Nova Scotia

N.S. craft breweries closing, restructuring after industry boom

After boom times for craft breweries in Nova Scotia, the taps are running dry for some. 

Serpent Brewing in Spryfield shut its doors last year. This month, Off Track Brewing in Bedford announced it is closing and two other Halifax area breweries are planning to sell or restructure. 

Ian Lawson, co-owner of Brightwood Brewery, said the business faces an uncertain future as it begins to restructure. He said the taproom in Dartmouth will close until further notice on March 31. 

“We really need to kind of pause and refocus our efforts,” said Lawson. “We’ve had so many different revenue streams over the years and they keep changing.” 

Lawson said the pandemic, interest rates, inflation — even wildfires and rainfall last year — have posed challenges. 

He said the industry needs some help. 

Calls for provincial tax relief 

On March 9, the federal government announced the federal liquor tax would increase two per cent on April 1 — a reduction from a 4.7 per cent rise previously proposed. But craft breweries will receive a 50 per cent reduction of federal taxes on the first 1.5 million litres of product. 

The Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia would like to see similar relief at the provincial level.

“In talking to the province and the NSLC about a reduction in taxes, quite honestly, we haven’t gotten very far,” said Andrew Tanner, the association president and the founder of Saltbox Brewing in Mahone Bay.

Ian Lawson, co-owner of Brightwood Brewery, the business faces an uncertain future as it begins to restructure. (Luke Ettinger/CBC)

The province said there are no plans to revise taxes on craft beer, but conversations with the industry are ongoing. 

Despite the call for relief, sales of craft beer at the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation continue to rise. 

The NSLC reported a 6.1 per cent rise in craft beer sales from October to December 2023, while overall beer sales remained flat. 

“Over the past few years, we have continued to increase the number of local beer producers carried in stores, as well as the number of listings and amount of shelf space dedicated to these products,” an NSLC spokesperson said in a statement. 

a man with a beard stands in front of a yellow shed
Harbour Brewing owner Chris Downey said smaller breweries need to put flavour first in order to compete with larger operations.  (Luke Ettinger/CBC)

Harbour Brewing’s Chris Downey is selling the business after opening in 2019. He said the Musquodoboit Harbour company relies heavily on tourist traffic in the summer months, but that was down amid wildfires and rainfall last year. 

“Money has something to do with it, for sure,” said Downey. “I’ve been working seven days a week for five and a half years and I’m tired.” 

Downey, who has been brewing for three decades, said smaller breweries need to put flavour first in order to compete with larger operations. 

“The problem is that most breweries want to grow,” said Downey. “But if the market isn’t growing, then the bigger guys are going to starve out the smaller guys.”

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