There was a time when I truly believed that Winnipeg’s Fort Garry Brewery didn’t have the potential to become one of western Canada’s up-and-coming craft breweries. I believed that you can judge a brewery on the worst product they made. In Fort Garry’s case, Stone Cold Draught — you know, that cheap lager available in a two-litre plastic pop bottle at just about any beer vendor. I never went out of my way to ever drink any of Fort Garry’s beers, because why bother? They had some alright beers like their Pale Ale and Dark Ale but that was about it. Instead of drinking Fort Garry, I would stick to my Sleeman, Moosehead and Alexander Keith’s.
Well, one chilly autumn day in 2011, I went to the 10th and Victoria Liquor Mart and noticed this new beer called Munich Eisbock in a big 650 mL bottle with a nice painted label to it. Then, I looked on the back of the bottle and noticed it said "Fort Garry Brewing Co".
I couldn’t believe Fort Garry was actually releasing a new beer; I was planning to write it off as "another bad beer over at Fort Garry" but what struck me is that this wasn’t the Fort Garry I grew up around, this was a brand new Fort Garry.
Fort Garry’s young and incredibly enthusiastic brewmaster Matt Wolff was given an opportunity to experiment with different styles and if it tasted good enough — it would be brewed, bottled and sent out to Liquor Marts all over Manitoba. This proved to be incredibly successful as brewmaster Wolff and his team would end up creating new beers that would win awards nationally: including a gold medal for their Kona Imperial Stout at the Canadian Brewing Awards.
Since I first reviewed Munich Eisbock on my blog way back when, I got an email from Wolff giving me kudos for actually saying what was on my mind about the beer, and that I honestly couldn’t believe that a brewery that sells beer in plastic bottles could possibly make a delicious beer. Since then, we became pretty awesome friends. Now, whenever I’m in Winnipeg, I have to make a visit to the brewery, which is conveniently located right across from the new gigantic IKEA in Winnipeg. We usually sit down, sample some beers that he’s been working on and I keep harassing him to come out with an India Pale Ale — until Fort Garry FINALLY did, around this time last year. Their Portage and Main IPA, which uses a great amount of Manitoba flower hops to give the beer a fresh cut alfalfa-like floral aroma and flavour, may be one of the best IPAs in all of the prairies, if not all of Canada.
The other day, Matt brought me two cans of this "new" beer that Fort Garry was planning on releasing in the next week or two. Actually, this new beer isn’t new at all — it’s Fort Garry’s original beer recipe from 1932: Frontier Pilsner. He told me that the beer is true to the style of pilsners that were being brewed back in 1932, as fresh as possible ingredients, the best malt and treat the brew with care. There was actually a variety of the 1932 Frontier Pilsner released back around Christmas, a gift set with two 650 mL bottles of unfiltered Frontier Pilsner and two pint glasses. However, the set cost a pricey $30 before taxes. You can still get it at the Liquor Mart on Victoria and the South End Liquor Mart, for now.
The brew that brewmaster Wolff sent me was actually their filtered version of the beer. What does that mean? Well, an unfiltered beer doesn’t remove any of the sediment during the brewing process, so you are left with a cloudy and slightly heavier beer (think Rickard’s White), while filtering the product removes the sediment and gives it that clear appearance that we all know when it comes to lagers and pilsners.
How did the filtered edition of Frontier Pilsner fare?
Props to Matt for deciding to put the beer in 473 mL cans, which is a great packaging format for those who want to have a beer by the bonfire this winter, or (maybe someday) summer. Frontier pours a pale, clear golden straw-like pilsner. It’s very clear, as you would expect with a prairie pilsner, though I do wish they kept it unfiltered. For the aroma, I’m noticing notes of lemon, a bit of straw, a light amount of hops to compliment the sweet lemon zest and not really any noticeable scents of corn or skunkiness, so that’s a huge plus! I’m not normally a pilsner fan as I prefer Belgian dark ales but I have to say that Frontier is a pretty solid tasting pilsner, it’s a bit of a light tasting pilsner, but not at all boring or over the top. It has a nice grainy yet sweet presence from the malts used, a bit of lemon zest and tastes like fresh cut Manitoban barley in a can, that’s a good thing. It’s lightly bittered by the hops but I can actually notice the hops for an aftertaste, leaving a lightly bitter feeling on my tongue, which is something you would never see with a large brewed beer like Labatt Blue or Molson’s Old Style Pilsner, this one is refreshing, slightly sweet, a bit of a bready pizza dough-like taste to it and the kind of beer I’d enjoy at a hockey game.
It’s hard for me to enjoy a pilsner as my tastebuds have evolved in the last few years but this is one of the most interesting pilsners I’ve had in a long time. Frontier Pilsner will be available at local Liquor Marts within the next week so keep an eye on it!
Fort Garry has some other treats up their sleeves in the next few months including the re-introduction of their seasonal IPA Portage and Main.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 1, 2014