Bar Stillwell | Halifax, NS
There are numerous factors that contribute to the development of any scene. In the case of beer, the obvious ones are the desire on the part of consumers for better and more diverse beers and the ability and willingness of bars and breweries to provide the appropriate products. The bars and breweries that excel at this are the catalysts of any craft beer scene.
Bar Stillwell in Halifax, NS is a great example of a craft beer catalyst. Since opening in November, 2013, amidst a changing beer landscape, with new small breweries opening regularly and the ‘big breweries’ dabbling in more flavourful brews, Bar Stillwell instantly became a focal point for the beer loving community.
Christopher Reynolds is one of four key people behind Stillwell, and can usually be found behind the bar on any given night. “We opened the bar together,” Reynolds says. “I run the bar day-to-day with my sister Laura (MacDonald) and her partner Andy (Connell). Richard (Fewell) is our former stepfather – Laura’s and mine – and does the books and helps with leases, legal issues, etc. Andy orders the beer, Laura works on events, I do social media and ‘business development,’ but we also all bartend full-time.”
Bar Stillwell jumped right in, giving full support to local craft beer, featuring breweries from across the province, as well as guest brews from out of province, tap takeovers, and special-ordered bottles from beer icons around the world. They really upped the ante in terms of good craft beer selection in Halifax pubs.
“We aim to be a hub and a venue for all that is good and forward-thinking in the beer scene in our region,” says Reynolds. “In developing Stillwell we were heavily inspired by the best beer bars, specifically places like Alibi Room, Moeder Lambic, Bar Volo, and Local Option, but rather than being obsessed with how they looked or felt, we examined their function. The trick, we found, was to be a celebrator and an agitator; a great beer bar is somewhere where a good brewery gets a pat on the back, but is also shown how they can up their game. It’s a lot like a home brew club in that way, but with more commercial stakes. If something lands and strikes a chord in a great beer bar, the chances of it doing better on the shelves or in restaurants are far greater, and we hope to be that front line, partly because we think that’s what a good beer bar should be, but also because we’re fans of beer in general, and we want to drink the best stuff in our own shop!”
Big Spruce, an organic micro-brewery in Cape Breton, was one of the beneficiaries of the boost Bar Stillwell gave to the Nova Scotia scene. “Stillwell has had a profound impact on the Nova Scotia Craft Beer scene,” says Big Spruce owner Jeremy White. “Its popularity has provided a great outlet for us to sell lots of beer, plus a location where our beer can sell alongside other craft beer from other NS breweries, plus other parts of Canada and the U.S. In a way, it has provided a measuring stick for how our brands resonate with Haligonians.”
Stillwell has not only given valuable tap space and promotion to good local breweries; they have also participated in collaborations and are even brewing their own beer. “They have definitely spurred on creativity,” notes White. “The fact that we have collaborated directly with them with beers like Gimme Citra is an example. I regularly speak with Chris Reynolds about ideas for beer styles, tweaks to recipes, and what other breweries are doing. In those conversations, they have asked us to do certain things with some of our beers, and we have occasionally obliged!”
Reynolds, who comes from a diverse background that includes music composition, teaching English as a second language in Korea, and various writing and editing jobs, ended up at Bar Volo in Toronto, a revolutionary beer bar, that led to opening Stillwell. He is very keen on making beer.
“We are opening a brewery,” he confirms. “We love Saison and dry Farmhouse beers quite a lot and haven’t found those beers much in our region just yet, so we figured we should make them. We’re thinking about an annual Christmastime Barleywine and perhaps some summertime Kellerbier for the beer garden, too.” That’s right, in addition to their bar on Barrington Street, Stillwell operates a seasonal beer garden in the summer. The first year it was on the waterfront, but it was moved to Spring Garden Road last summer.
So, what’s next for Stillwell? Well, in addition to their tap takeovers and brewing ventures, they have a philosophical goal: to move forward.
Reynolds feels that the beer scene is in a self-reflective mode at the moment. “You can’t just open a million billion breweries,” he observes. “You have to look at what people want from beer, and, more importantly, what they don’t yet know they want, and what you can offer.
“I guess that’s what we’ll be looking for more at Stillwell – our founding principle is that we will carry 12 draught beer and three casks at all times and try to make as broad an experience as possible within those limitations. That would be 15 classic styles perfectly represented, in an ideal world, with some room for the latest-and-greatest boundary-pushing beer wedged in there.”