Nova Scotia’s craft brewing industry has good prospects

For years, craft brewers in Nova Scotia have heard that the market is saturated with too many breweries. Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic and it would have been the death knell.

“We have a word for it in the industry,” said Brian Titus, president of Halifax-based Garrison Brewing and president of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia.

“It’s called: they’re wrong. Rumors of saturation and disappearance of local craft brewing are greatly exaggerated.”

Two years into a pandemic, only three breweries have closed in recent years, Titus said. These closures were offset by the opening of three breweries, which Titus called “really remarkable”.

There are about 70 microbreweries in the province, which employ about 1,150 people, according to association statistics.

Brian Titus is the owner of Garrison Brewing in Halifax. He says it’s “really remarkable” that the total number of breweries in the province hasn’t changed during the pandemic. (Blair Sanderson/CBC)

Sales of Nova Scotia craft beer through the NSLC rose 11.3% to $6.7 million, according to its latest quarterly financial results.

“I think an industry like this that can withstand a pandemic for more than two years is a pretty good sign of a strong industry,” Titus said.

The pandemic has redefined what breweries do

He said the pandemic has forced breweries to rethink the way they do business and make big changes. For some, this included creating online stores, home delivery and diversifying product lines to include options beyond beer.

But Titus said others have taken big steps to expand their businesses.

Halifax’s Good Robot Brewing recently announced that it is moving its brewing operations from its Robie Street home to a location in Elmsdale that will allow for increased production.

Part of the goal is to get their beer to other provinces. The new facility will also offer contract brewing activities, i.e. making beer for other breweries.

“We’re always looking to secure the future in one way or another,” said Lindsey Davidson, Good Robot’s chief marketing officer.

Lindsey Davidson is the Marketing Manager of Good Robot Brewing. She says if the company had always wanted to offer home delivery, the pandemic pushed it to do so. (Submitted by Lindsey Davidson)

The Elmsdale site will also house a beer garden and retail space. The company’s Robie Street location will still be used to brew beer, and the retail and taproom spaces will remain.

It’s been quite a change of fortune since the pandemic hit and the company had to lay off most of its staff.

Good Robot will continue to use its Halifax site, but the majority of beer production will now be done from a facility in Elmsdale. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Good Robot now has about 60 employees, which is higher than its pre-pandemic numbers.

Davidson was a longtime customer before she started working for the company recently.

“They’ve made really impressive progress and been able to get things done, keep people employed, they’re growing at a crazy rate,” she said. “We hire new people all the time.”

Tusket Falls Brewing shares some elements. When the pandemic hit, they had to lay off a lot of staff and switch to online orders and deliveries, owner Melanie Sweeney said.

Melanie Sweeney is the owner of Tusket Falls Brewing. With their location in southwestern Nova Scotia and the geographic challenges that presents, she says opening a bar in Halifax has always been part of a plan for growth. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Each lockdown was harder than the last, she said.

Sweeney said the company particularly felt the pinch when officials told residents to stay close to home.

“We really felt that people weren’t coming to pick up retail goods even in nearby communities 15 minutes away like they were before,” she said.

Tusket Falls went ahead with the opening of a bar last September on Gottingen Street in Halifax, far from their home base of southwestern Nova Scotia.

A waiter pours a beer at the Tusket Falls Brewing location in Halifax. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

“We found a great space and we just sort of [hunkered] and I decided to go straight and keep going and work hard and hope for the best and do our best and try to make it work,” Sweeney said.

She said the company has always taken big swings with its operation – and this is no different. When they opened in December 2017, they constructed a building and purchased brewing equipment that far exceeded their immediate production needs.

After two years of pandemic restrictions, people in the craft beer industry are optimistic that better times are ahead.

“We look forward to what everyone is talking about, [this] being the best summer for our industry in several years,” Sweeney said.

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