Yesterday we went to Winnipeg’s new Craft Beer Pub, Barley Brothers. http://barleybrothers.ca/index.php Full disclosure here, I have fairly high expectations for any place that serves craft beer. On the other hand however, I do understand that the place is very new and thus working out the kinks.
We were three people that went to lunch on a Sunday afternoon. The group consisted of one Craft Beer nerd, one beer hater, and one person new to craft beer. All ordered food, shared appetizers and passed many beer around. Here is what we found and discussed both during and after our visit.
The first item that came out was an order of pretzels with grainy mustard and a garlic sauce. The garlic sauce was very heavy on the garlic which was fine to us, but may be extreme to some palates. The grainy mustard was an excellent blend of mustard heat and sour tang. The pretzels themselves were fairly dark but cooked well, though esthetically they looked like they were not formed by experienced hands. The looks were deceiving though and all in all this was a good dish.
Next up was a Beer Cheese soup. Now this is where things start to become concerning in the meal. The soup was thin and watery and had broken as well. Instead of a creamy cheesy broth laced with the flavour of beer, we received a bowl of undesirable, and amateurishly made soup. What should have been a smooth cream soup instead was filled with grains of cheesy gunk that had not been incorporated into the soup. One spoonful was enough for me as it tasted as gritty as a sandwich served on the beach on a windy day.
All three diners had burgers, two with fries and one with a side of poutine. The size of the plain french fry orders was on the small side, but they were well seasoned. The poutine came with a watery beer gravy and a light sprinkle of cheese. The cheese was used very sparingly, to the point of appearing as if cost cutting was the name of the game. (More on that later) All three burgers were cooked to well done, and were very large in size. None of us finished them, and this is a shame as even the pretzel buns were quite good.
All in all the food was a collection of hit and miss items that will likely improve over time.
On to the star of the show, the beer.
First off, the selection is still quite limited. They have several products from a small batch of breweries. Half Pints, Fort Garry, and Russel brewing were well represented, as was Howe Sound. There were a few orphan beers as well. Unfortunately at this point many of the offerings can be purchased off the shelf at many MLCC locations. Speaking with our server, we were led to believe that by the end of the month the Barley Brothers is hoping to bring a much wider selection of beer in.
Beers were served fairly cool, in some nice branded glassware. Selections were offered by the Pint, Glass, flight and custom flight. We ordered a glass and 3 flights during our stay. The flight sampler sizes were good for sharing some sips and quite in line with many craft beer bars.
Flights are available either predetermined or fully customizable. A newcomer thus can be eased in to craft beer, and a true beer nerd can choose the new and exciting. All flights come with 5 samples, and the pre made flights offered a well thought out bunch of beers.
Unfortunately, we ordered three custom flights, and this led to some issues that took away from our enjoyment. First of all, there is no reliable, easy and hassle free way to order a custom flight. When presented with a large beer list like Barley Brothers is likely to have shortly, I recommend setting up a way to order flights using a check list or a write in card. Ideally then one could write out 5 beers to taste, and also retain that list so that it is easy to identify each beer. Imagine my consternation when I ordered 5 American style IPA beers and had no easy way to identify them. All were similar in colour and thus a written record becomes essential.
The last issue that was bothersome to all three of us was pricing. Other sites that have people reviewing the food end of things have pointed out the serving size versus price point at Barley Brothers and thus I won’t be discussing that here. However, the “nickel and diming” that went on with the beer flights and certain beer on the menu was a glaring problem that caught us by surprise. We all understand that running restaurants and bars is about the bottom line, but we also understand that educated customers abound. Some products were priced ridiculously high (such as the Lake of the Woods products) but many were quite reasonable. Typically when served flights of beer, one identifies a selection of beer and then pays a reasonable “average” price. It is understood that some beers are prices higher, and some are priced lower than this average but in the end it should all work out reasonably well. Sadly, our flights were priced on a per selection price and this was a surprise. I would have still ordered the exact same thing, but to see the pricing itemized the way that it was to me screamed “CHEAP” and this was pointed out by the other diners as well.
I am a fan of beer and order flights wherever and whenever I can, and this obvious cash grab I found rather insulting. Its not that I mind paying for product, but to see management making such transparently greedy decisions just irked us all. Now I should mention that other brew pubs do have pricing issues as well, but they can be much more easily understood. I was in JL Beers for craft beer week this year and they brought in several rare beer. The most expensive among them (such as Goose Island’s Matilda and Sophie) were not part of their flight offerings, and understandably so. But to have perfectly “average” beers priced differently by few nickels here and there is something entirely different.
In closing, I see room for improvement and I am certainly hoping for it. Winnipeg deserves a great Beer Bar, and I think with some thought and effort Barley Brothers can fit the bill.