Nova Scotia is likely not top of mind when thinking about a craft beer weekend away, but it should be.
The Province has the characteristics necessary for great craft beer: inherent experimentation (as one of the first provinces to ratify Confederation), a vibrant creative environment to spur entrepreneurial endeavors (as home to multiple universities), a stellar restaurant scene to serve local beer, and somewhat dreary weather. The latter lasts for, oh, just 9-10 months out of the year when the rain is cold and falls horizontally. But when it isn’t doing that, Nova Scotia is a damn awesome (and beautiful) place to visit.
Stretching out into the northern Atlantic off the coast of Maine, Nova Scotia was the last and first point of call in early trade between Europe and the Americas. Today, it’s capital city, Halifax, is home to Dalhousie University and it’s nearly 20,000 students and port of call for cruise ships heading up the Eastern seaboard and through the Bay of Fundy. While you can get the feel of a college town or a summer tourist destination by staying near Spring Garden Road or Lower Water Street, a ten minute walk into Halifax’s North End reminds you that Halifax remains a working class city with a working harbor. This is the neighborhood with the great beer and trendy restaurants for those in the know.
The beer scene is where Halifax is really hitting its stride. Within a short walking distance to downtown, there are more than a handful of craft breweries. There are the larger and more well-trodden Alexander Keith’s, Propeller Brewing Company, and Garrison Brewing Company. These are all quintessential “must tries” when out at a restaurant. But to get the feel for what is going on in Halifax today, there are three “must visit breweries” and they are all located within a reasonable walk from one another.
2 Crows Brewing
2 Crows is absolutely one of my favorite breweries in Halifax. Set in the first floor of a fairly new building just a block and a half down the hill from the Citadel, the brewery is in a vast open space and the bench seating makes for a great community atmosphere. The beer is really delicious. From the standby “Pollyanna,” which is a northwest style IPA, to the “Panhandle Slim,” farmhouse ale, to the collaborations with other Canadian brewers. Spend some time jamming to the bartender’s favorite tunes while taking care of a 4×4 sampler (4 glasses of 4 ounces each). You’ll be happy you did.
Good Robot Brewing
Ask me for a recommendation on the widest selection of really interesting beers in Halifax and I’ll direct you to Good Robot Brewing in the North End. The bar is so freaking hipster with its statuesque robots hanging from the rafters or sitting on the bar, it’s hard to stand it. Bring your adult coloring book or travel scrabble kit and take a seat in an 1950s red patent leather car bench seat at the bar. One of my favorite beers here is the “Tom Waits for No One,” which is an American-style stout that is super dark and has a smoky taste. Another favorite is “Steamboat Willie,” which is Good Robot’s take on a California Common (or California steam beer). But don’t leave without having the Mississippi Goddamn. This barley wine is aged for a period in used bourbon barrels. That’s right – barley wine in bourbon barrels. Take it easy, take it slow.
Just a five minute walk on North Street from Good Robot is Unfiltered Brewing. It’s said that the owner/brewers at Unfiltered have been making beer since they were teenagers. The focus from Unfiltered is on the hoppyness, as evident from the menu board providing IBU numbers. IBU designates the bitterness level in the beer. Unfiltered’s double IPA “Twelve Years to Zion” and the dark porter “Flat Black Jesus” rank at 100+ on the IBU scale. The bar is sparse, which makes perfect sense given Unfiltered’s focus on really amazing beer. Every now and then the weirdness level of the beer increases off the charts through a combination of weird ingredients and high hop levels; you’ll be lucky if you get in on one of those days.