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A better beer fest 

Craig Pinhey tastes what's brewing behind the inaugural Seaport Beer Festival.

Where will you be August 11? Chances are if you're an Atlantic "beer geek," you'll be at the Seaport Beer Festival on Halifax's waterfront.

Previous efforts, including the East Coast Festival of Beer (1999) and the NSLC Beer Gala (2004, 2005) have left much to be desired, the former marred by bad weather and the latter by the absence of local breweries, private store brands and attendees.

This time around, the event is being organized by Brian Titus of Garrison Brewery, and Bruce Mansour of Make It Happen, a local event organizing company. Titus and Mansour are emphatic that this festival will be different from previous Halifax efforts.

"Private stores are welcome to showcase their brands," says Mansour. "And The Granite will be pouring."

As for weather concerns, they've got it covered. "We're tenting a part of the site, and the remainder is under the canopy on the pier boardwalk, so 100 percent of the site is sheltered."

In answer to issues surrounding the absence of local brewpubs, Titus clarifies that this is a throwback to Atlantic Canada's one-time prohibitionist mentality, still embedded in our liquor laws.

"Granite and Rudders are actually "microbreweries,' meaning they can retain a single licensed establishment while selling packaged product (kegs, bottles, etc.)," explains Titus, "whereas Paddy's and Rogues' Roost are "brewpubs,' meaning they can only sell within the confines of their establishment."

Oddly, there will be brewpubs from other provinces participating in the Seaport Beer Festival. "Essentially," explains Titus, "if you're from here, you have to play by the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation rules. Anyone from outside the province is welcome, regardless of the status at home."

Why not allow a loophole where local brewpubs can participate in sampling off-site, for promotional, tourism, cultural and economic benefits?

Rick Perkins, vice president of marketing and communications for the NSLC, is aware of the brewpub definition and its limitations, and is sympathetic. "I actually do agree with you on this one," Perkins wrote in an email. "The Seaport event came to us too late to consider changing this. As we plan this event earlier and more closely for next year this is definitely something we can take another look at."

The green aspect of the fest may also attract revellers. "We'll be running as a green festival from the outset," offers Titus. "Collaborating with the Ecology Action Centre, every aspect is being assessed based on environmental impact. Reusable souvenir mugs, returnable/refillable beer containers, no plastic bags for merchandise, waste sorting, bagless ice, compostable serving items for food and even solar options are all features for year one."

Titus is even hinting at an exciting new Garrison release for the fest, brewed by their new head brewer Greg Nash, who is known for his extreme, hoppy brews.

Other good news is the confirmation that a few microbreweries from Maine will be participating. "Shipyard, Geary's, Stone Coast & Sebago are all kicking in," says Titus. They may not be sending their own employees to pour their brew, but it shouldn't be a problem finding a few "beer geeks" to work the booths.

Seaport Beer Festival, August 11, behind Garrison Brewery (1149 Marginal Road), 2-5pm and 7-10pm, $30 + HST, tickets available at Halifax and surrounding area NSLC stores.

Head of St. Margaret’s Bay’s Craig Pinhey is a certified beer judge, sommelier and freelance writer. Visit him at: www.frogspad.ca

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