May 24, 2019

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Vive la vendor

Late-night beer shops are slowly converting to the craft-beer gospel

Opinion

You feel like a beer, but it’s late and the Liquor Marts are all closed. Thankfully you’re in Manitoba, where beer vendors can fill the void into the wee hours.

There are hundreds of privately owned beer stores, typically located adjacent or attached to hotels, throughout the province. They’re open late and the beer is cold — what more could you possibly want?

With the surge in local (and otherwise) craft beer in the province over the past few years, the answer is selection. And in this department, not all beer stores are created equal.

In 2014, a similar state-of-the-vendors piece found disparity in the calibre of beer vendors when it comes to selection and overall shopping experience. Since then, the growth of growler bars and an increasing selection of breweries in Winnipeg (and beyond) made it seem like the right time to revisit the city’s beer vendor scene — the good, the bad and the ugly.

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You feel like a beer, but it’s late and the Liquor Marts are all closed. Thankfully you’re in Manitoba, where beer vendors can fill the void into the wee hours.

There are hundreds of privately owned beer stores, typically located adjacent or attached to hotels, throughout the province. They’re open late and the beer is cold — what more could you possibly want?

Buzzworthy brews

Barn Hammer Brewing Co. 66 New England IPA

(Winnipeg — $4.20/473ml cans, select beer vendors and the brewery)

Pale-gold and extremely cloudy — think unfiltered cider cloudy — this New England-style IPA brings sweet grapefruit, malty, lemon-lime and subtle herbal notes aromatically. It’s a dry, not-too-bitter IPA, with ripe citrus-rind notes and a subtle herbal component working well with the fresh malty notes. ★★★★

Barn Hammer Brewing Co. 66 New England IPA

(Winnipeg — $4.20/473ml cans, select beer vendors and the brewery)

Pale-gold and extremely cloudy — think unfiltered cider cloudy — this New England-style IPA brings sweet grapefruit, malty, lemon-lime and subtle herbal notes aromatically. It’s a dry, not-too-bitter IPA, with ripe citrus-rind notes and a subtle herbal component working well with the fresh malty notes. ★★★★

Fort Garry Brewing Co. Friday Knights American Pale Ale

(Winnipeg — $4.07/473ml can, Liquor Marts, select beer vendors and the brewery)

Deep-gold in colour and clear, this iteration of the Friday Knights is again a collaboration between the Winnipeg brewery and the local Exchange District clothing store/”lifestyle brand.” Aromatically the sweet malty notes dominate, with some caramel and modest herbal hops notes underneath. The caramel and malt flavour dominate on the medium-bodied palate, imparting a hint of sweetness that counters the resinous Citra and Cascade hops notes. A decent version of an American pale ale. ★★★ 1/2

Torque Brewing Co. Hoppy Jalopy American wheat

(Winnipeg - $3.40/473ml can, select beer vendors and the brewery)

Medium-gold and mostly clear, this American wheat-style beer brings plenty of floral and bread-dough notes, with an underlying stone fruit and malty component that shows well. It’s light-bodied and mainly dry, with fresh malty and wheat notes working nicely with subtle bitter/herbal notes and a touch of spice. Torque is having a two year-anniversary party at its Kind Edward Street brewery on Aug. 25, featuring special beer offerings and all manner of snacks. ★★★ 1/2

With the surge in local (and otherwise) craft beer in the province over the past few years, the answer is selection. And in this department, not all beer stores are created equal.

In 2014, a similar state-of-the-vendors piece found disparity in the calibre of beer vendors when it comes to selection and overall shopping experience. Since then, the growth of growler bars and an increasing selection of breweries in Winnipeg (and beyond) made it seem like the right time to revisit the city’s beer vendor scene — the good, the bad and the ugly.

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>The Bottle Stop at 2100 McPhillips St.</p>

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson / Winnipeg Free Press

The Bottle Stop at 2100 McPhillips St.

First off, it’s worth mentioning that there’s an invaluable online resource for all your beer-buying needs. The coldbeerstores.ca website features a Google map with every beer vendor in the province marked with a pin. Enter your address and the site serves up a list of the closest vendors, offers directions to get there and indicates whether they feature a growler bar.

Since beer vendors can only be operated by hotels in Manitoba — and since most hotels are located on main thoroughfares — it’s not surprising that there are few beer vendors in residential neighbourhoods. Main Street in particular has a large number of beer vendors, but most of those closer to downtown feature little more than a metal-clad counter where patrons pop in, ask for their beer of choice and it’s retrieved from a cooler in the back.

Head north from downtown and the options improve somewhat: there’s a modest selection at the Green Brier Inn (1611 Main St.) as well as the Curtis Gordon Motor Hotel (1011 Henderson Hwy.), the sister vendor (if there’s such a thing) of St. James’ Assiniboine Gordon Motor Hotel. Both the Gordon vendors feature a growler bar and the core trio of longstanding Manitoba craft breweries — Half Pints, Fort Garry and Farmery.

When it comes to beer-vendor chains, the Canad Inns hotels are the big players, with five Bottle Stop locations scattered throughout Winnipeg, including on McPhillips Street, Regent Avenue West and on St. Matthews Avenue near Polo Park. Selection is fairly consistent: lots of canned coolers/cocktails, plenty of domestic beer and the fairly common Farmery/Fort Garry/Half Pints trifecta for local.

When it comes to service and selection, the beer vendors at the Norwood Hotel (78 Marion St.) and Marion Hotel (393 Marion St.) offer St. Boniface residents a nice little beer-shopping experience. The former has a small growler bar system that, when visited for this piece, had three non-local brews being poured. The Marion Hotel’s vendor (Oui… Got Beer), meanwhile, had a nice selection of local beer as well as some decent out-of-province craft single cans.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The Quality Inn Craft Beer Market (685 Weatherdon Ave.) remains the province’s best beer vendor, offering an unparalleled selection of products — craft or otherwise.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Quality Inn Craft Beer Market (685 Weatherdon Ave.) remains the province’s best beer vendor, offering an unparalleled selection of products — craft or otherwise.

Residents in south and west Winnipeg have by far the best selection of beer at their local vendors. Furthest south is the vendor at the St. Norbert Hotel (affectionately dubbed "the Nob"), a small but well-used space with a good selection of single craft cans as well as local options. Head northeast and you hit the Craft Beer Market at the EconoLodge hotel (1105 St. Mary’s Rd.). Their single-can and local selections are strong and their growler bar typically features around a dozen available brews, most of which are local. (They regularly update their Twitter account, @beer_econolodge.)

Hop over to Pembina Highway and while there are a few decent options (the Cambridge Hotel at 1022 Pembina Hwy. being one), but none come close to what is still the city’s best beer vendor — the one located at the Quality Inn (685 Weatherdon Ave., near the Grant Avenue/Pembina Highway intersection). It’s bloody cold in there, so bring a sweater if you’re going inside (they have a drive-thru option), but their selection of craft beer — local and otherwise — is unparalleled in Winnipeg. An entire wall of the newly renovated space is devoted to single-serve cans and bottles, most of which are from craft breweries located both in town and beyond. It’s also the only beer vendor that occasionally receives exclusives from all manner of breweries and is typically the first stop for Winnipeg breweries when bringing out new releases. Follow them on your favourite social media platform for updates on recent arrivals and growler bar additions/changes.

Two relatively new beer vendors are doing great work servicing the west and southwest areas of Winnipeg. The Tux Beer Market (497 Sterling Lyon Pkwy., near the Seasons of Tuxedo outlet mall) sits adjacent to the new Hilton Garden Inn. There’s a growler bar as well as a large walk-in cooler space featuring an extensive lineup of local/craft beer as well as ciders, coolers and plenty of domestic options, of course.

Further west, the Charleswood Beer Market (6600 Roblin Blvd.) has almost a rustic log cabin feel to it, but their selection is anything but quaint. Full cases of beer can be found in their "beer cave," while single cans are located in a large open cooler. They also feature a growler bar and, like a handful of the others, offer a drive-thru service.

A couple of the most densely populated areas of the city are quite under-served when it comes to beer vendors. With the demise of the Osborne Village Inn and its adjacent beer vendor, there’s nothing imminently walkable in the nearby vicinity. The West Broadway/Wolseley neighbourhood, meanwhile, has only the "rustic charm" of the Sherbrook Inn (685 Westminster Ave.) — and it’s another bare-bones, get-your-beer-from-the-back kind of operation.

So while most corners of the city have at least a couple of options when it comes to late-night beer-buying solutions (or simply an alternative to Liquor Marts), there’s still a great disparity in terms of selection and overall shopping experience based on where you live. While some vendors have pretty much stayed the same for years (or decades), others have gotten with the times and modernized.

uncorked@mts.net

Twitter: @bensigurdson

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Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson
Literary editor, drinks writer

Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Friday, August 17, 2018 at 12:39 PM CDT: Publication time fixed.

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