Platters of finger foods, men dressed as pirates, and beers aplenty were the scene at the historic Alexander Keith’s Brewery on Hollis street Wednesday night as Haligonians gathered to celebrate its founder’s 221th birthday.
In addition to a party, it gave Keith’s newest brewmaster a chance to show off his wares. Stefan Gagliardi began brewing at the Hollis Street location in May. It’s the first time the company has brewed at this location in a decade.
Keith’s recently released three small-batch beers: Fundy Low Tide white IPA, Cornerstone EPA (Edinburgh pale ale), and Lunenburg coffee stout. The brewery’s first collaboration beer, Hants County Hop On harvest ale, made with hops from Hill Top Hops farm in Scotchvillage, N.S., will be available at the brewery.
“I want to be able to find a new way for Keith’s lovers to fall in love with the new brands and styles that we create, new flavours that they might not know about,” says Gagliardi. “I want to expand people’s minds on what beer should taste like and what flavours can go into beer and educate them in the process.”
For the birthday bash, Gagliardi prepared 10 special casks of his EPA and coffee stout with a few tweaks. “We did some dry hopping with U.K. hops, and some new world hops, Centennial, Columbus, and Chinook, which just happen to be the same hops in our harvest ale,” he says. “Then I played around with some oak chips and some vanilla beans, chocolate and cacao.”
I tried two of the cask beers, and can verify that his tinkering did create a novel addition to beer that’s already tasty. On its own, the EPA is a sweet, cloudy beer that showcases amber malt grown in Scotland, a nod to where Keith studied.
To one cask, Gagliardi added an oak spiral to give drinkers an opportunity to imagine what the beer would have tasted like 200 years ago. It enhances the sweetness and gives the beer a fresh finish.
To another, he added Nicaraguan cinnamon, fresh ginger, and clove. The effect is reminiscent of a pumpkin beer without the pumpkin. The spices warm and enhance the original taste of the EPA.
While the small-batch brewery will produce only 4,000 hectoliters a year (that’s small enough to be considered a nano-brewery), Alexander Keith’s is no small fry. The company is owned by Oland Brewery, which is owned by Labatt Breweries of Canada, which is in-turn owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer.
“We have some differences with the craft association because of our size and who we’re owned by, but I strongly believe we are as local as anybody else,” says Gagliardi. “We’re working with local producers, we’re in the downtown core. We have a tool which is the Alexander Keith’s brand that people know and love. If we can use that to introduce them to new flavours and styles that’s going to benefit the industry as a whole because it will make people more likely to try a variety of beers.”
CORRECTION: Due to a fact-checking error, an earlier version of this story gave an incorrect location where Hants County Hop On harvest ale will be available. The story above has been corrected. Halifax Magazine regrets the error.