Half Pints Brewery
Friday, 28 March 2008 09:08
Written by Nancy Jakubic
A cook by trade, Rudge brewed for the process not for the beer. He just wanted to see if he could do it when he brewed his first batch on Aug. 1, 1997. He brewed, he tasted and knew he could do better.
“From the time you phone your supplier to the time you drink the glass, everything in that process makes the beer different,” says Rudge, brewmaster and president of Winnipeg’s Half Pints Brewery. “Somebody could know how to make a pale ale but are they going to break any new ground? You have to get in up to your waist and muck things about. There’s a lot of physical labour but some people don’t realize the amount of mental labour that’s involved in brewing.”
In 2001, Rudge earned his brewer’s diploma from the American Brewer’s Guild. It was an intense but flexible program that allowed Rudge to work from home, then spend a week hands-on in California. A potential job at Winnipeg’s Fort Garry brewery fell through when the incumbent elected to stay, so Rudge relocated to B.C. The province’s highly competitive microbrewery market attracted him, but living in B.C. didn’t. He soon moved on to a job at Bushwacker in Regina. Working as head brewer at Bushwacker was a dream job for Rudge and he doubled Bushwacker’s beer recipes to 50. Three years later, it was time to hang out his own shingle.
Like all start-ups, Half Pints met with its share of stalls. To start, nobody could understand why Rudge wanted to open a brewery in the first place.
“They didn’t really understand what I was trying to do and it’s not like I could brew up a batch at home and let them taste it,” he explains.
The hydro service wasn’t sufficient for the boiler and would take months to fix. There were lists and more lists of criteria before the microbrewery could be licensed. Rudge chafed at the delays but prevailed.
“If it is the means to the end for my brewing, I’ll learn exactly what I need to do and get it done,” says Rudge.
Half Pints officially opened in August 2006. “Oddly enough the engineering for my brewing system is exactly the same as for the system I worked on at Bushwacker,” says Rudge. “When I finally went to brew my first batch of beer, it was like I never left.”
The microbrewery’s vision was two core beers with a seasonal beer coming out every three to four weeks. The original two, Bulldog Amber and Stir Stick Stout, grew to three by demand when the Little Scrapper IPA seasonal beer graduated to a flagship brew. Half Pints currently brews 13 kinds of beer, soon to be 14 on April 1 (and that’s no joke).
David and Nicole Rudge own the lion’s share of the business with investors picking up the rest.
“That means I’ll never be ousted by shareholders or pinched by other business restraints,” says Rudge. “Our beer is more expensive but I’m not going to bend between a malt from Canada versus a malt from Britain. It doesn’t matter if the colour is right – it won’t have the same flavour. There’s a reason why the beers taste the way they do. The only people I have to answer to are my wife and the banker and I’m quite happy with that.”
Rudge says some people still expect a Half Pints version of Coors or Bud Light.
“That’s like walking into The Natural Bakery and asking if they bake Wonder Bread.”
As for Canadian competition, Rudge cites Paddock Wood in Saskatoon, Bushwacker in Regina, or Wild Rose in Calgary. Everyone expected his competition to be Fort Garry but five different companies brew under that roof, giving the venture a different focus.
Rudge knows it won’t be long before more local craft breweries open, but has no worries. Six of Half Pints’ beers have ranked in connosseur top 10 lists like that on beeradvocate.com. The most recent accolades were two gold medals and a silver medal from RateBeer.com, which sponsors the world’s largest beer competition.
Rudge expected the bulk of the business to be on tap so until now, every Half Pint was bottled by hand. The high volume liquor store sales led to the purchase of a bottling line that will cut a four-day process down to four hours. Another change is the soon-to-happen switch from the 660 ml (23-ounce) bottles to the industry standard 12-ounce variety.
Liquor store coolers are commonly reserved for mass-selling product, but some locations are reserving space for Half Pints.
“You can’t think of craft beer like powdered milk,” says Rudge. “It has a shelf life. Generally, stronger beers like the Burly Wine, Humulous Ludicrous, or The Father, have a longer shelf life. For something like the Burly Wine with the wax cap, it’s probably about two to four years. As long as you keep storage conditions dark and cool.“
The company name Rudge dates to his time at Bushwacker.
“I would come in and ask for a half pint of Pilsner,” says Rudge. “The wait staff would giggle because it’s not ‘manly’ to drink a half pint, but a pint of British beer is 20 ounces - that’s a lot of beer!”
Rudge took the good-natured teasing but stuck to his convictions.
“I want a beer with a lot of flavour so I know I’ve had one, but then I’m done,” says Rudge. “I’m not a beer drinker, I’m a beer taster.”
Rudge welcomes competition but he never compromises. He enjoys knowing that people like his beer but he’s not out to please all of the people all of the time. His confidence, passion and brewing expertise put Half Pints consistently on the world’s beer lovers’ lists.
“For me, it’s the experience of ‘let’s try something new,’” says Rudge. “I bring that to my brewing, I bring that to the attitude of Half Pints. I always wanted to make it a diverse line-up.”
On to the next batch!