Something new on tap at Garrison Brewing

Something new on tap at Garrison Brewing

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Joey Fitzpatrick

To the untrained eye, the old Oxford Theatre might not have held great potential for a tap room. There were a host of structural, electrical, plumbing and ventilation issues, not to mention asbestos, asbestos and more asbestos.

But Brian Titus had been through this before. Twice already, he had converted challenging older properties into state-of-the-art craft breweries.

“Every property that we’ve taken over has had a ton of issues and challenges,” says Titus. “We saw the potential for this location, and we knew it was the right place for us. We were also worried the building would be torn down if no new ideas came to the table.”

Nova Scotia’s craft brewing industry was in its infancy when Titus launched Garrison Brewing in 1997. At the time, Granite Brewery in Halifax and Paddy’s Pub in Kentville were the only other craft brewers in the province.

“Propeller and ourselves started within a week of each other, and so all of a sudden there were four,” Titus remembers. “That was the first explosion of craft brewing.”

Garrison Brewing’s first location was on Lady Hammond Road, and Garrison moved to the Halifax Seaport in 2006.

“The timing was good,” Titus says. “The area at the time was almost vacant. There were cruise ships, but the number was minimal.”

The 5,600 sq. ft. space had once been the premises of the Halifax Harbour and Port Police, but over the years had been neglected — leaving it with featured busted windows, broken tiles, outdated wood panelling and multiple dropped ceilings.

“But when you started poking around, you could see the potential,” Titus says. “Underneath, it was all brick and black steel truss, with a 27 ft. ceiling located close to the downtown waterfront. It was a great spot for a brewery.”

In February of 2006, the Seaport only had a few major tenants. Garrison helped lead a wave of new businesses and institutions to the area, breathing in new life. Today, the neighbourhood is home to the Seaport Farmers’ Market, NSCAD, Cunard Centre/Pier 23 and an expanded Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21.

By 2012, growth had outstripped capacity, and so the search for new brewing premises was on again.

“By that time, multiple breweries were opening each year and the market was growing at a rapid pace,” Titus says. “So to just stop growing and stay put would have made no sense.”

A new location was found just a keg roll away, across the street at the former CN train repair facility. The entire back end of the building was derelict and mothballed. Following major upgrades and renovations, the property became Garrison Brewing’s main brewing and warehousing facility.

So when Titus walked into the Oxford Theatre building, he could envision what the premises could look like following renovations.

“None of these were simple projects. But if you have a vision of what the property could be, then you just have to come up with a blueprint and do it.”

As an iconic location with a young demographic, the Oxford and Quinpool intersection is an ideal venue for a tap room. Garrison Brewing signed a lease in January of 2019, and the Oxford Tap Room opened in November.

“That was a long nine and a half months,” Titus says with a laugh.

The Tap Room has a capacity for 150. As guests enter the premises, they can turn left and visit the cold beer store, turn right to enter the tap room or go upstairs to the loft — which has extra seating and community room space. Guests can carry their beer or cider throughout the premises.

“Even on a Monday night, we’ve got a good crowd coming through,” Titus says. “But it’s never hard to find a seat. Because we’re not a restaurant, people don’t stay for hours and hours.”

The Tap Room is friendly to both children and dogs. Guests at both the Oxford and Seaport tap rooms can choose from upwards of 14 different brews, including IPAs, Stouts, Blondes and sours, as well as the Garrison flagship brands, Irish Red and Tall Ship Ale.

“Our focus has always been on producing a high-quality premium beer and providing a great customer experience,” Titus says. “There’s a bit of an educational component to it, but mostly it’s an opportunity to experience the beer and the culture.”

Nova Scotia’s craft brewing industry has blossomed over the past two decades, and now has 65+ brewers across the province.

While there is a cluster in the Halifax area, the majority are spread across Nova Scotia. From Tatamagouche to Tusket Falls, craft brewing is helping to create a rural renaissance, generating new jobs and economic opportunity. Craft breweries now account for a little more than eight percent of the beer market in the province.

“Over the years, the NSLC has become a very good partner in helping craft brewers get local beer to market,” Titus says. “We’ve gone from having virtually no presence as a sector to one of the highest per capita in the country.”

Irish Red was the first Garrison product to roll off the production line back in 1997, and now the company produces more than 50 brands annually and ships its beer to seven Canadian provinces, while employing approximately 40 people.

“When you’re exporting you need to have a really high-quality product,” Titus points out. “We’ve been experiencing almost double-digit growth every year.”

Garrison Brewing draws its name from the city’s history. Established as a British garrison in 1749, Halifax is one of just a handful of “Garrison towns” in Canada, along with Kingston and Quebec City. The Oxford premises date back to 1937, while the Seaport location traces its roots to 1929.

While the brewery pays homage to the city’s past, Titus remains focussed on the present and future.

“Halifax is becoming a very dynamic city,” he says. “Celebrating the past is great, but we also want the vibrancy and creativity that comes with being open to new things and fresh ideas. We want to have fun doing this, and also have a positive impact on the community around us.”


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