Nonsuch test waters, debuts temporary space with art installation to massive fanfare

Exchange District BIZ Restaurants

“Since Day One, we were set on being in the Exchange,” says Matthew Sabourin, president of Nonsuch Brewing Co.

The team also knew they were on to something with strong, Belgian beers – which Sabourin and Nonsuch’s head brewer Mark Borowski had been homebrewing – and which are rising in popularity quicker than any other craft beer.

The detail that took a little more hashing out was the name.

Wanting to incorporate Sabourin’s French background, the team (consisting of Sabourin, Borowski, vice-president Ben Myers and brand manager Tyler Johnston), trudged through words that could be pronounced the same in both official languages.

Eventually, the proper name Nonsuch broke through the noise – an important vessel in Canada’s history – and it turned out to be fated in a few ways.

“We opened 350 years to the day that the Nonsuch ship reached James Bay,” says Sabourin – which also happened to be Nuit Blanche in Winnipeg.

The team hustled to get the doors open in time for the cultural festivities. Their partner in designing the space, Fireside Design Build, recommended they put up an art installation, and it ended up becoming an Instagram phenomenon.

The only problem? The space was meant to be temporary.

Nonsuch hasn’t moved into the restaurant space of the former Peg Beer Co. yet, which they plan to make the brewery’s primary seating area. Their taproom is currently staged in the East corner of the building with access off Pacific Avenue.

But, consistent with their small steps-and-test approach, things may change according to popular opinion.

“We tried to think of the quickest and fastest way to start validating our product, learning from our customer and figuring out what’s working or not,” says vice-president Ben Myers.

“The goal of this room was to get open as soon as possible and start validating all the ideas and the unique approaches we have to serving our beer.”

The original plan was to display the bottles in the East corner of the building, the darkest part of the brewery, promoting the cellaring opportunity of their beers. “Our beers actually appreciate with time – the flavours evolve, unlike the limited shelf life with lower percentages,” says Sabourin.

However, removing the art installation – 120 photography umbrellas bedecking their ceiling and reflecting beautiful gold light over patrons – to make room for their cellaring display might no longer be in their best interest.

Getting multiple features from Travel Manitoba in their early weeks, the temporary décor has welcomed a steady flow of patrons and referrals thanks to the influential photos shared of the space.

And, it doesn’t hurt that they had a well-tested product well before opening the doors at 125 Pacific Ave.

To get started brewing while waiting on an ill-fated location bid to go through, Nonsuch approached Barn Hammer Brewing Co. in Winnipeg’s West End to use their equipment.

“It was supposed to be for about two months, and it turned into a year-and-a-half,” says Sabourin. The companies formed strong bonds, and Nonsuch got to introduce itself on shelves at Manitoba Liquor Marts, on tap at The Common, and into hands at three Flatlander’s Beer Festivals. “We must’ve handed out twenty- to thirty-thousand samples,” says Sabourin, of the festivals. “Imagine the feedback we’ve had. People are ready for this.”

Each of its beers pack a punch with high alcohol percentages and plenty of flavour, including a saison known for its complexity and spicy, citrus notes.

The brewery has stuck to what made things work when it was doing small batches, even if it makes things a little harder. They swear by using Manitoban spring water, which requires massive amounts of storage space, and cork bottling so people can age the beers.

“Some would argue that our techniques are very inefficient, but we firmly believe that it influences the quality, so we’re sticking to it,” says Sabourin.

The decadence of both the flavour and the high ABV naturally slows drinkers down – creating the kind of social experience Nonsuch hoped for when they debuted their taproom.

“I love how romanticized the consumption of wine is, and how celebrated it is… Why not just apply all these ideas to beer?” says Sabourin.

“It’s not your beer that you’re having alone that you’re never talking about.

“You’re sharing it, discussing it, and talking about how you’re enjoying it. People seem to love it.”