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Halifax's top beer bars 

Local drinking holes come in all shapes and sizes, but when you've got a St. Patty's Day craving for beer, these are the places to start.

The Henry House
There's no need to turn to Europe for a seriously tar-black brew on St. Patrick's Day. Choose from The Henry House's selection of darker beers, priced at $6.25 a pint: Indulge in the Montreal-based McAuslan's St. Ambroise oatmeal stout, brewed from dark malts and roasted barley and packing a distinct mocha flavour. Try the Halifax-based Granite Brewery's Keefe's Irish stout, a slightly sweet, bitter black stout. Or slowly sip Propeller's multiple-award winning London porter, a hoppy blend of chocolate, roasted and pale malts. One of the great things about The Henry House is that its menu features several beer blends, allowing you to rediscover old favourites: try mixing Granite's Keefe's Irish stout with Granite's Best bitter or Strongbow cider.

You might as well forget your cell phone, as reception is patchy in the depths of the main bar area. Clambering down the stairs and into the Henry House's historic basement pub will transport you to a simpler era. Best to focus on relaxing by the fireplace and engaging in raucous conversations with friends, as you up your flavonoid intake and B Vitamins with each dark pint. --Lizzy Hill

1222 Barrington Street, 423-5660

Brussels Restaurant and Brasserie
Alcohol-fueled pedestrians and cars are never a fun combination. Escape the noise and traffic of Barrington and Argyle Streets on St. Patrick's Day and head to Brussels Restaurant and Brasserie, located on the car-free Granville Street. Manager Matt Bent has been playing with light beers and food colouring, with plans to unleash a fun sampler platter, consisting of four different beers of varying shades of green ($9.95/platter). Brussels is the spot to go for beer lovers with eclectic palettes, as the menu features brews from all over Europe and North America, from from ales crafted by Belgium Trappist monks to German-style smoked ale.

If you're looking to embrace your Irish roots (or are under the impression that you're Irish today), grab a pint of Guinness draught stout or Kilkenny for $8.25. For a very Canadian porter, slurp down Rickard's dark, a creamy porter brewed with just a hint of maple syrup. And Halifax hedonists will love Brussels' dinner menu, with several beer pairings selected by beer sommelier Mirella Amato. The fresh oysters with mignonette and lemon ($14.95) taste delicious when slurped down with the St. Ambroise oatmeal stout. --LH

1873 Granville Street, 446-4700

Rouge's Roost
Rogue's Roost is just the spot to grab a table with a group of friends and sip strong, affordable micro-brew. This month, brewmaster Lorenzo Romano has two seasonal beers on tap: the Russian imperial stout and the barley wine, a slightly sweet, malty brew. The stout resembles an Irish stout, making it a great St. Patrick's Day pick, and both the stout and the barley wine are sure to get the conversation flowing---each has an alcohol content of nine percent. Due to their absurdly high alcohol content, Rogue's only sells these beers by the half-pint ($4.75), but that doesn't have to stop you from having seconds. For something a little less strong, server Robyn Schleihauf recommends the IPA ($7/pint), which she says is one of Rogues' best sellers.

For the best bang for your buck, be sure to come during happy hour---5pm to 7pm everyday (and until close Sundays)---as you can score a pint for $5.50 and a half pint for $3.75. But if you miss happy hour, relax! Rogue's features a different one of their microbrews at happy hour price all day every day. --LH

5435 Spring Garden Road,

492-2337

Red Stag
If you're hankering for an all-day-long St. Patrick's day experience, put on your green shirt and leprechaun hat and head to the Red Stag Tavern in the historic Alexander Keith's Brewery building. Embrace your inner kilt-wearing clansman with a pint of Keith's tartan ale, a popular and limited-release Scotch ale ($7.25). But if you'd rather stick to the dark stuff on Saint Patrick's Day, grab a pint of Keith's malty dark ale ($7.25/pint).

And if you get peckish, try some of Keith's beer-inspired menu fare: staff recommend the Red Stag's fresh Atlantic mussels, steamed with a shot of Keith's IPA and seasoned with red onion, thyme and garlic ($8.99); or try the fish and chips, which come battered in Keith's pale ale ($11.99/two pieces) and will coat your stomach as you ready yourself for your next round of Tartan. —LH

1496 Lower Water Street, 422-0275

The Maxwell's Plum
If you like to mix things up and try a variety of beers from around the world, The Maxwell's Plum is the place to go. With 60 beers on tap, and even more in bottles, this English pub is a relaxed place to go and unwind after a long day.

Despite being a downtown pub, Maxwell's manages to maintain that local watering hole feeling. The tin accents on the ceiling, the Tiffany-style lampshades and walnut coloured wooden floors TV create a cozy atmosphere. The friendly staff adds that touch of neighbourliness that you want in your local pub.

The Plum has four big-screen TVs that are good for watching the game, but not too obtrusive to patrons who aren't into it as much as you are. Happy hour features great prices and specials until 7pm daily. And, if you are in for a long night of drinking try your favourite draught in a Brewtender---an 80-ounce tapped pitcher. --Jane Caulfield

1600 Grafton Street, 423-5090

Hart & Thistle
If you're craving pub grub with your craft beer, head to the Hart & Thistle. Located in the Historic Properties with a prime waterfront view, the gastropub features house-brewed beer and takes greasy food to the next level of heaven, with friendly, attentive and laidback service. Savour local flavors with their lobster poutine---featuring chunks of Nova Scotia lobster, real cheese curds, PEI russets, lobster bisque and Béarnaise ($13). Or for half the price, stick to the Brewmaster garlic fries, loaded with garlic parsley & sea salt ($7).

Each day, patrons get to sample a different one of award-winning brewmaster Greg Nash's strong, flavourful ales. To get the inside scoop on the beer of the day and the brewing process, be sure to check out Nash's cheeky beer blog at hartandthistle.blogspot.com. And if you want to order a local beer that packs a punch, try a pint of Granite Brewery's peculiar, a dark ale that leaves a bittersweet taste lingering in your mouth. --LH

1869 Upper Water Street, 407-4278

The Alehouse
Going to The Alehouse is like taking a step back in time. Complete with wenches and barkeeps, the heritage building has been decorated to have the look and atmosphere of an old, dark tavern of yore.

With a large variety of local, national and international beers on tap or in bottles, The Alehouse honours the long tradition of beer making, and beer drinking in Halifax. It also features a Thank Guinness It's Friday special on Fridays, 4:30-8pm, where you can get a pint of the classic Irish stout for $5.25.

The Alehouse isn't the kind of place where you could go on your own and read a book, but on a weeknight it's perfect for a casual drink with a group of friends. With two floors, The Alehouse is roomier than what an old tavern may have been. But on weekends, when the pub features live music and the place is packed with beer drinking, fun-loving locals, the extra space is a blessing. --JC

1717 Brunswick Street, 423-6113, halifaxalehouse.com

Rockbottom Brewpub
It's been five months since Greg Nash became the full-time brewmaster at the dark underground lair that is the Rockbottom Brewpub. With Nash came new equipment, huge steel tanks behind glass at the back of the pub, and four new beers, launched in December: Deadwood wheat (a North American-style Weizen), Jacktar stout, Big Water brown (an English style brown ale) and Fathom IPA.

Since December, the brews have been tweaked a little. "Beer is alive," Nash says. "It's not all that much different than people. So when you throw a person into a different kind of atmosphere, they might react a little bit different." He, and his beer, had to get used to the new equipment. The first round of beers were not just right. Now, they are.

Nash likes to keep things interesting for himself. In addition to the four house beers, he's always got a variable brew on the go, serving up new specialty beers about 15 times a year out of casks on the bartop. Most of them are brewed just once, then never again. "The ideas come faster than I'm permitted to brew them," he says.

He's known for experimentation, infusing his beers with tea, fruit, herbs and spices. Black tea, ginger, orange peel, rosemary, coriander. It's all fair game. Recently, he's infused Brewnoser Belgian pale ale with black tea and infused Fathom IPA with roast barley extract.

"When I think about using different ingredients that aren't traditionally used in beer, I think of it from basically a food standpoint," he says. "Every time you sit down and you have a beer with your meal and you find a magical pairing, for me, I start thinking about fusing that into the beer. It's never-ending."

When these magical pairings happen, Nash brings out his cell phone, where he keeps lists of beer ideas and beer names. He looks for complimentary flavours, for something to balance the taste of the beer.

"You have to think about the herb or spice that you're going to put into what type of beer," he says. "I'm not going to put a bitter herb into, say, the IPA for example because it's already really bitter beer and that would take it over the top." Instead, in the case of one IPA, Nash added rosemary, orange peel and coriander, "and the beer was fabulous."

He finds the possibilities mind-boggling. "There's just so much you can do with beer. You can do anything with it. Even if you weren't using odd ingredients---I could brew nothing but wheat beers all year. A hundred different batches of wheat beer in a year and they would all be completely different beers."

As for what's coming down the line? "I have a lot of things that I want to brew eventually," he says. "Right now I'm starting to think about something that's going to be May, June. One I've been thinking about doing for awhile is a nice spritzy wheat beer infused with basil, lemongrass and ginger." —Vincenzo Ravina

5686 Spring Garden Road, 423-2938

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