.m., about a dozen members gather in the 10th-floor boardroom of the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre at 303 Main St. to taste test their own beer.

Every Friday morning, members of the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre gather to taste beer.
Every Friday morning, members of the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre gather to taste beer. Josh Arason

The morning is considered the time of day when the palate is the cleanest, and unlike wine, staff at the technical centre say beer must be swallowed to be fully appreciated.

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“Just the bitterness from the beer, for example — you have to swallow get that perception in your senses,” says Andrew Nguyen, the centre’s malting and brewing specialist. “So you’re not allowed to eat or drink anything before this.”

RELATED: Where Canadians spend the most on booze

While their beer isn’t for sale, the CMBTC is trying to boost the sale of malting barley. Malting barley is the key ingredient in beer and Canada is one of the biggest producers of malting barley in the world.

“I think we fly under the radar,” says managing director Peter Watts, who doubts many know there is a malt house and microbrewery near Portage and Main. Both are used to recreate typical beer-making conditions.

Every growing season produces a different result, so every week the centre turns malting barley into malt and then brews up to 1,200 litres per beer to see how the different crops and varieties taste.

“We are evaluating the performance of malting barley and malt in the breweries and providing that information to our customers,” says Watts.

RELATED: Manitoba craft breweries to get tasting room licences

Members include Richardson International, Cargill and Molson Coors.

At the weekly taste test, staff rate the beer on a scale out of four for things like oxidation, body, hop aroma, clarity and acidity.

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“We’re looking for off-flavors … but mouth feel is also a big part of drinking the beer,” says Wattsb who believes there is as much science as art that goes into the making of beer.

Beer remains the alcoholic beverage of choice for Canadians and experts believe that’s largely due to the increase in sales of craft beer.

“I think consumers are looking for something different, they are looking for a variety, and that’s what we are seeing terms of sales,” says Watts.

Members provide about 75 per cent of the centre’s $1 million in annual funding, with about 25 per cent coming from the federal government.

For more on the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre, watch Focus Manitoba Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 p.m.