Why this Elmsdale microbrewery has drawn the ire of a craft brewers group

Tucked inside the Sobeys in Elmsdale, N.S., there's a business that looks a lot like a microbrewery to the casual eye. But in the eyes of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia, it's not a microbrewery.

Chill Street Fresh Beer and Cider Market opened in June and makes beer and cider in Elmsdale, N.S.

Barry MacLeod is the president of Chill Street Fresh Beer and Cider Market in Elmsdale, N.S. (Richard Woodbury/CBC)

Tucked inside the Sobeys in Elmsdale, N.S., there's a business that looks a lot like a microbrewery to the casual eye. There are stainless steel fermentation tanks, beer taps, canned suds and growlers, but in the eyes of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia, it's not a microbrewery.

Chill Street Fresh Beer and Cider Market opened in mid-June and it meets Nova Scotia's definition of a microbrewery.

Under the Liquor Control Act, a microbrewery is an operation that produces under 1.5 million litres of beer a year. The legislation doesn't consider how the beer is made; the definition is focused solely on volume.

At Chill Street, the beer isn't made from scratch on site, which is the objection the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia has with the business.

'There is no brewing if you're not boiling something'

"In my opinion, and I think that many in the industry would share my opinion, there is no brewing if you're not boiling something," said Emily Tipton, the president of the association.

"There's no brewing without a kettle and there's no craft brewing without a full-mash brewery."

The association recently posted a letter on its website outlining its concerns.

Chill Street Fresh Beer and Cider Market sells its products in cans and growlers, which can only be purchased on site at the brewery. (Richard Woodbury/CBC)

Traditionally, beer is made by taking malted grains, hops and water, and boiling them, which creates something known as wort. Yeast is then added to ferment the mixture.

Essentially, Chill Street purchases wort and begins the process from there and, depending on the beer being made, ingredients such as fruit and hops are added.

Purchased wort

"We do every part of the process, we just do one part of the process remotely. It's still done with no additives … it's still done in small-batch sizes," said Barry MacLeod, Chill Street's president.

MacLeod said while he's read comments on social media about how the company makes its beer, nobody has raised any concerns to him personally.

The company uses an automated system called SmartBrew, which looks kind of like a stainless steel fridge from the outside. SmartBrew was developed by a Charlottetown-based company, Natural Brew Inc.

MacLeod said the decision to use this system was made in part because of space limitations. The operation uses only 1,500 square feet of space.

Chill Street buys the concentrated wort from Natural Brew Inc., but the wort is actually made in New Zealand and Germany.

Economic impact

This is another reason the craft brewers association objects to Chill Street being labelled a microbrewery.

"We don't believe they have the same economic impact as an actual craft brewery," said Tipton.

MacLeod disagrees. Besides employing eight people full-time and two people part-time, he said Chill Street gets its bottles, merchandise and grunters and growlers locally, while the cans come from central Ontario.

As well, the company buys other things locally, such as strawberries, blueberries and honey that are used for some of its beers and ciders.

Chill Street Fresh Beer and Cider Market employs 10 full and part-time employees, including vice-president of operations Monique Gallant. (Richard Woodbury/CBC)

Chill Street's products are only available at its own store. It doesn't sell to bars and restaurants, its products aren't available at the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation and it doesn't plan on changing that.

Besides selling its products in its store, Chill Street holds food tastings and places an emphasis on education. Its cans have information about food pairings and the company's website has dozens of recipes with specific recommendations for what its beer and ciders should be paired with.

"We're very experiential," said MacLeod. "That's sort of our thing."

Tipton would like the province to change the definitions under the Liquor Control Act so that an establishment like Chill Street would be licensed differently than a microbrewery, but that doesn't appear likely to happen.

Province not changing Liquor Control Act

"There are no planned changes to the definition of a microbrewery, as outlined in the Liquor Control Act Regulations, at this time," said Finance Department spokesperson Michelle Stevens in an email.

For MacLeod, it's full steam ahead.

"To me, at the end of the day it's what our customers like. If our customers are buying our product, they're happy with our product, I mean, that's it," he said.