It seems that a real Soap Opera, or is that a hop opera, has developed on the Halifax beer scene, with a major shake up at Garrison Brewing resulting in a new star head brewer and the loss of the bulk of the brewing team.
The scandal played out on beer discussion boards and via email over the last week, after just-fired brewer Greg Nash posted a “not exactly cryptic” message on the Beer Advocate forum on March 18 explaining he was fired due to differences with president/manager Brian Titus over Nash’s concerns regarding health and safety issues, as well as efficiencies in the brewhouse.
Besides Nash, packaging manager John Mackie was let go. The next day, a third member of the team quit.
Nash’s post was relayed onto the Brewnosers list, the most active virtual site for serious beer discussion in Atlantic Canada. National beer folks became interested, too, because Nash was the main reason Garrison won 2007 Beer of the Year at the Canadian Brewing Awards for its stunning Imperial Pale Ale. His soon-after announced replacement, Daniel Girard, was brewer when Pump House won Canadian Brewery of the Year in 2005. Girard left Pump House not long ago, amid rumours this was not a happy ending. Apparently he and the owners did not see eye to eye.
Ironically, rumour has it Nash may end up at Pump House, a brewery he left almost immediately after it opened. So it may be a one-for-one trade, with a draft pick (Qian Zhang, Girard’s former employee at Pump House, has recently joined the Garrison team).
All this beer gossip makes you shake your head. It points to the key role, both good and bad, of modern technology in communication these days. The good is that those of us with a keen interest in beer and brewing are quickly up to date. The bad is that everyone has already formed an opinion and taken a side before both sides have spoken and before anything has been officially reported.
The result is that what should really be an internal issue, handled by lawyers, management, partners, owners and other interested parties, becomes fodder for us beer geeks. The brewing scene is tight: Everyone knows everyone and this is particularly so in Atlantic Canada, where it’s not uncommon for one brewer to work for different breweries and team up with other brewers. I’ve been to homebrew parties where every small commercial brewer was there with a keg, sharing. It’s a generally friendly business, which makes this mess disturbing.
The main concern of local beer lovers is “Will the beer still be good?” Nash overhauled the beer portfolio at Garrison, cleaning up the beer and tweaking recipes to give them more character.
Asked why they’d fire such a celebrated brewer, Brian Titus was hesitant, but offered this: “One doesn’t let go the best brewer they’ve had unless there are major issues involved and serious attempts have been made to resolve them less dramatically.”
He is confident that Girard can handle brewing responsibilities. “His brewing credentials are without question,” says Titus, “from technical training in Germany to professional experience in Canada and abroad, to writing and speaking on beer issues out of passion for the product.” Girard’s brews will be high quality, if different; every brewer wants to make their mark. No one questions his brewing skill, but it is an awkward situation for a new employee.
It is important not to take sides without knowing the facts, but one thing is for sure: Beer lovers will always take the side of good beer, and Nash’s beers were memorable.