For years, Nova Scotia’s craft brewers have heard that the market is saturated with too many breweries. Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic and it is believed doom.
“We have a word for it in the industry,” said Brian Titus, president of Halifax-based Garrison Brewing and the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia.
“It is said: they are wrong. Rumors of saturation and the death of local craft brews are greatly exaggerated.”
Two years into a pandemic, only three breweries have closed in recent years, Titus said. Those shutdowns have been offset by the three breweries that opened, which Titus called “truly remarkable.”
According to statistics from the association, there are about 70 microbreweries in the province, which employ about 1,150 people.
According to the latest quarterly financial results, sales of Nova Scotia craft beer through NSLC increased 11.3 percent to $6.7 million.
“I think an industry like this that can withstand a pandemic for more than two years is a very good sign of a strong industry,” Titus said.
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 taken big steps to grow their businesses.
Good Robot Brewing of Halifax recently announced that it is moving the brewing operation from its Robbie Street home to a location in Elmsdale that will allow for increased production.
In part, the aim is to transport their beer to other provinces. The new facility will also offer contract brewing – making beer – for other breweries.
“We’re always on the lookout for some way to future-proof it,” said Lindsey Davidson, marketing manager at Good Robot.
The Elmsdale site will also be home to a beer garden and retail space. The company’s Robbie Street location will still be used to brew some beers, and the retail and taproom locations will remain.
It’s been a stark change in fortunes since the pandemic hit and the company had to lay off most of its employees.
Good Robot today has about 60 employees, more than its pre-pandemic numbers.
Davidson was a longtime customer before recently starting working for the company.
“They’ve made some really impressive leaps and managed to keep things moving, employ people, they’re growing at an insane rate,” she said. “We’re hiring new people all the time.”
Tusket Falls Brewing shares some of its elements. When the pandemic hit, they had to lay off a lot of staff and moved to online ordering and delivery, owner Melanie Sweeney said.
Each lockdown was tougher than the last one, she said.
Sweeney said the business especially felt the pinch when officials were asking residents to stay closer to home.
“We definitely realized that people weren’t even coming 15-minutes from neighboring communities to pick up retail like they were before,” she said.
Tusket Falls moved forward last September with the opening of a taproom on Gottingen Street in Halifax, just off its home base of southwestern Nova Scotia.
“We found a great place and we just kind of [hunkered] Decided to go down and straight, just keep going and work hard and hope for the best and do the best we can and try to make it work,” Sweeney said.
She said the company has always made major changes with its operations — and this is no different. When they opened in December 2017, they built a building and purchased 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 lie ahead.
“We’re looking forward to what everyone is talking about, [this] It’s been the best summer for our industry in a few years,” Sweeney said.