Featured Contributor Clint Fletcher @
Fast approaching 30 breweries, most of which have sprung up out of nowhere, our craft beer scene is truly magical and if you haven’t been paying attention you should start.
As for me, well I’ve tried an unhealthy percentage of the beers in my province, many beers from other Canadian provinces and across the globe. Although I’m sure I’ve only had a small fraction of the globes offerings (but probably more so because my name is Clint) I have a good sense of the good, the bad, and the ugly in the NS Beer Scene. One brewery at a time, here’s how it looks IMHO (in my hoploving opinion):
Great NS Breweries:
Boxing Rock Brewing Co. (Shelburne): The best brewery in NS hands down. Whether brewing in partnership with other brewers (Rule 42), for charitable purposes (Cinnamon Spin), for special events (Merci Biere) or for HUGE flavour (The Vicar’s Cross) they offer an epic Roster of beers all of which I’ve checked in via Untappd at 3.5/5 or higher. It’s also the only NS brewery which has earned 2 perfect ratings (for their Vicar’s Cross DIPA & U889 IMP Stout). What also makes them great is their accessibility. They’ve done a great job of making their products accessible across the whole province via NSLC (Nova Scotia Liquor Commission) outlets; something other breweries have yet to accomplish to this degree. (Growler: Yes / Swag: Yes)
Hell Bay Brewing Co. (Liverpool): Like Boxing Rock, Hell Bay have done a great job getting their beer in the NSLC and pubs and subsequently into hands/mouths of the people. I’ve also met the owner and he’s a swell guy! I’ve had most in their lineup and while many of them are good solid beers, their English Ale, with it’s incredible malt flavour, is mindblowing. (Growler: Yes / Swag: Yes)
Uncle Leo’s Brewery (Lyon’s Brook): I’ve only managed to sneak in a few beers from Uncle Leo’s but what I’ve had (Smoked Porter, Milk Stout, Hefe, Winter Ale, and Red) has been superb. However, they vend on weekends at Farmer’s Markets and through their store in Lyon’s Brook which makes their beer hard to find. I’ve heard rumors that they may be making their beers available through the NSLC too. (Growler: Yes / Swag: ??)
Big Spruce Brewing (Nianza): These guys make amazing beer with hilarious names (Cereal Killer Oatmeal Stout, Bitter Get ‘er India Pale Ale, etc.). Until later this month when Breton Brewing opens, they can still claim to be the only brewery on Cape Breton Island (the large island portion of NS). Their brews are fantastic, their approach is lighthearted and fun, and they do a great job of keeping pace with folks via social media channels making their company (and beer) more approachable (drinkable). (Growler: Yes / Swag: ??)
Propeller Brewing Co.: Propeller has been a go-to spot for beer lovers in Halifax, NS for ages. They have established themselves early and continue to enjoy growth having recently opened a second location for sales & brewing in Dartmouth, NS. They cover all the bases offering consistent styles year round (DIPA, IPA, Extra Special Bitter (ESB), Porter, Organic & Pilsner) and some nice seasonals and one-offs too throughout the year. Their Russian IMP Stout is one of the best IMP stouts in the province and is a must have. Their ESB also commands fierce loyalty among their customers and I recommend giving it a guzzle too! (Growler: Yes / Swag: Yes)
Garrison Brewing Co.: Garrison is another of Halifax’s well established breweries located across from the beautiful Seaport market on the bustling Halifax waterfront. Like Propeller, Garrison offers a wide variety of beer styles available year round and many seasonals and one-offs. My favourites from Garrison include their Black IPA, Imperial IPA, and “Weisse Guy” Hefeweizen. (Growler: Yes / Swag: Yes)
Rogues Roost Brewpub: Halifax’s best kept secret, this cute little brewery is built right their restaurant and I’ve always enjoyed being able to watch them brew while I had (an amazing) lunch. Located above second cup on Spring Garden Rd. in Halifax, they offer a small core selection of beer (Red, Bitter, and Brown) and a few seasonals (Raspberry Wheat). I’m not normally a fan of fruitbeer but their Raspberry Wheat is an essential hot-day treat! (Growler: Yes / Swag: Yes)
North Brewing Co.: This brewery fancies Belgian styles and they do one hell of a good job. They also put out a few seasonal Saison’s and the occasional one-off. They are also the only brewery that I know of striving for “Zero-Emissions” status which adds to their appeal. They make a “Glenora Aged Strong Dark Belgian” which is aged in whiskey barrels from the Glenora Distillery in CapeBreton. A 650ml bottle of this stuff packs a serious punch at 10.5% ABV! Their “Gus’s 65M Ale” is also a work of art and is named after the distance from their door to the door of Gus’s Pub across the street. Clever! (Growler: Yes / Swag: Yes)
Good NS Breweries:
Good Robot Brewing Co.: These guys only make it to the good list because I’ve only tried one of their beers; a Gose by the name of “Goseface Killah” which was good but didn’t really impress me (tasted like banana/apple juice). They may move up into the Great category as I have more of their beers. (Growler: Yes / Grunter: Yes / Swag: ??)
Rare Bird Craft Beer: Located in the tiny burg of Guysborough, NS their core offering consists of only two beers; Rare Bird Pale and Full Steam Stout. They’ve recently put out a Red but I have not yet tried it. A while back I had a few infected bottles of their pale so down to the good list they go. They also make Maple and Spruce flavoured beers which are certainly an acquired taste. Their Full Steam stout is right tasty and worth a try. (Growler: ?? / Swag: Yes – lots)
Sea Level Brewing: From Port Williams, NS, Sea Level are only on the good list because, like Good Robot, I’ve only tried one of their beers (Planter’s Pale) which was good with nice toffee/caramel flavour. I’ll try more soon and see if they move up on the greatness scale!
NS Breweries I haven’t had in quite a while: Granite Brewery, Rogues Roost, Tatamagouche Brewing Co
NS Breweries I’ve yet to try for some reason: Schoolhouse, Paddy’s Irish Pub, Nook & Cranny, Spindrift, Unfiltered, Gahan House, Wayfarers, Breton Brewing, Bad Apple Brewhouse, Meander River Farm & Brewery, Rock Bottom Brewpub, Rudders Brewpub, Townhouse Pub & Eatery
My top 10 must-try NS beers:
- Raspberry Wheat – Rogues Roost Brewpub
- Extra Special Bitter – Propeller Brewing Co.
- Black IPA – Garrison Brewing Co.
- Revolution Russian Imperial Stout – Propeller Brewing Co.
- U889 Russian Imperial Stout – Boxing Rock Brewing Co.
- Glenora Aged Strong Dark Belgian – North Brewing Co.
- VohsWeizenbier – Uncle Leo’s Brewing
- 65m Ale – North Brewing Co.
- English Ale – Hell Bay Brewing Co.
- The Vicar’s Cross Double IPA – Boxing Rock Brewing Co.
Some additional thoughts:
Nova Scotia is doing one heck of a good job putting out quality beer and the craft beer industry is in a real “honeymoon period” at this point in time. The challenge moving forward, in light of the rapid growth of the industry, will be to gain market share quickly while maintaining product quality. Personally, I don’t believe NS alone can support 30 breweries so they will need to seek growth opportunities across provincial/international borders to survive & grow.
On that note, I recently made a trip to Ontario & Quebec where I got to sip on some of the great beers being produced there. I have to say that many of the beers I tried in Ontario & Quebec were on par or superior to our NS brews so it will not be easy for our breweries to compete inter-provincial without stepping up their game.
In the end, as it is when all business bubbles pop, only the strong will survive. One thing’s for sure: right now, beer lovers across Canada and the globe are being treated to some of the best beer EVER made!
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