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Raise a glass to the new brew

The craft beer market is offering choice in the Halifax market—and there’s lots of room to grow

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Danny co-owns Innovative Beverages, is an importer of fine wines and is a CAPSAC-certified sommelier. Photo: Tammy Fancy

Danny co-owns Innovative Beverages, is an importer of fine wines and is a CAPSAC-certified sommelier. Photo: Tammy Fancy

During my days at Acadia, I had one of the few beer fridges in my residence. Every Friday night, my neighbours would file in and fill my fridge with Keith’s (“Keets”), Oland Export (“Vitamin O”), Schooner (“Boats”) and Moosehead (“Moose”). This was before the explosion of light beer, and the invasion of Molson, Coors and Corona. We each swore our choice of the above was the best beer in the world, and had the Saturday morning hangovers to prove our devotion. We thought Budweiser counted as craft beer.

We knew little back then about what the world of beer really offered. Although craft beer has been around as long as beer has, it is only in the last few years that we have all taken notice of this growing trend. You just have to enter any liquor store today to see the growth in variety and selection of all things beer.

The interesting thing about beer in Nova Scotia is that consumption is actually declining, and has been for some time. While some of this can be attributed to our stagnant population, there are other factors at play. The two major buying groups of the millennials and the baby boomers are both trading up in quality and price, and are experimenting with the large variety and styles of international and craft beers now available at retail stores.

While this trend did not start here, we are embracing it. So while the large domestic players continue to decline, the craft beer segment saw a 13 per cent growth in 2013 in Nova Scotia.

To put this in perspective, in 2013 American spending on craft beer grew 20 per cent. At the same time, over beer sales fell 1.4 per cent. (That means it’s a good time to be a craft brewer, not such a great time to be Budweiser). Craft beer now has eight per cent of the total American beer market, up from two per cent just a few years ago. As a Canadian barometer, 32 new breweries opened in Ontario in 2013 alone, and 40 are planned for this year.

Unless you have been off the grid for the last couple of years, you know that Nova Scotia has also seen some dramatic growth in craft beer breweries, with five new ones opening up in 2013 and up to 10 more planned for this year. This awesome trend has been supported by the NSLC, which provides a favoured markup structure for local producers. A year ago the only local craft beers at the NSLC were Garrison and Propeller, and now you can find at least three more breweries with listed products, and many more to come.

The local craft beer market was actually started back in 1985 by Kevin Keefe, of Granite Brewery (which is still going strong on Stairs Street). It was several years before Propeller and Garrison opened, and now both of these breweries have expanded several times. Garrison just recently opened its new custom brew house on the waterfront, which is three times the size of their old space. The most popular local craft beer types include IPA, red, bitter, and pale ale.

Brian Titus of Garrison Breweries recently told me “there is no end in sight for this trend as consumers continue to trade up for quality and authenticity.” One of the interesting things he talks about is the increase in variety and availability of craft beer in Halifax bars and restaurants. “Both the bottle and on-tap keg market continues to multiply,” Titus says. New and hipster spots like Lion and Bright on Agricola Street, the Stillwell Beer Bar on Barrington Street and the Stubborn Goat on Grafton Street are all supporting local breweries, and growing the premium beer market

Titus is also one of the organizers of the annual Halifax Seaport Beer festival in August, which plans to have 40 per cent more entries than the 2014 edition. That means you will be able to choose from close to 300 craft beers to taste.

Craft beer is still under five per cent of total sales in the province, so we have a long way to go and many beers to try. Check out the Halifax Ladies Beer League on Facebook. This is a serious and dedicated group of women who meet regularly to try new beer, and host sold out events around the city.

Even my university stand-by beer, Alexander Keith’s, has introduced two “craft-style” beers to high acclaim.

It’s a great time to be a beer drinker in Halifax.

The under-$25 wine review

Les Charmes De Magnol 2011, Medoc, France, NSLC, $23.99

Don’t fear French wines! They are undergoing a resurgence, and with a little education it is easy to understand the good value they provide. This delicious red wine is from the Medoc, part of the Bordeaux region. The Medoc is known for great-value red wines. Les Charmes is a classic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Crushed red berries and violets are complemented by a touch of vanilla from the oak, and smooth tannins. Flavours of crème de cassis on the finish round out a really nice wine. Pair with a grilled, thick-cut steak. 91/100

Jaffelin Macon-Villages Vin de Borgogne 2011, Burgundy, France, NSLC, $18.83

Further north and east we head to Burgundy, the other of the two most famous French regions of France. Chardonnay from Burgundy makes the most famous and expensive white wines in the world, but there are also great values in the village-level wines. Fresh-cut melon and peaches are welcome flavours of spring in the Jaffelin wine. If you are looking for finesse versus power in the palate, this one delivers with minerality, balance and a nice finish. The light touch of oak is barely noticeable compared to some new world Chardonnay flavour bombs. This is a good place to start discovering Burgundy. Pair with a roasted pesto chicken breast. 90/100

80–84: A great sipper, good value. 85–89: Won’t last long, great value.

90–94: Brag to your friends and buy a case—fantastic. 95–100: A classic, run to the store, extremely rare.

Recent reviews

Leitz 2012 Rheingau Riesling Trocken Germany, $22.50, Bishop’s Cellar

The finish is nice and long with some minerality and citrus. More New World than German. 89/100

Peninsula Ridge Merlot 2011, Niagra Peninsula, Ontario, VQA. NSLC, $17.99

Very pinot noir like in style, and not as round and plummy as you might expect a merlot to be. 87/100

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