Winnipeg, Canada – November 28, 2021
When people think of the cold Manitoba tundra around Churchill, images of snow, ice, and polar bears on floes spring immediately to mind. They do not usually think of the edible and delicious wild berries such as cranberries and crowberries that grow there during the brief summer season. And on top of that, they certainly don’t think of a beer made with those berries. Brothers and brewery owners Chris and Lawrence Warwaruk of Farmery Estate Brewery had the great idea to take out two perceptions with one beer.
“We were very active in working with and promoting Churchill last year through our Explore MB pack and through Travel Manitoba, which included custom labels promoting tourism locations throughout the province,” says Chris Warwaruk, co-owner of Farmery Estate Brewery. “We love brewing small-batch beers, very limited editions, and we were thinking of some other interesting Manitoba ingredients we could use to make a beer with. That’s when we reached out to our friends in Churchill to see what they could suggest.”
That person was Carley Basler, Sustainability Manager of Churchill Northern Studies Centre and Assistant Maintenance Supervisor/Manager of Rocket Greens, a greenhouse project to help promote food sustainability and security in the North. As everyone knows, food costs in the North are incredibly expensive. That’s why it is significant that Rocket Greens, over a span of four years since it started, has produced 50,000 pieces of fresh, locally grown leafy green produce—and continues to do so.
As Carley describes, “It’s been an incredible experience putting food on the tables of people in the community that I live and love. The only downside to the project is that it keeps me so busy that I don’t get to spend as much of my days out exploring like I did when I was a Research Technician years ago.” She adds, “So when Chris from Farmery reached out and asked us if we would like to collaborate on a limited-edition Foraged Berry Lager, we didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to spend a few days outside.”
Chris and Lawrence pitched the idea of using a berry native to the Churchill area and northern tundra, and Carley suggested wild cranberries and crowberries.
Says Carley, “When I first officially moved to Churchill in 2004, my partner and I lived in a remote cabin about 20kms outside of Churchill. Our cabin is located on a ridge that is loaded with berries in the fall. Over the years, I have enjoyed many hours of picking blueberries, crowberries, cranberries and currants. Berry picking is one of my favorite outdoor activities, right up there with hiking, cutting wood, hunting and fishing. When we were asked to go berry picking for the beer I couldn’t think of a better place to go than over around the cabin. It just feels like home when I’m crouched down in the moss, hunting for the ripest and juiciest ones.”
The project was green-lit and the work commenced. Carley and her team foraged by hand the berries, and faced challenges of the tight time window to polar bears to forage enough berries together with which to brew.
As Carley describes the experience of picking berries in the Canadian tundra, “Berry picking day happened to be on the day of arrival of our 2021 Polar Bear season…[so we had to be careful]. Joining me were volunteers Claire and her husband Grant from Winnipeg, along with my dog Delta (a.k.a Beans) and volunteer Fiona for a solid four hours of picking. It was a cloudy and windy, but overall mild day. We hunted around on the ridge for crowberries and cranberries, filling our containers while Delta antagonized squirrels and assisted in keeping watch for Polar Bears. Berry picking in Polar Bear country can be a bit stressful in the fall. I brought along my shot gun to act as a line of defense in the event of an encounter. This is all par for the course during the ice-free season in Churchill.”
After the first batch was foraged, the berries were brought back to the CNSC to clean and sort. The kitchen staff Peggy and Sarah offered different tools and advice on how to separate the berries from the sticks, stems, lichen and leaves that inevitably get mixed up with the berries. Over the next couple of days, Carley and group were able to sneak in a few more hours of berry picking. In the end it was all worth it: they shipped by plane to Neepawa around 30lbs of berries to Farmery for them to work their magic.
At that point, Lawrence and Farmery brewmaster Ben prepped the berries, and Ben brewed a beer with the pulp and juices of the cranberries and crowberries. The result? A delicious, lightly-berry infused lager called Foraged Berry Lager.
Farmery shipped some cans back to Carley and group to try, and as a thanks for their help. As Carley says with a smile, “We waited with anticipation for it to arrive and when it did, we were so happy. Being featured on the can seems like a bit of an honor. Being able to share the beer and the story with friends and family has been pretty special as well.”
This beer is exclusive and only available through Farmery’s Advent Calendar Packs and Fa La La Lager Packs, which are for sale in all MLCC stores, as well as online on Farmery’s website farmery.ca.