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Brave new breweries

Atlantic Canadian brewers are putting it all on the line to produce exciting and delicious homegrown beers

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Atlantic Canada has an unquenchable thirst for craft beer. Across the region, enterprising brewers are jumping into business to meet the need. While the economy isn’t exactly welcoming new businesses these days, small producers are taking the plunge, testing their markets, and pouring pints across all four provinces.

“We can do a maximum of 5,000 litres per week right now, and we’ve been maxed out since we opened,” says Joey Seaman of Upstreet Brewing in Charlottetown, P.E.I. Upstreet Brewing was the Island’s third brewery, launching just in time for Canada Day weekend 2015. The three owners, Seaman, Mike Hogan, and Mitch Cobb, are self-proclaimed home brewers “who got a little carried away.” Upstreet Brewing is rushing to keep up with orders for their bottled and kegged beers from P.E.I. liquor stores, local bars, and restaurants, as well as beer enthusiasts filling growlers and pints from their retail location and tap room just “upstreet” of downtown.

The brewery’s staple beers include Commons, which is a Czech-style pilsner, Do Gooder American pale ale, and Rhuby Social, a strawberry rhubarb witbier.

“A new beer we did as a fun seasonal that really took off is a white IPA called White Noize,” says Seaman. Commons “has become the local beer around here,” says Seaman, no doubt due to its crisp and easy-drinking style. It’s a lager that’s best consumed very cold, and pairs naturally with fresh seafood. Rhuby Social won silver at the 2015 Atlantic Canadian Beer Awards in the Fruit & Field Beer category.

Nova Scotia has had no shortage of craft breweries with some 20 across the province and new entries popping up constantly. Last June, Breton Brewing opened in Sydney and now offers four flagship brews. Co-owner Andrew Morrow says keeping up with demand has had the team “flying by the seat of our pants. We’re averaging about two months in between seasonals, but it’s been hard to plan in advance.” Its beers include Black Angus IPA, Red Coat Irish Ale, Sons of Hector Brown Ale, and Stirling Hefeweizen.

Morrow says the Hefeweizen is popular in the summer, but their best selling beers change with the season. Stirling Hefeweizen is a light and refreshing wheat beer made with only 60 per cent wheat and 40 per cent barley. Nova Scotia Liquor Commission stores will start stocking Breton Brewing’s wares in 2016.

New Brunswick also boasts a robust craft-beer scene. Quispamsis-based Hammond River Brewing Company classifies as a nano-brewery, meaning it brews one barrel at a time, but you can tap its product at 10 bars and restaurants across the province. “At this point I couldn’t handle an eleventh account,” says owner and brewer Shane Steeves. “The demand has been there since I opened.” He delivered his first keg to his first customer in February 2014. His steady growth has him planning for a sizeable expansion later this year.

“I’m very much an experimental brewer,” he says. “I like to have fun with it.” Steeves has already released 16 different and very unique seasonal beers. He prefers making lighter beers with fresh fruit in the warmer months, such as Hawaiian Pale Ale and Watermelon Wheat. Hammond River offers six year-round beers, but his restaurant accounts essentially offer a rotating tap of his beers as they never know which they’ll receive on delivery day. For Steeves, “that’s the beauty of being a small brewery.”

The craft beer scene in Newfoundland has been slower to grow, with long-standing locals Quidi Vidi Brewing Company and Yellowbelly Brewery, both located in St. John’s, being the only options for many years. But that’s about to change. Three hours north of St. John’s on the Bonavista Peninsula, Alicia McDonald and Sonja Mills will launch Port Rexton Brewing this summer. “Our brewery will be housed in a building that was originally built in 1841 as a two-storey schoolhouse,” says Mills. The four-barrel microbrewery will feature McDonald as brewmaster.

HARD TO FIND, BUT WORTH THE HUNT

FirkinStein Brewing
Mount Pleasant, N.S.
Opened September 2015

Co-owner and co-brewer Devin Fraser says the Nor’easter Ale is “not hoppy enough to call an IPA, but just under that. It’s done with all Cascade hops, so there’s a lot of citrus, grapefruit notes.”

Find samples, growlers, and four-packs of bottles at farmers’ markets in Lunenburg and Hubbards, plus pints on tap at Local Public House (Bridgewater, N.S.), Grand Banker (Lunenburg, N.S.), Stillwell (Halifax, N.S.), and Battery Park (Dartmouth, N.S.).

First City Brewing
Saint John, N.B.
Opened December 2015

This nano-brewery is truly a small-batch operation, brewing only 117 litres at a time. Co-owners Jeff Gibbons and Adam McQueen brew on nights and weekends while holding down day jobs, and launched with two beers: an IPA and an English-style ESB.

Find it on tap in Fredericton, N.B. at James Joyce Pub or in Saint John, N.B. at Peppers Pub, Lemongrass, and R-Bar.

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