Winnipegger David Rudge went from hobby beer maker to brewmaster and owner of his own beer company in less than a decade.
In just under two years, that company outgrew its first location.
Half Pints Brewing Company is now relocated and busy brewing at 550 Roseberry in Winnipeg in new 9,000-square-foot digs. The site is three times the size of their original site opened on Keewatin in 2006.
“We’d reached that point where we just had to grow,” says Rudge, who owns the company with his wife Nicole.
Demand for Half Pints beer was so brisk they just couldn’t brew enough to fill incoming orders. That was both inside Winnipeg, beyond the perimeter and outside the province too.
Half Pints beer became available last month in Manitoba Liquor Control Commission sites in Selkirk, Portage la Prairie and Brandon, thanks to the expansion. They also began shipping to Alberta.
“We said that to everyone… when we grow, we will be able to supply outside the city of Winnipeg,” says Rudge.
Interestingly, Rudge had no inkling of any of this when he bought a home beer-making kit out of curiosity 10 years ago.
He remembers his first attempt. “It was awful. We drank it anyway.”
That might have been that. But being a cook by trade, he knew better recipes and actually knowing what he was doing would help. “I figured there had to be a different way,” he says.
And he quickly learned there was – actually thousands of different ways to make beer. The world’s traditional recipes fascinated him and it sparked a reading and brewing storm in the Rudge household.
Nicole finally laid it on the line when her husband’s beer-making manuals and brewing equipment began taking over the house.
“It was kind of comical really,” he laughs as he recalls his wife’s ultimatum. “She said to me, ‘either go pro, because you clearly like brewing, or get rid of all this stuff.’”
Rudge’s training as a brewmaster comes from an online program offered by the American Brewers Guild. After completing the Craft Brewing Science and Engineering program he began to work in a Regina brew pub. That’s where the idea behind Half Pints began to emerge.
For a guy working in a beer-drinking environment all day, he actually drank very little beer himself, Rudge said. Thus, he earned a reputation for his half-pint enjoyed at the end of a workday and the fact he’d never drink the same beer twice. “I’d have a half-pint of something different every day,” he says.
The business idea of a craft brewery producing a wide and ever-changing range of premium beers began to take shape. He and Nicole launched Half Pints in the summer of 2006.
As Rudge says: “Rather than just producing a bunch of wishy-washy light beer we set out to do high-end specialty craft beer.”
The concept took Winnipeg by storm. Half Pints produced 15 different styles of beer in its first year of operation, and beer drinkers snapped to attention.
“It was a really eye-opener as to what a craft brewery could do,” says Rudge. “The Manitoba market had never seen a craft brewery like ourselves that was so focused on making so many different kinds of beers. I think it was a little bit of a shock to the system.”
Small-batch brewing – producing a 1,000-litre batch of full-flavoured beer – then switching to something else continues to be a recipe for success.
Rudge says he’s always hearing stories of customers who call Half Pints their favourite beer, then find out they haven’t even tried them all.
The brew company now has usually between four to five different styles of beer on offer at any one time, including their three flagship beers, “Little Scrapper,” “Bulldog Amber Ale,” and “Stir Stick Stout,” plus their seasonal beers. The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit are released in January and February. Three spring beers including Weisenbock, Weisen heimer and Phil’s Pils, named after a family friend come out in March, April and May. Then, in the fall, they release their Octoberfest Lager and Sweet Nikki Brown, “brewed especially for my wife,” the label attests.
At Christmas they produce a beer they call Burleywine.
Each of their beers is made from hops and barley malt sourced from around the world which impart unique flavours. Rudge uses Canadian-grown barley malt for his brews too, but never more than 80 per cent.
“If I only used that grain then my beer would taste suspiciously like Molsons or Moosehead,” he says. “What I do is splice in barley malts and di fferent grains from around the world.”
Rudge says he’s had talks with Manitoba farmers about sourcing rye or wheat or oats to make some completely new and different beers in future. They may also try an organic beer as well, he said.
It is this ever-changing product line that caters to a broad range of consumer preferences, plus the effort they put into “making beer making as interesting to our customers as it is to us,” that differentiates Half Pints as a product line – and as a company, Rudge says.
Having taken this approach, they don’t even tend to think of other beer makers as competitors, he adds.
“There’s a huge, huge beer market out there,” he says. “We’re not trying to fight over Molson’s or Labatt’s territory, or other microbrewery territory even.”
Half Pints Brewing Company at 550 Roseberry St. is open from 9 a. m. to 6 p. m. Monday to Friday and Saturdays 9 a. m. to 5 p. m. They do free brewery tours every Saturday at 1 p. m.
To learn more about the Winnipeg-based brew company, visit their website.