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A Yankee View on Nova Scotia Brew

10 August 2011

With our wedding looming, LeeAnne and I have discussed in a little more detail our plans to move to Halifax, Nova Scotia somewhere down the line.  She is from Canada and would like to move back and I would like to someday live in Canada, so the potential move works out well.  I don’t know when we will go or what will happen afterwards, but my dream has always been to open a bottle shop somewhere.  Since it won’t work in Halifax—Canada has the same kind of restrictive government-run beer stores as PA—I’ve decided I would like to open a bar.  Whether that will ever happen remains to be seen, but it’s always nice to dream.

Amidst all this conversation of the possible future and what may come, I’ve been thinking back to the trip we took to Nova Scotia to visit LeeAnne’s parents last August.  Usually, we go straight to Sydney where her parents live, but this time we spent time in other places, so I figured I would try to get a handle on the local beer scene to see what it was all about.  Our first stop was to meet up with some of LeeAnne’s friends and spend the night in Halifax.

After touring around the city, we went to a place called The Wooden Monkey for dinner, which specialized in organic, macrobiotic and locally grown ingredients.  They also had a nice variety of craft beer, and my first choice—a Thai Wheat from Pump House Brewery in Moncton, New Brunswick—quickly sealed my local focus for the trip.  The beer was light and estery and had some slight spiciness from the Thai herbs and spices added—it definitely started the trip off right.  From then on, I would focus on Pump House whenever it came to buying beer. 

I was able to get a pretty good handle on Pump House thanks to their prevalence in local province stores, with six-packs of their Blueberry Ale, Cadian Cream Ale, Fire Chief Red Ale, Scotch Ale and Special Old Bitter.  After the Thai Wheat, their Fire Chief Red, though not a particularly exciting style, was the best offering I had of theirs.  My only regret was not being able to try more of their specialty beers rather than the regulars in the beer stores.

For the remainder of our time in Halifax, I was able to check out another solid local brewery, Propeller, which is actually in Halifax proper.  We stopped at a local bar on a busy street downtown, where I was able to try the IPA and the E.S.B.—which were both good—but neither stood up to the London Style Porter, a dark, roasty beer with a strong malt backbone that was comforting in the cooling nighttime.  While I would focus on Pump House for the remainder of our trip, this was easily one of the best single beers I had.

The other notable local beers I was able to try came when we took a trip to Prince Edward Island for a few days to tour around.  Thanks to a tourism packet we’d received before the trip, I found out there was one place producing beer on the island: Gahan House Brewery.  It was obvious to me that not only had to go here, but I had to get a flight so I could say I’d tried every single beer produced in the province of P.E.I.

The flight included seven beers, ranging in style and quality.  One the low end was the 1772 IPA, Coles Cream Ale, Harvest Gold Pale Ale and Sir John A’s Honey Wheat Ale, though it should be mentioned that, at this point, I would probably have a completely different opinion of the 1772 IPA, as I’ve since turned from hop hater to hop head.  Going up the ladder was the Iron Horse Brown Ale, which was slightly behind the Island Red Amber Ale.  I don’t know what it is about Eastern Canada, but they’ve somehow taken a relatively bland style in the amber ale and made it quite good.  The Island Red is also what the pub used to cook its mussels, which were delicious.  But the best beer, and the one I ordered a full-sized glass of once I had finished the flight, was the Sydney Street Stout, a dark and malty explosion of roasted nuts and slight chocolate.

I should probably mention the dining—the fresh seafood especially—but that is for a whole nother post.  Suffice it to say that I could live off the fish and chips, donair sauce, poutine and Newfie fries (if you don’t know any of those, look them up immediately) for my entire time there.  And even though the beer scene pales in comparison to Philadelphia, I’m still looking forward to heading up to Halifax eventually.  Who knows; maybe I’ll be able to have some kind of impact on the beer scene myself.

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