Story by Sarah Deveau
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — “I probably shouldn’t ask for a Keith’s, right?” I joked with the bearded and tattooed bartender at Rogue’s Roost, who cracked a wry smile as he poured me a Tall Ship Amber Ale at Garrison Brewing Company in downtown Halifax.
Alexander Keith’s might be the first beer you can name when asked to list an east coast brew, but Nova Scotia locals are bellying up to the bar in record numbers for craft beers as the city competes with Toronto and Montreal when it comes to small-batch brewing.
On a recent trip to the port city, I had a chance to take in the craft brew scene, and my taste buds thanked me. Susan Downey Lim, tour director with Taste Halifax, added beer tours to the company’s food and wine tour offerings in 2014 to highlight Nova Scotia’s growing craft beer industry. “We had a lot of demand from our guests to experience and learn about craft beer,” says Downey Lim. “We chose the stops that we visit because they brew quality beers, they’re places that we as locals like to hang out at, and they’re businesses that are excited about the growth of culinary tourism in the province.”
Nova Scotia Showcases Its Fine Brews
Over the course of three hours we visited five breweries, lounges, pubs and even a wine bar. At Garrison, just steps from the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market, retail marketing manager Justin Zinck taught us about the beer-making process before arranging for us to enjoy generous samples on the patio. A large brewery with seating fashioned from still-functioning barrels, hardwood ceilings, exposed brick, iron girders and plenty of natural light, the facility produces 3 million bottles of delicious beer each year, which is available on tap or in bottles or growlers to take home.
From there we piled back onto the bus to head to Rogue’s Roost, where brewmaster Karen Allen showed us the micro-brewery’s set up before we were served more samples paired with a classic maritime meal of mussels and garlic toast. At Obladee Wine Bar we took a break from the hops to sample Annapolis Valley artisanal cheese paired with a Planters Ridge Tidal Bay wine. Tidal Bay is a crisp, aromatic white wine and the first wine appellation for Nova Scotia.
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Then it was on to more beer at Stillwell, a bar with New York subway-themed décor that I would totally make my local if I lived in Halifax. The taps jut out from a chalkboard wall, with the beer names scrawled above, including a variety of local brews. The food was as noteworthy as the beers, as we were treated to a few items from the delicious and ever-changing menu (the Tokyo fries with Atari mayo is a must-try). “From oysters to offcuts, we try to make sure everything we serve on our menu pairs well with the beers we’re serving, and ensure our bartenders can point guests in the right direction,” says owner Christopher Reynolds. “Luckily for us our scene is being revolutionized right now by a lot of passionate breweries here, so the spectrum of flavours is broadening all the time.”
A visit to Middle Spoon dessert bar for a signature beer cocktail finished the tour, and I was read for a dinner out with friends — and great local beer, of course.
MORE ABOUT HALIFAX’S BEER SCENE
Beer aficionados visiting Halifax also shouldn’t miss:
- A tour of the Alexander Keith’s brewery, which opened in 1820 and offers an immersive experience with actors in period costume.
- A pint at the aptly named brewpub Rockbottom in the basement of the popular Your Father’s Moustache restaurant on Spring Garden Road.
- Picking up a case of Propeller at the Propeller Cold Beer Store on Gottingen Street in Halifax.
- Visiting the Halifax Seaport Beerfest, held annually in August. This year’s event takes place from August 7-8, features 300 unique beers and has an entry fee of $45.
- Filling up a growler at North Brewing Company, a tiny microbrewery in Halifax focusing on Belgian-inspired beers.