Ten Dollar Beer
In 2006 before the trend of craft brewing reached Manitoba, establishments like Half Pints Brewing Company were trying to make beer differently. Half Pints CEO David Rudge and Brewmaster Chris Young talk about the challenges of being a local brewery and how the Winnipeg music scene played a role in developing consumer taste for local craft beer.
Written and narrated and produced by Kent Davies
Interview participants: Chris Young and Dave Rudge
Episode Images: Kimberley Moore
Theme Music: Robert Kenning
Chris Young, interviewed by Kent Davies, March 16, 2018 in Winnipeg, MB. Digital Audio Recording. Manitoba Food History Project, “Winnipeg Interviews," Oral History Centre Archive, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, MB.
Dave Rudge, interviewed by Kent Davies, March 21, 2018 in Winnipeg, MB. Digital Audio Recording. Manitoba Food History Project, “Winnipeg Interviews," Oral History Centre Archive, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, MB.
Selections from “Transistor 66 & Half Pints Presents: Meet the Family,” 2011. Courtesy of Transistor 66 Record Co.
The Lonely Vulcans – The Lonely Vulcan
Kids on Fire – Grand Mystifier
Farrell Brothers – Breakin’ Out of Here
Subcity – Too Loud for this City
Microdot- End Credits Roll
Fallenshort - Fallenshort.
Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, “Up and At ‘Em,” 1926 (AMICUS 45168615) Library and Archives Canada
Beaumont, Stephen. Stephen Beaumont’s Great Canadian Beer Guide. Toronto: Macmillan, 1994.
Eberts, Derrek. "To brew or not to brew: a brief history of beer in Canada." Manitoba History 54 (2007): 2-14.
McNeill, Murray. “Beer remains Manitobans' favourite alcoholic beverage,” Winnipeg Free Press, May 2, 2017.
Purdy, Brett. “Manitoba pours out a new strategy for craft beers.” Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, December 16, 2014.
Wright, Bill and Dave Craig. 300 Years of Beer: An Illustrated History of Brewing in Manitoba. Great Plains Publications, 2013.
KENT DAVIES: You’re listening to Preserves: A Manitoba Food History Podcast. Exploring the rich, flavourful history of Manitoba Food and the people who make it, sell it and eat it. From the packing table to the dinner table. From restaurant specials to grandma’s secret recipes. We consider the cultural, social, and commercial aspects of Manitoba Food and what it means to us. I’m your host Kent Davies as per usual I’m joined with Manitoba food and business historian, Professor Janis Thiessen.
JANIS THIESSEN: Hi Kent. What’s in the pantry for us today?
KENT DAVIES: Well, we’re going to talk about the beer industry here in Manitoba.
JANIS THIESSEN: Excellent.
KENT DAVIES: Our research questions are about change over time and one of the big things that has changed in Manitoba in the last ten years or so has been the emergence of craft brewing.
JANIS THIESSEN: Oh great.
KENT DAVIES: You know that’s not something that is unique to Manitoba. We’re kind of late to the table because craft brewing has taken off in all sorts of markets across North America but in the last decade or so there have been places like Half Pints which we’re going to feature in this episode.
JANIS THIESSEN: That’s great. Half Pints makes one of my favourite beers.
KENT DAVIES: Which is?
JANIS THIESSEN: It is the Holy Ghost.
KENT DAVIES: Of course it is. It’s actually part of a three pack right?
JANIS THIESSEN: It is. It’s part of the Trinity series, so you get the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost.
KENT DAVIES: Yes. (In our research interviews) they mentioned they basically use the yeast cultures of one beer to make the next beer to make the next beer.
JANIS THIESSEN: That’s right the Father makes the Son makes the Holy Ghost. Yeah.
KENT DAVIES: It’s kind of a unique brewing process which is really interesting. I wish we could make this (episode) longer. They had a wealth of information. Chris Young and Dave Rudge, the brewmaster and CEO respectively of Half Pints, had so much insight into how the industry has changed over time. One of the things we cover in this episode is talking about how this new style craft beer came to market in Manitoba and how that’s changed kind of the tastes of everyday consumers.
JANIS THIESSEN: Yeah, there seems to be a lot of really strong opinions about craft beer. People are very pro or very against.
KENT DAVIES: And one of the things I found through my research was local independent brewing was basically the standard for many years here in Manitoba and only through the process of consolidation – small independent brewers getting forced out through competition or bought out through competition and they’re consolidated over time and then they keep consolidating to the point that they move out of the province. Basically it just opens up the market.
JANIS THIESSEN: So in this episode we’re going to learn about business cycles, business history but through the not so hard to take medium of beer.
KENT DAVIES: Yes.
JANIS THIESSEN: Nice.
KENT DAVIES: Beer: An alcoholic beverage made from a malted grain –– usually barley –– water, with other herb and spice flavours such as hops, then fermented with yeast and there you have it, beer.
Evidence suggests beer has been brewed in Canada for at least 450 years, or even longer. The expansion of beer production in the 1800s came out of countries like Germany and Austria which made mostly lagers and wheat beers and then England and Ireland which are known for ales and stouts. European beers’ transplantation to North America followed the movement of colonial settlers. Among them, John Molson, John Labatt and George Sleeman - who went on to not only become giants of the industry responsible for growing beer production in Canada and establishing some of Canada’s first railroads, banks, businesses, schools and theatres.
Manitoba’s earliest recorded beer history starts in 1668 when Capt. Zachariah Gillam of the famous ship the Nonsuch had his crew brew a supply of beer that would last them through the winter. One of the first commercial breweries in Canada was established by the Hudson Bay Company at Lower Fort Garry, and operated intermittently from 1847 to 1868. The production of beer has always been a staple within Manitoba throughout its history, from small independent regional breweries to the emergence of local brewing giants like E.L. Drewry and George Shea.
Prohibition, the Depression and World War 2 would eventually lead to a decline of independent breweries in Manitoba. This coupled with changes in technology; marketing and distribution would result in the rapid consolidation of Canada’s brewing industry in the hands of a few companies, Labatt, Carling and Molson. Who, from the 1960’s on, struck alliances with even bigger American firms eventually consolidating and then abandoning plants here in Manitoba in the 1980’s. These plant closures in some ways led to reestablishing a local beer market we have today.
In many ways the story of beer in Manitoba and how it was made, sold and distributed over time represents what many staple business face under market forces. Small businesses growing profitable, being bought out by even bigger businesses - which in turn consolidate further, move away and sooner or later the whole cycle starts again.
Today, craft-style beer has become a significant force, in both sales and interest in most of North America. In Manitoba, Canadian craft style beers have been have steadily increasing in dollars and litres over last few years and account for approximately 12% of the beer litre sales in the province. Relatively new local craft brewers like Torque, Barn Hammer, Trans-Canada, Nonsuch and Little Brown Jug have established themselves as staple brands on vendor shelves and in restaurants and pubs across Winnipeg. While one could view the resurgence of small craft breweries as simply a push-back of over-consolidation and the growing consumer interest in supporting local brands. One factor has changed the market significantly in only a matter of years. Taste.
CHRIS YOUNG: For us here at Half Pints this is where a morning will start …..
KENT DAVIES: This is Chris Young, Brew Master of Half Pints Brewing Company. He’s giving a tour of the Half Pints facility. Long before the trend of craft brewing reached Manitoba, establishments like Half Pints Brewing Company were trying to make beer differently. Young recalls the biggest challenge for Half Pints as well as Craft Breweries in general in their early 2000’s was trying to break Manitoba’s infatuation to normal everyday beer. You know what I mean: Labatt 50, Blue, Canadian, Keiths, Pils, Club, Dry, Bud and of course OV. These dark bottle beers are synonymous with community halls, legions, and curling rinks across the province. The type of beer sometimes referred to as “dad beer.”
CHRIS YOUNG: For me, from what I remember it was just… a lot of peoples reaction to drinking a beer that tasted different than that beer that they’ve been drinking for so many years, where the market was flooded by pale American lagers and they were all kind of similar. Everyone says,” no Bud’s better than Blue better than Molson Canadian,” but really when it comes down to it those are all pretty similar tasting beers. So our beers came out and we came out with a coffee stout and a really bitter IPA and a pretty malt heavy forward British style pub draft beer our Bulldog amber and these were pretty boundary pushing for people that weren’t used to that so that initial hump of people’s faces that looked like that you had done something wrong to them when they had a sip of your beer until you could kind of explain to them what you’re tasting is actually malt or what you’re tasting is hops and what you’re tasting that’s roasted barley that’s kind of like Guinness but a little stronger. So it took a long learning process just to get people used to there was another world out there than just a plain American style lager.
KENT DAVIES: I’ll say this beer shouldn’t be type cast as just for the dads. In the early 2000s my beer of choice and the choice amongst many university students regardless of background was remarkably -- Standard.
Ever since it came on the market in 1927 Manitobans have had a love affair with the beer called Standard. For those coming to Manitoba, Standard is often mistaken for Budweiser not in taste, but because of the similarities between the labels. Anheuser-Busch, the brewers of Budweiser even sued Carling who owned Standard before Molson-Coors took over - because how closely the two bottles resembled each other. Standard won. In the early years of my adult life, if you could squeeze together enough beer money amongst your friends-the choice would be always a twelve of standard. If you bought beers for a band at a show it would be a round of standards. I remember making giant red beer-amids out of boxes of empty standards as the monument to a brand that I loved. At the time it was clear that brand loyalty was prevalent amongst consumers of beer, so getting Manitobans to switch to a local brand wasn’t going to be easy.
CHRIS YOUNG: People chose a beer at a certain age for whatever reason and stick with it. It’s certainly changing now. There’s a lot of people, I know myself included; I’ll go to the liquor store and I’ll just buy a single bottle of three or four different things but there’s a lot of people that sort of chose their beer and stick with it. And just trying to explain to people that maybe they want to try something new. It was a bit tough.
KENT DAVIES: However, the folks at Half Pints knew what was going on outside of Manitoba. Craft beer was taking off. Across North America in places like Washington, B.C., Quebec, Colorado, and even Alaska craft beer producers were rivaling bigger producers for market shares. Making everything from Belgium ‘Saisons’, to French Style-Bière de Garde, to stouts and even sours. Half Pints knew the potential for new possibilities of craft beer made in Manitoba was evident; they just needed to get through to the right crowd.
DAVE RUDGE: So if you would want to pigeonhole me you would have called me, in the mid-90’s a straight-edge punk rock kid and I didn’t really drink per say or try stuff.
KENT DAVIES: This is Dave Rudge – Owner and CEO of Half Pints Brewing Company. Interestingly enough Rudge wasn’t even into drinking beer until his twenties. Then one night at a punk show, a friend of his handed him something that would change his life.
DAVE RUDGE: You know what is that? “IT’S GUINNESS.” I was like what’s that? And he’s like, “here try it.” And I drank directly from this warm can that he handed me and I looked at him and I said to him it tastes like wood and I learned later in life that Guinness at that time was still finished and aged in giant oak tanks.
KENT DAVIES: That’s when Rudge realized he had a pallet for beer. Following this Guinness revelation – Rudge’s new found curiosity in beer grew as he toured with the band Fallenshort.
DAVE RUDGE: I kind of got in with a group of guys that were all like you know a few of them played instruments so I’ve been playing guitar since like 1982 since I was like 8 years old or 7 years old. It was one of those things that was like okay I play guitar and now we’re all into punk rock so hey we should start a band. You know. We started off with a band called Nothing Days and then I was in Fallenshort. I kind of learned a lot of what we liked about beer what I ended up liking about beer while we were out on tour and I learned to discover different things while we were out on tour so one of the shows we played in Calgary at the Rev. You know we got paid in beer and like a little bit of cash and the headliner band didn’t show up. Agent orange didn’t show up right and it was like okay these guys didn’t show up so we’re going to play. We’re just going to drink a bunch of beer and not worry about it. So I discovered you know Big Rock Grasshopper and then one of the guys on tour French-Canadian guy Dave LaRue played bass for Bucko and we stayed over at his Dad’s place and Dave LaRue was like, “oh we got to get some St. Ambrose Oatmeal Stout right you’ll really like this bee,” and I was just like okay yeah that beer’s fantastic. So you start to discover all these different things right. The thing is you never turn down a beer when you’re on tour. You never turn one down so yeah it was a lot a fun.
KENT DAVIES: Rudge’s fascination with beer developed into an obsession, and it wasn’t long until he started making his own beer. Starting where most brew masters start– making home brew.
DAVE RUDGE: I started getting into home brewing August first, 1997. I got my brew kit delivered from Safeway, I bought a Coopers lager kit and a bag of corn sugar and a home brewing kit and I brewed a batch of beer. And this batch of beer was God-awful. It was so bad. And I drank it. And it was just one of those things that was like okay I can do better than this. I know I can do better than this.
KENT DAVIES: At the time Rudge was working as a cook at an Italian restaurant and wanted to make a batch a beer as good as he knew how to make a great meal. However, his tendency for experimenting in the kitchen also led him to make some pretty curious creations.
DAVE RUDGE: You know I was doing all kinds of weird stuff like I would get honey from a farmer. You know, take home thirty pounds of honey and ferment that and I had two apple trees in the backyard so I’d crush the apples and I blended everything together. There you go I was making that. And I won a bunch of awards for that because I entered it on subsequent years. You know I got some of the worst scores at a beer competition ever for one of my beers that I entered and the guys were like, “this is awful.” And they were like, “don’t ever enter this again in anything.” The next year I entered the exact same beer and I had doctored it because I was like it doesn’t have enough of this and it doesn’t have enough of this. It’s not acidic enough. I was trying to make a real sour Belgian beer so I added a bunch of acidity to it and then re-entered it and I scored higher. Right, so this is like really weird. I’m using the same beer to enter over and over again. I think I entered three years in a row and on a third year. On a third year I scored something like a forty out of fifty on it. I was like it’s the same beer. It’s just its older Right? And the really comical thing about it is I still have one bottle left of that beer. And that was - I bottled that beer in 1999 and I still have one bottle of beer it sits on my counter in my face. It’s always there. It’s just it’s there and last time we opened one it was fantastic. But it took that long until it was good.
KENT DAVIES: While he may have eventually won over the critics, Rudge wanted to take his brewing education the next level.
DAVE RUDGE: It came to a point where it was like okay now my brewing hobby has essentially taken over. I got a job in the industry essentially working at a place called the Hop and Vine in Charleswood. I worked there for maybe four years or so. Started really getting into it at that point as I was working there I decided I was going to go to school and I settled on the American craft brewers guild in the states because I could do most of the program form home. They’d send you a big rack of VHS tapes and you’d do all the lectures and everything at home. It was a blended program where they had online components to it. Which at that time it was like you know, dial up your modem and get into the online chat or whatever. It was pretty, pretty weird. And then go down to the states and do the flavor training and the testing and all that stuff. So actually when I finished I had my full out brew masters diploma. It was a situation where it was okay I’m going to use that as the stepping stone to now I want to get into the industry. Which at the time, in the industry, everybody was getting into the industry without an education. So when you come to somebody and you say I’m educated already and I have the brewing education it makes it a lot easier to get job offers. I got a job offer at a place called the Bushwakker in Regina. At that time it was one of the top five brewpubs in Canada. So it was great. They kind of threw me to the wolves and said here’s the equipment go brew. From there on in it just kind of snowballs. The day I stated home brewing as a hobby to the day I started as the head brewer at the Bushwakker, that time was about four and quarter years.
KENT DAVIES: Even after making it to head brewer of the Bushwhakker brewing company, Rudge still wasn’t satisfied.
DAVE RUDGE: You’re doing your thing you’re brewing. You’re constantly just keeping up with stuff and brewing new stuff and I kind of thought to myself okay it would be a real good idea to have my own brewery right because I’m getting a chance to do everything I want to do but it’s just I’d rather have my own name on it than someone else’s. Moved back to Winnipeg on May 27 of 2005, got everything together, got enrolled in some business school stuff through the Y, through the employment insurance programs and then turned around and wrote a business plan and started Half Pints.
KENT DAVIES: A lot of work and organization has to go into making a brewery from scratch, especially in the early days when the industry wasn’t established. While Rudge was convinced he could do it, it was difficult to know where to start. Then he got some advice from another Winnipeg entrepreneur. Trevis Boyd of Black Pearl Coffee.
DAVE RUDGE: Trevis is one of the people that when I was doing research for the brewery. Trevis is one of the people that put things very forward to us, to me, “you know David, you’re thinking about this, you know you’re thinking about starting a brewery so on and so forth. You know what? Just get a building and everything else will fall into line.” And he was absolutely correct and I didn’t realize just how correct it was. Nothing happens in the city of Winnipeg unless you have a building. So you need to take the chance first to say okay now that I have a building I have an idea to what my costs are going to be. Now I know how much I have to brew to meet those costs. So on and so forth. So nothing can happen until you have a building.
KENT DAVIES: Rudge took his advice and not before long, Half Pints was in business.
DAVE RUDGE: We signed a lease on our stuff on Keewatin there maybe a little bit slightly ignorantly but you know when we signed our lease on that it was like okay we know we need to do this to move forward. Basically shit your pants and dive right in. That’s essentially how it is.
KENT DAVIES: Half Pints opened with two beers to its name.
DAVE RUDGE: The Bulldog Amber Ale was a home-brew recipe that was based on soft Vienna ale so what I was doing was brewing a really Vienna style lager but with an ale yeast. I changed the recipe up a little bit. I started mucking it up a little bit maybe added a little bit of a different yeast to it. I said okay this is what I’m going to do now. So when I did my first sort of call for shareholders I had a meeting. You know that was one of the beers I was able to pull out and say this is one of the beers we’re going to brew.
KENT DAVIES: The Stir Stick Stout, which was made with Black Pearl coffee was another signature Manitoba brand.
DAVE RUDGE: The Stir Stick Stout was a little bit of a different animal because I knew I wanted to have a stout on the roster and I wanted to have a coffee stout on the roster. I actually ended up getting twenty six different coffees and whittling it down to about six, seven different coffees. That I really enjoyed the aroma of and the flavour of and made six two litre bottles of Stir Stick Stout but with different coffees and then settled on the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee.
KENT DAVIES: After that along came the Little Scrapper.
DAVE RUDGE: We brewed an IPA [India Pale Ale] because we’re a craft brewery and craft breweries should have an IPA. But I was only set up to brew at maximum you know two maybe three beers at a time right so I brewed the Little Scrapper IPA as our first seasonal beer when we came out. And then I got a phone call from a fella named Stu that worked for the liquor mart and he says to me, “you don’t have any more IPA?” No. He says, “you know that your best selling beer right?” Because we didn’t sign up for the MLCC. They have this program where you can sign up with the MLCC pay them money and you can check your sales and everything like that but I was why do I need to check sales at the MLCC. I can see what I’m going through. Right. Stu phones me up and says to me that’s your best selling beer. You don’t want to drop this. He says you need to make more. And it’s like, that’s the first time I took advice from someone from the outside. Just like, you know what? Maybe that is a good idea. Maybe I should brew more of that. Then all of a sudden it’s our second best selling beer. You know?
KENT DAVIES: At the time, these kinds of beers were somewhat of a departure from what was getting brewed in Manitoba. With a few exceptions like Fort Garry Brewing Company who’s known for their signature Dark English Ale, the few established local breweries in Manitoba opted for more cleaner drinking lagers and ales over the kinds of beers being made in craft brewing communities elsewhere. Early on Half Pints also struggled against the established industry practices that prevented Half Pints being put on tap in restaurants and on the shelf at the Manitoba Liquor Commission.
DAVE RUDGE: The real challenge that we had when we first started up was I assumed that people would want to have the beer on tap because it was a local beer and bartenders and restaurants don’t really care if it was a local beer what they cared about is getting kickbacks. So there was a whole bunch of places we didn’t get into and people would say to us, “how come you’re not in so and so vendor?” well because I didn’t give them t-shirts and hats. Or how come you’re not in so and so’s restaurant? Well I didn’t pay two hundred and fifty bucks to be on tap at that restaurant so that’s kind of interesting. I didn’t anticipate that it would be a situation where it would be like okay right from word one if you’re a small brewery people are going to ask you to pay for things. So what did happen was the first year when we were open I had this interesting conversation with someone from the Liquor Mart and they said to us, “Christmas is coming. You really ought to put a pack out that has a bottle of beer and a glass or something like that for promotion or you should give away key chains or you should put t-shirts in the glasses or something like that. Or in box with some beer and put it out there for a price whatever it is.” Right it’s like, ah--No.
KENT DAVIES: Despite getting told repeatedly to pay up or use promotional gimmicks and giveaways to move Half Pints, Rudge stuck to his guns confident that the beer would sell itself. And eventually, it worked.
DAVE RUDGE: I’m going to sell a ten dollar beer. Right. “You’re going to what?” I’m going to sell a ten dollar beer. “How are you going to get ten dollars for a bottle of beer?” And it was just like just watch me. So that was the first year we put out the Burlywine in 2006. And I mean God, we put it on the shelves and it was on the shelves for like two hours or so. We get a phone call, I need to order more because I only ordered one or two cases because I didn’t think it would sell and it’s just we can’t keep it in stock. So we start firing off bottles and start sending out more stuff right and we get a phone call Monday morning. Okay we’re out of that beer again. We need more. After that people at the liquor stores didn’t question.
KENT DAVIES: When Half Pints grew out of their Bannatyne location and relocated to its new home on Roseberry St. in St. James, Rudge and company made the decision to add a new beer to its roster, one that would appeal those who liked the clean drinking taste of everyday beer. And they named it after their new location.
DAVE RUDGE: The very first batch of beer that we brewed here was St. James Pale Ale. What we did was we brewed a batch of St. James beer, split the yeast cultures out and moved it between four different fermenters to get the yeast cultures started for the brewery and then pulled a keg out of the tanks so that we could test it and see what it was like. We brewed one test batch where it was keg only and sent it off to the Kings Head and they sold like half of a tank of beer in a day and half. Then it’s like scrambling to try and brew the next batch and brew another batch. It sells out in three days. Right, then it’s like okay what are we going to do now? This can’t remain as a draft only beer. So what are we going to do? Now we’re going to have to bottle this. We’re going to have to package this. So there was a mad scramble to get the labels done get everything happening. Make everything happen and from day one as soon as we put that St. James pale ale out because we all of a sudden offered all of the restaurants and bars an option that was little bit softer than our Bulldog and little closer to what people assume is normal everyday beer, yeah it was just like wildfire.
KENT DAVIES: St. James Pale Ale went on to outsell every other beer they had made at that point and remains a best seller to this day. With the four flagship beers in place and the brand gaining notoriety, Half Pints now faced another unexpected challenge, when Manitobans tried to order from their local establishments. Here’s Chris Young again.
CHRIS YOUNG: It was a little confusing in the early 2000’s I guess when we first started you would go an ask for a Half Pints somewhere and they’d say, “Yes of course we have half pints of everything.” But they didn’t realize you were trying to get a little scrapper or a bulldog. Most places, it still happens every now and again but most places know that, when I ask that I’m asking for a Scrapper or St. James or something.
KENT DAVIES: While confusion over the name would take some time to resolve in drinking establishments, if you asked for Half Pints at a Winnipeg venue chances are they knew what you were talking about. Since the start Rudge tried to connect Half Pints with the community that led him to his career in beer.
DAVE RUDGE: The stuff that’s really cool. Like when we partnered with the Transistor 66 (Winnipeg music label) guys, like Art (MacIntyre) and a lot of the bands. Some of the bands, guys work here. Right so, yeah of course if we’re going to do something with people that we want to do stuff with and want to support. We want to support the guys that work here so when somebody says,” hey will you kick in few cases of beer for our show?” Yeah for sure.
KENT DAVIES: Half Pints partnered with local venues and music labels, sponsored community radio stations, made special brews for music festivals and events. This got Half Pints into the hands of bands and show goers becoming a favourite amongst the music scene in Winnipeg. Over the past years other craft breweries started to appear in Winnipeg, Non-such, Barn hammer, Little Brown Jug, Stone Angel, Trans-Canada, Oxus, Torque and One-Great City. Yet, despite the growth of the Craft Brewing industry, the majority of 75 million litres sold in Manitoba each year is still the product of the big three Canadian brewers and often made outside the province. Additionally the practice of larger breweries buying up smaller ones has started again. For instance Quebec's Unibroue, makers of the famous beer Blanche de Chambly was purchased by Sleeman in 2004, which was itself taken over by Sapporo in 2006. Toronto's Mill Street and Quebec's Archibald are owned by Labatt. Even B.C.’s Granville Island whose moniker is “Canada’s first microbrewery,” is now owned by Molson Coors. This consolidation of the beer industry bothers Rudge.
DAVE RUDGE: I don’t know I’m still angry at the fact that they deregulated, the province said okay we’re going to deregulate and you’re not going to have to brew beer in the province that you sell beer. What happened was Molson shut down first they used to be on the corner of Redwood and Main and then Labatt shut down right afterwards. Like a year later Labatt shut down. And what it is, is a it’s a kick in the teeth to the province because you’re basically just throwing manufacturing jobs to Barrie Ontario or to Edmonton or Vancouver or wherever it is. And the big companies can’t keep efficient. You can’t stay efficient and remain efficient as a huge brewery in a small market. You just can’t. So it’s really interesting to see that you know the more we nipped at their heals the more it became a problem for them. That’s a good thing because we come back and all of a sudden here we go we’re going to start hiring people and the guys at Fort Garry are still employing people, so on and so forth. Because people want to be able to go and actually see things running.
KENT DAVIES: While Half Pints have been successful in carving out a dedicated consumer base in Winnipeg, Rudge points out that some of Half Pints’ success has been dependent on being true to their name and relatively small scale in how they operate.
DAVE RUDGE: Half Pints was like I don’t want to pay a lot of overhead. I don’t want to pay a lot for equipment. So we’re going to buy used equipment. We’re going to keep things on the down low so that we can keep our heads above water and not have this huge nut to crack of like oh my God we got to sell so much beer because our costs are just out of bounds. Completely out of bounds.
I know less now than I knew then and I think we’re doing okay. You know what I mean. So it’s one of those things where I think it’s just acceptance of okay this is kind of the place that we’ve carved out for ourselves I’m quite happy with that. Now how do we want to be? Maybe a little more active and a little more savvy in kind of how we approach it. So it’s no longer like, I’d go to these events or something like that in a half ripped t-shirt or having not eaten because we didn’t have any time that kind of thing you know. So we have to be a little bit more vocal and we have been a little bit more vocal over the last say year or so you know about we’re Half Pints. We’re here. Here we are because there’s still out of the eight hundred thousand people in Winnipeg right there’s still probably six hundred thousand people that have no idea that we exist.
KENT DAVIES: While Rudge’s story is in part similar to the new wave of craft brewers in Manitoba, it’s unique when you consider when half pints started and what they managed to do only in a short amount of time. While Two Rivers, Agassiz, and Fort Gary breweries should be credited as establishing the local brewing industry again in Manitoba, Half Pints helped push the industry towards diversifying the kinds of beers that could be made and sold locally. Here’s Chris Young again.
CHRIS YOUNG: There’s four or five brewers that used to work here as well. So, whether we wanted to or not we were training other brewers for years as well. They worked here to go somewhere else but that hasn’t really stopped us from doing what we do. If anything it’s made us want to make better beer. Like okay yeah, we’ve been known as kind of pioneers for these kinds of Styles but now it’s kind of pushing us research more and continue to be pioneers of styles is the city and just to see what we can do to keep pushing the whole scene.
My history starts in the brewing industry with you know Fort Garry and Agassiz and those guys so that era of 1997, 98 somewhere in that range. Having know the guys from Two Rivers, from Agassiz, from Fort Gary and stuff. There’s a lot of people out there that know quite a bit about the industry you know that have been doing it for a long time that we just don’t see working in the industry right. Like you just don’t see the guys from the box manufacturer he’s always dealt with everybody or the label guy he’s always dealt with everybody. There is all these people that are working to do this coordinated dance to make things happen on daily basis. So when people say that yeah you’re a pioneer in the industry or whatever... No not really, I’m just part of that kind of cog of what is happening all the time. Right. There’s always been breweries in Manitoba right since York Factory. It’s one of those things where you kind of say to yourself well the brewers are always kind of… People come. So therefore, the brewers come and therefore you know the grain gets grown and therefore, the hops get grown, and therefore the glass factory on the shores of Lake Winnipeg you know, gets huge. You know, all this weird stuff that just happens in this kind of coordinated dance. Stuff comes and goes over the years that nobody knows anything about but it’s still all working.
KENT DAVIES: You have been listening to Preserves: A Manitoba Food History Podcast; Produced by myself Kent Davies; written and narrated by myself Kent Davies, hosted by Janis Thiessen and myself; Kimberley Moore creates the photos and images that accompany each podcast; our theme music is by Robert Kenning. Preserves is recorded at the University of Winnipeg Oral History Centre. You can check out the OHC and all the work we do at oralhistorycentre.ca. For more Manitoba Food History Project content, information and events go to manitobafoodhistory.ca. We’re also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Preserves is made possible by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and assistance from the Oral History Centre at the University of Winnipeg.