How about August 1, 1997? As a beer enthusiast this is like year one for me.
That’s when Dave Rudge, looming over the bathtub he’d used to brew his latest batch, marveled at his most successful creation to date. Little did he know he’d created a monster.
It didn’t stop with that batch, or that recipe. There was a world of beer to explore, styles both ancient and new, ingredients and adjuncts yet unimagined.
“I brewed way too much,” says Dave. “We’re talking once a week, 23 liters at a time, and I’d only drink three or four beers a week.”
Two years later an ultimatum from his wife Nicole gave him the necessary shove to make his obsession a profession.
A cook by trade, Dave parlayed his passions into a Craft Beer Brewing and Science certificate from the American Brewers Guild. After a few stints with other outfits including Back Woods Brewing in BC and Bushwakker Brewing Company in Saskatchewan, he set up stakes in Winnipeg.
It was August 2006. Half Pints Brewing Company, Winnipeg’s only locally owned and operated microbrewery, officially opened on Keewatin Street in Winnipeg’s north end. Like the logo says, small brewery, BIG FLAVOUR = huge hit.
By November 2008 demand for Dave’s craft beers had grown so much they were compelled to relocate near the airport at 550 Roseberry Street.
December 5, 2009. Another milestone moment. It marks the first year of operations in the new location, but more importantly, it’s Burly Wine Day.
Burly Wine Day? Never heard of it you say? Neither had I until this time last year when Half Pints threw open their doors to the public, their annual open house, and released for sale the 2008 vintgage.
Vintage? Beer? The plot thickens. Burly Wine…is a Half Pints signature spin on Barley Wine, a style of strong beer the Brits cooked up at the turn of the century (1900 that is).
Burly indeed, at 10.5% it approaches the fortitude of its grape born cousins. But with its fluffy straw head, deep amber colour, caramel and dark fruit flavours and zesty bitter finish it’s unmistakably a beer. But this ain’t no session beer…it’s a great, big, delicious, satisfying winter beer meant for sipping and savouring, preferably in the presence of fire and leather wingbacks. It’s recommended serving vessel a brandy snifter. Do I hear cigar?
Like a wine, this beer will continue to develop character after bottling, up to ten years, claims Brewmaster Dave, but none have existed so long. Last year I was lucky, or charming enough to acquire an ’07 and compared it to the ‘o8. Its flavours had become more integrated, the effervescence tamed. I still have an ’08 maturing in a cool, dark corner of my basement as I write this. We’ll see if it outlasts me, or I it. Oh the temptation.
But it’s not only about the Burlywine. Dave, bless him, brews beer seasonally. You’ll find a wobbly pop perfect for every month of the year. Right now it’s Sweet Nikki Brown, an American style brown beer named for Nicole because, like her, it’s a little bit sweet, a little bit bitter. Hey, I’m not judging, that’s right on the label folks.
Half Pints even brews a few special occasion suds like the Humulus Ludicrous Double IPA, although quadruple+ is more like it. It’s a hugely hoppy, bitter beer with intense citrus flavours.
“It was more of an experiment to see how far we could take it,” said Dave when I chatted with him at the Flatlander’s Beer Festival this summer. (Humulus is also featured in Ben McFarland’s new book, “World’s Best Beers“).
If you haven’t had a chance to try any of Half Pints brews, the annual open house is the perfect opportunity. Dave runs tours throughout the day and they’ll have a few samples including the seasonal Sweet Nikki Brown and Burly Wine.
Then, stop by the showroom to get your 2009 Burlys. They’re also promising a limited supply of the 2008 vintage and, get this, a few specially aged on Bourbon soaked French oak chips. O…M…G! Dave…will you marry me.