“Just trying to stay in the game here,” he says a week before the first day of BeerFest. “I’m running on fumes. Tall Ships just ended, Busker Fest is starting, Seaport BeerFest is next week. We have all of February to recover so we’re good.” In addition to serving all of tourist traffic from the boardwalk, Garrison is renovating 1,000 square-feet of its brewery and taproom, which Titus hopes will be finished by next weekend.
Over the last 11 years, Halifax Seaport BeerFest has grown from showcasing a handful of local breweries and import beers to hosting the region’s largest beer festival. This year’s event starts on Friday, Aug. 11 at the Cunard Centre.
“There was no real celebration of beer 11 years ago, and there was no real beer market,” says Titus. He says he originally thought, “If [Beerfest] can’t be about beers from here let’s get people to try beers from elsewhere. Maybe that will create interest and trigger some people to produce those beers here locally.” And trigger it did. This year’s festival features 123 Atlantic Canadian beers and ciders representing all four provinces.
The list of offerings is always in flux up until the festival opens, but Titus says this year he expects the number of local and import beers and ciders to top 350 for the first time. In addition to Atlantic Canadian entries, the festival will feature beers from British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, as well as Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the U.S.
Cider is a big feature at this year’s festival, representing about 10% of the total list. Familiar Nova Scotian ciders like No Boats on Sunday, Bulwark, and Stutz will be joined by new players including Chain Yard Cider from Halifax and Coastliner Craft Cider from Fredericton.
Plus, Ladies Beer League and the Brewnosers home brew club will host the Tap Local pavilion, pouring a rotating selection of local brews. LBL will sell memberships (which offer discounts and deals at some Halifax breweries) and the Brewnosers will talk home brewing gear and recipes.
Demand was so high for booths this year that Titus says the organizers had to rethink the floor plan. Food vendors are moving out onto the boardwalk, and include East of Grafton, Bramoso Gourmet Pizzeria, and food trucks Eat Beer, and The Halifax Press.
While Titus remembers the legwork of trying to get breweries to join in the early years, he says now he’s turning breweries away. He’s clear that this is first and foremost a celebration of craft beer.
“We’ve been very upfront whether its Molson, Moosehead, and Latbatt, those are the only three players on that scale, that we have complete say over what you bring to this festival,” he says. “It’s hard for these guys they’re not used to hearing that kind of line. They’re used to saying, ‘We’ll take four booths, how much does it cost, we’ll have 12 Bud beer ladies and…’ No. You get the same footprint as Railcar Brewing out of Florenceville-Bristol, [N.B.] and you’ve got to make it work.”
The festival’s explosive growth is great for beers lovers, but as the 2017 event pushes the limits of the Cunard Centre, Titus says the organizers are already thinking about 2018. He says if the number of regional craft brewery and cidery operations continue to grow quickly then the festival will cut back the number of outside offerings.
“If someone local comes to me and says, ‘We’ve got enough kegs this year, we finally figured out the schedule, we really want to do it this year,’ I’m not going to say ‘yeah sorry, we have a bunch of breweries from B.C. and there’s no room for you,’” says Titus.
Halifax Seaport BeerFest runs Friday, Aug. 11, 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 12, 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. VIP sessions open an hour earlier. Buy tickets here.
5 visiting beers you must try at Halifax Seaport Beerfest
Trou du diable
As always, Quebec beer is strongly represented by the province’s four best-known microbreweries. You’ll find some of their offerings in Halifax’s private stores, but probably not this. one. This filtered wheat ale stars a citrusy acidity and salty-tropical flavour that will leave your mouth puckered and waiting for more.
Port Rexton Brewing
Port Rexton, N.L.
Rural Port Rexton, 3 hour outside of St. John’s, N.L. has a population of 350 people–good thing two of them are brewers. You’ll rarely find these brews outside of Newfoundland, so beer festivals are your only chance to try these beers without a plane ticket. This rich porter is warming and sweet, with a soft mouthfeel and ample roasted flavours.
The Princess Wears Girl Pants (saison)
Sawdust City Brewing
Given its location, halfway between North Bay, Ont. and Toronto, Sawdust City is oft overlooked. This brewery produces a solid core line up and fantastic seasons. This one is no exception. This big, beautiful, Belgian-inspired beer comes in at 9%, so a sample size is all you need. Watch for a plethora of hops: Ella, Galaxy and Amarillo.
Dark English Mild Ale
Fort Garry Brewing
Ontario and B.C. are well represented at this festival, which makes me want to try the handful of Manitoba breweries all the more. This simply named beer took first place for best U.K. ale at the 2015 Alberta Beer Festival Awards. Watch for chestnut flavours, alongside caramel, chocolate and coffee, but a hoppy finish.
Brayvarian Dunkel (Munich dunkle)
This year’s fest features a record 26 Irish beers. This Bavarian-style dunkel gets its name from the brewery’s location in Bray County, Ireland. A dark brown lager featuring the experimental hop O.C.C (orange, chocolate, coconut) plus a chocolate and heavy malt base.