Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sip or shop?

Local brews and wines help take edge off holiday scramble

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Holiday shopping is enough to drive many of us to drink. Whether you're creeping around the Exchange District, scouring suburban malls or hitting the big box stores, there's plenty of frustration and anxiety to go around.

My holiday shopping experience -- especially since my kids came along -- has taught me it's important to pause and enjoy a little quiet time for yourself. For some that might mean yoga, for others it might mean a good book, but for me it means sitting at home enjoying a sip of something or other. And with the recent arrival of a certain massive furniture chain, I've had local producers on the brain -- after all, it feels good to support the little/local guys.

Yes, the pickings for local drinks in Manitoba are currently slim -- two breweries, one winery, and of course the Diageo plant in Gimli pumping out Crown Royal -- but it's nice to know it's still possible to take the edge off the holiday madness with products made in our own backyard.


If you're looking for a hearty holiday brew, you should certainly check out the Fort Garry Brewing Co. St. Nick's Oaked Spiced Porter ($6.38/650ml bottle, Liquor Marts). Made just down the road from that big new blue furniture store, this porter is deep cola-black in colour. The addition of cinnamon, nutmeg and all-spice to this dark brew is like gingerbread in a glass, while lovely vanilla, toasted nut and raisin notes show well too. Full-bodied and chewy, this porter balances the vanilla (thanks to oak chips) with just a hint of sweetness; the chocolate and spice flavours, meanwhile, really hammer home the holiday spirit.

This is a delicious porter that's great for festive sipping. If you want to take the local angle to the next level, try the St. Nick's with Bothwell's Chai Tea cheese. The cinnamon added to the cheese will work brilliantly with the cinnamon in the beer. If cheese ain't your thing, pick up some gingerbread cookies, turn on your festive TV yule log and enjoy.

Fort Garry isn't the only local brewery with some new suds for your sipping pleasure. The Half Pints Brewing Co. Sweet Nikki Brown Ale ($12.32/6x341ml bottles, Liquor Marts) is back -- this seasonal six-pack is a winter fave around my place. Dark brown in colour, the caramel and chocolate notes never get too sweet thanks to some bright and balanced hops. For a fun local pairing, stop at Bistro 7ü (725 Osborne St. S) and pick up some of Chef Alex Svenne's bacon jam ($6 for 125ml or $11 for 250ml). Get some crackers and you're good to go.

Meanwhile, the Half Pints Brewing Co. Demeter's Harvest ($9.29/650ml bottle, Liquor Marts) was released this past weekend. It's not for the faint of heart, and at 11 per cent alcohol, it's technically considered a wheat wine. I tasted it at the brewery last week (it hadn't yet been bottled), and it's quite something. The nose is remarkably complex; I picked up tropical fruit, strawberry, cotton candy and some bright wheat aromas. It's creamy and soft on the palate, with some light sweetness and beautiful wheat and candied nut flavours coming to the forefront. The intensity and complexity of this beer -- OK, wheat wine -- makes it best enjoyed on its own.

On the local wine front, Killarney's Rigby Orchards continues to do well with fruit-based dry and sweet wines. For something with a touch of sweetness, the Rigby Orchards 2011 Mead Cassis ($20.50, Liquor Marts and beyond) should be up your alley. Made with blackcurrants and Bee Maid honey, it has a fairly complex nose of fresh flowers, cassis, raspberry and honeycomb. It's a well-balanced, off-dry wine -- the honey imparts sweetness and some viscosity, while the blackcurrants bring tart fruit (somehow I picked up some raspberry notes in there too). Treat yourself to a cupcake from one of Winnipeg's many great dessert shops -- Lilac Bakery, Cake-ology, High Tea Bakery, etc. -- or some chocolates from Chocolatier Constance Popp to bring out the ripeness of the dark fruit flavours.

Manitoba's only winery (and organic, at that) uses fruit grown both adjacent to their property and beyond. The Rigby Orchards 2011 Carmine Jewel ($20, Liquor Marts and beyond), for example, is made using Saskatchewan cherries, and (not surprisingly) brings bright sour cherry aromas on the nose. It's a light-bodied, juicy wine that's fairly tart and definitely on the dry side, with pronounced cherry flavours that would work with a holiday turkey dinner. Aw heck, if you're brave/crazy, pick up some IKEA meatballs and take them home to pair with this -- that lingonberry jam might just be this wine's perfect mate. Twitter: @bensigurdson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2012 E4

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