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  • 'Make great beer and do some good': Nova Scotia craft brewers raise the bar

'Make great beer and do some good': Nova Scotia craft brewers raise the bar

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

In Nova Scotia, we like to say you’re never more than a half-hour drive from the ocean. Today, we can update that proximity bragging right with a new point of pride; one of particular interest to beer drinkers: In Nova Scotia, you are never more than a half-hour drive to a craft brewery.  

To say that Nova Scotia’s craft brewery industry has taken off is an understatement. In the past two years alone, there has been a 49.3% increase in sales with $15 million added to the province’s GDP. With the region’s largest craft beer and cider celebration on the horizon, the Halifax Seaport Cider & Beerfest, we sat down and chatted with the festival co-founders, Brian Titus and Bruce Mansour.   

Titus, the President and General Manager of Garrison Brewing Co., is a true pioneer of the craft brew industry in Halifax. Launching Garrison in 1997, he has been on the front lines of growing the industry, from the education of the consumer to the recognition of the quality of the brews. Mansour, who has since located to Ireland and co-founded the Irish Craft Beer Festival, makes it home every summer for Beerfest. Travelling the world, Mansour builds relationships, creating opportunities for the festival and Nova Scotia brewers.        

Both Titus and Mansour took time from their incredibly busy schedules to share insights about the craft brew industry – from the one piece of advice every craft brewer should take, to selling outside the province, to filling an epic shipping container headed to Maine with Nova Scotia craft beer.   

Bruce Mansour & Brian Titus, co-founders of the Halifax Seaport Cider & Beerfest welcome the Maine Beer Box and Sean Sullivan, executive director for the Maine Brewers' Guild. 

NSBI: You have both been on the scene for a long time. What's the health of the craft beer industry in Nova Scotia today? Titus: Really good, quite strong, vibrant, maybe prolific. We're in the mid-50s now in the craft brewing operations, up from three when we started Garrison 22 years ago. And there have been surprisingly very few bumps along that road.  

Everyone is busy. They're making interesting beers. Awards are being won. There's quite a bit of attention being drawn to the area. We were able to attract the Canadian Brewing Awards & Conference last year, largely because people were saying there are some interesting things happening out on the East Coast. Between us and New Brunswick, we've got the highest per capita number of craft breweries in Canada.  

We've got quite a few breweries starting to export, primarily out of the province into Atlantic Canada, but there's some exporting outside of the region. These are all graduation points and it's a sign of the health of the industry and of the players.  

These are good times in the industry. There's a lot of good being done throughout the province. You've got just about as much chance of success in downtown Halifax as you do in Cape Breton and down the South Shore. It's not dependent on the resources, like wineries that typically cluster around a region. With craft breweries, you're able to pretty much set up shop anywhere.  

NSBI: What do you attribute the success of the industry to? Titus: It has to do with the environment. That’s where the NSLC has been really good in that they go out of their way to create market and distribution and opportunity for Nova Scotia breweriesAbout 25% of the shelf space for beer is dedicated to Nova Scotia craft beerThere's a bit of an incubation here – the ability for people to become viable and move forwardYou have to provide an opportunity for these breweries to get off the ground and become viable, otherwise, it's the death of the industry. 

NSBI: There is a lot of excitement around the newest addition to the festival, the Maine Beer Box. How do Nova Scotia breweries leverage this opportunity? Titus: The Maine Beer Box is reciprocal, which is really exciting. Sean Sullivan, executive director for the Maine Brewers' Guild, asked us“Why would you want us coming to your market and bringing the Box? Why would you willingly allow us through the door? 

NSBI: Fair question. Titus: Surebut it's reciprocal. We know we're going to fill that box with Nova Scotia beer and send it back to Maine. We also shouldn't be afraid of competition. If our beer can't stand up if it's not in a protective bubble, then we've got bigger troubles, right? Then there are other things a little more esoteric, like camaraderie cross-border with other people who are facing similar struggles and doing interesting things that we can admire or want to learn from. 

Sean Sullivan, executive director for the Maine Brewers' Guild, shows off the 78 taps inside the Maine Beer Box.


NSBI: And what about the other opportunities at the Festival? Mansour: When we came together to put the festival on, it was because we love the craft beer scene and wanted to see more craft beer sold. The reason the brewers come is that we have their best interests at heart. We want to see them sell more beer. We celebrate the craft beer scene locally for those two days. And then for the other 363 days a year, hopefully, there's a lovely knock-on effect. People are exposed to the craft beer, something they may not have had before, and the brewers see this ripple effect throughout the year. We're going to do other things like the Maine Beer Box to make the ripple last longer. The reason the Festival continues to grow is that the brewers have seen results. 

Titus: There's been a number of collaborations as a result of the Festival. At Garrison, we've done a bunch. Emily Tipton from Boxing Rock did a collaboration with the folks from Rising Tide. One of the owners, Heather Sanborn, is a state senatorpast President of the Maine Brewers' Guild and she makes wicked-awesome beer in downtown Portland. The two brewing entrepreneurs ended up connecting and doing a collaboration. We need this openness between the two markets. They're our neighbors. 


NSBI: With craft brewing, how do you leverage such a strong local presence into exporting? How do you start building a brand that goes outside the province?  Titus: A few years ago we did a trade mission, and it was fantastic. We got a great response for our products and for selling along the Eastern Seaboard. We met with lawyers, retailers, distributors, and it was all great. The industry is starting to mature to the point where people are starting to look for customers elsewhere, so how can we export? Maybe there's marketing involved, maybe there's a bit of good luck. It can start with a one-time order, or from talking to people in Maine about a collaboration. 

Mansour: It’s a stepping-stone approach - the more people you meet, the more chances and opportunities come your way.  

Titus: Right from the very beginning, when we approached the NSLC about this festival, we said we want to run this festival to celebrate beer. We want to build excitement in the category. We want people to get educated and excitedWe want them to go back to the stores and say, "I had my first sour beer, and it changed my life. Why are there no sour beers here?" And that feedback goes higher up 

Mansour: Part of our mandate was half the products would be from the NSLC and the other half would come from away, so at least 50% of what's at the festival you've never had a chance to try before. That’s what led us into creating things like the Irish Pavilion, which is how we got to Maine. I was in Iceland a couple of years ago when the Box was there the first time, with some Nova Scotia guys doing a fundraiser, and met the guys there. We poured some beers and got to know them. 

Titus: The craft brew craze; we've certainly been stoking the fire. There's no doubt about it. And there's a whole lot of people that have come out and realized that, well, geez, if you can do it…Hell Bay, when they first opened threw a couple of kegerators in the back of a pickup truck, drove up from Liverpool and, “Hello, world.  


Sean Sullivan, executive director for the Maine Brewers' Guild, gives a tour of the Maine Beer Box.


NSBI: I just started a brewery, I've been around for a year, and I come to you and I say, "Look, this market is too small. How do I export?" Titus: Get as much information as you possibly can about where you want to go. What are the lawsAt Garrison, wworked with a lawyer to make sure we had all the forms and understood all the processes. What about labelling? Does that mean we need two sets, or can we create one that magically covers off all the bases, right? There's that kind of thing. Can I market direct? Is there a monopolya state board? Or do I just need to work with a distributor and then I'm in. 

NSBI: Is the US Eastern Seaboard the target market? Titus: There's such a population base right there. The nice thing about the US is once you get across the border, you have states all around you. You're in one state, and you might get immediate access to another four or five. And then another tier beyond that. And so this is what you see with a lot of these breweries that get bigger and bigger and bigger. They're getting bigger through distribution. They're not getting bigger because in their home market people are buying twice of their beer. They sort of max out their market, and then they have multiple high-density-population markets right around them. So, boom – all of a sudden, okay, this year, we're going to take on Ohio and Minnesota.  

Mansour: Exactly. So the Maine Beer Box is a stepping stone. The reason they're coming here is they're not going to get the listings from NSLC 

Titus: So, again, it's not impossible for Maine breweries to get into this market. It's just complicatedAnd it's the same going the other way. The prize is bigger for Nova Scotia breweries, because once you're in that market – once you are legally in the US market – it's really easy to go state to state.  

NSBI: Where's Garrison now? Titus: We are in seven provinces steadily, Ontario being an eighth province that is tougher because it's so heavily controlled. But every time you get an order, it's eight pallets of beer - not a bad thing. The opportunities are there. There's nothing stopping anybody from doing it. It's just building capacity. So if you've got visions on that, you should make sure that you're prepared.  

NSBI: What's the one piece of advice you think every craft brewer should take? One piece. Ten words or less. Titus: Make good beer and do some good. Don't ever forget the quality of the product, because there are lots of people making good beer. Have pride. And then do some good. Find a way to make it beyond just running a business  

The Nova Scotia craft brew industry is growing. Ready to be the industries next export success story? Whether you're a new, seasoned, or simply curious exporter, we're ready to help. Reach out to a member of our team and learn more about our programs and services. #ThinkExport