Saint John has a long history of beer making and beer drinking. As home to the oldest and largest independent brewery in Canada, the sight of excess beer foam drifting through Reversing Falls and into the harbour has always been a familiar and comforting one to locals; a sure sign of a robust economy. Now with the rising tide of craft beers, Saint John is getting its newest nano-brewery, and Jeff Gibbons and Adam McQueen of First City Brewery get to live out their dreams of having their beer on tap.
Gibbons and McQueen got under weigh in March with funding from EnterpriseSJ. It’s allowed them to upscale from home brewing kits, to a system that puts them on a commercial scale, producing 40 gallons of beer in each batch. “We’ve been making beer at home for years, and we wanted to get a bigger system between the two us, and figured this was probably the best way to do it,” says Gibbons.
Gibbons and McQueen explain that the business is first and foremost a passion for them, and a love for an industry that has seen remarkable growth in recent years. “When we started drinking craft beer however many years ago there wasn’t a lot of selection around town. Big Tide was open for a little bit, and all there was in the liquor store was Picaroons. You try them all, and then you start making your own and go from there. We first started with extract kits, hopping them ourselves, then we moved on to all grain…”
“We like to do a lot of experimental beers so we’re not going to try to tie ourselves to one, two, three different kinds of beer that we’re going to brew all the time. We got into the craft beer scene because we like trying different kinds of beer all the time, and we think our potential customers are like that an always want to try to next thing, or fad, or craze, in the craft beers.” While focusing on ales, McQueen explains that’s still a lot of room to play with. Several of their recent efforts include fruit ales. Their peach ale is a bit of a surprise winner: subtle in flavour, the peach gives it an unexpected but pleasantly softened taste.
The number of craft, micro, and nano breweries in New Brunswick has expanded significantly in recent years. The success of brewers such as Picaroons, Pumphouse, and a handful of brewpubs have both encouraged and paved the way for smaller brewers: advocating for stronger, often hoppier flavours, and promoting small business. Recently, the new growler program at ANBL has allowed for wider distribution, and a great program for introducing new, and local, products to a beer loving population. The expanding market and success of the program often means brewers, like Hammond River Brewing, have difficulty keeping up with demand. “We’re hoping that, like the other smaller breweries around, that the bars around will be beating on our door. A lot of them have trouble keeping it in stock.”
First City Brewery already have agreements in place for their product to be served at many uptown bars, including Britt’s, Saint John Ale House, Church Street, as well as R Bar, downstairs from their Charlotte Street brewery. They expect it will become available as early as mid-November.
For more information check out First City Brewery’s Facebook page.