Think back to 1996. At the time, local beer had a totally different meaning than it does now.
In 1996, if you were in search of craft brew, like I was at the time, you headed to one of two places, Paddy’s Pub in Kentville or Kevin Keefe’s The Granite Brewery on Barrington Street in Halifax. So when Brian Titus decided to open Garrison Brewing on Lady Hammond Road in Halifax’s North End in 1997 (about the same time as John Allen opened Propeller Brewery on Gottingen Street), he was starting something that hadn’t been done before in the province, or at least not in a very long time. Ultimately, the decision to open a brewery was a bit of a risk. The era was dominated by large brewers such Alexander Keith’s, who at that time had a near monopoly on beer sales in the province. More than 19 years later, the risk has more than certainly paid off.
The brewery originally launched with just a couple brews. Garrison Red Ale and Garrison Brown Ale brought a welcome bit of colour to the city’s beer drinkers who had grown up on very pale commercial lagers and ales. A lot has changed since those early days. The brewery now annually produces approximately 30 different beers and the location of the brewery has changed from its original north end location.
The brewery has long since moved from its Lady Hammond Road facility. In fact, it is currently operating out of its third brewery. The move to its current location has been successful. President, owner Brian Titus says “when we moved into our third production plant, we finally had the chance to get ahead of production. At 19 years old, we didn’t want to be scrambling anymore, so we invested in extra fermenters, which means we’ve not only been able to meet increases in demand (according to Titus the brewery’s sales grew by 16 to 17 per cent in the past year), it also has been positive for quality. For a lot of craft brewers, you can age beer for two and a half weeks in winter but only one and a half in summer. Increasing tank space has had an effect on the quality of our beer.”
Changes at Garrison, over the last two years, haven’t been limited to physical environment. The company went under a major rebrand, evidenced by its new packaging. According to Titus “the rebrand spurred our Tall Ship to shoot to the top. Its sales have grown over 30 per cent since we re-launched it. It’s great to have a lead brand flagship beer. Now the job is to go through the process of looking at our seasonals. The seasonals have been largely unchanged for two years and now we are in the process of talking about if we do the same thing as last year, a tweak or something completely new. We want to cycle through 30 per cent new brands in terms of specialities so our customers always something to look forward to.”
Garrison has had a lot of success with its seasonal offering. Rise ‘n’ Stein was a Gold Medal winner at last year’s Atlantic Canadian Beer Awards and according to Titus “we’ve certainly had great success with our Star Trek beers. The big one was the Star Trek Golden Anniversary Ale. We shipped it to nine provinces. We’ve never done that before. It’s really neat to get your beer in British Columbia and Ontario, which is tough to do.”
As for what’s next, Titus pointed to their upcoming release of their Double Jack Imperial Pumpkin Ale and Martello Stout, which Titus describes “a big semi-sweet brew made in the United Kingdom style.” However, Titus is most excited about next year, the brewery’s 20th in operation.
“It’s going to be a big year for us. I can’t tell you what we will be doing to make it make the year absolutely memorable, but can say it will be an exciting year.”