The State of the Nation: Nova Scotia

By Rob Symes

Welcome to a new series from Taps in which we’ll travel from coast-to-coast taking the pulse of our great nation, as well as checking in on exciting regional developments. For our first destination, we’re taking a look at Nova Scotia with the help of Danny O’Hearn from Nine Locks Brewing.

Nova Scotians have a well-earned reputation for throwing a good party, but until recently craft beer has rarely been a consideration. Ten years ago, the province boasted great breweries like Propeller and Garrison, but the scene outside of Halifax was fragmented, and the city itself lagged behind many Canadian counterparts as a beer destination.

Fast forward to 2019 and things have changed drastically across the whole province. Breweries are popping up everywhere, with the number jumping from only 10 in 2013 to 60 at the close of 2018. The increase in producers has been mirrored by an interest in experimentation, with sours, hop-forward IPAs and champagne-style beers more commonplace than they were before.

“It’s hip to be crafty”, says Danny O’Hearn when asked why his province has seen such accelerated growth and buzz in the past few years. “We’re always a bit behind everybody else, so those trends that may have come and gone in other places in Canada are just hitting the market here in Nova Scotia.” That’s generated a lot of excitement in a province where choice in styles and producers has been limited. The analogy of coming across an oasis after years in the desert may be a stretch, but Nova Scotians may feel like they’ve suddenly hit a bonanza.

Brewers are now looking to capitalize on the trend towards locally produced, quality products, and a market that includes a lot of people beginning their exploration of craft beer. “People don’t want hoppy, over-bearing, big beers, at least not to start out”, says O’Hearn. “We have a lot of beers that people can start drinking that are still not over the top, but are good, high quality entry level beers.” That’s one of the beautiful things about Nova Scotia right now – the beers are accessible for everyone, and if you did want to amp it up or move into left field, options are available. Nine Locks themselves are an example, where they won Canadian Brewing Awards for their Dirty Blonde (the archetypal accessible brew), as well as their Barrel Aged Barley Wine.

Craft beer holds an 8% market share in the province, so there’s plenty of room for growth (we’re always comparing ourselves to our neighbours, so keep in mind that the US average is 13.2%).

“We’re underdeveloped in Nova Scotia for the percentage of the overall market share”, agrees O’Hearn. “We have the most craft breweries per capita in Canada, so there’s lots to choose from – some great beer and people need to get out here and try it!”