New digs, more brews and a place to eat & drink
Visiting North Brewing’s Agricola Street location was always an intimate affair, with the teeny tiny beer store in front just about big enough to accommodate the fridge and counter, and a couple of customers. There wasn’t much space out back in the production area either. “We’d have our meetings and be so close together that our shoulders were touching, there was just no room to move for anybody,” says Rozina Darvesh, who owns North Brewing along with husband Peter Burbridge and operations manager/brewer Josh Herbin. “We definitely outgrew that location. We were bursting at the seams,” says Darvesh.
This past April the brewery moved to a new, and much larger, location in Cole Harbour. With a footprint of around 5500 sq ft—1800 sq ft of that set to be a new taproom and kitchen by the time this story goes to print—the new space is a real treat for an underserved community with a growing population. “Now you have to go looking for the coworker you need to talk to, and we have walkie talkies,” says Herbin, “Plus we now have a forklift, and that has really helped.”
SMALL BATCH BREWS
North Brewing Company first started selling beer in January 2013 and was hugely popular straight away. Burbridge explains that there weren’t that many other breweries in the city at the time. “That was the start of the wave that was coming, and we thought there was a lot of pent up demand based on what was going on in the rest of North America. We felt pretty confident that there was a good opportunity here, but we definitely underestimated the demand when we started super small. It was a struggle to keep up and continue to figure out how to always make our beer better, and how we could grow our business,” he says, “It was a steep learning curve.”
Darvesh and Burbridge had wanted to start a business together for a long time and had an interest in craft beer that went beyond just drinking. Darvesh has a background in food science and studied brewing as part of her undergrad at Dalhousie, Burbridge was a homebrewer. “When he expressed an interest in getting into the brewing industry, I was like, “Hey, I can get behind that!” says Darvesh, “then one day Josh was in our backyard meeting with Peter, and we’ve been friends and coworkers ever since.” It was clearly a great time to ride the craft brewery wave, as the partners went on to open Battery Park Beer Bar and Eatery with the crew from Brooklyn Warehouse, and are now at the point where they can build out their dream brewery.
When breweries start talking small, they generally don’t mean 300-litre batches like North began making. “We had line-ups around the block, and Josh was immediately working 50 hours a week,” explains Burbridge. “We’ve built the business so gradually, triaging all the way to keep growing.” Demand stayed high and proved Halifax wanted more of what they were serving—initially Belgian-style beer because that’s what Burbridge liked best and thought would do well here, though that’s evolved. “We do a lot of different styles now and are pursuing our own interests in brewing as we grow.” There are usually 10 different beers in the fridge on sale these days, though their original fan favourite Gus’ Belgian blonde is still a big seller.
Not surprisingly, developing new beers is fun. “In part because we have four core people—myself, Peter, Josh, and our other brewer, Brad (Wilkinson), who work really well together. We have a lot of fun with these projects, and the trust we have has helped build our confidence when developing recipes,” says Darvesh.
And they’ve developed a lot of beers over the years.” We like to try new things when we hear about something interesting, like when we started doing the Champagne IPA. I think we were all pretty confident to jump into that project,” says Herbin, “and when we start new projects they go through a few error iterations until we all agree on really nailing the style that we set out to do. I’m pretty proud of all the beer that we are putting out right now.”
The new space may mean that there are no longer lines around the block, but people are still hungry for those new releases and the team is always excited to keep bringing them out. “It’s fun for us to try new things, new processes and styles,” says Herbin, “The creative side of this job is really enjoyable.” Darvesh adds that now everything is almost tied up with the new space, the team is excited to flex their creative muscles.
Getting to make beer in their purpose built-space has been awesome. “Our first brewery was pretty DIY, so it’s nice to get to the point where we can build something more functional and more pleasant to work in,” says Burbridge. “Yeah, once Peter and I saw how professionals build a brewery we agreed that we would stop trying to DIY things. We didn’t like to see our work next to theirs,” laughs Herbin, “This is our dream brewery. It still has our stamp on it because we built it with all the knowledge and history that we had. But it is a much more functional, bright, and joyful place to produce beer.”
The team credits their amazing tradespeople and interior designer Maia LaPierre with helping create the new space they love so much. “It has been a lot of work to get to this point, but we’ve always worked with really great and hardworking people, we have a really great team. So, as hard as this has been it’s been a joy for us to build this space out, continue building those relationships and watch our team grow,” says Darvesh.
A PLACE TO MEET, DRINK, AND EAT
The crew are especially thrilled that their new taproom will give them an area to serve their beer right where they make it, and love that they got to bring in longtime friends Kathy Jollimore and Brent Darbyson to open a kitchen, the Side Hustle Snack Bar. “When they approached us to do this, we couldn’t turn the opportunity down. They’re great people, but also really great business people who know how to bring people together,” says Jollimore, “They care so much about supporting local, and we were really excited to partner with them.” (Darbyson has also taken on the role of taproom manager.) Plus, as a completely new venture, Jollimore and Darbyson got to design the menu, and the kitchen they’ll be working in, which was super exciting.
As for the food they’ll be serving, Jollimore describes it as, “An internationally inspired snack menu that pairs perfectly with beer. Everything from a Mediterranean inspired meatball dish to kimchi fries to hand made wontons. There will be lots of different dishes from around the world with big, bold flavours.” The taproom will seat 118, bucking the current trend of smaller restaurants, and is bright and big, making a perfect space to socialize. “There’s nothing like this place around Cole Harbour, we know people are excited to come here,” says Jollimore.
In planning out the new taproom, Darvesh says that they wanted to create a space where everyone felt welcome. “You can come with your family, your neighbours, friends, anybody of all ages should be able to come to a place like this and enjoy good beer and food,” she says, “We’ve really taken that to heart, we want everyone to feel they can come hang out.”
Being family-friendly is especially important because pretty much everyone involved in the venture has kids, and there are a lot of very wee ones in the mix. “Every time we do something like a big move or make big changes in the business, someone has a baby,” says Burbridge, “We had our first child opening the business on Agricola Street, then our second when we were planning Battery Park, Josh had his baby just as we were about to open Battery Park, Brad had his baby just as we were working on building out the space here.” Jollimore and Darbyson also have a baby. “We take growth seriously, we don’t like to sit around much!” says Herbin.
In terms of growing the business, this new location puts the team exactly where they want to be—in the heart of a community that they all live close to. “For the long term sustainability of the business we want to be supporting the communities that are around us, so that’s kind of why we chose to move close to Cole Harbour,” says Herbin. Although North now has a lot more space for brewing, the emphasis is still on staying local. “We’ve sent a few kegs to NB and PEI once in a while, but our focus is really on the Nova Scotia market. We’re really focused on direct selling through our stores, the NSLC, and then licensees in the province.”
Darvesh expresses how great it is to get to know the people walking through their doors. “We want to know our community, that’s something that we really value as a team,” she says, “And we’ve always wanted to serve on-site. We are so excited for this taproom.”