After transitioning their beer to organic 8 years ago, the team at Nelson Brewing Company could not be more pleased with their decision. Just like cooking using the finest quality of ingredients (in their case Organic hops and malt) the local community has responded with nothing by praise. And, you can certainly taste the purity in their Harvest Moon Organic Hemp Ale! Being one of the few German ale’s to survive the pro-lager days, this pale Krolsh-style beer pours gracefully into your glass, giving off soft fruity esters and a pleasant biscuit-like aroma. Clean, crisp, yet flavourful, Harvest Moon has a very slight bitterness and sweet nuttiness, true to Kroslh-style beer. While I don’t detect strong hemp notes in flavour or aroma, the traditional style lingers on your palate with a lasting buttery finish.
Hey ya all.. a few days ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with CTV Atlantic Host Maria Panopalis for a brief chat about my love of craft beer and my contributions to the industry.
Looking to discover craft beer yourself? Here are a few ideas: 1) Start a beer journal – once you start conceptualizing the flavours and aromas you’re experiencing privately, you will feel much more comfortable sharing your sensory evaluation with your friends and family, 2) Have your friends over for a guided beer tasting – pick your favourite style of beer, or all east coast brews. You’ll discover you had more in common with those friends than you thought! 3) Brew for yourself – It’s not as scary as it sounds, and the friendly folks at The Nobel Grape are there to help. Swing by one of their locations and pick up a fiesta kit. Before you know it, you’ll be doing all-grain batches on your own. 4) Take a brewery tour – Both Propeller and Garrison breweries are happy to show you around the brewery and answer all your craft beer questions. 5) Be patient – Craft beer is an experience. If you find a beer you’re not crazy about… don’t give up! There are over 25 styles for you to choose from
If you ask a craft brewery owner in Canada why they started a brewery, chances are they will say: “I was sick of my day job, and wanted to take my passion for home brewing to the next level”. Rose Murphy and Terry Piercery of Antigonish Nova Scotia, however, have gone above and beyond this craft brewer’s credence. In summer of 2012, Terry and Rose opened the Antigonish Town House, a brewpub that provides locals (and wandering tourists) with homemade, seasonal food, procured from local farmers. While the couple shares an affinity for craft beer and local food, Terry spearheads the brewing, and Rose builds relationships with area producers.
A few months ago, my fiancé and I had the great honour of sitting down with Rose and Terry on their Townhouse patio – we shared a few Maritime pints, enjoyed a tasty plethora of menu items, and learned about their journey to create an old-fashioned brew pub for the community of Antigonish, Nova Scotia…
Though they are still young, the pair brings a wealth of talents and experiences to The Townhouse. Rose is a former Antigonish cafe owner, who recently went back to school to attain her Masters in Philosophy. While pursuing her degree, Rose realized she really wanted to do something hands-on involving sustainable food and farming. Terry is a home brewer who has a degree in Fine Arts, and has always loved good beer and British-style drinking establishments. Two and a half years ago, after realizing their complementary skill-sets and collective dream to be business owners, Terry and Rose made a decision to open a brewpub. They never looked back.
While the process was an exaggerated exercise in regulations and financial creativity, the number of experienced industry leaders who were eager to provide advice and swap stories along the way pleasantly surprised the two. Kevin Keefe of Granite Brewery in Halifax was incredibly helpful, as were the folks at Cafe Artisan Brewpub in Dalhousie, New Brunswick. In addition, the community of Antigonish showed an immense amount of support and encouragement from the start – (who wouldn’t want brewpub that served homemade food in their neighborhood?)
Early in the process, Terry and Rose realized they would need to take an alternative approach to funding, to both engage the supportive community and help boost initial start-up revenue. Hence, the “Suds Club” was born!
Inspired by a small community in Vermont that came together to “pre-purchase” shares in local restaurants, the “Suds Club” is made of up 50 community members in Antigonish who had purchased $1,000 shares in the initiative. Over the next 4 years, the shareholders redeem their investment in coupons for nourishing meals and camaraderie. The “Community-Supported Pub model” was embraced by the Antigonish community, and garnered a greater sense of shared ownership amongst members. This is similar to a CSA, or “Community Supported Agriculture”, where members buy “shares” in a farmers’ crop before seeds are planted.
In addition to the Suds Club, Rose and Terry raised $100,000 from 3rd party lenders, secured funds from government granting programs for small business owners, and renovated and sold their Antigonish home. They now live above the Townhouse… convenient!
When we visited the Townhouse, my taste buds were blown away by the flavour and quality of their homemade food! With a limited northerly growing season, Rose and Terry are working with producers to guarantee certain volumes of local, seasonal food, including meats and cheeses. Organizations such as “Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network” (ACORN) have been helpful, as well as the Antigonish farmers market. Rose’s sister, an area farmer, supplies the brewpub with fresh greens, garlic scapes, and herbs. Since all the food is prepared from scratch, the dynamic menu reflects seasonal availability, and is continually changing.
What would a brewpub be with out the “Brew”? Well, before opening their doors, Rose and Terry purchased a SABCO Brew Magic 50 L system (made famous by the epic Sam Calgonie of Dogfish Head). According to Terry, “I know it’s a ridiculously small thing and will require lots of brewing hours and hard work, and it would have made a lot more sense to go with a larger system, but with a $6,000 price tag (compared to $125,000) the decision was easy.
Since nothing about starting a craft brewery is simple, it took several months of infrastructural work to get the building up to the industrial standards necessary to use the SABCO nano-system. However, as local craft beer enthusiasts, Rose and Terry had a stellar line-up of local brews from the beginning, including Garrison, Propeller, Granite and Pumphouse. In addition, The Townhouse is working to scale back their selection of mass-produced beer, in favour of the smaller stuff, such as Hell’s Bay, Picaroons and Mill Street.
Now that they are a fully functional nano-brewery, Terry can focus on his brewing endeavors and experimenting with his all-time favourite – British-style beer! The future plan is to continually have 8 rotating Maritime micro-brews and one hand pump of Townhouse Real Ale, a “smooth, creamy beer, with a nice balance of English bittering and aroma hops”.
The Townhouse is a haven for craft beer lovers, foodies, community members, tourists and even students from nearby St. Francis Xavier who are passionate about food security issues. People are impressed by the simplicity of the menu, the hand-carved British-style booths, and the spunky decor randomly placed throughout the dining room.
As one “Suds Club” member recently told Rose and Terry, “I look forward to drinking you into prosperity”… I propose we raise a glass to Rose and Terry, and future brewpub pioneers, who take a risk to do what they love!
If you find yourself at the Antigonish Townhouse, you MUST try:
- The Totnes – Green beans, lentils, avocado & arugula with feta, olives and local bacon in a lemony vinaigrette
- Bangers & Mash – The Pork Shop’s smoked bratwurst, mashed potatoes & your choice of sauerkraut or caramelized onion gravy
- Fisherman’s Pie – Haddock, smoked haddock, scallops and shrimp in a rich cream sauce with a toasted herb crust & spring onion mash
- East Coast Mussels – In Pumphouse Cream Ale, garlic, bacon & parsley with baguette
Flash back to the early 20th century – The North American “Soda Shop” was in full swing. No, I’m not talking about modern day vending machines stocked with coke and pepsi products, but rather a gathering place for youth and families. Soda Shops served old-fashioned fountain soda, ice cream and malted shakes.
Whenever I want a picture of what life was like for previous generations, I turn to my grandmas. Gma Rosie from Berlin, Wisconsin remembers going on dates with my grandpa after school to the local drugstore soda fountain. There, they would sip cherry cola from the fountain or retreat to a booth meant for youngsters in love. Gma Ginny, who grew up in rural Ohio remembers “bellying up to the bar” after the movies for a Root Beer float (which she still enjoys at age 85). For my grand parents, the social culture of the soda fountain defined their youth.
The “Soda Shop” was a meeting point for people of all ages through prohibition, as it provided a social escape from the daily routine. However, in the early 1970’s, advancements in agricultural technologies and President Nixon’s push for increased corn production in the US, sparked a change in the way soda was made. In an attempt to boost a weakening farm sector, Nixon subsidized corn production to the point that corn sugar had become cheaper than cane sugar. The use of High Fructose Corn Syrup enabled companies like Coca-Cola to prosper and bottle their product, while eliminating a culture of mom-and-pop soda shops.
While the increase in mass-produced, cheap soda flourished in the late 20th century, today’s craft brewers are bringing back a tradition that can be enjoyed by the whole family – Once again, it’s craft brewers to the Rescue!
A few weeks ago, I took a break from brewing IPA and Bitter at Halifax’s Propeller Brewing Company to learn the magical art of brewing craft sodas. Now, I’m the first to admit, I’m not a soda drinker. I never went through the teenage Mt. Dew right-of-passage phase, but the moment I first tried Propeller’s classic Ginger Beer, I was hooked! It’s the smooth spiciness of the ginger and ginseng that creates this refreshing, flavourful craft soda. In addition to Ginger Beer, we also make Root Beer and Cream Soda that are enjoyed by kids and adults across Nova Scotia.
It is fairly easy for any production brewery to dabble in craft soda. In fact, the process is more or less a simpler version of brewing provided that the brewery has certain equipment accessible (hot water tank, kettle, bright tank, bottling line). Basically, hot water is added to the kettle and heated up to about 165 degrees fahrenheit. From there, cane sugar and citric acid are added, and a whirl pool is created to dissolve the sugar without caramelizing the liquid. Next the sugar water is pumped to the bright tank where the soda is carbonated and top secret ingredients are added. At Propeller, we bottle our soda the next day, on the same line used to bottle our award-winning brews. The soda is then delivered to eager patrons at cafes, corner stores, speciality retail stores and bars (many bars mix our Ginger Beer with spiced rum for the iconic Maritime drink – “Dark and Stormy”).
According to Marketing and Sales Manager, Andrew Cooper “Propeller originally started making soda several years ago because we had extra capacity in the brewery, and it was a way to keep bodies working. Now, we can’t make enough, the marketplace is really pulling production”. Today, soda sales are around 6% of Propeller’s total sales volume, a number that has consistently grown each year. In fact, from 2011-2012 soda sales increased by almost 15%.
Propeller is not the only brewery in Nova Scotia to be making sodas. Garrison Brewing Company in Halifax brews up a tasty 5 soda varieties, including their latest “Ginger n’ Lime”. According to Garrison’s President, Brian Titus, “We wanted to brew soda for years and were finally able to when we moved to our new facility downtown. It allows us to utilize our equipment during the off season and develop new product lines”. Brian also finds great satisfaction in watching families walk into the brewery and enjoy a non-alcoholic alternative.
A few thousand clicks away in Regina, Bushwacker Brewpub makes a sinful Sarsaparilla, which tastes something like a root beer with a more pronounced licorice character. Bar and Promotions Manager Grant Frew says they also make a Sarsaparilla Float with ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate flakes and a gummy bear. It strikes Grant as more of an “adult drink… especially with a shot of jagermeister is added” for good measure.
In Canmore, Alberta Grizzly Paw Brewery makes an astonishing seven sodas that are available across the province, and, in Ontario, Nickel Brook Brewery keeps soda fanatics happy with their Babbling Brooke Root Beer.
As more and more craft beer drinkers are boosting the phrase “drink local beer”, let’s extend that proclamation one step further. Whether you are looking for a flavourful lunchtime refreshment, or an alternative to your suds, drink local soda produced by your neighborhood craft brewer.