Nova Scotia's craft brewing industry has frothy outlook
Breweries optimistic about future after COVID-19 forced them to radically change their operations
For years, Nova Scotia's craft brewers have heard the market is saturated with too many breweries. Add in the COVID-19 pandemic and it supposedly spelled doom.
"We have a word for that in the industry," said Brian Titus, the president of Halifax-based Garrison Brewing and the president of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia.
"It's called: they're wrong. The rumours of saturation and the demise of local craft brewing are much exaggerated."
Two years into a pandemic, only three breweries have shut down in recent years, said Titus. Those shutdowns have been offset by three breweries that opened, something Titus called "really remarkable."
There are around 70 microbreweries in the province, which employ about 1,150 people, according to association statistics.
Sales of Nova Scotia craft beer through the NSLC were up 11.3 per cent to $6.7 million, according to its latest quarterly financial results.
"I think an industry like this that can weather a two-year-plus pandemic is a pretty good sign of a strong industry," said Titus.
Pandemic redefined what breweries do
He said the pandemic forced breweries to look at how they do business and make big changes. For some, this included setting up online shops, offering home delivery and diversifying product lines to include non-beer options.
But Titus said some others have made big moves to grow their businesses.
Halifax's Good Robot Brewing recently announced it's moving brewing operations from its Robie Street home to a location in Elmsdale that will allow for increased production.
In part, the aim is to get their beer into other provinces. The new facility will also offer contract brewing — making beer for other breweries.
"We're always looking to future-proof in some way," said Lindsey Davidson, Good Robot's marketing manager.
The Elmsdale site will also be home to a beer garden and retail space. The company's Robie Street location will still be used for brewing some beer, and the retail and taproom spaces will remain.
It's quite the change in fortune from when the pandemic hit and the company had to lay off most of its staff.
Good Robot has around 60 employees today, which is higher than its pre-pandemic numbers.
Davidson was a longtime customer before she started working for the company recently.
"They've made some really impressive leaps and have managed to keep things rolling, keep people employed, they're growing at a crazy rate," she said. "We're hiring new folks all the time."
Tusket Falls Brewing shares some elements of that. When the pandemic hit, they had to lay off a lot of staff and shifted to online orders and deliveries, said owner Melanie Sweeney.
Each lockdown was tougher than the last one, she said.
Sweeney said the business especially felt the pinch when officials were telling residents to stay close to home.
"We definitely felt that people weren't coming to pick up retail, even from 15-minute neighbouring communities like they were previously," she said.
Tusket Falls went ahead with opening a taproom last September on Gottingen Street in Halifax, far from their home base of southwestern Nova Scotia.
"We found a great space and we just kind of [hunkered] down and decided to just go straight, just keep on going and work hard and hope for the best and do the best that we can and try to make it work," said Sweeney.
She said the company has always taken big swings with its operation — and this is no different. When they opened in December 2017, they built a building and bought brewing equipment that far exceeded their immediate production needs.
After two years of pandemic restrictions, people in the craft beer industry are optimistic brighter times are ahead.
"We are looking forward to what everybody is talking about, [this] being the best summer for our industry in quite a few years," said Sweeney.