The State of the Nation: New Brunswick

By Rob Symes

When it opened in 2016, Foghorn Brewing Company was the first brewery and taproom in Rothesay, a suburb of Saint John. Launched by Steve Russell and former Picaroons brewmaster Andrew “Esty” Estabrooks, they were quickly joined the following year by two more breweries opening in their backyard. New Brunswick flies under the radar for many Canadian beer drinkers, but the province is a strong supporter of local business, and this is helping the craft beer scene reach a tipping point.

“It’s exciting to be part of this great industry and to help grow it”, says Steve Russell.  “We expect to see continued growth in the sector,  both in terms of new entrants and expanding businesses. Where the ceiling is, we don’t know. We’re confident we’ll eventually catch up to the rest of North America; but we have a long way to go before we close in on the twenty-something percent market share of the American craft beer sector!”

Confidence is certainly not in short supply, given the crazy growth the local market has experienced. Foghorn has been running at capacity for the past three years, with production struggling to meet a seemingly insatiable demand from locals. On the back of three Canadian Brewing Awards in the last two years and strong support from the local community, they are embarking on an expansion, and are far from the only brewery in the Maritimes doing so.

Foghorn recently purchased a building in the neighbouring town of Quispamsis and are currently in the midst of outfitting it with a new brewhouse and canning line, which will operate alongside the existing brewery and taproom in Rothesay. Once completed, the brewery will finally be able to meet demand for their core lineup, and distribute province wide, with potential for further afield. In addition, the brewery will also be able to make more niche styles, collaborations, and seasonals.

This manner of expansion is a familiar tale to those in more populous provinces, who may have seen the wave a few years ago. The resulting increased availability and experimentation was a sea change, revolutionizing provincial beer scenes and pulling craft brewing out of localized markets with a relatively unchanging core lineups.

While this form of growth has been a national story, Foghorn has injected a little East Coast character. Sports franchises can have outstanding results, but players can be as dull as dishwater. Conversely, teams might suck, but you love them for the lovable rogues and characters that comprise the outfit. Foghorn’s brewer, Esty, has become a larger than life character in the local scene over the past 15 years, finding a balance  between Jim Belushi toga party fun, and steely dedication to the craft.

“He’s a character”, says Russell. “A large man with an even larger and gregarious personality. He’s serious about making beer the right way every time – he really cares and works hard at it – but he also makes Foghorn a fun place to work everyday, whether it’s speaking in accents, doing his Chris Farley impression, or making up ridiculous words to popular songs.”

Growth can be hard on people – it demands time and more sweat equity than ever planned. But in the Maritimes, they’re putting their own twist on things and not forgetting that you can have a little fun at the same time. The pursuit of quality craft beer can become serious for those in the industry as well as those who support it, but there’s an important lesson here, that we should never forget the enjoyment and fun that something well-crafted can be when shared in the company of those you love.

Foghorn medalled at the Canadian Brewing Awards for Golden Grover, their English Style Pale Ale, and you can find out more about them and their beer here.