Unique process makes name for Halifax microbrewery

North End brewery in Halifax finds success in Belgian style beers.

Story and photos by Jillian Morgan

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It is 12 p.m. and the closed sign on the door of the North Brewing Company flips to open. An aroma of beer hangs in the air, an unusual scent for so early in the day.  For the staff at North Brewing Company, this scent is as common as the scent of fresh coffee in the morning.

Black, white and silver dominate the colour scheme inside and outside the brewery. Behind the front desk on a wood-panelled wall hangs a black and white beer print shirt complete with the company’s logo. Situated to the right is a bright red swinging door leading to the machinery that crafts the brewery’s variety of Belgian inspired beers.

North Brewing Company, which celebrated its one year anniversary in January, has already become a staple in the North End of Halifax, a location which President Peter Burbridge says was critical to the business’ success.

Unlike most other mass produced beers, all of North Brewing Company’s beers are unpasteurized, meaning that all harmful bacteria are destroyed during the brewing process through heat. This process does not alter the taste of the beer.

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“It’s more so if you’re worried about your beer lasting eight months on a shelf. Right now we just sell everything out of our store and on tap, so it’s really fresh. There’s no real concern or need to pasteurize,” says Burbridge.

The brewery has built their identity on creating unpasteurized, unfiltered, preservative-free and naturally carbonated beers. They are running on full capacity due to the popularity of their zero emissions product.

Step One

The three-week process of brewing one of North Brewery’s craft beers begins with acquiring Canadian grains. The brewery also receives speciality grains from France and other European locations. The malted (dried) barley and wheat are taken from large, white bags stored in the brewery and are then crushed in a closet-sized mill room.  Burbridge says this exposes the starch in the grain, which is what the yeast uses as sugar during its fermentation. This process creates alcohol.

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Burbridge says they decided to craft Belgian style beers as they were nearly nonexistent in the local market.

“We thought if we were starting really small we could try to start with a unique offering for the city and grow with the demand,” says Burbridge. “It seems that more and more people are looking for those styles.”

Burbridge explains that in Belgian beers, the flavour is yeast driven. In America or the west coast of Canada, the beer flavour is primarily hop driven, while English style beer is malt driven.

“There’s a lot of spicy, fruity or citrusy notes,” says Burbridge of Belgian style beers.

Step Two

Once the barley and wheat have been crushed, they are placed in steel mash tuns, a large metal device similar to a cooler.

Mash tuns hold the wheat at a consistent and elevated temperature. Beside the two mash tuns are two kettles, working in a side-by-side system. To the left of the smaller vessels are two large tins that produce 1200 litres of beer. This is an upgrade from the 300 litres the company was brewing when they first opened.

Held here are some of the brewery’s most popular beers, a Belgian IPA (India Pale Ale) and Bridge Saison, a traditional Belgian style beer.

The crushed grain is then placed in hot water and steeped for an hour at a constant temperature. This allows for the enzymes, that are naturally present in the malted barley and wheat, to convert the starches to sugar. At the end of this process, what’s left is “sugary water” called wort.

Step Three

The brewer then begins running off the bottom of the mash tun into the kettles. Hot water is added on top in a process called sparging, which rinses out the sugars in an effort to “get as much [of the sugar] as you can out of the grain,” says Burbridge.

After all the sugars have been rinsed out of the beer and another hour has passed, the wort is then boiled anywhere from an hour to two hours. In this time, the brewer will add hops “for bittering and aroma” and then any spices to add flavour.

Hops were originally grown for preservation but craft brewers have taken advantage of these small plants to add flavour during the brewing process.  The brewery has also added orange peels in the past for a summer seasonal, which they stored in small bags that where then placed in the kettle at the end of the boil.

The next step is to put yeast into one of the larger tins along with the wort to ferment.

Burbridge says that, if they complete this process all in one day, it can take up to 12 or 13 hours. The fermentation process can vary depending on the beer. For the brewery’s “Strong Dark Belgian,” it can take up to ten days. For their lighter beers around five per cent alcohol, it can take only four or five days.

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Step Four

At the end of the process, the beer is “capped” in an effort to trap as much of the natural carbonation as possible and to “let the natural pressure build up,” says Burbridge. The beer is then cooled down and “cleared out,” or settled, for three or four days depending on the beer and when the brewery wants to package it.

“From there, we just put it directly into Kegs,” says Burbridge.

Along with brewing the beer, cleaning is a big part of the job. While most of the equipment is self-cleaning, a lot of the machinery needs to be washed by hand, especially the cleaning of the kegs.

The well-received result

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Burbridge says the increasing interest towards craft beer is thanks to a demand for more local and artisan products.

“When you go away from mass produced stuff it’s pretty hard to go back,” says Burbridge. “It’s part of that whole trend to support local economies because there’s more variety.”

Burbridge says the atmosphere among other small breweries in the city and province has been supportive and collaborative.

“The industry is really growing. Right now, everyone is in support of each other and understands that the more breweries that open up the more people are going to be introduced to craft beer and the more customers we’ll all have in the end,” said Burbridge.

Garrison’s Home Brew Off showcases local homebrewer talents

Garrison Brewery, along with The Noble Grape, hosted its sixth annual Home Brew Off Awards Gala on Thursday night. The Home Brew off is a competition which aims to showcase the talents of local homebrewers in Halifax.

By Jillian Morgan

Garrison Brewery on Marginal Road. (Jillian Morgan/Peninsula News)

Garrison Brewery, along with The Noble Grape, hosted its sixth annual Home Brew Off Awards Gala on Thursday night. The Home Brew off is a competition which aims to showcase the talents of local homebrewers in Halifax.

Inside the brewery, there was dim lights and fairy lights which were draped around the floor to the ceiling windows. Craftbrew enthusiasts and supporters mingled while bartenders poured samples of the contestant’s homebrewed beer.

While the event has been popular with local homebrewers since it began, this year’s contest had more entries and judges than ever before.  Tracy Phillippi, Marketing and Communications Director at Garrison, said that this is because people have “awakened” to the value of craft beers.

“People are bored,” said Phillippi. “They’re sick of light lagers and once you try a real craft beer, no matter what style it is, it sparks your interest because it’s full bodied, full flavoured, it has some character and it’s produced locally.”

In 2013, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada reported that beers brewed on a national scale have seen a decline due to an increase in interest for locally brewed beers, speciality brews and premium brews that incorporate creativity, originality, and a “full bodied” taste. A “full bodied” taste requires a much more complex recipe allowing the beer to be thicker and sweeter.

Gail Dominey and Barb Wade came out to the Home Brew Off to support their husbands who are both local homebrewers.

“I think it’s important to support all local craftsmen,” said Dominey. “Small businesses are the heart of the Maritimes.”

The winner of the Home Brew Off is invited to brew a full-sized batch of their recipe with Garrison’s brewmaster Daniel Girard. It will be packaged and released as a limited edition seasonal drink along with two cases of the finished beer, a 75 dollar gift card to The Noble Grape and a trophy which will be displayed inside the brewery.

While Wade herself said she doesn’t drink beer, she isn’t surprised by the increasing interest towards locally brewed beer and Dominey agrees.

“It has much more flavour and it’s just better than the mass produced beer,” said Dominey.

“Once you start enjoying craft beer it’s really easy to want every style imaginable and it becomes a healthy addiction for people,” said Philippi. “What better way to have an addiction than to support your local economy and local businesses.”

The recent demand for craft beers has helped popularized homebrewing and gives local brewers an opportunity to make their mark in the Canadian beer industry. In Nova Scotia, Phillippi suggests an ambitious brewer begin with manual labour such as working on the bottling line of a microbrewery and work their way up.

“I would suggest learning all-grain brewing and start to brew your own recipes,” said Philippi. “Think critically about the style of beer you’re producing and push the boundaries of what you’re capable of doing.”

Venue inside Garrison’s on Thursday night.

Identifying as asexual

On Monday, The YouthProject along with prideHealth, Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project and South House, screened the documentary (A)sexual as a part of Asexuality Awareness Week. The documentary revolved around youth who struggle to prove the legitimacy of asexuality in a society where the pressure to engage in sex is present in many forms.

By Jillian Morgan

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On Monday, The YouthProject along with prideHealth, Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project and South House, screened the documentary (A)sexual as a part of Asexuality Awareness Week. The documentary revolved around youth who struggle to prove the legitimacy of asexuality in a society where the pressure to engage in sex is present in many forms.

The screening, which took place in the Royal Bank Theater, was primarily filled with students and youth who came to enjoy the company of other like-minded individuals. A discussion among the audience followed the screening in which many people agreed that asexuality demands more representation.

Asexuality is a term applied to people who feel no sexual attraction or desire. The definition for asexuality has become significantly more complex as increasing amounts of youth chose to identify as such.

A survey studying 287 individuals conducted by the Asexuality and Visibility Network, a website which promotes acceptance of asexuality as a sexual identity, reported that, in 2008, 51 per cent of people who identified as asexual were currently attending university.

Sheena Jamieson, The YouthProject Support Services Coordinator, said that the importance in having a word to identify with has not yet been lost.

“I don’t think we’re in a place yet where we don’t need that community and don’t need other people to feel okay in finding a place for ourselves,” she says. “When we don’t talk about it, it leads to feelings of shame and anxiety and guilt and a lot of judgments about ourselves.”

“Asexuality at its basic is people who are not sexually attracted to anyone,” she says. “That could not necessarily mean that people don’t have emotional attractions or romantic attractions but physical attraction is not present.”

In order to deal with the pressure of the media to engage in sex, Jamieson recommends “talking about hypersexuality and how the media talks about sex, and getting youth and everybody to talk about sexuality in a way that’s healthy.”

Asexuality Awareness Week, which began in 2010, aims to provide community support for young people who identify as asexual by promoting visibility and awareness surrounding asexuality.

“I think when we talk about sexual orientation we need to realize asexuality is a part of that so in our work at the Youth Project when we talk about sexual orientation, we talk about asexuality and we include it in the conversation,” says Jamieson. “It’s a part of our identity.”

Events such as the documentary screening prove to be an effective way to promote resources and information surrounding asexuality but there is still more work to be done.

Jamieson says we need to “listen to the voices in our community and give them a platform to talk about their own experience because there are asexual people that are a part of the LGBTQ community because they identify as LGBTQ but also as asexual.”

Members of the asexual community are encouraged to join in on the online conversation happening on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.