This summer my partner and I took a three-day road trip to visit some breweries around the Annapolis Valley. We tried new beers, filled growlers to take home, and talked a lot with the people who made the beer.
Getting to know the people behind your beer isn’t necessary, but it adds to the experience. That shiny feeling of meeting the person who makes a product you enjoy, and learning why and how they do it. This is the heart of the buy local movement, and the central idea behind a new book about craft breweries in Atlantic Canada.
East Coast Crafted: The essential guide to the beers, breweries and brewpubs of Atlantic Canada works hard to live up to its title. Writers Whitney Moran (an editor and who has written extensively about Halifax’s beer scene) and Christopher Reynolds (cicerone, beer judge, and co-owner of Stillwell beer bar and Stillwell Brewing) created a book that anyone interested in beer or brewing in our region will enjoy.
The book opens with a forward by esteemed beer writer Stephen Beaumont, co-author of The World Atlas of Beer and Best Beer. Beaumont highlights the growth of beer in the province between his 1994 visit to Kevin Keefe, owner of Halifax’s Granite Brewery (then the lone brewpub in the region) to the 80 breweries in Atlantic Canada today.
Beaumont attributes that change to the creation of a community of brewers intent on helping grow the craft-beer scene overall, instead of trying to smash the competition. That sense of community is evident in the 70-some interviews with brewers and brewery owners in the book.
Each of the book’s four sections (one for each province) features an intro outlining the history of beer making in the province, a beer map, and profiles of local breweries.
While the introductions could have been dull, as they focus largely on legislation, the light and casual writing style keeps the pace light. And there are fascinating nuggets throughout. Did you know that Halifax was home to some of Canada’s first temperance unions, and that Nova Scotia maintained Canada’s second longest Prohibition run (1916 to 1931)?
Each profile opens with a legend noting which breweries have flights, tap rooms, growler fills, and cans or bottle. This book will be handy when you plan your next long weekend of brewery hopping (with a designated driver, of course).
The profiles open with a rundown of the brewery’s popular beers, and a look at the process behind them. Home brewers and anyone interested in the science of brewing can easily follow along, and learn something from each profile. A handy accompaniment shares the brewers’ favourite from their tap lists, plus beer choices from the authors.
The part of each profile that makes this a must-buy book for me is what comes next: the Backstory.
When I started reading, I expected to find cleaned up versions of a lot of stories I already knew, but I was pleasantly surprised. The stories told in this book are unvarnished and candid: a celebration of the wins and struggles that brewers encounter when they go pro.
Tidehouse Brewing Company co-owners Peter Lionais and Shean Higgins speak candidly about the financial difficulties they had opening their brewery—losing their investors, Lionais putting part of his EI payment in the till so the business could make change for customers on opening day.
Fear not, this book is by no means a buzzkill. But it offers cautionary tales for anyone thinking about getting into the saturated local market. It’s not all butterflies, rainbows, and fermenting wort.
One of my favourite parts of East Coast Crafted is getting to know brewers and breweries I haven’t visited yet. A visit to Newfoundland requires plenty of planning, but you can drive from Halifax to Fredericton, Saint John, or Charlottetown in four hours or less.
In addition to the candid interviews with brewers, sprinkled throughout each section you’ll find interviews with people supporting the beer industry: Halifax’s Ladies Beer League, the Brewnosers Home Brewing Club, the authors of the Atlantic Canadian Beer Blog, and DME (local brewing equipment makers).
Part guide book, part oral history, and all beer, this book is a must read for anyone who loves local beer and wants to get to know more about the people and process behind this growing industry.
Must-try beers: Out-of-towners
Vic Park American Pale Ale
PEI Brewing Company
5% ABV, 40 IBU
Don’t let the words “pale ale” fool you into thinking that this is a low-key beer. It features a malty backbone of Vienna and 2-Row, that lends it a rich flavour and slightly darker colour than most pale ales. On the hop side, this beer features only one: Citra. Watch for flavours of tropical fruit, grapefruit, and pine. You can sometimes find this in cans at Halifax liquor stores and on tap at the Gahan House.
Duhb Loki Black IPA
Celtic Knot Brewing
6% ABV, 62 IBU
This micro-brewery started in 2013, but this summer moved from the owners’ home to a stand-alone location. This beer tastes like what would happen if a porter and a moderately hopped IPA matched on Tinder. Dark, roasty, and hoppy. Find it on tap at beer bars across New Brunswick, or visit the brewery to fill a growler.
Correction: Due to a fact-checking error, an earlier version of this story got the name of Granite Brewery’s owner wrong. The story above has been corrected. Halifax Magazine regrets the error.