It’ll soon be time to drink beer on the pier at the Cunard Centre as pre-sale tickets for Halifax Seaport Cider & Beerfest 2019 go on sale on May 17 at 11 a.m. Seaport is Atlantic Canada’s largest and oldest craft-beer festival.
“When we started 13 years ago, we were happy to have anyone there who brewed beer,” says Brian Titus, Garrison Brewing Co. owner and Halifax Seaport Cider and Beerfest co-organizer. “It was us, Propeller, Granite, Rudders, and that was about it. Surprise, surprise: there was Corona and Molson Canadian pouring. While it might not have thrilled us from a style perspective, we needed to have beer. But every year it got better in terms of what we can choose and what we can choose not [to feature].”
The tap list is in progress, but Titus estimates the distribution will be about 60% Maritime and 25% Maine, with a fresh pallet of Irish craft beer and a few other international offerings. Expect over 300 beers, ciders, and meads. Last year cider represented 20% of all brands at the festival.
The festival featured Maine beers since day one, but this year Seaport hosts the Maine Beer Box. The 40-foot refrigerated shipping container features 78 taps of fresh craft beer. Ocean transport means it only takes two days to ship beer from Portland to Halifax.
Like many good ideas, the Maine Beer Box started over a pint. David Carlson, owner of Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. in Belfast, Me.; Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild; and Andrew Haines, executive vice president of Iceland-based carrier Eimskip’s North American headquarters, met at a party. Carlson said the owner of the shipyard neighbouring his brewery built a floating home from containers.
“We started talking about all of the crazy things we could do with containers,” says Sullivan. “Someone said, let’s put a bunch of beer taps on a container and ship it around the world.” Two years later, they did.
Since 2017, the box visited has visited Leeds, U.K. and Reykjavik, Iceland.
“As much as this seems like a push effort, to export beer, it’s mostly a pull effort,” says Sullivan. “We want to promote Maine. Most of our breweries make their money right where they brew it, right out of their tasting rooms. What we want to do is get people talking about Maine beer and make them want to come to Maine to drink beer.”
With the box, comes a large contingent of Maine brewers and brewery owners to pour beer at the festival, network, collaborate with local brewers, and learn what Nova Scotia craft beer is all about.
“I have to imagine that a rural Nova Scotian brewery has a lot to share and learn from a small brewery in Maine,” says Titus. “We’re not thinking what kind of international business are we drumming up, likely none. Ultimately this is about promoting each other’s locations for beer, food and tourism and learning from each other.”
Titus say Nova Scotian beer drinkers should expect to see a number of Nova Scotia-Maine collaboration beers after the festival.
Garrison is already chatting with Sebago Brewing Co. out of Portland, Me., about a collaboration. We’re in for a treat if it’s even half the beer 2018’s Hipster Viking IPA. Mason’s Brewing Company (Brewer, Me.), Lone Pine Brewing Company (Gorham, Me.), Gæðingur Öl Brugghús (Skagafjörður, Iceland) collaborated on the bottle release with Garrison brewmaster Daniel Girard.
The box will return to Maine in the fall filled with Nova Scotia and New Brunswick craft beer, and with it Maritime craft brewers. In order to make the trip accessible to breweries of all sizes, Titus says NSBI will kick in a portion of the travel costs.
“The whole thing is really an exchange program,” says Titus. “This is what makes it a cool thing. This isn’t just the Maine circus comes to town and then all the carnies pack up and leave. As soon as I heard they had this concept I’ve been pushing them to do the exchange with Halifax.”