Plains Beer – Harley Zipori on Beer
By Harley Zipori. for israelseen.com One of my favorite sayings is “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be”. I left the city of my birth at the age of 3 and my only childhood memories are of growing up in Northern California. However I do remember visiting my “home” town as a child, with the last visit I can pin down to a year was for my cousin Ted’s Bar Mitzvah in what should have been 1965, when I was 11. I remember going to a cinema to see the Beatles “A Hard Day’s Night” which was a brand new movie at the time. I still love that movie.
One of the motivations for this recent trip to the US that my wife and I made this summer was for a family reunion of my father’s mother’s family. They decided to hold it in the city where the family first immigrated in the early 20’th century, Winnipeg Canada. It is there that I was born.
Winnipeg is in the Canadian province of Manitoba, smack in the middle between the two coasts. It is on what seems to be endless Canadian prairies, similar to the Great Plains of the US. It is a vast country stretching out in mind boggling distances in every direction with barely any geographical or geological feature breaking the horizon.
To give a sense of the size, especially for those that live in Israel, there are two large lakes in Manitoba, just to the north of Winnipeg. We actually spent a couple days in a small town filled with vacation cottages on the shores of one of them, Lake Winnipeg, which almost looks like an inland ocean. According to Wikipedia, the lake has an area of 24,514 square-kilometers. Just for comparison’s sake (also according to Wikipedia), Israel has an area of 20,700 square-kilometers.
Manitoba is also frightfully cold in the winter. The inhabitants like to throw around the number “40 below” as a typical winter temperature. This is where the Fahrenheit and Celsius temperature scales meet. To me it seems inhumanly cold but then I have never experienced it (well in my memory at least). It is undoubtedly one of the reasons that my parents decided to seek warmer climates.
As distant and isolated and forbidding (in the winter at least) as Winnipeg seems, it has a population of over 600,000 and is modern and clean with a host of options for entertainment, food and culture. So it’s not surprising that Winnipeg has not one, but two microbreweries. One, the Fort Garry Brewery, seems to be fairly large and established, especially considering the wide availability of their beers in restaurants in the city. The other, the Half Pint’s brewery, is not so widely available but seems to be way funkier in their approach to beer and it is there that I decided to visit with my cousin Sheldon and my brother, who also came in for the reunion.
I was greeted at the brewery by the founders Dave and Nicole Rudge. Nicole serves as CEO of the brewery and had to rush off to some errand which I gathered involved children. Dave stayed and took us around and showed us the brewery, giving us tastes of the beers as we went along. The brewery is similar in equipment and size to larger boutique breweries here in Israel, with plenty of space for expansion.
Dave made a point of showing us the malt room where they store the malt, and told us that he uses locally grown and malted Canadian barley as the primary malt in his beers, making this a truly Canadian beer.
They also have a number of wooden barrels for aging of specialty beers (see photo) and a cold room for aging lagers.
Although I never saw Half Pints beers on the menus of the limited number of restaurants I visited in the Winnipeg area, both Dave and the “On Tap” section of the brewery website (http://www.halfpintsbrewing.com) assure me it is available at a number of pubs, restaurants and stores throughout Winnipeg, in the central Canadian provinces and as far east as Toronto.
We tasted a few of the brews during the visit, including a dark lager called Noche De Los Alebrijes that was really excellent. They were bottling this beer in special large bottles for a special event you can read about on the brewery blog.
The other beers were bottled on a small mechanized bottling line (see photo).
Since we were all heading up for a couple days at the “lake” (see above), we decided to take a variety pack of Half Pint beers so we could truly get to know the whole range of the brewery’s flagship beers, brewed year round and widely available.
Here is a brief rundown on the primary line of Half Pint Beers:
St. James Pale Ale
Bulldog Amber Ale
Little Scrapper IPA
Stir Stick Stout
The St. James Pale Ale is a golden ale, modeled after the German Kolsch style of ales I wrote about in my blog after my visit to northern Germany in November 2011. It was well balanced between the hops and malt, refreshing and very smooth. It’s an excellent introduction to craft beers for those used to traditional commercial lagers. As I become more familiar with different beers and feel that my taste is getting a bit more refined (well I delude myself at least that it is) I appreciate the gentler beers of the golden ale or pale ale styles. These beers allow one to relish the subtle flavors of the malt and notice the deeper more aromatic notes of the beer since your taste buds haven’t been assaulted by a massive dose of bittering hops. St. James is such a beer.
Just a note. Canada is NOT the United States. This will not be a surprise to Canadians but may come as a bit of a shock to those raised and educated in the US where the only thing they are taught about Canada is that is to the north and there is some connection to hockey. Canadian beers familiar to Americans for at least a generation are Molson’s and Labatt’s. I remember these as good beers and far more flavorful than your typical American mass produced beer (without naming names). I also remember that the Canadian versions were better than the US export versions that had to comply to a host of state regulations on what can and can’t be called a beer. Still, they are not craft beers and even Canadians probably need to be eased into the whole craft beer experience, just as any other group of beer drinkers.
The Bulldog Amber Ale is a nice British style pale ale. This is the style of beer that a good Englishman thinks of when he goes down to his local pub for a pint of “bitter”. It was nicely hopped but not too bitter and I would say that i could easily quaff a few of these making it a good session beer for those that appreciate the richer, hoppier beers.
The Little Scrapper IPA was a classic modern micro brewery India Pale Ale. My brother is a big fan of IPA’s and gave this one a big thumbs up. I liked it too. It is clear that Half Pint beers are brewed with a good eye on the hops.
I never did get an explanation of the name Stir Stick Stout and my only guess is that it refers to the little stick people use to stir their coffee at Starbucks. This is a logical guess (but not necessarily the correct one) since, according to the Half Pints website, the stout includes a “generous addition of locally roasted fair trade, organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee”. Any real good stout will have coffee overtones due to the roasted barley, which is unmalted barley roasted till it is burnt and black. You would think that adding a “generous” portion of coffee beans would give this stout an overwhelming coffee flavor but that is not the case. As in all the Half Pint beers, Dave seems to strive for a good balance of flavors and I felt that coffee flavor in this stout was accented and deeper but still in balance with all the other flavors that a good stout has to offer.
I have to salute Dave and Nicole for making a go of it in the craft brewing business out there on the Canadian prairie. They are making good artisanal beers and clearly putting their hearts and souls into this venture. But for me it’s a bit more than that. For over 45 years, Winnipeg has been a place I have seen exclusively through the lens of nostalgia. I have my dim memories from childhood, my parents recollections of growing up there and an intuitive understanding that Winnipeg is a place that people come from, not live in. Yet there I was in this vibrant, green city that is home to Dave and Nicole who are at the forefront of a modern renaissance of craft beer making and spreading their talent and knowledge over the vast Canadian plains.
I found another blog on a visit to the Half Pints brewery. This is from a Winnipeg blogger who is not a beer person but wrote a nice blog about her visit and has some excellent pictures taken by professional photographer Leif Norman: http://www.sarahzaharia.com/2012/05/half-pints-brewery/
As usual, please send all comments, criticism and encouragements to firstname.lastname@example.org.