There are over 250 of them in Manitoba, there's always a hotel within spitting distance, many are open late seven days a week and more often than not there's a snowy-looking sign outside with two all-caps words:
Beer vendors: they're uniquely Manitoban, for better or worse.
Typically they've been known for stocking ice-cold six-, 12- and 24-packs of domestic brew, but craft beer's growing popularity as well as some recent tweaks to Manitoba liquor regulations means many vendors now stock vodka coolers, cider, booze-laced energy drinks and slushy premade cocktails. Oh, and a handful of smaller brewery/craft beer.
Following an informal social media poll on the public's favourite beer vendors -- with an emphasis on beer selection -- I paid over a dozen beer vendors a visit in order to see which reigns supreme in the city. Here are my top five beer vendor picks...
1. Econo Lodge Winnipeg South, 1105 St. Mary's Rd.
Better known as the Dakota Hotel, this vendor tied for first place in my informal poll. It's located around the back of the hotel (on Beliveau Road), so it's easy to miss. The parking lot is half moon-shaped and is "complete anarchy" as one respondent noted, but the Dakota's selection is tops. It's the only place, for example, I found both the Half Pints Weizen Heimer as well as the Humulus Ludicrous.
2. Quality Inn & Suites, 685 Weatherdon Ave.
The other first-place vendor was this tidy, spacious vendor on the corner of Pembina Highway and Grant Avenue. In addition to its relatively central location that stocks a healthy selection of smaller breweries (including Fort Garry's recent Big Buddha), they sell pop, ice and chips and has a drive-through service for those in a rush. Clean and convenient.
3. Norwood Hotel, 78 Marion St.
It's not the biggest of the lot, but the beer store near the Norwood Hotel has some good selections, including Flying Monkeys Hoptical Illusion, Muskoka's Double Mad Tom IPA and the Mississippi Mud Black and Tan. They sell some snacks, including the only place I noticed ice-cream bars for sale alongside cold beer.
4. Canad Inns Fort Garry, 1824 Pembina Hwy.
Canad Inns recently rebranded their vendors throughout Winnipeg as "The Bottle Stop," and have spruced up their shops while adding a decent selection of non-domestic brews. Kudos to the Fort Garry location for being the only vendor to tweet back at me after I pitched the idea of finding the city's best beer vendors.
5. Kirkfield Motor Hotel, 3317 Portage Ave.
You might know this better as Club 3D, or if you're 30-ish or over, as Georgie's. I bought beer here many times as, ahem, a young adult, and was shocked to see the interior's facelift. They were out of stock on a few items but selection seemed otherwise promising. A far better option in west Winnipeg than the vendor at the Howard Johnson near the Perimeter Highway.
All of these were found in my travels, and are also available at Liquor Marts:
Unibroue Blanche de Chambly (Chambly, Quebec -- $5.70/750ml bottle)
I spotted this "white ale on lees" at a number of the better vendors I visited in my travels. Bright gold in colour (but cloudy) and with a white, frothy head, the wheat and spice aromas are balanced by a lighter herbal hops note. It's slightly off-dry, bringing creamy wheat notes with a decent helping of spice (coriander, anise) on the palate. A good summer sipper. 4/5
Granville Island Brewing Co. Random Tandem White IPA (Vancouver, BC -- $6.10/650ml bottle)
This pale gold, cloudy brew is a mash-up of a Belgian wheat beer and a northwest IPA. The wheat and spice notes are lighter on the nose, as are faint herbal/grassy hops and some toasted oats. It's dry and crisp, with slightly bitter hops notes keeping the wheat and banana candy notes in check. An interesting animal. 3.5/5
Half Pints Brewing Co. Humulus Ludicrous (Winnipeg -- $8.71/650ml bottle)
Bright copper in colour with a slightly off-white head, this seasonal monster is jammed full of green, peppery hops aromas, plenty of grassiness and hints of toasted malt. The hops are intense -- loads of herbal, anise and peppery notes dominate -- but there's a pronounced caramel note this time around that almost delivers some sweetness. At 8 per cent alcohol, it's an attention-grabber. 3/5
Hop City Brewing Co. Hopbot IPA (Brampton, Ont. -- $11.77/6x341ml bottles)
Light copper in colour, the Hopbot is, not surpisingly, hoppy: grapefruit notes are most prominent on the nose, followed by grassy, lemon zest and anise aromas. That grapefruit zippiness works well on the palate, keeping the intensity of five different kinds of hops high and the lighter toasted malt as more of an accessory. At 7.1 per cent alcohol, there's some kick. Those that enjoy citrus-driven IPAs will like this. 4/5