Nfld. & Labrador

Craft beer renaissance: Newfoundland and Labrador hops on the bandwagon

With start-up nanobreweries, brewpubs opening and even the first craft beer festival in St. John's, it seems like Newfoundland and Labrador is on board with the larger craft beer trend.

Funky labels, microbreweries, craft beer festivals....this is not your father's beer culture

The craft beer industry has been growing across Canada for years, and recent news suggests Newfoundland and Labrador seems to jumping on that trend. (CBC)

With start-up nanobreweries, brewpubs opening and even the first craft beer festival in St. John's, it seems like Newfoundland and Labrador is on board with the larger craft beer trend.

In a region that for so long was dominated by a few brands made by corporate giants like Labatt and Molson, the last year or so appears to have signaled a shift in the attitudes of beer drinkers – and beer entrepreneurs – ​in Canada's most eastern province.

In Port Rexton, couple Alicia MacDonald and Sonja Mills have been working away to get their microbrewery, Port Rexton Brewing, open to the public sometime in 2016.

Sonja Mills (left) and Alicia MacDonald are the co-owners of the Port Rexton Brewing Company, which they hope will be open this year. (Submitted by Sonja Mills)

Meanwhile in Pasadena, a trio of entrepreneurs are hoping to get their brews in the glasses of local customers by this summer – and become the first microbrewery outside the Avalon Peninsula – when they launch the Western Newfoundland Brewing Company.

To top it all off, St. John's has just seen two new beer-focused pubs open next to each other on the waterfront; the new Bier Markt and Toronto craft-beer favourite Mill Street Brewpub.

And of course there are the local companies like Quidi Vidi Brewery, YellowBelly and Storm, which in a way were ahead of the curve by offering their own unique brews to the province for years.

Beer festivals

Just as new beer bars and microbreweries are turning on their taps for the first time, burgeoning festivals and events are also coming with this new beer trend.

The province's liquor corporation has plans for a Beer Expo in May 2017, and St. John's is about to host Newfoundland and Labrador's first ever craft beer festival.

St. John's first craft beer festival is happening from June 17 to 18. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

St. John's Brewfest takes place this weekend, and will feature dozens of different beers from a variety of smaller regional operations from four different countries. More than 40 of them will be available in the province for the very first time. 

This craft beer boom is relatively new to Newfoundland and Labrador, but across Canada the movement has been building up steam for a few years. The federal agriculture industry has even recorded a spike in consumption of local and regional brews recently.

All across the country, new brew festivals and startup breweries have been bubbling up, offering a whole world of funky brand names and colourful unconventional labels — that all leave the impression this is no longer your father's beer culture from decades past.

What is craft beer?

Tom Beckett with the N.L. Artisanal & Craft Beer Club spoke to CBC this week ahead of the St. John's Brewfest, and explained what makes something a craft beer.

"The best way to explain craft beer is that it is relatively small batches, made with high quality product or with a very traditional approach," he said.

"It's differentiated from what they call industrial beer, which is a recipe that had been geared towards less expensive ingredients but is still trying to maintain the same taste and profiles."

Some of the craft beers that will be features at the first ever St. John's Brewfest this weekend. (CBC)

Steve Abrams, co-founder of Mill Street Brewery, was in St. John's for the company's Brewpub opening this week.

He told CBC that the craft beer trend has been going on in the rest of Canada for a number of years now — and that his company knew it was working its way east to Newfoundland and Labrador.

"When I started the brewery in 2002 there wasn't much of a movement going on, at least in eastern Canada. Now everybody seems to be quitting their day jobs and starting a brewery," he joked.

"It's an artisanal movement, it's not just beer. It's food, it's cheese, it's coffee. People want to know who is behind what you're drinking or consuming."

About the Author

Geoff Bartlett


Geoff Bartlett is an educator and journalist in Corner Brook.

With files from Julie Skinner and Carolyn Stokes