I’m concerned about the recent opening of Chill Street, a ferment-on-premise retail outlet located adjacent to the Sobeys in Elmsdale. It has been called the first of its kind, which I would say is accurate. Chill Street has also been repeatedly referred to as a microbrewery. As president of the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia and the owner of one of the 40 craft breweries and brew pubs in Nova Scotia, I say that is just not the case.
A craft brewery is three things: Small, independent and traditional. In Nova Scotia, small means that our annual production must be less than 1.5 million litres of beer. Is Chill Street small? Yes, I believe it is. Independent means not owned by one of the large multinational beer producers. Also, true of Chill Street. But traditional? This is where the similarity ends.
As craft brewers, we make beer in the traditional way—from whole grains, like our brewing predecessors have done for thousands of years. At Boxing Rock we use primarily malted barley, and when we can, we use malt that has been grown and malted in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Quebec. We crush the grains in a mill, then mash them in hot water to create wort. We transfer that wort to the kettle using a process called lautering. We boil the wort and add hops—mostly from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Ontario—to create flavours. We cool the wort, transfer it to a fermenter and pitch some yeast. It is the process required to brew unique, flavourful and traditional beer.
At Chill Street, they open an antiseptically sealed bag of pasteurized, concentrated wort that has been shipped from New Zealand or Germany, dump that in a fermenter and pitch some yeast. They do not handle raw materials. The hard work is done elsewhere, the raw materials are not local and their economic impact is only a fraction of that of a real craft brewery.
Although the NSLC has granted a “microbrewery” permit to the Chill Street store, there is no actual brewing going on in Elmsdale. At CBANS, we define a craft brewery as one that makes wort from whole grains using a full mash process—that is, as a facility where brewing occurs in the traditional sense. Perhaps it seems like semantics from the outside, but it is very important to us. As small-scale manufacturers in Nova Scotia, we create jobs and support other industries across the province. For our investment, we are granted the privilege of a manufacturer’s retail store where we can sell direct to the public from our manufacturing facility.
Chill Street’s business model—where imported, concentrated wort is fermented on premise and then given the privileges of a manufacturer—is an innovation. But it is not a microbrewery. The economic impact of these facilities does not warrant investment by our government in the same way as actual breweries.
This regulatory loophole has the potential to severely damage our industry, and to tarnish the well-deserved reputation of Nova Scotia craft beer.
The NSLC and the provincial government urgently need to act to support Nova Scotia’s craft brewers by working with industry to update policy to address this issue.