The balloons are still hanging over the Kempt Road doorway into Stillwell Brewing Co.’s newest venture when a visitor arrives on Tuesday, thirsty and in the mood for a tour. It’s been two days since the Halifax craft beer mainstay opened the doors to its latest location—a taproom, hi-fi and retail store within its north end brewing warehouse (3670 Kempt Road). The mood is relaxed; cheery. A guitar cover of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper” buzzes throughout the high-ceilinged bar, bubbling from the back of the warehouse, where Stillwell’s team is labouring over their latest libation.
“It’s a little messy,” Stillwell’s Nikki Lockington apologizes. (It isn’t.) “We’re still cleaning up from the party.”
On Saturday, June 3, Stillwell hosted its grand opening for its newest taproom with an afternoon and evening of live DJ sets and food from Beverley Taco Service. The party was a precursor to how Stillwell’s co-founder and brewer Chris Reynolds envisions the brewery’s Kempt Road space will fill a niche within Halifax: As a “hi-fi bar,” inspired by the tradition of Japanese jazz kissaten, or jazz cafes. In short? Beer for audiophiles.
“There isn’t really anywhere in Halifax for [enjoying] recorded music,” Reynolds tells The Coast over a beer. “I mean, certainly, there’s night clubs and all of that nice stuff, but there’s not really a listening bar.”
Sound is key at Stillwell’s new space. Reynolds commissioned a friend to build a custom set of horn-loaded speakers—“cobbled together,” he says, from audio rigs found on Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji. The end result? A lot of low-end, and a sound system that can fill a room without losing any of its sonic richness.
“It kind of kicks ass,” Reynolds gushes. “I mean, I have no idea how people will react to it, but so far, people have been interested. And the sound has been, like, really tremendous… You can feel it in your chest, and in your body.
“There’s a lot of sub-bass reinforcement, but you’re able to have a conversation and walk away without your ears hurting.”
The brewery—styled somewhere between a retro lounge and classed-up car garage—has been working with Kat Shubaly, former organizer of the OBEY Convention, on booking a rotating schedule of guest DJs. Food is limited for now to what Reynolds describes as “gas station stacks”—Hot Rods, chips and nuts are on offer—but Reynolds says food trucks will be a regular feature of their larger weekend events. On Stillwell’s three taps, you’ll find the brewery’s flagship “Stilly Pils” pilsner, an English-style pale ale and a cream ale. There are plans to add more in the future, but don’t expect the kind of tap selection you’ll find at Bar Stillwell (1672 Barrington Street), where the company earned its fame.
Instead, Reynolds sees Stillwell’s brewing operations taking a page from the now-departed Granite Brewing: “Just make a few beers as best as we can.”
Stillwell’s taproom marks the fourth venue for Reynolds and his co-partners Laura MacDonald and Andrew Connell, after Bar Stillwell, the seasonal Stillwell Beergarden (5688 Spring Garden Road) and the Stillwell Freehouse (2534 Agricola Street). It also marks 10 years since the three Haligonians took over the former Captain Sub in Barrington’s Wright Building and kickstarted what has become a bonafide Halifax beer institution. And while Stillwell has hauled in its share of The Coast’s reader-selected Best of Halifax awards through the years, Reynolds remains somewhat taken aback at his and his partners’ success.
“It’s the longest job I’ve ever had, for sure,” he says. “It’s been a very busy sector. A lot of Nova Scotians work, and live, and breathe in and around the craft beer industry… we’ve kind of been along for the ride with everybody else. And yeah, it’s been wild.”
Hours for Stillwell Brewing Co. (3670 Kempt Road):