SAINT JOHN – Moosehead returns to its beginnings as a brewer 150 years ago with its new taproom and small-batch brewery, which opens Saturday on the city’s West Side.
The October Brown Ale, one of the five first small-batch brews, is inspired by Moosehead founder Susannah Oland, Moosehead President Andrew Oland said in an interview with Huddle at the new brewery Thursday afternoon.
“The first beer that she sold [in 1867] was an October Brown Ale,” said Oland. “It was a challenge to make. I wish we had a little more info on it, but we’ve given it a good shot.”
The other four new products of the small-batch brew system are a session IPA, a stout, a Dunkelweizen wheat beer, a bock, and a German-style strong lager.
The new small-batch brewery, constructed on the site of the main brewery, has a taproom where people can sit down and have a beer. Customers can also fill up a growler or pick up bottled or canned products from a fridge to take home. It will also have a small retail section with Moosehead merchandise for sale.
There is a 20-barrel brew system in full view of the tap-room. The main brewery has a 500-barrel system, which Oland says is way too large to experiment with making different kinds of beers. Inspired by the craft-beer movement, Oland says Moosehead’s customers are now looking for more variety. They can now deliver because they can experiment more and brew different varieties in smaller quantities.
The challenge is we have a great brewery here but it’s designed for larger batches, and if you innovate it’s just not practical,” said Oland.
“There’s this tremendous growth in the interest in beer. Many consumers want to learn more about beer and experience new styles. We didn’t have the capability to do that until now. We’ve played with it through various methods but without having a much smaller brewhouse we just couldn’t give it our best shot. Now we can play fully in that game.”
Moosehead has also added a three-barrel system so brewers can design and test different brews before making larger batches in the 20-barrel system.
In addition to selling the small-batch beer on site and in growlers, Oland says Moosehead will also supply the bars and restaurants in Greater Saint John with the beer made there.
Moosehead originally planned to construct the small-batch brewery on the waterfront in the city centre. But they cancelled the project in January of last year when they realized it would cost much more than they’d originally projected.
In September, the company announced it had revived the project, but would do it on the West Side instead. Oland says there are benefits to building it on the site of the main brewery.
It will now become part of integrated tours of Moosehead’s facilities, which they began offering last year.
“We have an incredible passion for beer inside this brewery, but it’s an industrial facility and no one ever gets to come in and see it,” said Oland. “This is our way of showcasing our passion for beer.
“The tour will start in the taproom with a glass of beer. They get a full insight into the 20-barrel system. Then they get to see the rest of the brewery including our packaging line, and our main brew-house, where they can sample beer directly from our bottling tanks.”
Then they come back to the tap room. “Come have a beer, talk to our staff, talk to our brewers, or purchase merchandise or a fill a growler.”
Oland is pleased with the development of the tour program, which he says is becoming very popular with tourists.
“We started tours a year ago, and we were number 68 on TripAdvisor of things to do in Saint John,” said Oland. “We’re now number 5. We’re going to go up a couple of more notches, hopefully over the summer.
“There’s a nice tourism cluster developing here on the West Side with the Reversing Rapids, the Irving Nature Park and now our small-batch brewery.”
Tourists and locals are looking for various styles of beer, says Oland, and Moosehead will meet those new demands with the small-batch brewery. But he says Moosehead won’t compromise quality dabbling with different recipes.
“Our consumers want variety, so we’re working very hard,” he said. “We believe the beers we brew are the best representation of that style. If you look at a North American Lager, we believe Moosehead lager is one of the best representations of that style – the way our October Brown Ale will be a great representation of that style. And there is a full spectrum of light lagers all the way to very hoppy IPAs. We’re going to offer them all.”
Oland didn’t seem comfortable picking his own favourite beer, as if he were being asked to choose which one of his children he liked best. He did relent and pick one, but added that he likes to drink them all.
“My favourite is Alpine Lager, created by my grandfather, the essence of what Moosehead is,” he said. “But I drink a lot of beer and I go through all the brands on a regular basis.”
The taproom and brewery will be open to the public Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from noon to 8 pm; Thursday, Friday and Saturday from noon to 10 pm; and Sunday from noon to 6 pm.