This weekend, it's beer-tasting time at the pier - The 10th Halifax Seaport BeerFest features more than 300 brands of beer and cider at three tasting sessions Friday and Saturday at the Cunard Centre.
August 2, 2016 BY BILL SPURR
Thousands of beer drinkers, hundreds of beers, dozens of porta-potties.
Those are the main ingredients for the 10th Halifax Seaport BeerFest, Friday and Saturday at Cunard Centre, run by founder and Garrison Brewing president Brian Titus, who chairs a debrief session every year to find ways to improve the festival.
“There are always tweaks … and we’re trying to improve on the offering, in general,” said Titus, surrounded by a rainbow of cardboard as pallets of beer arrived for the beerfest.
“Last year, we were at 298 beers, heavily craft- and import-focused. Our goal is make this, if not 100 per cent craft, then 99 per cent. This year we have 326 brands, which is mind-blowing. That is a huge number of beers and ciders. Nobody goes away thirsty or disappointed.”
On offer will be craft beers from across Canada and the U.S., plus 10 other countries, but Titus thinks the pavilion that will generate the most attention will be the one serving 48 different beers from British Columbia.
“For the first time, we have a proper West pavilion. There’s so many great beers being made out in B.C.: Parallel 49, Phillips, Bomber’s out of Vancouver, Spinnakers, which essentially founded craft beer in Canada. We have three brands from them,” said Titus, also pointing out two full pallets of specialty beers from Ireland, twice as many varieties as last year.
“Half the breweries that are in it have never shipped outside of Ireland ever, let alone been at this festival. My partner Bruce Mansour now lives in Ireland, and he knows all these guys on a first-name basis.”
Titus puts on the festival in partnership with the NSLC, “so they don’t have to,” and said it’s not intended to be his dream festival of micro beers, but an event that will create interest in craft beer and educate people.
“Something that takes in the fun aspect of it, but also acknowledges that there’s so much artistry and craft and experimentation,” he said.
“Then you draw in the local component, there are some really small breweries making some really interesting beers. We wanted to focus on that, as opposed to bringing every beer that exists to the table. I’m really lucky that the NSLC is on board and gets what we’re trying to do.”
About 25 per cent of the product at the festival, so 80 brands or so, is Maritime-brewed.
Sales in the craft beer and cider segment have increased by 25 per cent annually over the past few years, and Titus is hearing that soon-to-be-released numbers for the most recent quarter are even better. Still, there is one concern.
“This is the year that I think we’ll get to see what saturation looks like,” he said. “We’ve averaged five breweries opening a year over the past three years. That’s a big number to absorb in a less than a million people market. This year we’ll have 14 breweries opening.”
Garrison recently opened a new $3-million plant, and the company is the busiest it’s been in 19 years of existence. Despite the ever increasing competition, Titus is comfortable with the relatively lax way the industry is regulated.
“When we send our beer to the NSLC, it doesn’t get quarantined and lab-inspected and checked out,” he said. “One of the good things is we’re talking about alcohol, so it’s not like dairy or meats, it’s pretty hard for anything to live in alcohol, so what you get is spoilage. Nobody dies if they have a bad beer, they just don’t buy it again. If you’re making bad beer, very quickly people figure it out.”
Tickets are $49 plus tax in advance and $54 plus tax at the gate and are available at select NSLC outlets and Ticket Atlantic. Admission is limited to those 19 and over.
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