Our flight from Halifax nears. My wife and I have tried Jost’s decent wines and toured Keith’s beer theme park. They tasted fine and fit expectations.
But the city beckons our search on. Where hides its future? Its tradition breakers? Who can carry Nova Scotia’s modern drink mantel?
But between drinks, we play tourists a bit more.
One day, a kilted youth tours us around Halifax’s imposing citadel.
Another day, the Maritime Museum drains whatever model boat interest we once had.
The sea takes man and mind alike they say. I will never get that grey matter back.
We picnicked amongst the Titanic graves and bought bread in the Waterstone: a planned community for survivors of the world’s largest pre-nuclear explosion. It killed 2,000 in 1917 and still casts a shadow over this naval center.
But time for the present.
Thirsty from wandering Halifax’s grid, the sun shining for once, we discover Oland Brewery near Waterstone. Finally! Real beer! No costumed actors. A proper modern factory dedicated to drink. We circle the fenced edifice, desperate for a tour, an open door, a bar, anything.
No luck. But Bacchus pities us and gifts a pair of free vaguely fashionable sunglasses from the cement.
We sputter with excitement, enter, and navigate the chalkboards for tour or tasting fees. Hot, hoppy, real beer saturates the air. Like a goateed Lazurus, the young barman lifts his head from cardboard cases, “umm…want to try anything?”
We bleat, “yes! Everything! I mean, please. What might you suggest first?”
He walks us from light into heady darkness. Their Pilsner is flirtatious, fizzy, light, and far more citric and honeyed than most lager.
Palates quenched, we move to Extra Special Bitter: a round, fat, coppery thing, full of soft caramel and toffee malt. It pleases immediately yet the complexity, intensity, and length of flavors keeps our attention.
The Honey Wheat Ale, cool fermented with native honey, is delicate and floral. We tighten our focus and find fine lines of warm white bread, cream brûlée, and honey’s bitter earthy wax sharpen its end within.
Their London Porter is pure dark chocolate and full cream. All richness and softness, with adequate baking flour dryness to twist its finish.
All this Belgian-Anglo emulation is fine and good. But Propeller’s best is their IPA:
My last review struggled with Alexander Keith’s IPA. Although he brought hops to Halifax in the mid 19th century, his beer hardly tasted of anything.
Propeller takes this crosstown conglomerate on. Their IPA glows with amber, a fine steady bubble, and a lacy, off-white head. Honey, peach, apricot and classic hoppy pine waft out. It is dry, assertively tannic, and medium plus bodied with clear flavors of apricot, honey, hop. The notable malty creaminess is balanced by the bitter, firey hopped finish. This edginess begs for fried foods now. Somehow, it is balanced enough to have alone. The hop vine’s flower gives this beer 68 Bittering units compared to Keith’s 20 IBUs. It shows.
But wait. Propeller’s seasonal secret weapon rests with their Double IPA:
Only top Northwestern hops see a post-ferment dry hopping, which massively ramps up the aromas. Imagine sticking your nose into a Christmas tree. Fresh emerald green pine radiates from nose to palate and never leaves. Snappy lime, grass, and white flower follow. It is structured and strong with massive 85 IBUs. Luckily, loads of malted, toffeed sweetness settle things down. By the end of the glass, I want nothing else.
The recent success of microbreweries probably lies in their higher alcohol. Propeller’s regular IPA ranks in at 6.5% abv. That adds density, flavor expression (via evaporation), alcohol’s sweetness, and, well, more alcohol: things which stand out at tasting events (and the morning after). Their Double IPA pushes affairs to 8.5%.
This oneupmanship may overshadow the importance of milder, more daily beers. But it needs to happen. Beer has been bogged down with the simple sameness of lager. It sells because it is cheap to make and easy to drink.
Propeller’s push for better ingredients and methods and more intensity shows that beer is no second stooge to wine. It can also challenge your palate and take it places.
My present worry sits with where. Sure Northwest hops amp up aroma intensity to eleven. That wins awards at tasting events. But at some point all IPAs will try to taste the most like that Christmas tree, forgetting that some rare native hop vine might have made them taste more like home.
Microbreweries, like Propeller, have just begun to reset beer’s bar. Hopefully, they will turn inward to forge more native and individual metal.