I had the pleasure of being in Halifax recently, with not a lot of time for beer hunting. Still, I managed to corral a few bottles and found some excellent drinking holes in which to partake of some of Nova Scotia’s newest and best craft beers.
Garrison Brewing has been around since 1997, one of the long time players in this region. Our hotel bar (which mysteriously closed before 11 pm every night) had the seasonal Seaport Blonde (4%) a light easy drinking ale and the Irish Red on tap, a more robust offering, ruby red, caramel malts, classic Celtic style. Hopyard Pale Ale (5.3%, 40 IBUs) was available in the bottle, certainly the hoppiest beer available. They also make a large array of seasonal and specialty brews.
One of my perennial favourites is from the Propeller Brewery, their Porter (5%, 39 IBUs). So smooth and delicious, creamy tan head, dark and fully flavourful, complexity of malts supported by an under-pining of hops, roasty, robust and definitive. They are no slouches when it comes to longevity and brewing quality beers, having done so for 18 years now. Although their India Pale Ale (6.5%, 68 IBUs) and Extra Special Bitter (5%, 30 IBUs) are excellent beers, dead on style and go-to beers for me wherever I find them, the Porter holds a special place in my heart and on my taste buds.
There are a number or new and older Halifax brewpubs too. Alas, one of my faves since 2004, Rogue’s Roost, is now no more. I do not know the circumstances of their closing, but I do know the building they were in on Spring Garden Road is being torn down. Just around the corner, in another wing of the same building is the iconic Tom’s Little Havana, a very cool spot with old world charm and a lovely local beer list. They will move across the street before the building comes down, hopefully still offering some of the best local brews in town. We tasted an amazing sour beer from Unfiltered Brewing. Must have been their Daytimer Berliner Weisse (3.4%), tart and refreshing, citric and definitely more-ish. Bad Apple Brewhouse, Atlantic Canada’s Brewery of the Year in 2014 looks to be another new kid on the block, with a couple of tasty treats on tap here at Tom’s too. The American Pale Ale (5.7%) is real west coast, full bodied and not shy on the hops. Box Cutter India Pale Ale (7%) also top notch hop-infused ambrosia, well balanced, big nose, citric, pine right through to a nice, dry finish. Yummy!
Just down the road Joe and I found the Rock Bottom Brewery, a nice little brewpub that just so happened to have live music that night. So, we settled in for a flight of all of their beers. Deadwood Wheat (5%, 12 IBUs), light and a little bit tart, smooth, hazy, bready; Loyalist ESB (5.6%, 35 IBUs), classic British style, copper coloured, toasty, earthy, balanced; Fathom IPA (6.9%, 70 IBUs), west coast style hop forward, fruity, notes of grapefuit and pine, long, lingering dry finish; Raising Hell Stout (5.5%, 35 IBUs), rich, dark, aromatically maltly, full bodied & creamy; Imperial Red (7.5%), stronger more full bodied brew, deep red/copper colour, heavy mat accents held in check by some bittering architecture; and finally a delightful Farmhouse (6%), very Belgian style Saison, light on the funk, but deep in flavour.
We finished our visit with a delightful double IPA from Shelburne, NS and the Boxing Rock Brewing Co. In business since 2012, it seems they have already established a reputation for themselves, and The Vicar’s Cross (8.5%) is one of the reasons why. Recommended by our cool server Rayna, this beer packs a punch, pours deep amber with an off white head, some haze, earthy nose, grassy spikes of resiny hops over a good malt base, dried fruit, grapefruit, pine, good carbonation, full bodied, dry finish, overall a beautifully big beer.
Stillwell on Barrington was the place everyone I met recommended. I was certainly glad when I made it there on a Sunday at midnight, when all the other places I tried were closed. Open til 2 am, apparently everyday of the week. Great selection too. They even had Vicar’s Cross on tap. I had to go for a flight to get the lay of the land. My flight of four: Breton Brewing of Sydney brews Sons of Hector American Brown (5%), toasty, roasty and crisp dark ale; Uncle Leo’s Brewery from Lyon’s Brook, NS makes this incredible Smoked Porter (6.8%), beechwood smoked malt, dark and full bodied; Tom Waits for No One Breakfast Stout (7.9%, 58 IBUs) is a deep, dark delicious treat, smooth, enticing and mysterious by Good Robot Brewing. Apparently, all of their beers are gluten free. Lastly I went to neighboring Quebec for Assemblage Numero 1 from Brasserie Dunham. A deliciously sour Zinfandel barrel aged pale ale infused with Brettanomyces. A wonderful last beer for my trip. Of course, as always I found a few bottles at the local LC to take home with me.
I had the fortune of being taken out while I visited Ottawa last year. I was picked up and whisked out to Westboro, a trendy new area of town that features cool, little restaurants, funky bistros and a number of beer oriented places as well. Pete and Jim took me to The Hintonburg Public House,a cool little spot that wasn’t too hard to find in Westboro Village. We did try a selection of locals and not so local.
Square Timber Crib Pale Ale (5.3%, 30 IBUs) straight forward APA, floral nose, crisp finish, good malt/hop balance, more-ish.
Cassel Brewery Golden Rail (5%, 20IBUs) this flagship beer is a reddish honey-brown, low bitterness, but a sweet malty palate.
Beyond the Pale Pink Fuzz (6%) described as a grapefruit wheat beer, big citric nose, tart palate, notes of pine, not your grandfather’s wheat beer, but tasty and refreshing.
Whitewater Brewing He Who Shall Not Be Named IPA (5.5%, 72 IBUs) is a bit different, a spicy IPA with ginger playing a part amongst the hoppy bittereness, this is an interesting brew that is stretching the boundaries of what an IPA can be.
Spearhead Black Belgian Stout (6.5%, 35 IBUs) deep black, creamy brownish head, burnt sugar aromatics, toasted, roasted malts, complex array of flavours on display; coffee, chocolate, orange, caramel, molasses plus a thoroughly Belgian yeastiness teases the tongue, there’s some bitterness here too holding the whole thing together. This is perfect on a cold Ottawa winter evening.
Here are a few places I like to check out while in Winnipeg. The King’s Head Pub is a great old dive-y bar in the exchange district. Lots of taps here to tease the palate, from European favourites to the local Half Pints line, there is something for everyone here. Also, they have the deadliest Vindaloo in the city. It’s a 2 or 3 pint curry. If you don’t like it hot, than order the mild, because the Indian dishes here will rock your world.
Not far away is the Yellow Dog Tavern, a cool little bar, featuring Winnipeg’s own Half Pints, as well as diverse, fresh menu of local comfort food and good grilled dishes. Had the Half Pints Pothole Porter (7.9%) last time I was there, a delicious roasty blend of dark malts, dark fruit notes with a creamy head, hints of mocha and a long, lingering finish.
Off course, Half Pints Brewing Co. has been around since 2006, a long time craft beer provider for the city of Winnipeg and beyond. They have recently moved into a newer, bigger space and offer tours and tastings daily. Their Little Scrapper IPA (6%, 50 IBUs) is my go-to brew whenever I’m in Manitoba, but they make 3 other flagship beers, as well as a rotating selection of excellent seasonals and specialties.
But really, one of the best places to go to if you want a real wide selection of beer is Barley Brothers near Polo Park. With 72 taps, everyone finds something they like, whether its the local faves or their large selection of imports covering all styles imaginable. They also opened another location this past year, out on Pembina Highway at the new stadium. It’s a bigger place, offering 150 taps, but with the same great pub fare menu. Amongst other things, I tried Rogue’s Beard Beer (5.6%), a wild, sour ale that was quite tasty, though (ew!) made with the brewer’s own beard.
Paddock Wood Brewing has a great taproom at The Wood Alehouse in downtown Saskatoon. They carry their full line of excellent brews and even do cask nights. But if you want a variety of beer from around the world and Saskatchewan, then Winston’s English Pub, in the Senator Hotel is where you want to be. A tremendous selection on 72 taps and a deep bottle cellar too. Started with the dry hopped Black Bridge Brewery IPA (7%, 62 IBUs), a west coast style made in Swift Current with a big earthy hop nose, wonderfully balanced palate allowing spiky bitterness to permeate the malt strong base. There was a Quad (10%) from Rebellion Brewing, from Regina, is a big complex beer, mahogany hued, low carbonation, dark fruit, crazy, beautiful brew. Prairie Sun Brewing Local Hoption (7%, 55 IBUs) another tip of the hat to west coast hoppiness, fruity, citric bitter, but balanced, caramel notes, made with Saskatchewan grown hops. Laughing Dog IPA (6.5%) from Idaho, adds to the domination of IPAs sweeping the continent, lasting white head, tons of lacing, tropical fruit aromatics, moderately bitter, grassy and dry, good carbonation. And from Washington state we had Sound Brewery’s Humulo Nimbus Double IPA (8.5%, 72 IBUs) a thunderstorm of hops indeed, raining down on a malty back bone, a beer geeks fave, citric, fruity, hazy, candi, resiny hop bitterness. Some funny things about this place though: 1) The serving staff don’t seem to be very knowledgeable about the beers they have, 2) no surprise then that a Erdinger Weissebier would come in a pint glass and there were no half pints of the 10% Quad, 3) they serve no Paddock Wood beers since the taproom opened around the corner. Still, the best game in town!
Tool Shed Brewing Co. is one of the new kids on the block in Calgary. After launching as a contract brewer a couple of years ago, Tool Shed now has their own brewery in Calgary, and are making some waves with their line of craft brews. The Star Cheek IPA (6.2%) is one of my favourites, bold and hoppy, balanced with some malt values underpinning the bitterness, easy drinking. Their People Skills Cream Ale (5.2%) is also popular.
These are some of the beers you can get at Pig & Duke, after all of these years, finally, a decent beer bar in downtown Calgary. Used to be you’d be hard pressed to find any craft beer in ‘hotel strip’, but this little neighbourhood pub is changing all of that. With around 24 taps, there is plenty to choose from; Wild Rose, Big Rock, Tree, Last Best, Ninkasi, Phillips, just to give you an idea.
Perhaps my fave new place though has to be Last Best Brewing & Distilling on old Electric Avenue, Calgary SW. Great new brewpub incorporating what was once two spaces. Their Last Best IPA (6.5%, 65 IBUs), is tropical, citric, unfiltered, full flavoured, well balanced, good hop values; Show Pony Pale Ale (5%, 22 IBUs) a sessionable ale, a complex brew, fruity, aromatic, nice dry finish; and There Will Be Porter (5.5%, 22 IBUs) a rich, malty, English style, hints of toffee, chocolate, with a real balanced malt structure, well supported by the underlay of hops. 10 taps here at the brewpub, so seasonals and specialties too. They don’t have the distery up and running yet, but that will be coming along soon enough.
Now I know Drummond Brewing out of Red Deer doesn’t have the best reputation for craft beer lovers, but a couple of years ago they launched a new line of beers under the moniker Something Brewing, aimed at craft beer geeks. Hop Bomb IPA (7%) is one that does it for me. An easy drinking IPA, balanced and flavourful, citric, bready, decent carbonation, dry finish. And it’s relatively easy to find in Alberta liquor stores.
Old Abbey Ales is quite the find. They produce premium craft beer which includes an excellent line of Belgians: Tripel (9%, 30 IBUs), delicious and pale, complex, fruity, spicy, aromatic; Tripel IPA (9%, 50 IBUs) very Belgian, strong, smooth, complex fruitiness egged on by the delicate hop bitterness; and the Quad. (10.1%, 27 IBUs) la piece de resistance! Big, full bodied brew, dark ruby, malt heavy, dark fruit, spicy, yeasty, wow. These beers are all made traditionally, naturally carbonated and bottle conditioned. Head Brewmaster Tony DeWald knows his stuff, having brewed for over 25 years, from former leading edge Toronto brewpubs Amsterdam and Rotterdam, to Vancouver’s late Dix brewpub.
I think they had 10 beers on their board the day I was there and what a selection! I had Berliner weisse, Grisette, a Bretted Texas Brown ale and the excellent dry hopped ESB in a taster flight. The Ella Pale Ale we took home in a growler and enjoyed it later on that night. They quietly opened in the late spring I think and just had their ‘official’ opening recently.
If you can’t get to the brewery, admittedly, a long ways away from city dwellers like me, look for their bottles in liquor stores and their brews on tap wherever good craft beer is sold.
To finish off, here is a list of breweries that have opened in 2015, or are about to open, or are in the planning or building stages at the moment to open in 2016:
Big Rock Urban Brewery, Vancouver;
Callister Brewing Co., Vancouver;
Category 12 Brewing, Victoria;
Cumberland Brewing Co., Cumberland;
Doan’s Craft Brewing Company, Vancouver;
Dogwood Brewing, Vancouver;
East Vancouver Brewing Company;
Faculty Brewing Co. Vancouver
Forbidden Brewing Co., Courtenay;
Fuggles & Warlock Craftworks, Richmond;
Gladstone Brewing Co., Courtenay
Hearthstone Brewery, North Vancouver;
Loghouse Brewpub, Victoria;
Maple Meadows Brewing Company, Maple Ridge
Marten Brewing Company, Vernon;
Off The Rail Brewing, Vancouver;
Old Abbey Ales, Abbotsford;
Ravens Brewing Company, Abbotsford;
Red Arrow Brewing Company, Duncan;
Ridge Brewing Company, Maple Ridge;
Sherwood Mountain Brewhouse, Terrace;
Skeena Brewing Company, Terrace;
Sooke Oceanside Brewery, Sooke;
Strange Fellows Brewing Co., Vancouver;
Strathcona Brewing Company, Vancouver;
Twin City Brewing Company, Port Alberni;
Twin Sails Brewing, Port Moody
Whitetooth Brewing Company, Golden