No one confuses Nova Scotia with hard liquor. In fact, no one really confuses Nova Scotia with anything because most people have no idea where Nova Scotia actually is. It’s a Canadian province on the east side of Maine and the name means New Scotland, though you’ll find few remnants of the Scottish way of life around. What you will find however is a vibrant community of micro-breweries, wineries, distilleries, restaurants as well as artisan cheese-makers and maple producers; an impressive dedication of excellent food and drink from such a small region.
Just a Scotia of Wine
The wine industry has been here for 300 years. Never heard of it? Well, most of the wines, via an archaic distribution system, are relegated to Nova Scotia and rarely make appearances into other Canadian provinces, let alone the United States. Happily you can board a plane to visit the region to get the full effect. Among the nearly 15 wineries currently in operation, Jost, Gaspereau, and Benjamin Bridge are taking the lead.
|Hans Christian Jost|
Jost Vineyards is one of the pioneers of the wine industry and Hans Christian Jost, though still a young man, is, in essence one of the founding fathers. His vineyard is peculiar in that you will see oyster and lobster shells strewn across the property, which he uses for micro-nutrients. “The ocean is the most balanced organism,” he suggests. I ask what good can these shells do as they won’t break down as nutrients for a hell of a long time. “But that’s exactly what I want,” he responds, “a nice slow release. There’s nothing wrong with doing things for your kids and grandkids.” And Jost is the epitome of understanding that farming and life, all take time, and what we put into practice today will have consequences for future generations.
Yes, there is a smattering of Chardonnay, even a few plots of Pinot Noir in Nova Scotia, but the tenuous farming is best suited to white grapes; French hybrids with names like Vidal, Seyval Blanc, L’Acadie and Castel. Of the red wines Marechal Foch is the reigning champ, but this is a peculiar red wine with a strong acidity and dark dirty fruit which lacks the comprehensive characteristics of traditional red varieties.
The region is also great for Icewine (there’s an Icewine Festival every year), then there are the maple wines; yes, intriguing dessert wines made from the area’s maple trees and surprisingly good. Certainly the local vintners produce more traditional grape varieties, but the growing conditions favor these reds and whites which are hardy enough to survive in the climate and, thankfully, Nova Scotia vintners have embraced their limitations and focused on wines they do best. And for a change of pace, Lunenburg County Winery has some of the best fruit wines I have ever tasted. They make 26 fruit wines in all, from fruit on their property including artic kiwi, strawberry and blueberry. These are simple and effective fruit wines that are devoid of sticky sweet elements, and are so far removed from traditional Eastern Seaboard counterparts as to be nearly a revelation.
|The historic and vibrant Lunenburg|
Halifax 6 Pack
Ironworks Distillery in Lunenburg (a cool little seaport village) uses apples and other fruit to create apple vodka, apple brandy and pear eau du vie. “Grain doesn’t do it for us,” says owner Lynne MacKay of her unconventional approach to making spirits. “We don’t want to do anything that bores us.” I like that idea. And the vodka she is producing is quite good, the cranberry vodka being the most popular. She’s experimented with pine needles and all manner of things just to see what it might yield. Small batch of unusual stuff, this is a place to stop and check out what’s happening.
|Lynne MacKay of Ironworks Distillery|
The breweries within Nova Scotia are also assuming the mantle of change.
Alexander Keith’s is the behemoth of the beer industry, similar to Budweiser in the U.S. but small brands like Propeller and Garrison have carved out their own niche for artisnally-crafted brews that are exceptional. “The niche market is underserved,” says owner Brian Titus of Garrison Brewery in Halifax who has created a dedicated following. In part that’s because Garrison is doing things like making a Black IPA; though the made up name doesn’t give appropriate credit to this hoppy but chewy malty beer since it’s technically not a stout nor an IPA. They also produce jalapeno ale which has achieved something of a cult following in Halifax, and best of all is their very own 3 Fields Harvest Ale, an unfiltered beer with hops grown, surprisingly, within Nova Scotia’s own borders, not hops shipped in from the U.S. West Coast. “We knew that by filtering our beers we were stripping the best ingredients out of it,” Titus told me on a recent visit. “What we drink is off the tank, it’s not a 6-pack that’s two months old, sitting on a shelf. We’re able to bring the freshest beer to our customers.” This is the reason that his Halifax port location is doing incredibly well: that and the desire for true foods and drinks that reflect a sense of place is quickly coming of age.
|Brian Titus of Garrison|
Sugar Me Timbers!
I wasn’t familiar with the term ‘sugar camp’ prior to visiting Nova Scotia and, frankly, the mind reels with sarcastic replies. But it’s simply a term for a maple farm and the folks at Sugar Moon Farm are exemplary of what Nova Scotia is well-known for: maple syrup. They have about 1,000 sugar maple trees on their 10-acre property, and tapping those trees produces a small but incredibly concentrated maple syrup that will challenge the great maple-producing region of Quebec. You can visit the sugar camp, have lunch on site in their rustic cabin-in-the-woods location (with all manner of maple flavored food!), and see the process (a laborious and time consuming effort) of actually getting syrup out of a tree, distilling it down to a concentrated syrup. They use a gravity flow drip line which brings the maple to their cooker. This is one of those places they you need to visit because it’s so entertaining and educational
|The trees at Sugar Moon Farm|
Nova Scotia offers a surprising array of things to eat and drink and I highly suggest anyone consider a visit to this off the beaten path spot.