Published July 2018
Atlantic Canada has scores of craft breweries offering a staggering variety of new and interesting beers. New Brunswick’s craft alcohol scene has been booming for some time now (the capital city of Fredericton has the highest concentration of craft breweries and tasting experiences in the Canadian Maritimes), and this close-knit community of beer makers is pumping out some seriously impressive brews.
Explore the many craft breweries in New Brunswick with this introduction to the beers of our province.
Craft Beer is Booming in New Brunswick's Capital
The capital city of Fredericton is vying to be the craft beer destination of not only New Brunswick, but the entire East Coast. With a population of only about 60,000, Fredericton can be considered a microcosm of the overall craft beer industry. Its beer scene is constantly evolving as new brewers emerge, staple styles are established, events become traditions, and the city’s reputation for excellence is solidified.
So, what’s so special about Fredericton? The Saint John River intersects the north and south sides of the city that boast a profusion of close-knit breweries and bars that make and serve craft beer, cider, and spirits. There are municipal government organizations in place to bolster the success and growth of the craft beer sector. The Alcool NB Liquor (ANBL) location on York Street is the only one in the province with a “craft beer room” that’s home to dozens of local craft beers as well as those imported from across the country and around the world. Countless festivals and events take place year-round. Quite simply, there’s a palpable passion for beer in Fredericton.
While too much choice can sometimes be overwhelming for consumers, that “paradox of choice” effect doesn’t seem to impact Fredericton-area beer lovers. In a marketplace, proliferation drives innovation; as head brewer Myles MacKenzie of Picaroons says, “a rising tide floats all boats.” Beyond the pioneering brewery Picaroons, the city has Grimross Brewing, Trailway Brewing Co., Graystone Brewing, Maybee Brew Co., Bogtrotter Craft Brewery, Mama’s Brew Pub, Red Rover Craft Cider, York County Cider, Sunset Heights Meadery, Half Cut Brewing Company, and the newest on the scene is Niche Brewing.
Finding His Niche
Shawn Meek is the co-founder of Niche, and he’s been immersed in the Fredericton beer community for several years.
Until Meek and his wife visited Belgium in 2009, he had only been exposed to lagers – what everyone else seemed to be drinking. During that trip, though, he encountered a range of beer styles such a dubbels and tripels. These styles weren’t available to buy in New Brunswick, so he turned to homebrewing to quench his new craving.
“The idea of being able to brew some of these beer styles myself really excited me, so I bought John Palmer’s How to Brew and started really delving into what homebrewing was all about,” he said.
In 2011 he started a homebrewing blog, mostly as a place to keep track of recipes and tasting notes. In 2013, he joined Chris McDonald to write for the Atlantic Canada Beer Blog.
In early 2017, Meek and like-minded friend Rob Coombs started discussing the idea of opening a small brewery. “We spent a lot of time writing a business plan, applying for a loan, finding a location, deciding on equipment, and dealing with a lot of issues that are probably pretty common when opening a brewery, until Niche Brewing finally sold its first pints in late December . It’s been a lot of stress and hard work, and we know there’s lots more around the corner, but it’s been a lot of fun, too, and we look forward to continuing to experiment with brewing. Here’s hoping the beer-drinking public enjoys our experiments!”
How does Meek identify a good beer from a not-so-good one? “I basically just compare it to some of my favourite beers in the style. It’s important to be able to recognize some of the common off-flavours and other flaws in a beer, and to know what causes them and how that can be fixed, especially when you’re a brewer. Some are quite obvious, while others are not.”
He recommends downloading the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Styles app, which allows users to access information on every beer style and what you can expect in the appearance, aroma, taste and mouthfeel. “This was an excellent resource especially when I started homebrewing, when I was brewing a lot of different beer styles to pinpoint what I was getting right, and more importantly, what I was getting wrong. If you’ve got the time, it’s a good idea to sit down with a beer and evaluate it while looking at the BJCP guidelines; it helps open up your mind to what you’re actually tasting and smelling, and whether it’s expected in that style or not.”
Not sure what New Brunswick craft beer to try first? Take a look at these suggestions from locals Alex Vietinghoff and Shauna Chase, makers of the documentary Beerocracy.
It’s All in the Pour
Even before judging a beer’s quality, the most fundamental aspect of drinking a pint lies in the pour itself. Lindsi George, bar captain at Fredericton’s James Joyce Pub on Queen Street, explains perfect pouring technique:
“To pour a proper draft beer you first give the glass a quick rinse to make sure there is no leftover cleaner in the glass. Hold the glass about an inch underneath the faucet and pull the tap towards you. Pour the beer down the side of the glass at a 45-degree angle until it’s around halfway full then finish the pint by pouring straight down the centre of the glass. Close the tap when the foam reaches the top of the glass. This should give you a perfect head on your beer which lets you enjoy the beer at its full potential.”
Bringing the Province Together
The James Joyce is special, according to George, because it’s the only bar in the province that has carried all of the different New Brunswick craft breweries on tap.
“There are some breweries that we carry, such as Big Tide, that have never been available outside the brewery until us. We also rotate our taps constantly so there is always something new on tap. The staff and management at the Joyce also have a unique relationship with many of the brewers and breweries. We make a point to visit all the breweries we carry to learn about the beer we’re serving which I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else in the province.”
George has become a pro at explaining styles to customers who have only a fleeting familiarity with craft beer. She says “it’s all about breaking things down into their more basic characteristics. People will often say that they are looking for a ‘light’ beer, but generally what they’re looking for isn’t something that’s light in alcohol necessarily, but something that’s lighter in body and oftentimes colour.
“People looking for an amber or red beer are usually just looking for something with a little more body and something that could be a bit sweeter or malty. It also happens often with IPAs where people will say it tastes like there is grapefruit or other citrus in their beer when what they are tasting is the different kinds of hops. We’re almost always able to give a customer a craft beer that they really like by just asking a few questions about which flavours they prefer, even if they’re not really big beer drinkers.”
It’s a Cele-beer-ation!
The Fredericton Craft Beer Festival, hosted by organizer Lloyd Chambers and happening annually in March, is the highlight of the year for thousands of New Brunswick beer nerds, and is widely regarded as the top craft beer festival in the Maritimes. The festival is growing each year, with plenty of satellite events such as the Fredericton Beer Run, the FROSTival Beer Garden, the Fredericton Cider Festival and more that educate and inspire everyone involved.
The Fredericton Craft Beer Festival and its offshoot events foster the sense of a vibrant and unified “beer community” in Fredericton and beyond. Other physical and virtual New Brunswick “beer communities” exist as well: there’s the New Brunswick Craft Alcohol Producers’ Association (NBCAPA), who meet to represent established brewers, discuss policy, and lobby for change to alcohol legislation; the New Brunswick Craft Brewers Association meet to converse about trends and techniques in brewing; the River Valley Beer League on Facebook is a group of like-minded beer fans who share photos and descriptions of new beers and questions about beers yet to hit bars and stores. Although it’s not specific to the city, many Frederictonians use Untappd, an app that lets users rate and comment on beers they’ve tried, with several “verified venues” in the city whose beer menus are updated live and can be checked from the app to see if they’re carrying something new (pro tip: they usually are!).
There’s Always Beer Near
Fredericton is such a concentrated city – you can walk or bike to several breweries in a short time – and New Brunswick is geographically small. This size factor is actually helping the province’s beer sector flourish. Experienced brewers share expertise and even equipment with nearby up-and-comers; employees transporting their own kegs will help deliver some of another brewery’s to a pub in a different city; they all meet at the province’s many beer festivals such as the Atlantic Beer Festival and the Atlantic Canadian Craft Brew Fest in Moncton, the Saint John Annual Beerfest, Nackawic’s Big Axe Craft Beer Festival, and The Falls Beer Fest in Grand Falls. Different breweries will even carry guest taps in their taprooms so that visitors can try another brewery’s product. Hop growers like Southan Farms in Florenceville-Bristol are no more than a couple of hours away.
Coinciding with the population of the province, more breweries are located in Southern New Brunswick, but many are cropping up in the north as well, such as Les Brasseurs du Petit-Sault, Savoie’s Brewhouse, Four Rivers Brewing Co. and many more, as attested by the Northern New Brunswick Beer Trail.
Sébastien Roy, owner of the award-winning Fils du Roy Distillery in Petit-Paquetville, is the only northern producer of spirits. His Gin Thuya is notably exceptional, and although he produces beer, his goal from the outset was to be a whisky producer.
“For me, first I’m a distillery,” he said. “I will probably always produce beer, but in a very small quantity. The beer is only a way to achieve another objective that is whisky production. For whisky, you need to buy the barrels, you need to buy the grain, and the grain is very expensive. You need to buy the equipment and the infrastructure. But the law in Canada is you need to age it three years. So whisky, when you buy all the equipment – three years later, that’s the only time you get your first dollar.
“So beer gives me a way to make money quicker, because beer can be ready in a month, or a month and a half. So that’s why I’m in beer, is to achieve whisky production.”
Anyone who’s tried Fils du Roy beer, though, knows Roy is being modest: his beer is as distinct and high-quality as his spirits. His North Shore Regiment New Brunswick barleywine, at 12%, represents the style to perfection. His Caraquet Flyer Eisbock is deep amber in colour, full in body and packs a concentrated punch that’s hard to describe. As you can surmise from the beer names, each one has its own story that’s deeply connected to New Brunswick’s people and history. And Roy’s wait for his whisky to be ready is finally over, so be sure to look for it in liquor stores in the coming month!
It’s a Sign
For an overview of the many microbreweries in the province, take a look at the Beerocracy New Brunswick Brewery Map, and keep an eye out for this new signage. The blue mug full of suds indicates craft beer is nearby.
This may be a sign that good times are ahead, but always drink responsibly and never operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
Beyond beers inspired by the stories and history of the province, New Brunswick microbreweries are using ingredients local to the areas they brew in. Big Axe Brewery in Nackawic is a testament to the power of local: “We do a chaga porter, so the chaga mushroom is added into our porter, and our chanterelle cream ale,” said co-owner Pete Cole. “We do a maple amber ale – we tap our maple trees and make beer using the sap instead of water.
“We do the same thing with birch; we’ve done a few different birch beers: a birch porter, a birch American pale ale, all were really big hits.”
Best Places to Dine and Drink Craft Alcohol in New Brunswick
The James Joyce Pub has an amazing local beer tap list along with an updated menu of pub staples, and members of their Mug Club receive special deals along with larger portions of draft beer for the same price. You won’t find a more knowledgeable bar staff in the Maritimes.
Tide & Boar Gastropub is the highlight of downtown Moncton, offering not only their own on-site brewed beer by owner Chad Steeves, but also the best southern barbecue this side of the border. Try their oysters if you really want to indulge.
The Laundromat Espresso Bar on St. George Street is a lesser-known gem of the Hub City. The cosy, vintage-looking venue serves up everything from coffee and cookies to donairs and smoked-meat sandwiches, along with a succinct selection of local beer on tap, in cans, and in bottles.
If you visit The Pump House Restaurant & Brewery and try their delicious wood-fired pizza, you’ll need a pint to wash it down with. Ask for their famous Blueberry Ale or their nutty and lightly hopped Fire Chief’s Red Ale.
In Saint John and surrounding areas
The Saint John Ale House serves up fresh seafood as well as an array of microbrews. The bar staff know their stuff – ask for recommendations! We suggest trying a cask-conditioned version of a tried-and-true Moosehead ale.
Big Tide Brewing
Classic pub fare with all-natural ales and lagers are just a short walk from the Bay of Fundy. It’s obvious that brewmaster Wendy Papadopoulos has perfected her craft – Big Tide has been a staple of uptown Saint John since 2009. Try the British Bangers with the Benedict Arnold ESB.
Hammond River Brewing Beer Bar (The Barrel’s Head Gastropub and Wine Bar)
Hammond River’s beer bar is in the same building as The Barrel’s Head Gastropub and Wine Bar. Their shared kitchen allows you to sit down for a full meal or smaller plates like charcuterie at the Barrel’s Head, or enjoy some lighter pub foods on the beer bar side while trying Hammond River beer fresh from the source.
La Chope and La Brôkerie
These two neighbouring bars in Caraquet carry a large selection of beers made in New Brunswick by breweries including Fils du Roy Distillery, Brasseurs du Petit-Sault, The Pump House Brewery, Picaroons, Grimross Brewing, Red Rover Craft Cider, and Pollen Angels Meadery. The variety alone is worth the visit, but the welcoming vibe, live entertainment, and great location really make for something special.
Many breweries partner with local food trucks who set up in brewery parking lots to offer visitors delicious meals with options that change daily depending on which truck is parked. Try Milda’s wood-fired pizza, Cheese Please’s gourmet grilled-cheese, or the Gastro-Gnomes food trucks at Maybee, Grimross, or Trailway. The Graystone Brewing parking lot is home to Monks & Jonesie gastro truck, who will bring your meal or snack to you in the brewery so you don’t need to wait in line after ordering.
Most Instagrammable Breweries
Holy Whale Brewing, Alma
Operating out of an old church in one of New Brunswick’s coastal tourism towns, the owners of this brewery wanted to make sure that the beautiful building would serve a purpose for the community after the church closed, so the intricate stained-glass windows and architecture are still alive and well. The gorgeous Bay of Fundy is visible (and just a minute away) from the brewery patio.
Big Axe Brewing, Nackawic
This brewery is also a bed and breakfast and soon-to-be saloon! Located a few minutes away from the world’s largest axe and right in front of the beautiful St. John River, visitors will find endless photo opportunities while they sip a pint. Nearby hiking trails and waterfalls are a bonus for those searching for some post-beer adventure.
Picaroons General Store, Saint John
Located inside a former car park on Canterbury Street, in an old brick building in historic uptown Saint John, this Picaroons outlet (and one-off beer brewtique) offers large windows with plenty of natural light that can be opened during warm seasons to let in the cool breeze and sounds of the local culture. High ceilings with hanging lights and a circular communal table system in the middle of the hardwood floor make it a relaxing spot to enjoy a pint.
Trailway Brewing, Fredericton
The funky, bold colours of the decor complement the beer you’ll find at Trailway, named for its proximity to the city’s extensive biking and walking trail system. The open-concept taproom with long wooden tables gets loads of natural light that illuminate the beers in their glasses and offers a patio perfect for summer drinks.
Graystone Brewing, Fredericton
This kid- and pet-friendly brewery located in downtown Fredericton is always busy – for a reason. Graystone’s fireplace keeps it toasty in the winter (sometimes they have outdoor fires in the snow!) and in the summer the garage doors open onto a patio that wraps around much of the building. A recent patio expansion also opens up room for hammocks in the warmer seasons.
There’s no drinking in public places in New Brunswick. You can only consume alcohol in certain places (licensed bars, restaurants, private residences) or in certain areas with special event licenses or occasion permits (a wedding, beer festival, or concert).
Liquor can’t be readily accessible to the driver of a motor vehicle. The best place to store it is in the trunk (storing it, unopened, in the trunk is the best bet, but if you don’t have a trunk, unopened in the back seat is the next safest option.)
New Brunswick police are tough on drunk driving. If you’re operating a motor vehicle your BAC (blood alcohol content) has to be below 0.05%.
We know you’ll want to take some of our beer home with you and that’s fine with us. Just be sure to check your province/country’s laws about importing liquor.