Greg Nash runs up the narrow metal stairs in Halifax's Hart & Thistle brew pub, his 30th trip up and down since arriving at 8:30am. "Some people exercise, I make beer," he jokes. Kneeling next to a steaming copper vat, he taps a dial on the heat exchanger and watches the needle on the thermometre drop, mumbling profanities under his breath. Then he swears again as a murky brown liquid trickles slowly through a site glass.
Things are not going according to plan. Nash has 18 homebrewers arriving to buy Double Simcoe SMaSH wort directly from his heat exchanger---a rare opportunity---and he's running behind schedule. "This fucking little system isn't designed to handle beers this hoppy," he explains, shaking his head.
The tiny brewing area is cramped, as staff from the kitchen, restaurant and management jostle for space. "It's one thing if it's your own space," he says, as he crouches on the stairs between the mash tun and kettle to adjust the flow valves. "But I'm gone a few days and there's shit fucking strewn everywhere in the brewery."
Downstairs in the restaurant, the homebrewers are chuckling. Nash is known for his extreme hoppy beers, so it's no surprise that he's jammed the system with an overdose of hops. And although Hart & Thistle has allowed Nash the flexibility to brew beers with names like Car Bomb IRA and Polygamy IPA, and to host initiatives such as four-course beer dinners and wort exchanges, this is just one more sign that he needs room to grow.
Meanwhile, somewhere in HRM sits a jumbled set of fermenter vats, mash tun, kettle, hoses, dials and doohickies---gathering dust, dry as bone. Last summer, Split Crow beverage manager and Nash's business partner, Mark Galic, drove to Truro and dismantled the Keltic Brewing Company, which had shut its doors half a year earlier. He packed it all into a container truck, drove it back to Halifax and parked in a friend's backyard, where the equipment sits, waiting.
After more than a decade of working in other people's breweries, Nash and Galic are poised to make a huge splash on the Canadian beer scene by starting their own brewery and making beer that's, as Nash sometimes likes to call it, "hoppy as balls."
Nash first started brewing at the age of 15 in his parents' home outside Amherst, with bottles exploding under his bed. Dropping out of high school, he spent the next 15 years working as a car painter and helping out on the family blueberry and Christmas tree farm, while continuing to experiment with homebrewing. Over the course of 600 batches, Nash decided to turn brewing into more than a hobby---he returned to school at the age of 31 to upgrade his education and qualify for admission to the American Brewers Guild in Davis, California. His first job after graduation was at a microbrewery and brew pub in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Returning to Canada in 1998 to work at Winnipeg's River City Brewing Company, Nash was slapped in the face with how different the beer scene was. Canada's craft brewing market is the smaller, gentler version of its American counterpart, where extreme beers are now the norm. Canadians had to look south of the border if they wanted anything similar to a west coast style IPA: the US market produces more than 2,000 India Pale Ales, while Canadian brewers and drinkers have been slow to adopt extreme, hoppy beers. But Nash pushed the hops envelope wherever he brewed, while simultaneously pushing owners, who would rather produce tamer, more marketable beers.
Over the past decade, Nash has worked for five Maritime microbreweries, including Halifax's John Shippey's, Propeller, Garrison and the Hart & Thistle along with Moncton's Pump House, always meeting success wherever he has brewed---most notably, winning the 2007 Canadian Beer of the Year award for Garrison's Imperial Pale Ale.
Nash is credited with bringing hoppy west coast beers to the Maritimes, where light beers like Ten Penny Ale and Moosehead used to be the standard. And in the last five years, Canadian brewers have started to follow his lead and produce more extreme beers.
"It's still nowhere near what they do in the US, but brewers here are slowly breaking out of the shell and realizing that yes, there is a market here for the more off-the-wall extreme-type beers," says Nash. And that market now seems ripe for Halifax's hop warrior.
Mark Galic certainly thinks the time is right. He has quit his job at the Split Crow, and now focusses his time on finding a location and a name for a Galic-Nash microbrewery. He's confident the popularity of the Nash brand will play in their favour and allow the pair to finally take their brewing equipment out of the truck and into their own brewery.
"The liquid we put in those cans is going to be really fucking good," Nash says with confidence. "It's going to be different from anything that's available locally." Nash and Galic will focus on the sale of seasonal and vintage beers, primarily targeting specialty wine and beer stores. In addition, they'll produce two or three key styles---a west coast style IPA, a black beer and perhaps a wheat beer. They hope to have product on shelves by summer.
Unfortunately, the team has faced a few roadblocks. They found a location for the business---complete with space for a storefront, walk-in refrigerator and event room---but that fell through. And a potential business name, Hell-Bent, is registered to an Australian company that has reserved the name for all of North America. But the setbacks haven't stopped Nash and Galic from pursuing their business enterprise---they've already set up visits to other potential locations.
Back at the Hart & Thistle, the homebrewers have left, carting their wort-filled pails home to where they will pitch the yeast and leave the beer to ferment. Exhausted, Nash finally sits down, sighs. "I should have been more prepared," he says. Then, without missing a beat, he starts talking about the next brew.