Tapping into market

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STELLARTON — Something unique is brewing on Bridge Avenue.

It’s a microbrewery and tap room that was born from a love of food, beer and entertaining friends.

A.J. Leadbetter and his wife Beth, as well as her parents, Lynn and Wayne MacDonald, are the owners of Backstage Brewing Company, which will open next month in the space formerly occupied by Leadbetter Painting.

The theme for the tap room is simple: Backstage Brewing wants to take craft beer enthusiasts to a sort of back stage where they can relax and enjoy a great, locally brewed beer.

“I’m a musician and … everybody loves to go back stage, so it’s just kind of a natural thing with my musical background.”

Leadbetter plays guitar in a local band, Hot Mess, that also features the talents of Robyn Alcorn, Lynn deCoste, Dan Marshall and Jesse Hart.

Before its reincarnation as a tap room, the building suffered from a fire and after that, Leadbetter decided to do something different with the space.

“I got into home brewing about a year before the fire. My wife and I used to do chicken wing parties. People used to come from all over for those parties,” he smiled.

Among the Nova Scotia craft beer breweries are:

Brightwood Brewery — Dartmouth

2 Crows Brewing — Halifax

Lunn’s Mill Beer Co. — Lawrencetown

Sober Island Brewing — Sober Island

Big Spruce Brewing — Nyanza, Cape Breton

Garrison Brewing — Halifax

Trider’s Craft Beer — Amherst

Tatamagouche Brewing Co. — Tatamagouche

Boxing Rock Brewing Co. — Shelburne

Nine Locks Brewing — Dartmouth

North Brewing Company — Halifax

Uncle Leo’s Brewery — Lyons Brook

Breton Brewing — Sydney, Cape Breton

Bad Apple Brewhouse — Somerset

Propeller Brewing — Halifax

Spindrift Brewing Co. — Dartmouth

FirkinStein Brewing — Mount Pleasant

Granite Brewing — Halifax

Good Robot Brewing — Halifax

Schoolhouse Brewery — Windsor

Meander River Farm and Brewery — Ashdale

Roof Hound — Digby

Saltbox Brewing — Mahone Bay

Tidehouse Brewing — Halifax

Hell Bay Brewing Co. — Liverpool

Rare Bird Pub — Guysborough

Sea Level Brewing — Port Williams

Rock Bottom Brewery — Halifax

Unfiltered Brewing — Halifax

Wayfarer Ale Society — Port Williams

Paddy’s Brewpub & Rosie’s Restaurant — Wolfville

Alexander Keith’s — Halifax

Lazy bear Brewing — Smith’s Cove

Gahan House Harbourfront — Halifax

Chill Street Brewing — Elmsdale

Authentic Seacoast Distillery & Brewery — Guysborough

Stillwell — Halifax

The Townhouse Brewpub & Eatery — Antigonish

Tidehouse Brewing Company — Halifax

“We’d deep fry a turkey and have 400 or 500 wings with 30 or 40 people. A friend got me into home brewing and we put beer on tap at the house, the same as we have here. And quickly our chicken wing parties turned into beer parties. People would come and try our new beers. In the back of our minds it was always kind of a test panel type of thing — trying new beers, what kind of beers do people like, and we’d do a tally.”

Leadbetter describes himself as “a bit of a foodie by nature” and said, “I think that’s why I kind of got into the craft beer, the actual creation of the recipes. I’ve been home brewing for three or four years.”

The business will have the microbrewery in the basement and upstairs will be a tap room. From grain to beer.

“We are allowed to have Nova Scotia wine — and down the road we may have a couple of wine taps as well.”

The business will also offer cider, three or four of Backstage Brewing Company’s beers on tap and the rest of the taps — 12 taps in total — will be other craft beers from all over Nova Scotia.

“It’s an amazing time for craft beer in Nova Scotia,” Leadbetter said, listing a few: Uncle Leo’s in Lyons Brook; Tatamagouche Brewing Company; Big Spruce Brewing in Nyanza, Cape Breton; Half Cocked Brewery in North Grant, just outside Antigonish; Breton Brewing Co. in Sydney, Cape Breton. And Leadbetter has visited many of them.

He will have offerings from some of them when he opens. “We’re hoping for a soft opening in September.”

Leadbetter already knows what he’ll be brewing first:

• Daydreamer — 4.5% pale ale. “It’s what we call in the industry a gateway beer — it’s easy to drink. It gets people into craft beer. If you’re a Keith’s drinker or a Coors Lite drinker, it’s an easy beer to transition into. Most breweries will have that gateway beer.”

• Headliner — 6% IPA. “It’s a very citrusy, juicy and vibrant beer.”

• Gemini — 8 ½-9%, a double IPA. “It’s big, hoppy, bitter, really easy to drink.”

• Nunmoar Black IPA — American black IPA, 7 ½%, “hopped with American hops but it’s also black.”

The tap room will serve snack foods and Leadbetter said there will be food trucks there as well. But a unique aspect to the tap room is that it is in a bit of unchartered territory: Patrons can basically bring in their own food. “You can stop in, say, to Sailor’s Galley and bring your fish and chips in here,” he said. “We can also have staff parties, etc., where you can bring in sandwich trays, etc. or your own food and not worry about catering.”

It’s taken about a year to convert the building from retail paint operation to a tap room. He has slowly been picking away at it. Last November found Leadbetter working part time at Uncle Leo’s when he was still working painting houses at the same time. “While at Uncle Leo’s I got the knack for it; they’re growing crazy down there, too, and they realized the extra hand would be good so it quickly turned into a full time thing.”

Leadbetter credits Karl and Rebecca Whiffen of Uncle Leo’s for allowing him to hone his brewing skills while working for them in Lyons Brook. “They knew that we had plans to open our own place. They said if you want some experience in commercial brewing you can work part time down here.

“Coming from a construction industry where it’s very cut-throat into the craft beer industry everybody’s so willing to help… it’s a great community. Craft brewers stick together. Even though there is so many of them, they are still small fish in the beer world.”

The tap room will be selling its own beer to enjoy in house as well as in growlers of two sizes – 32 ounce and a 64 ounce (“That’s about a six pack — so a couple people could share a 64 ounce growler.”) And the tap list will change weekly.

Leadbetter is very excited about opening the businesses for two reasons. “To get the brewery going and offer our own beer and, to provide a place for craft beer enthusiasts to go to enjoy a beer.”

He said, “There is such a market of craft beer out there to ‘tap into’ — pun intended.”

According to Halifax Magazine, Nova Scotian beer contributes to the local economy. In 2016, the industry directly employed 400 people across the province, sold $16 million worth of beer, and exported $800,000 worth.“

Our main focus is to showcase Nova Scotia craft beer; that’s our main intention with the tap room. There’s almost 60 craft breweries in Nova Scotia now, and people are busy, they don’t have time to take the weekend to go to Yarmouth to try a new brewery but they can come here and try some from other areas. They don’t have to travel far to try other products from other craft breweries.”

A.J. Leadbetter stands beside one of the vats that will be part of the microbrewery when he opens Backstage Brewing Company in Stellarton next month.(Jardine photo)

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