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Hoppy trails

Breaking down the strong beer trend in Halifax with radical brewer Greg Nash.

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It wasn't all that long ago—25 years in fact—that there was no such thing as microbrewed beer on the radar of Haligonians. Kevin Keefe at Ginger's (The Granite Brewery) cured that in 1984.

In contrast, the last five years have seen a veritable explosion of craft brands released in the area, to the delight of local hopheads.

Rogue's Roost brewpub on Spring Garden, where brewer Lorne Romano rules the roost, has released a series of exceptional, strong and/or otherwise big, full-figured brews, including a serious IPA (Imperial Pale Ale, but more on that later).

Propeller Brewing Company released two "power beers": IPA and Revolution, a Russian imperial stout.

We're acquiring a West Coast palate (Oregon, Washington and California are notorious for highly hopped, high gravity brews), as reconfirmed by Garrison's new ImPA: a bitter, unfiltered ale, from brewer Greg Nash.

Beer geeks know Nash from Shippey's in the Harbourside food court, where he became infamous for radical brews, including Left Coast IPA and Blackhook, a smoked black porter, one of the most "out there" he's brewed, he admits. Shippey's is defunct—the equipment still sits, sadly neglected, above the bar/pizza/Greek kiosk.

After Shippey's' untimely demise, Nash "did time" at Keltic in Truro, and brewed for Propeller before landing this gig at Garrison. Garrison wanted to make ambitious beer to match their move to spiffy waterfront digs.

His first two seasonal releases are ImPA and Harvest Wheat, sold in 650ml bottles, on tap in selected locations (The Split Crow had the ImPA as of Tuesday). "We decided it would be great for the local brewing scene to release an extreme beer," explains Nash, "to make a statement that I've teamed up with Garrison Brewing Co. and we're all about great beer."

"Technically, ImPA is a West Coast style India Pale Ale, by modern day guidelines," adds Nash, "Some call it India; we call it Imperial. Imperial pale ale was a variant of a 19th century American style called stock ale: strong, hoppy brews designed to be stocked (stored) before consumption."

High hopping and alcohol are tried and true techniques for keeping ale fresh. That's why traditional IPAs were so strong and bitter: to keep all the way to India from England. Many modern IPAs are regular strength and minimally bitter, like Keith's and some British examples, but craft breweries have revived the old style.

Nash grew up in Amherst, started homebrewing in the late '70s, but didn't get serious until the '90s. After a few disappointments ("My beer tasted more like bad cider than good beer"), he started reading brewing literature and by 1994 was installing breweries for brewery designers/installers DME (PEI). Then he got really serious. "With God's speed I left the family Christmas tree/blueberry farm and was off to brewing school."

In 1996, Nash graduated from the American Brewers Guild in Davis, California. After stints at several American craft breweries, Nash crossed the border.

He quick mashed at The Queen Molly (now Rudder's) in Yarmouth, River City Brewing in Winnipeg, and Moncton's Pump House, before settling in Halifax.

"I really enjoy big, bold, complex styles," Nash says. "Not sure that I can pick out an absolute favourite. If I list 30 or 40, maybe you can spin the wheel for me?" He has a particular fondness for Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Dogfishhead 90 Minute IPA, Propeller Porter and Hacker-Pschorr Weisse. Of his own, he's most proud of a Weizenbock, a strong wheat-beer he fashioned at a small US brewery, "but the ImPA is right up there!" Why Unfiltered? "To quote one consumer," Nash notes, "Filtering a hoppy beer like this essentially neuters it.' Filtration strips away body, mouthfeel, aromatics, flavour,as well as minerals and vitamins that I'd rather see remain. Beer is an excellent source of trace minerals and vitamin B complex in its natural state."

Tasting this deliciously intense beer makes one contemplate future Garrison brews. "Next up will be a strong German style lager for the winter months."

Craig Pinhey is a Certified Beer Judge, Sommelier, and freelance writer. Visit him at www.frogspad.ca.

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