On the Fridays after payday, the teaching week at the univeristy over, my friend and I used to head across the North Saskatchewan River and up the Groat Road to Sherbrooke Liquor Store, where we’d be like kids at a candy store or adults at a good independent book store, gazing at all the 600 plus wonderful beers that we’d like — but coundn’t afford — to buy.

Then we’d settle for something that seemed different and interesting, head back across the river to one of our houses and sample, each trying to out do the other in sensory perceptiveness and the ability to use important sounding words from our dictionaries of beer terms.

Now that we’re retired, we head to Sherbrooke Liquor Store as soon as we’re sure our pension cheques are in the bank, gaze at the wonderful bottles and make our selections — keeping in mind the fact that we’re now on a reduced budget.

Last Friday, we came home with “the tasting pack,” a 12-bottle sampler from Half Pints Brewing Company, one of only two Manitoba microbreweries and, since Russell Brewing of Surrey purchased Fort Garry Brewing Company, the only wholly locally owned one.

The pack contained three bottles each of four different styles, ranging from the light St. James Pale Ale to the dark Stir-Stick Stout.

The label described St. James Pale Ale as “soft and smooth, with a floral finish,” and noted that the IBU level of the 4.8 per cent ABV beer, was only 11, surprisingly low for a pale ale. Blonde to gold in colour, the unfiltered beer was mildly malty and hoppy. Light bodied and effervescent, it was a refreshing drink, one which would be a good summer or session beer. More like a golden or blonde ale than a pale ale, it seemed designed as a cross-over beer, one which would appeal to people more familiar and comfortable with main-stream lagers.

Someone wanting the hoppier flavour of a pale ale would be pleased with Little Scrapper I.P.A. The label refers to it as a “strong beer.” It’s six per cent and 50 IBUs. Gold to amber in colour, it certainly isn’t a “hop bomb” and might disappoint people looking for something in the West Coast style. Instead, this mediam bodied ale achieves the nice balance between hops and malts that distinguish the English versions of the style.

Bulldog Amber Ale is 5.4 per cent ABV and has a 20 IBU count. “Nutty carmel malts and a hoppy aroma,” the label copy states. It’s a smoothe, mellow beer with gentle malt flavours set off by a hoppy finish. A mediam-bodied, very drinkable beer, it’s one which people who like darker ales might turn to as a session beer.

Stir Stick Stout is a “coffee infused stout with a chocolate aroma.” It is dark and opaque in colour and full bodied, but not so much that you’d need a stir stick. The first sip seemed a little harsh, but subsequent ones revealed a rich, malty beer that would certainly make a good finishing drink for a Friday with Barley tasting. It is 5.6 percent ABV, and the IBUs are listed at 35.

The Winnipeg brewery’s name, Half Pints, suggests something very small and local, a cottage brewery. In fact, it recently finished an expansion of the brewery that gives it sufficient capacity to ship product well beyond Manitoba’s western border.  The pale and amber ales are good, the IPA and the stout very good.

When the pension cheques come in at the end of April, we’ll be making another trek to Sherbrooke Liquor Store to get supplies for another Friday with Barley.

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