This past weekend was the 11th annual Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival, which is simply one of the most fun weekends of the year. I moved to Brandon just over 10 years ago to study political science and I’ve noticed a large demographic change in that period of time. Brandon is booming with culture and with a festival like this, it lets people from Westman get a taste of the mosaic of cultures we have in our own community. This year there were nine pavilions to visit where you got to taste the snacks and cuisine from around the world, watch live music and dance, hear people speaking in their native tongue, and taste the popular beverages that help make each culture unique.
The Brandon Sun’s own Grant Hamilton joked to me that the Festival’s name should be renamed to Winbeerfest, as in Winter Beer Festival. For him and myself, it gives us a chance to sip and savour various beers and liqueurs around the planet. Most every country has their own distinctive flavour when it comes towards beer, while Canada and United States are all over the flavour map when it comes to beer as our beer history is influenced by our ancestors. If you weren’t able to attend the Winbeerfest or forgot what beers you tried at the numerous pavilions, I will be giving you a bit of a run down on what I believed were the gems of this year’s festival. Note: due to time constraints, I didn’t get to visit every pavilion so if I missed your favourite beer from the festival, I apologize in advance.
Old Speckled Hen isn’t a name of something you would expect as a beer, but it’s one of the most popular beers in all of Great Britain. Thankfully you won’t be tasting hens in this British ale: Old Speckled Hen is a sweet amber ale with a light yet sweet caramel maltiness and a moderate amount of barley grains. A bit tinny on the tongue, with light bitterness, but very easy to drink. $2.75/500 mL can at most Westman Liquor Marts.
I’m more partial to Belgian ales as I tend to prefer a yeasty, citrusy, heavy wheat ale over a golden Pilsener but Germany is known for being one of the best countries for beer because they’ve been brewing it for several centuries. And not only that, they even had the Bavarian Purity Laws, which was an actual law that forbade German brewers to use anything but water, yeast, malted barley and hops — anything else was considered illegal.
The first beer I tried at the German pavilion was Krombacher Pils, a German style Pilsener that has notes of barley. LOTS of barley, some grassy notes from the hops, notes of lemon and a light amount of bitterness. This isn’t my "pint of beer" as I generally find Pilseners to be lacking in substance. My British roommate said that he found the beer to taste like dish water. I didn’t taste dish water, but everybody’s tastebuds taste differently. $2.49/can at the Liquor Marts in Brandon and Roblin.
Next up was Holsten Festbock. This beer I didn’t mind. Bocks are a sweet malty style of beer that generally has an alcohol by volume (ABV) of six to 7.5 per cent, so a bit stronger than your average golden lager. The Holsten Festbock had notes of caramel, raisins and a light amount of black licorice for flavour, dark in appearance and substantially thicker than Krombacher. $2.85/500 mL can at most Westman Liquor Marts.
When people think of Irish beer, they think of Guinness. Guinness is the most popular Irish beer on the planet and also the most popular stout on the planet. Stouts scare most people as it’s like "a meal in a glass" but sometimes a stout is exactly what you need. Guinness is a creamy, thick and dark-as-Coke beer that gets overlooked quite often. But beer isn’t supposed to always look like yellow water. Guinness has a nice roasted coffee bitterness to it, which makes it a great after dinner treat. It’s available in several forms in Westman from bottle, can and even available on tap at various pubs in the area.
If you had to try one beer out of Scotland, make it Innis & Gunn. Innis & Gunn is a sweet dessert-friendly beer. It has flavours of butterscotch, vanilla and oak. It’s so sweet and delicious that you can caramelize it and turn it into an ice cream topping. Oak-aged beers are becoming incredibly popular all over North America, but Innis & Gunn did it before it was cool. So it’s the hipster of oak aged beers… or something. You can find several varieties of Innis & Gunn at local Liquor Marts for around $3.50/355 mL bottle. Varieties include the Original Oak Aged ale to Rum Cask and a Canadian Whisky Cask around Canada Day.
I have to say I’m not a fan of Eastern European beers for the most part, but the Ukrainian pavilion had a really delightful lager that quenched my thirst immediately. Lvivske Premium Lager was a full bodied golden lager that is your standard European lager but doesn’t have the bitter skunkiness that you see in beers like Heineken. In fact — this beer has flavours that’s Eastern Europe meets Canadian prairies, crisp malted barley, easy drinking and a bit of a Ukrainian zing to it. $3.16/500mL bottle at most Westman Liquor Marts.
Okay, this didn’t happen, but as a FrancoManitobain, I miss the old pavilion Canadien Français — crêpes, tire sur neige and Unibroue beer! Also, you can’t forget the Belgian pavilion from several years back that had Belgian chocolates and some amazing Belgian ales. In honour of Festival du Voyageur, I dedicate Unibroue’s (pronounced unibrew, not unibrow) Blanche de Chambly in the name of Cody’s Pavilion: for the Belgians, the French, the poutine fans and for those who want something a little bit different. Blanche de Chambly is a citrusy wheat ale with coriander and orange peel notes. This beer is similar in flavour to Rickard’s White, but predates Rickard’s by a decade or so. A rich, yeasty and citrusy beer that’s guaranteed to make you savour every sip. $5.70/750mL corked bottle at Liquor Marts in Brandon and Neepawa.