Nova Scotia’s craft-drink scene is booming: here are five folks changing the way we drink

Emily Tipton
Craft Brewers Association of
Nova Scotia, Boxing Rock

Emily Tipton is best known in Halifax as a brewer and co-owner of Boxing Rock Brewing in Shelburne, but she’s also the longest-standing president of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia (CBANS).

The association formed after the NSLC completed its Craft Beer Economic Impact Study in 2011. The study estimated that by 2029 the industry could contribute $37 million to Nova Scotia’s GDP with an industrywide growth plan. The industry wanted negotiating power but the NSLC didn’t want to work with multiple breweries.

“We needed one voice to represent us,” says Tipton, who became president in 2015. “It’s a good thing we did it when we did, because there are 50 voices now.” In the last five years the number of provincial craft breweries doubled. Between 2017–18, craft beer sales grew by nearly 50%. As the industry grows and changes, new challenges pop up.

Last summer, CBANS went after the rule allowing breweries with hospitality licences to serve a patron numerous 4-oz. glasses of beer at once, but not a single 12-oz. beer.

“I had the benefit of working at the municipal government and understanding how that machine works and what is and isn’t reasonable,” says Tipton. “That doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated too. It can be really frustrating as a small-business owner to not have a response in a timely manner that has a huge impact on your business.”

This summer the Hyper-Local pilot project permits Annapolis Valley breweries to put products in some Annapolis Valley NSLCs. That’s an exception from NSLC’s usual rule that to be listed, a brewery must supply a minimum of 34 stores. “It’s giving the smaller breweries who felt excluded from the whole NSLC system a chance to play and understand how that works so they can make a better decision about where to take their business,” says Tipton.

In 2020 CBANS will transform Craft Beer Week, usually held in May, into Craft Beer Month. Its annual event, Full House, will relaunch with a new name in March at the Cunard Centre in Halifax.

Poet Comeau
Lake City Cider

Growing up in Dartmouth, Poet Comeau says her parents kept her on a long leash; even with the run of the city, she avoided Portland Street. “It was not a street I walked down,” she says. “Downtown Dartmouth wasn’t a place you hangout. It was the place you walked through to get somewhere else.”

Today Comeau owns Lake City Cider. Opened last year, Lake City joined businesses including veterans The Canteen and Portland Street Creperie, and newbies Brightwood Brewing, and New Scotland Brewery on Portland Street. It’s an area full of “people who love this place and want to fulfill their passions.”

Comeau started drinking cider while living in the U.K. Publicans suggested cider after a gluten sensitivity turned her off beer. When she returned to the city in the early 2000s, she says most bartenders looked at her like she “had three heads” when she ordered cider.

“It blows my mind that this cider explosion didn’t happen much earlier because we grow so many apples [in Nova Scotia],” she says. Comeau gets most of her apples from Stirling Fruit Farms in Greeenwich, N.S. The farm cold-stores apples year-round to keep them fresh.

Lake City trucks six 1,000-litre plastic totes out to the farm during pressing. The still-cold juice goes into the totes, and immediately into the truck for the 45-minute drive back to the city, then straight into the tanks to become cider. Each tote measures a little over a cubic metre and weights a ton when full.

Over the summer, Comeau says her team spent a lot of time exploring the flavours of Nova Scotia. Watch for a rhubarb wine and ciders incorporating cherry juice and local flowers this fall.

Ezra Edelstein
Compass Distillers

A 500-gallon, nearly two-storey copper still looms through a glass wall separating the business side of Compass Distillers from the bar and seating area. Behind the still, bags and shelves of ingredients sit tight to fat steel fermenters. One wonders how, and where, head distiller Erza Edelstein drives the forklift barely visible amid the stacks.

Compass opened about two years ago, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the Halifax distillery’s 37 awards. All but one are international. Every one was intentional.

“When this company started we made a commitment that we’d never sell anything we didn’t make from scratch,” says Edelstein, adding that he only uses Nova Scotian corn, grain, and malt. This is uncommon locally, where most distillers buy pre-made neutral grain spirit to make gin.

Edelstein’s love of distilling started while earning his chemistry degree at Dalhousie University. His credentials help him understand distilling but, he says, having a palate for spirits is like having a musical ear. You’re born with it or you’re not.

“When to start the run, when to start collecting spirits, and when to stop is all done by taste and smell,” he says. “There’s some indications based on temperature. You can train your palate for sure, but at the end of the day it’s a judgement call.”

The GiNS (Gin in Nova Scotia) series captures Nova Scotia terroir in a bottle. Each edition represents a season through locally-grown botanicals. The soon-to-be-released Fall features quince, cranberry, rosemary, thyme, rose hips, and light juniper additions, which gives gin its distinct taste. The result warms the nose with familiar fall scents and hits the throat in a burst of flavours and warmth.

“The beauty of what we do here is that we’re constantly experimenting,” he says. “With each batch we tweak things a little bit, learning from the last run. If we want to try something totally different we have that freedom.”

Giovanni Johnson
Good Robot Brewing

Giovanni Johnson’s infectious laugh carries over the music and voices bouncing around the Good Robot taproom. Every time a fellow staff member hears it while passing, they grin.

Like many Bahamian students, Johnson started school at home and transferred to Mount Saint Vincent University to finish his bachelor of science in biology. On summer breaks, he trained to work in pharmacies.

In his final year at the Mount, his microbiology class collected wild yeast in the woods. They cultured it to find viable strains and fermented cider. He was hooked.

He papered breweries with resumes during his final weeks at university, and then Good Robot called. “For the interview [the owners and HR person] were wearing plaid and overalls and I was all dressed up,” he says. “We laughed about it.” Soon after, he worked his first shift as a server.

“I told them what I was trying to do, and they were so open to it,” Johnson says. Three months later he started brewer training, and soon after he picked up his microscope again to take over quality control and yeast management.

If brewing and yeast care weren’t enough, Johnson and his Bahamian friends started The Limestone Group, which makes tropical-inspired craft beer and Caribbean food and shares culture through Junkanoo, a traditional music style and festival.

Started by 18th-century slaves as a Boxing Day celebration, modern Junkanoo employs saws, cowbells, bass instruments, and a full-size oil barrel fitted with a goat skin to “make a big, big noise.” This summer the 10-man squad played halftime at a Halifax Wanderers game and Diversity Fest in Montague, P.E.I.

“The instruments send so much energy through your body and we wanted to share that,” he says. “Even the first one it felt so good just to share that experience and just to see the look on people’s faces.”

Jenny Gammon
Bishop’s Cellar

“If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind trying someone’s drink you should taste this,” says Jenny Gammon sliding her beer across the table at Stillwell Beer Garden. “It’s—” she throws her arms out and makes a noise mimicking an explosion. Meeting at a beer bar to talk wine makes sense, says Gammon, since both beverages riff on each other’s styles now.

In addition to being brand, communications, and event manager at Bishop’s Cellar, Gammon is a sommelier. She calls Pet Nat from Benjamin Bridge Winery the wine of summer. This canned wine also attracts beer aficionados aplenty because the format is familiar and so are the flavours.

“Pet Nat is funky and fun,” says Gammon. “It has some fruit flavours, but also sour, tart flavours. It’s the right consistency for beer drinkers. You’ll feel the bubble on your pallet.”

Earlier this year, Bishop’s absorbed the neighbouring shop, formerly the Haskapa Store. Through summer and fall, local architectural and design firm Breakhouse, known for Stillwell and Good Robot’s designs, worked on the space. Soon Bishop’s will move into the new space, so Breakhouse can outfit the old. By late October, the two will merge.

“It’s the culmination of a long time of thinking about what we’d do differently if we had the chance,” says Gammon. “Ultimately, 16 years ago it started as a small boutique wine shop. If you look at [the space] that’s exactly what it is.”

In addition to expanded beer and wine refrigeration, the new Bishop’s will offer more space to host Friday and Saturday brewer and vintner sessions and Brews with Lou, where house cicerone Lucas Mader opens a few special beers to entice you into buying one.

Correction: Due to a fact-checking error, we incorrectly described Pet Nat’s fermentation method. Halifax Magazine regrets the error. 

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