Q + A: Meet Winnipeg's First (and Only) Female Head Brewer

Earlier this year, we introduced you to Winnipeg’s own Trans Canada Brewing Company in our Beer From Here series. But their world-class facility and tasty craft beers are only part of their story.

Upon opening in fall 2018, TCB was also the first local brewery to hire a female head brewer. Born and raised in Ontario, Morgan Wielgosz studied science at Wilfrid Laurier University and cut her teeth at Toronto’s Amsterdam Brewing Company before moving here to head up TCB’s innovative and experimental craft beer program.

With TCB’s one-year anniversary right around the corner, we recently popped by the taproom and had a pint with Morgan. Here’s what she had to say about her wildest brews, the craft beer scene in Winnipeg and more.

How did you get into brewing?

My brewing career started back in 2011. I’d just graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University’s faculty of science and moved to Toronto, and I was just getting into craft beer. I’d started home brewing and had found a passion for that, and I kind of dove in headfirst. I did all the research, got all the materials, studied the chemistry and the importance of ingredients and all that.

I was coincidentally living across the street from Amsterdam Brewing, so I walked over there one morning, gave them my resume and told them I wanted to get some firsthand experience in the industry before I committed to any more schooling. I ended up shadowing the guys on and off for about two months, and just fell in love with the people there and everything they were doing. Come January, they offered me a full-time position.

What was it about the craft beer movement that attracted you?

There’s really something to be said for craft brewing, beyond just the beer. At the end of the day, you’re employing local people, you’re all together fighting this fight and really making a mark in the industry. And then, on top of that, you have this entire industry raising the bar for one another. Quality first is my vision and my purpose, so for me it’s important to be part of a community where that matters.

Tell us a bit about your relationship with beer. Do you remember the first beer you ever tried?

The first beer I ever had … I think I was about 12 years old and I came home from school and grabbed a Labatt Blue from a case in the garage. It wasn’t even from the fridge, because I didn’t want my parents to know (laughs). I cracked it open, took a sip and absolutely loved it.

Fast forward to university, and there were a few craft brewers around – Brick Brewing, Waterloo Brewing – so I got my first taste of commercial craft beer, but it wasn’t until I moved to Toronto that I got really passionate about it. There was a place called Bar Volo, which was importing a lot of high-quality craft beer, but also really promoting local, regional beer. So I was introduced to this great selection of craft beer and also the movement behind it.

Walk us through a few of your wildest brews.

I’ve done a lot of great experimental brews. I used to brew coolships back in Ontario; we partnered up with a lot of regional wineries in Niagara on the Lake. I still have great memories of taking the coolship out to the winery during peak harvest, setting up shop, emptying out the wort, letting it rest overnight, packing up, taking it back to the brewery and getting it into barrels. That’s a concept that I’m really looking forward to adopting here next year.

Here, we’re just about to release a barrel-aged stout, aged for nine months in bourbon and brandy. It aged for four years in Woodford Reserve barrels and then once the bourbon was removed, they filled it with brandy and aged it for another four years. So these are eight-year-old, single-turn-of-each. We yielded about 300 litres of that, which I’m really looking forward to.

What’s been your most popular brew at TCB?

A lot of our seasonals seem to do quite well. Our last two sours sold out within three days of tapping them. The Bluebeary Ale is probably the most popular core brand we have. We also have a foeder-aged farmhouse saison that we brewed with wild Manitoba rice that I’m really looking forward to this fall.

Tell us a bit about working for TCB and the investment they’ve shown in quality.

We’re very much a mom-and-pop shop with an owner who happens to have good financial backing. So it’s a great mix of having that small business feel and also being in a strong position to start from. A lot of new craft breweries start up and within their first year, they’re already looking to expand. The idea here was always to stay a step ahead and build to those three-year, four-year, five-year projections. We still have the passion of an independent brewer, but we’re able to focus on quality without having to worry about expanding.

What else do you like about working at TCB?

The quality-first vision is huge for me. And the investment in the foeder program is very unique. That was one of the things that got me really excited about moving here and taking the position.

What did you know about Winnipeg before moving here?

My partner is actually from here, so I’d visited about a half dozen times. Having family here definitely made the decision to move a little bit easier, but the opportunity to start with a new brewery and a blank slate was reason enough.

Since moving here, what’s surprised you most about Winnipeg?

The food culture. I’m a big foodie, a huge coffee lover, so it’s been great. I think one of the first restaurants I was ever brought to was Deer + Almond, so that was a very good introduction and set the standards pretty high. I just love getting out and exploring all the local restaurants every chance I get.

On the flip side, what’s something we could be doing better as a city?

I’d say the one thing I miss most is the cycling culture and the safety of cycling. It’s a bit of a challenge moving from a pedestrian-minded place like Toronto to here, but we still try to get out and cycle as much as we can.

You mentioned your background in science. Tell us a bit about the balance between the science and the art of brewing.

I was always very science-driven through high school and into university. That’s where my passion was. But I think they work hand in hand. Without the chemistry and the biology, without understanding what’s happening during the mash and the boil phase and into the fermentation, you can’t sustain the quality.

But the artistic side informs style, and helps showcase individual differences and personality. For me, a lot of recipe design comes from experiences that I’ve had in the past. I always try to respect the stories behind beer; beer is an experience, and typically it’s a reflection of experiences that I’ve had and am trying to capture in a glass.

What’s it like being the only female head brewer in Winnipeg?

It is a very male-dominated environment, but I’ve had the ability now to work for two great companies and the experiences have been mostly positive. There are definitely still those instances where a male colleague is thought of as more knowledgeable or more superior, but I think that just comes with the perception of the industry and will change with time. Even since I’ve started, a lot more females have been getting into brewing and some companies are making a push to hire more females. And the data actually shows that females are the fastest growing demographic in craft beer drinking and are typically more experimental than males, which is a great sign.

Thanks to a new wave of local craft brewers – TCB among them – Winnipeg’s beer scene has come a long way in the past few years. What’s it like being a part of that?

I think the craft beer scene here has exploded, and the amount of support we’ve gotten as an independent local brewery is incredible. And I love that the community, as a whole, has come together and that we push each other to bring out the highest quality products. From a head brewer’s perspective, it’s great to see this amount of collaboration and support in such a young market.

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