Beer

Cheers to growth in N.S. craft beer industry

Nova Scotians love local brews more than ever before — and there’s still room for industry growth

Nothing says 'happy weekend' like a full growler.
Hali-hipsters and growlers – they’re everywhere.   Emma Jones

No matter where you are in central Halifax, you can probably find yourself a brewery in under 15 minutes. Odds are, you’ll be able to spot a Blundstone-clad hipster sloshing a full growler of local brew across town in under five.

Mirroring international trends, the popularity of craft beer has been steadily increasing in Nova Scotia over the past 10 years and has exploded in the last four. There are now 21 craft breweries across the province. Joseph Keefe, manager of Halifax’s Granite Brewery, says more craft beer than ever was sold this past summer in the province.

Five or six more breweries are expected to open in the next year.

“Across Canada and in the States, craft beer is huge right now. It’s definitely the right time,“ said Andrew Cooper, director of sales and marketing at Propeller Breweries, located on Gottingen Street in Halifax.

NSLC boosts sales most

A quarterly report released by the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission states that craft beer sales in its stores increased by 26.7 per cent. Other areas of sales are experiencing growth too, it states, and the NSLC’s net income has increased by $3.5 million this year, putting it at $72.5 million.

The NSLC on Quinpool Road.
The NSLC on Quinpool Road, Halifax.   Emma Jones

Craft beer accounts for three per cent of all items at the NSLC, but occupies 20 per cent of in-store shelf space.

“That’s because most of the craft beer in our stores is produced locally,” said Denise Corra, external communications director for the NSLC. “We’re committed to supporting local industry and promoting local product.”

Local brands account for 57 per cent of the craft beer sold at the NSLC.

“Local producers are great partners for us,” said Corra. “I think that’s driving some of these good results.”

The partnership is mutually beneficial, says Andrew Cooper, sales and marketing director for Propeller Breweries. He cites the NSLC as the brewery’s biggest customer.

“This is natural for most breweries. We have our product in about 100 NSLCs,” he said.

Push for local, DIY: ‘Everybody wants to grow a garden’

Joshua Counsil, co-founder of Good Robot Brewing Co., a craft brewery that opened up on Robie Street in May, aims to make beer “just like your great-great-great grandparents would have enjoyed.” This quality, he believes, is what draws people to drink local, home-made brews.

It wasn’t always this way. Immediately after prohibition in the United States, he said, big conglomerations took over the North American industry.

“All of a sudden, there were like 10 breweries running the show,” he said.

People were loyal to these large beer corporations, Counsil added, “until people actually started drinking something that was made locally, with better processes, with better ingredients, with no additives or preservatives.”

Though the current local craft beer craze is a component of a national phenomenon, Jonathan Primark, project manager for The Noble Grape, says it’s part of a ‘go-local’ movement that has always been strong on the East Coast:

“We’re certainly known for buying local and do-it-yourself. Everyone is very interested in being hands-on,” he said.

Primark added, “Years ago, everybody wanted a pizza delivered. Well now, they want to make their own pizza. Everybody wants to go to the market to get their vegetables. Everybody wants to grow a garden.”

Employees fill up at Good Robot Brewing Co.
Employees fill up at Good Robot Brewing Co.   Emma Jones

Cooper agrees that the demand for local products has allowed craft beer to thrive in Nova Scotia.

“People are really thinking about ‘where are my dollars going?’ They’re asking ‘am I keeping my dollars local?’” he said.

Locals, he says, are now comfortable spending a little more money to buy a batch of craft brew.

“Drinkers are less focused on quantity and more on quality,” he said.

Julia Schabas, an English student at Dalhousie, prefers to take her study breaks with a local brew.

“I’m really into supporting local Halifax businesses,” she said as she purchased a Good Robot growler.

“It’’s really great to have a connection with the people who are making the beer and really know it inside and out,” she added.

Miles Saltmarche has spent his past three summers working at a micro-brewery and bar in Toronto. In Halifax, Saltmarche likes to spend his spare cash supporting local beer initiatives. For the self-proclaimed “beer nerd,” it’s all about experimenting with a range of flavours.

“Craft beer promotes experimentation and expansion of what beer can and should be,” he said. “The rise in consumption speaks to the fact that [local] is what people want, not just the same bland corporate beers.”

Too much to drink? Not even close

With 21 craft brewery licences across Nova Scotia, could the province be nearly over its drink limit? Absolutely not, says Cooper.

“There’s definitely no shortage of craft beer options here in Nova Scotia, but there’s still lots of room to grow the category,” he said.

Brewing room at Good Robot Brewing Co.
Brewing room at Good Robot Brewing Co.   Emma Jones

Primark echoes the sentiment, providing examples of the successful and dense craft beer markets in Ontario and Quebec. Comparing Nova Scotia’s market to those provinces, he says, shows that “we’re far from being concerned by any kind of saturation point. [Ontario and Quebec] each have hundreds of breweries, and they’re thriving.”

With craft beer accounting for a little less than 10 per cent of all beer sales in Nova Scotia, Cooper feels “there’s lots of room to grow right now.”

Maritime boozing buddies

The growth in the industry doesn’t equate to increased competition, says Cooper.

He describes the strong, non-competitive bond between Nova Scotian craft brewers.

“We think of our category as all part of one thing. There’s a lot of working together and comradery, so collectively there’s a lot of work we can do together to keep building,” he said.

Keefe agrees, saying “Our sales continue to improve despite the growing number of other craft breweries in the province.”

“Every time a new brewery opens there is more interest in craft beer,” he said. “That is good for everybody.”