Come from away.
A local's guide to drinking your way around Nova Scotia | Craig Pinhey | First published summer 2017
Drinkotourism, like Ecotourism, is a term coined for holidays planned around a specific hobby or interest. In the case of drinkotourism, the search for a good drink – whether beer, wine, spirits, or any other beverage of the fermented variety – is the laudable hobby in question.
Over the past five years, the Maritimes have become a thriving drinkotourism destination; arguably Canada’s best when you consider the beauty and history of the region, not to mention its friendly reputation.
Although all of the great little breweries that have opened are perfect for beer hunting, the true success of the Maritimes as a craft beer destination comes from the fact that many of these breweries are in small towns dotted around the gorgeous coastline of the Maritime Provinces. The result of this being that there are many beautiful sights and great adventures to enjoy in addition to the great beer. Nova Scotia has the most active beer scene, but the other provinces aren’t far behind.
What could be more fun for a beer lover than touring an historic site or strolling beautiful beaches and coastal trails, ending up at a cozy pub trying the fresh local brews?
It wouldn’t be practical to list every such place in Nova Scotia, nor every brewery, but this guide will give you some good examples of places that combine the beauty of the east coast with good local beer. While exploring you will surely find others, as new breweries are popping up by the dozens.
How you arrive in Nova Scotia – the ferry from Portland, Maine to Yarmouth (in the summer), the ferry from Saint John, NB to Digby (all year round), a flight into Halifax, or a drive across the border from NB – will, naturally, dictate how you start your tour of the region.
If you’re starting in Yarmouth, your first stop is Rudder’s BrewPub downtown, a short walk from the ferry. Rudder’s is located on the site of the region’s first brewpub, The Queen Molly, which opened in 1996. The Queen Molly was purchased by new owners in the early 2000s and has been Rudder’s ever since. They brew their own beer at this historic waterfront location, and, while the Yarmouth Town Brown is a sure thing, you should be sure to keep an eye out for seasonal brews, too.
Rudder’s is a great spot to enjoy a beer and some fresh seafood while watching the boats in the harbour, with a great view of Doctors Island, usually dotted with seabirds. While in the area it’s worth the drive to the Cape Forchu Lightstation Museum, as beautiful as Peggy’s Cove but far less of a tourist trap. If you want to stay in the area, check out the B&B options in town, or the Rodd hotel.
As you head further down the South Shore back towards Halifax, you’ll come across Boxing Rock brewery in Shelburne, a quaint seaside town. Boxing Rock ships their beer all around the region, but you can find them on tap in their own hospitality room or at the local yacht club.
The South Shore of Nova Scotia is one of the most beautiful parts of Canada, which you will quickly notice as you make your way along, sticking to the old highway and occasionally veering off down smaller roads to get right next to the ocean, a beach, or a rocky shore. Stop in Liverpool to try the beers of Hell Bay at Lane’s Privateer Inn, another great place to eat and stay. You can also find local micro brews at nearby White Point Beach Resort, a popular family getaway with a stellar beachside location complete with wild rabbits you can feed.
The gorgeous, historic Lunenburg, home of the Bluenose schooner, is just a short drive away, right next to the tiny, picaresque town of Mahone Bay. Saltbox is a new brewery in Mahone Bay, and FirkenStein is in nearby Bridgewater. Lunenburg has several good pubs, restaurants, and inns, including The Knot Pub and The Grand Banker – avid supporters of local beer and wine – and the decadent Fleur de Sel inn and restaurant.
It is only an hour drive to Halifax from Mahone Bay and you’ll want to find a place to stay the night, because Greater Halifax is rife with breweries, great pubs and inventive restaurants. There are many hotels, B&Bs and inns, of all styles, shapes, and sizes. The perfect place to stay is the historic, affordable Waverley Inn, right downtown close to many pubs and breweries.
In Halifax there are lots of breweries of various sizes to visit, but the easiest way to taste most of their beers is to check out the best beer pubs in the city. Bar Stillwell, The Stubborn Goat, Tom’s Little Havana, Battery Park (in Dartmouth), and Lion & Bright are all good bets. Studio East is a gem of a restaurant, featuring Asian fusion cuisine offered with local beer and wine.
If you want a pub experience more reminiscent of England, visit the historic Henry House on Barrington, where you’ll find great pub fare and cask ales from Halifax’s first microbrewery, The Granite Brewery (c. 1984). There are good brewpubs and breweries with taprooms, including the very popular Garrison on the waterfront, Good Robot, 2 Crows, Charm School (Unfiltered Brewery’s taproom), and Rockbottom brewpub, which is also affiliated with Nine Locks Brewery. Some, but not all, of the taprooms have food, so check first if you’re feeling peckish. In the summer, be sure to check out Bar Stillwell’s seasonal beer garden on Spring Garden Road. It is the place to be for beer lovers, has good snack food, and is dog friendly.
Other breweries worth visiting if even just to grab some excellent beer to go are the pioneering Propeller Brewery, and Belgian specialist North Brewing Company, both in downtown Halifax, and Spindrift and Brightwood in Dartmouth.
It’s always hard to leave Halifax, but there’s more beer to be had elsewhere. Head towards Cape Breton, but don’t miss a stop in Antigonish at the Townhouse Pub for a traditional British lunch and a pint of their authentic, 4.4% abv, house brewed, hand pumped cask ale. Before crossing to the island, you can detour to visit Rare Bird in historic Guysborough, which has a great pub with a patio overlooking the ocean, serving house-brewed beer.
Once on Cape Breton head directly to Baddeck and check out Big Spruce, an excellent organic brewery and hop farm just outside of town in Nyanza. You can taste the beer at the brewery’s tasting patio –there’s a visiting food truck on weekends, in season – including their refreshing Kitchen Party Pale Ale, or in the town’s watering holes. Baddeck is a lovely holiday town, particularly attractive to boaters, viewing the famous Bras d’Or Lakes. Stay at the Inverary Resort, or rent a local cottage.
If you’re travelling in fall, make sure to check out the Celtic Colours Festival – try to mix some traditional music in with your beer.
It is highly recommended that you take the time to drive the entire Cabot Trail loop, visiting Ingonish Beach, and perhaps golfing the celebrated Highland Links. Pop into the French town of Cheticamp, tour the Glenora Distillery, which also has rooms and a great pub/restaurant, and stop into Mabou for lunch at the Red Shoe pub to enjoy all of the amazing views along this winding, hilly drive. It’s a truly spectacular stretch of the country.
Head to Sydney, the only city on the island, where you’ll find the beers from Breton Brewing, at their taproom or available at local pubs, including the Old Triangle, and the Governors Pub and Eatery in downtown Sydney, often featuring live music.
You can’t leave Cape Breton without a visit to the Fortress of Louisbourg, forty minutes from Sydney. It is impressive, historical fun for everyone. Enjoy an historic-themed pub lunch served by people in period costume, but be warned: you only get a spoon. They didn’t trust just anybody with a knife in the 1700s.
Once you’ve completed your tour of Cape Breton, head back to the mainland, and head towards the Annapolis Valley along the North Shore of the province. If you want a nice beer break on the way, visit Uncle Leo’s in Lyon’s Brook, just outside Pictou. Try their award-winning Altbier –maybe over lunch by the water at The Stone Soup Café? – then take a walk to Hector Heritage Quay to see The Hector, a replica of the ship that helped bring Scottish immigrants to Canada in the 1700s.
Stay on the old highways and make your way to Tatamagouche, which has a brewery by the same name, making a full range of quality brews, including accurate German-style Kolsch and Pils, as well as strong, hoppy brews. In the town you can eat and stay at the quaint Train Station Inn, visit Jost Winery, the region’s largest, or, if you are really celebrating, treat yourself to a night or two at Fox Harbour Resort.
On to Wolfville and Kentville, in the agricultural heart of the region, the Annapolis Valley. Paddy’s Pub in Kentville, now with another location in Wolfville, was one of the earliest brewpubs in NS, opened by Randy Lawrence (now at Sea Level in Port Williams), in 1999. Both sites offer standard pub food and a range of beers including the tasty Raven Ale, a slightly peaty Scottish dark ale.
Just across the water from Wolfville is Port Williams, home to the afore- mentioned Sea Level (try their Blue Heron ESB on tap at the attached Port Pub) and the new Wayfarers’ brewery, right next door. While in the area you may want to do some wine touring, as this is the heart of Nova Scotian wine country.
As you head west towards Digby, you would be remiss to skip a visit to Port Royal and Fort Anne in nearby Annapolis Royal, important historic sites dating back to 1605, when Samuel de Champlain settled in Port Royal. The whole region is a very important area to the French Acadian population, so look for tourism opportunities such as Grand-Pré National Historic Site just outside of Wolfville.
Your next required brewery stop, though, is Bad Apple Brewhouse/Mosaic Brewing Company, in Berwick. They have done extremely well in competitions; in particular for their west coast style Box Cutter IPA. Try their brews on tap at the lovely Union Street Café in Berwick. The café is a renowned music venue for both local artists like Joel Plaskett and visiting musicians, including Ron Sexsmith.
Eventually you’ll reach Digby, home of the famous Digby Scallop Days festival as well as the legendary Wharf Rat Rally, for motorcycle enthusiasts. In the area you’ll find two fairly new breweries, Roof Hound and Lazy Bear. Roof Hound has its own taproom on Ridge Road, about a 10-minute drive from Digby, open Thursday evenings and weekends, serving food until 9 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Lazy Bear is a nanobrewery in Smith’s Cove, only open for Growler fills on Thursday evenings. They make a range of beers; their Braunbär – a honey brown ale –won a Gold Medal for Fruit and Field Beer at the 2016 Atlantic Canada Beer Awards. Their beer is on tap locally at The Fundy, in downtown Digby. It’s a beautiful area for clam digging and enjoying the ocean, including whale watching, so if you want to stay overnight, try the Coastal Inn, or live in the temporary lap of luxury at the Digby Pines resort.
From Digby you can take the ferry to Saint John, NB to take your beer hopping to a new province, or you can head back to Halifax and start over. By the time you’ve made the loop there will probably be another brewery or two open.