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Oakes Weekly - September 11, 2003
Beerhunting in the Maritimes, Part Two
September 11, 2003
Written by Oakes
Before I get into part two, I have now posted some pictures with my article last week.
By the time we got to John Shippey’s, I was beginning to get a second wind (I’d started the crawl after driving from Toronto with three hours of roadside sleep). The brewpub is located on the water, in an upscale food court (for lack of a better term - and you’d think I could find a better term than an oxymoron) by the Historic Properties. There is a tiny bar, behind which is some brewing equipment. The tanks are stored above the brewpub, not unlike the old Times Square Brewery for those who recall that operation.
There is ample seating, both inside and outside, so we headed outside. The first five beers left a fair bit to be desired - like fundamental execution - but the Left Coast Stout was bang on. Nova Scotia is such a natural stout-drinking setting, so I’m really glad to see a few more on the market these days, especially ones this good.
The final stop was the pub Maxwell’s Plum, which is as close to a beer bar as you’ll find in the Maritimes, with pretty much all available beers either on draught or bottle (so 60 and 100 respectively). I dug the peanut shells all over the floor (hey, I dig anything that reminds me of Diamond Knot), but otherwise it looks like a well-worn if slightly confused cross between a traditional pub and a sports bar. I was pretty fired up to see that they had Black Horse, one of the illustrious five Newfoundland beers. These are all macros, but they aren’t normally found off the Rock. That there are five of these regional products still going strong over there (the others are Blue Star, Jockey Club, Dominion Ale and India Ale) speaks to a lot of local pride and represents one of the best areas for old regional brewing traditions in North America (the Canadian equivalent of small town Pennsylvania with their Straub’s, Stoney’s, Yeungling, etc). It’s been a while since I was that excited about a macrobrew.
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Maxwell’s Plum, Halifax, Nova Scotia
The next day started with a trip to tourist favourites Peggy’s Cove and Lunenberg. Peggy’s Cove (pop. 60) is a typically beautiful Nova Scotia fishing village, but with giant, ancient rocks upon which the Atlantic famously churns and splashes. The weather was calm, without a cloud in the sky, so the surf was limited (just as well, since some Darwin-award wanna-be tourist dies there every year on account of the massive waves during storms). I love the drive down there, too - fishing villages, coves and plenty of technical driving....I just wish I’d had a real car to work with. There was more of the same going to Lunenberg. This is a UNESCO World Heritage town, though it underwhelmed me. I thought the old houses were nice and all, but was more impressed with the green hills across the harbour, which reminded me of my trip to the Isle of Man. A local pub, The Knot, provided lunch and a well-kept pint of Propeller ESB.
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Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia
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Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia
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The Knot, Lunenberg, Nova Scotia
Back in Halifax, after stomping around my old neighbourhoods I headed back to Maxwell’s for some lousy new macros...they let you sample six beers so I got these crappers out of the way and got back into some more Garrison & Propeller fare. The next day’s sightseeing took me past Rogue’s Roost (actually, with its Spring Garden location just about any Halifax wander takes you past Rogue’s Roost). I’d been walking for a while, and it was bloody hot outside, so I gave the Cream Ale and Razz a try. And so it was that my last night in Halifax begun.
From Rogue’s it was back to Shippey’s for more stout. The pub ramble of the night was more focused on Halifax traditional establishments than good beer, but most places in town now carry a Garrison or Propeller handle. The Economy Shoe Shop is much bigger than it was six years ago, and to me has lost all atmosphere. And for the first time in my life, I found a place in Halifax that had Toronto-style attitude. Not to mention the Propeller ESB was poorly kept (dirty draught line - yum!). Screw that, I was gone. Down to the Split Crow for some Garrison Brown and some mussels. Mussels and beer is a good Maritime tradition but they do it very basically - just steamed with water and served with a heavy garlic butter. Given the choice, I’ll pay the extra couple bucks for Smokeless Joe style mussels.
The next stop was the Lower Deck, where Guinness is the best offering. Yikes. It’s been a while since I was in that situation. But when in Rome...
The last day involved a several things, but beerwise was highlighted by visits to two other Maritime brewpubs. The Gahan House on Prince Edward Island is the next generation of the brewery that started life inside a branch of the Lone Star restaurant chain. The 1864 house is brilliant (the previous owner used it as a rooming house of all things) - all brick and wood. In that kind of atmosphere, history dripping from every crevice, any beer is bound to taste better, but they were mostly hit-and-miss. The unfiltered versions of a couple of these weren’t on. The Sydney Street Stout would be better described as a roasty dark mild. If you’re looking for serious stout I think you’ll be disappointed, but the beer itself is actually quite good. It’s just not a stout.
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Gahan House, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
In Moncton, New Brunswick, the Pump House is apparently quite the popular spot in town. A lousy environment for tasting beers, but I was just blowing through town, so I didn’t really have much choice but to suck it up. Thankfully I’ve got enough practice as tasting under tough conditions that my ratings are no longer compromised. I like the beers at Pump House. The Blueberry Ale is popular, and contains a shot of actual blueberries in juice - a neat visual effect and a nice snack at the bottom of your beer. The execution is some of the most consistent in the Maritimes, with styles from hefeweizen to English Pale, Bitter, Scotch Ale and Stout all hitting the mark. The Cadian Cream Ale is much better on tap at the brewery than in the bottles, too. I’d prefer to be there on a quiet day, but all in all Pump House probably stood out at the most impressive new brewery on the trip, giving even veteran Rogue’s Roost a run for its money.
The Maritimes are a place with a lot to offer visitors, as the thousands of tourists flocking there each summer can attest. For the avid beer hunter and tourist alike, a car makes life a lot easier. It’s not the beer desert that it was for the majority of my tenure down East, and I had a blast combining beer with so many other things on my vacation.
Beer of the trip: John Shippey’s Left Coast Stout narrowly edges out the Pale Ale from Rogue’s Roost.
Bar of the trip: Gahan House - what a place to blow off an afternoon!
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It's been a while since I was that excited about a macrobrew.
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