This week marks the final edition of First Draught in the Brandon Sun. I’ve been writing about beer on and off for well over a decade at BeerCrank.ca, mainly as a way to deal with mental illness in a constructive manner by photographing and reviewing beers while I was dealing with a severe bout of depression and unemployment.
Writing about beer helped keep me sane and also brought me some of the greatest honours in my life, which most recently includes interviewing one of the founding fathers of the U.S. craft beer industry, Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams).
Writing about beer here in The Brandon Sun since January 2014 has been a huge privilege and honour, something I never expected to ever happen in my life, especially as I’ve always hated writing, especially on a weekly/biweekly schedule thanks to my days at Brandon University. But I’ve had a couple people over the years tell me that they always try the beers I’ve reviewed for The Brandon Sun.
After five and a half years, I have to say that it’s still frustrating to be a beer connoisseur in Brandon, especially lately. For some reason Liquor Marts and most beer vendors aren’t interested at all to bring in any new and interesting beers. Bud Light will always be the beer of choice for most typical Westman demographics so even if I write about a smooth light beer out of Winnipeg, chances are that very few people will actually try them even with everyone pushing for "supporting local."
Labatt hasn’t had any breweries in Manitoba in more than 20 years, so that money you’re spending on Bud Light or Club is going to St. Louis and Belgium and not to a brewery in Winnipeg that gets put back in the local economy. I feel like everyone should go out of their comfort zone to try products made and owned in Manitoba — Winnipeg Brew Werks Pils, Barn Hammer’s Lousy Beatnik, Nonsuch Brut IPA, Torque Blonde Ale and Oxus’ NEIPULA are just a few suggestions!
I wish I could’ve been the one to announce a brewery opening up in Brandon, but the day when I found out that First Draught is ending, Brandon City Council voted in favour of Little Brother Brewing to tentatively purchase an unused lot at 1201 Pacific Ave.
I’ve known Ben Loewen over at Little Brother Brewing for three and a half years now and I’m confident that he’s going to open up the best brewery Brandon will ever have — past, present and future. I’ve been lucky enough to go on trips to Minot, N.D., Regina and Winnipeg to check out breweries to get a sense on what a brewery should do. I’ve seen him frustrated beyond belief, but the moment he decided to start home brewing beer, I knew he was onto something.
I recall a time when Ben and I went to Winnipeg to meet up with breweries to see what they thought of his beer. He had been brewing only for three, four months at that point, but Brian at Barn Hammer, Mark at Brasserie Nonsuch and the guys at Torque were all "you’ve only been home brewing for how long?" because his beers were amazing for a beginner. Well, many Canadian home brewing and pro/amateur beer festivals regarded his beer as some of the best in Canada — I’m insanely proud of his accomplishments and know he’ll create a nice little tourist destination for people on their way to coast to coast, and on top of it. I can hear Ben’s booming laugh as it will happen.
Ben’s not the only "Brandonite" to get some new brewery news in the past few days. Brandon Wheat Kings alumnus Ryan Reaves of the Vegas Golden Knights is opening up a brewery in Las Vegas called 7Five Brewing. I wish him well and seeing that there’s a lot of Brandon connections to the Vegas Golden Knights, I think that 7Five Brewing will be a Brandon Wheat Kings fan’s second home while visiting Vegas.
When I started this column, it was hard to find craft beer at local restaurants, pubs and bars. But we’re at a point that you can find Torque or Little Brown Jug beer at just about any restaurant in town. I wish I knew everywhere that has Manitoba beer on tap, but I’d like to give serious props to The Dock on Princess, Prairie Firehouse, Double Decker, Lady of the Lake, Original Joe’s and Tavern United (as well as possibly other restaurants and bars in the region) for supporting local breweries — all of these places support Manitoban breweries and I only expect more local craft beers in the near future. And I expect more local establishments to start carrying and promoting Manitoba craft beer sooner rather than later.
I feel like my biggest regret was getting giddy about Prairie Firehouse’s $15 Bud Light to push for people to try local craft beers instead — I never expected a certain Shaw TV network to pick up the photo and cause it to harass the awesome staff at Prairie Firehouse over it for weeks on end. They never deserved that.
Here are my final First Draught reviews:
• La Fin du Monde — $6.99 per 750mL bottle, also available in Unibroue Summer Collection — $23.72 per 12 341mL bottles. This is the beer that honestly changed my life, and it’s also the very first beer that I ever reviewed online back in 2004. I recall the first time I tried it, everyone all over the internet was telling me how amazing this beer was, that the beer was an experience like no other. Well, I tried the beer and I gave it a 1.4/5 on RateBeer.com. I stated that the beer tasted like black licorice and had "chunks of floating stuff" (sediment) throughout the beer, making me cringe.
Well, this ended up being the beer that turned me from a Kokanee/Moosehead drinker into a beer snob. Thanks to this very beer, I’ve been able to visit the brewery for a personal tour back in 2016, which is awesome as they’re a brewery that doesn’t give out tours to the public.
Even though this is the last ever edition of First Draught, I feel like I need to end it off with two of my favourite beers of all time, one being the beer that changed my life and my "best" Manitoban beer of all time. I hope you enjoy. If not, well … this is the last time you’ll have to read it!
La Fin du Monde is a Belgian-style Triple that tops out at nine per cent ABV. La Fin du Monde pours a very cloudy lemon yellow with a light amount of carbonation in the body, to end off with a thick amount of snow white head on top, your mileage may very depending on how old the bottle is as some bottles may be overly liberal when it comes to foam, while other bottles may have just a sprinkling on top.
The aroma is an aromatic, citrusy beverage that definitely doesn’t smell like what I remember back in 2004. The aroma has notes of lemon, a bit of clove, light floral hop presence that I’ve experienced in their Megadeth À Tout le Monde Saison, and a hint of banana bread. If you’ve ever had Unibroue beers in the past, they have a very distinct taste thanks to their proprietary house yeast, so it gives off a bready and clovey presence in just about every one of their beers.
The taste is pretty much what you get from the aroma — it has a decent amount of citrusness (lemon) that is nice and welcoming, there’s a bit of clove, a grassy hop presence, a tad bit of an iron-like metallic taste to it, moderate amount of sweetness of orange peel and a bit of caramel to it. There’s a bit of a dried dark fruit presence to it (hint of raisins/figs) as well as an aftertaste of apple or pear at the end. For a beer that translates to "the end of the world" in English, it’s not really surprising as it’s nine per cent ABV, which is enough to be incredibly intoxicating if you’re trying this beer for the first time, or if you’re sampling a bottle too many. 4.5/5 Pints
• Half Pints’ Le Temps Noir (Batch Three) — $13.49 per 650mL bottle — Out of my five and a half years of reviewing beers here at the Sun, as well as at my beer blog over at BeerCrank.ca for over a decade now, I believe that this may be one of the best beers to ever come out of Manitoba. Le Temps Noir first came out back in 2013 and thanks to its insane success, Half Pints brought beer back in 2016 and again in 2019. I felt like I reviewed it back in 2016 but it turns out I did not because there were only twelve bottles allocated to all three Brandon Liquor Marts so it didn’t make sense at the time. Le Temps Noir is a complex Imperial Stout aged in Bourbon whisky barrels for six months, ending up at a whopping 9.6 per cent ABV, which is 0.6 per cent higher than La Fin du Monde, but for some reason, I find this beer hits me much harder than La Fin du Monde each and every time.
Le Temps Noir pours a very rich black-as-the-night look to it with a whole finger and a half’s worth of burnt caramel head on top. The aroma has notes of roasted malt to give it off a mild roasted coffee presence to it, followed by cocoa, vanilla and a heavy dose of oak and especially Bourbon. This year’s edition of Le Temps Noir is definitely one of their strongest batches yet, I find that the Bourbon barrels are very dominant in this year’s batch of the beer — the woodiness of the oak barrels seep into every sip, giving off a rich and mildly charred oakiness to it, followed by an unbelievable amount of bourbon to it, like almost a ridiculous amount! There’s a good amount of caramel sweetness, cocoa, and a combination of a rich earthy peat flavour mingling with a very rich dark roast coffee to give it a good amount of bitterness to it.
My mom, the typical Manitoban beer drinker — fan of Molson 67, Bud Light and Michelob Ultra — describes this beer as "Yuck! You couldn’t pay me to drink this beer!" So if you are one of the few people who want a complex and heavy beer brewed right here in Manitoba, I suggest buying a bottle or two for winter when the 9.6 per cent ABV will come in handy with the long, cold, miserable nights. You can find this at the 10th & Victoria Liquor Mart.
If you happen to be visiting Minot anytime soon, you have to check out Minot’s newest brewery, Atypical Brewery & Barrelworks at 510 Central Ave E. They focus mostly on barrel aging beers but also brew some of the popular current styles such as New England IPAs and they just released an absolutely amazing Cassis (Black Currant) Sour called Purple Nurple. Their taproom has only been open for two months now but judging by the crowd at the brewery when I visited on Tuesday — it feels like they’ve been open for years!
Now that First Draught is done, I have to thank a few people. Jamie Munro, Grant Hamilton and James O’Connor, to start off. Ever before First Draught ever began, Jamie Munro talked to me about starting up a beer column, but me being the overly emotional person I am, I sent a message to Grant Hamilton about it since I was insanely excited. Well, Grant responded back immediately saying "well, the Sun would love to have a beer column, too!" So it’s thanks to being an annoying blabbermouth that I went from not even wanting to write about beer anymore to writing about beer weekly for several hundred weeks.
I’d also like to thank my parents, Rollie and Loree, for their support over the years, the times they went to Curaçao and Moose Jaw, going out of their way to find me specific beers and lugging them back, not realizing how much beer I was demanding, but doing it because I’m their favourite and only son (unless if you count their cute ragdoll cat Whisky as a son).
Lastly, I’d like to thank Darren Wanless over at Winnipeg Brew Werks, the peeps over at Torque Brewing, Chris & Lawrence over at Neepawa’s own Farmery Estate Brewery, Jack at Beau’s All Natural Brewing, and Chris at Manitoba’s best beer store — the Quality Inn Craft Beer Store (Winnipeg), these people have pushed me to keep writing about beer even during the times when my anxiety popped up making me think for some reason that nobody read this column, which I always knew was untrue.
Thanks to all these people, I’ll continue to write about beer over at BeerCrank.ca. Thanks for the memories and santé to the fans of First Draught over the years!