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Get Your Half Pints at the Flatlander’s Beer Festival

I totally admit to not being much of a wine person. Instead, my Midwestern upbringing has made me a beer person. I don’t dislike wine, but when given the choice I prefer malt and hops to grapes. This has led to some interesting encounters; for example, a waiter at Sydney’s once said “Aren’t you cute!” when I asked for a pre-dinner beer instead of a cocktail. Fortunately, the rising popularity of craft brews is allowing us beer people a lot more variety and choice when it comes to our beer.

One of the rising stars on the Canadian craft brew scene, of course, is Winnipeg’s very own Half Pints. They just got some national attention from Jordon St. John when he profiled them for the Sun. As far as I’m concerned, they deserve the positive attention. In his column, he mentioned one of their recent seasonal brews, Noche De Los Alebrijes.

Noche De Los Alebrijes

Noche De Los Alebrijes is a dunkle lager. I am normally not a fan of darker-coloured beers, but this one has really won me over. It has a really rich flavour that manages to not be overwhelming, and fades into an intriguing chocolate aftertaste. I like this beer. I really, really like this beer, and I’m going to be very sad when we’re gone through our hoard and we can’t get anymore. (We went to the Ellice Street MLCC and just about bought them out of stock a few days ago.)

My husband is a fan of the Humulus Ludicrous, a ridiculously bitter IPA that Half Pints put out at the same time as Noche De Los Alebrijes. I’m not a fan of the extreme hoppy taste, but that just leaves more for him.

Half Pints is going to be at the Flatlander’s Beer Festival tonight and tomorrow. They will have Humulus Ludicrous available to sample, along with a cask of a vanilla stout, which I am very interesting in trying.

We went to the beer festival last year and had a fantastic time. (And thank you, Winnipeg Transit, for the ride home.) With your admission you receive five tasting tickets, and you can buy additional tasting tickets at the event.

You also receive a guidebook with space for you to take notes about the beers you’ve tasted. After the event you can peruse your notes, and go to the MLCC to find your favourites from the evening. Last year I added a few more beers to my favourites, including something that I consider a “dessert beer,” St. Louis Kriek. It tastes more like a cherry fruit cooler than a beer, but I can see it taking the same place as an ice wine on a dinner menu.

The Flatlander’s Beer Festival is on September 13-14, from 7:00pm-10:00pm at the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Tickets are available at all MLCCs, or from Ticketmaster. See you there!

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Where there’s smoke…

My husband has taken up smoking again. Only this time, he smokes with woodchips and food.

After debating and researching and shopping around and hoarding Canadian Tire money for several years, we bought a Bradley 4-rack digital electric smoker about a month ago. My husband had wanted a smoker for quite a while, so this is now his new baby.

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Now I know that the purists are going to rabble here and say that the best smokers are charcoal, and that we’re settling for second best with an electric smoker. Yes, charcoal is better. If we had unlimited amounts of time to laze around waiting for charcoal to be ready to go, we’d have a charcoal smoker and a charcoal grill. However, we don’t have unlimited amounts of time, and I like eating dinner before 9pm. Therefore, we have a propane grill and an electric smoker.

The Bradley smoker that my husband ended up buying has a few features that are really nice. First, it’s digital, so setting the cooking temperature is a breeze. It will also maintain that temperature for as long as required without any babysitting. And it can be used to cold smoke things like cheese, which was a “nice to have” for my husband. (Cold smoking isn’t something that we’ll be trying in the middle of summer, but on a cool spring day it worked great.) Finally, the Bradley website has an active and friendly forum if you have questions or problems. (The forum members are also quite handy, and are willing to show off their hacks and homemade smokehouses. Lots of ideas there!)

On the downside, it takes proprietary “bisquettes” of wood for the smoke. These can be a bit pricey, since one bisquette will only burn for 20 minutes, but we’ve been keeping our eyes open for them and getting them when they’re on sale. Also, the cord is a bit short. This may present a problem if you lack convenient outdoor outlets. On that same thread, it is electric, so I wouldn’t consider it an all-weather smoker. Again, a smokehouse might be in our future when we redo the backyard.

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So far, he’s smoked cheese, tofu, a whole chicken, a pork tenderloin, and ribs. We were working up to the ribs, and boy – were they worth waiting for!

The baby back ribs were doused with the Sweet Chili rub from Bon Vivant and smoked with hickory at 275°F for two hours. We then wrapped the ribs in foil, and stuck them in the oven at 275°F for an hour. The packets were opened, the juices saved, and the ribs went back in the oven for one more hour. The reserved juices were then mopped onto the ribs, and they went under the broiler for about two minutes, just until the juices started bubbling.

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Wow! I’m not even sure what to tweak with this method, because the ribs came out so good. It helped that we started with a quality product from Frig’s, and the rub and the smoke added just the right amount of flavour to enhance, rather than cover up, the taste of the ribs.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about our smokey adventures in the next while.

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Half Pints' Burly Wine Day

Yesterday morning, even though it was a Saturday, we set our alarms for early and managed to get out of the house before 9am. (Trust me, that’s a miracle for us for Saturdays after the time change. Winter = sleepy.) What rousted us from our warm bed so early? Why, beer!

We visited the Half Pints Brewing Company’s Burly Wine day and open house. The Burly Wine, which has gotten some rave reviews, was available in the 2009 variety, along with a small selection of 2008s and 2008s aged over bourbon chips.

Burly Wine is a barley wine, or a very strong ale. They have rather high alcohol content, and actually improve with age (rather than going “skunky.”)

We managed to get to the brewery on Roseberry a bit after 9:30am and got in line. We snagged four bottles of the 2009, two of the 2008, and six of the 2008 bourbon. We also grabbed a six of Half Pints’ seasonal beer, Sweet Nikki Brown.

Burly Wine

After we secured our goods, we made for the tasting room to sample the beer we’d just purchased. Whew, that stuff is strong! I admit to liking my beers a bit less – uh, robust. For comparison, St. James Pale Ale is right up my alley. But I can see the Burly Wine being more of a sipping beer rather than a drinking beer. This is a beer that you enjoy slowly over the course of an evening… Almost out of necessity. (I admit to being a cheap drunk.) My husband, however, LOVES the Burly Wine, and is already figuring out how to portion out the bottles in order to age them in the most efficient manner.

Then we went on a tour with the Brewmaster for Half Pints, Dave. He called the company a home brew operation that got out of hand, and you can tell in the way he shows people around. He takes pride in every step along the way, and happily answered all of our questions about the brewing process. As my husband put it, “I enjoyed the tour because it was presented in the enthusiastic manner of somebody who obviously loves his craft, showing off his favourite toys.”

I asked if they were planning on doing a lambic anytime soon, since I love lambic beers so much. He said that he would like to do a lambic, but that they were really labour intensive. If they do come up with one, I’d really like to try it!

Anyway, we had fun, and we’ll try to make it back for next year’s Burly Wine day.

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