Lively and fun — that captures the spirit of Newfoundland and Labrador’s friendly, playful, musical folks. The same can be said of their high-quality homebrew. Newfoundland is now joining Canada’s burgeoning craft beer movement, just on the cusp of a bona fide East Coast boom. And like the place itself, labels are quirky and irreverent, descriptions colorful, and the flavors, far from mundane.
Taste the best small-batch beer in rowdy St. John’s and in small communities across the maritime province — while taking in some foot-stomping fiddling, sampling some fresh-caught seafood, and trading tales with the locals. You might be “come from aways” (local slang for visitors), but you’ll be welcomed with open arms.
It’s not everywhere that you can get lager made with 25,000-year-old icebergs. Go to the source, renowned indie Quidi Vidi Brewing Co., to try a light, golden, gently hopped beer with water harvested from local icebergs. The brew masters promise a beverage with a “sparkling finish.” Newfoundland is known as one of the planet’s best places to see the massive chunks of ancient ice floating off the coast, especially in the stretch of water between Labrador and northeastern Newfoundland nicknamed Iceberg Alley. Quidi Vidi, named after the quaint fishing village on the outskirts of St. John’s where it’s located, is the province’s largest artisan brewer with seven seasonal varieties. Go for tastings and tours in summertime. But don’t stop with Iceberg Beer. There’s also Iceberg Water, Iceberg Vodka, rum, and gin.
Port Rexton Brewing Co.
Port Rexton Brewing Co. on the island’s east coast brings rural Newfoundland seasonal and experimental beers — most available only onsite in the taproom. Taste and take home a growler of brews like Sweater Weather, a piney and grassy pale ale, Mr. Wheaty Pants, an American-style beer, and T-Rex, a medium-bodied dark porter. Add a Brie grilled cheese sandwich to complete the picture. The popular brewery is based on Ship Cove in pretty Port Rexton. Take time to explore the hamlet, population: 350, and beautiful surroundings with nearby cliffside hiking, funky artists’ studios, charming B&Bs, and terrific mom ‘n pop eateries.
Western Newfoundland Brewing Co.
Newcomer Western Newfoundland Brewing Co., a self-described nano-brewery, was founded pretty much in the middle of nowhere (Pasadena, NL). For one of the three co-founders whose family has lived on The Rock “since the dawn of time,” this endeavor was an excuse to stay in the area. Keeping things simple, the brewery focuses on traditional small-batch brews. Sip their four signature craft beverages: a smooth dark chocolaty Strout River Stout without the usual biting aftertaste — a “superhero’s breakfast,” creamy-headed Killdevil Pale Ale, a full-bodied Green Gardens Oat “like golden honeybees mating on a daisy,” and “bready, herby, spicy” Wild Cove Cream Ale. You can taste them at a handful of locations, including in Corner Brook, Woody Point, Norris Point, and at L’Anse aux Meadows.
St. John’s pubs
Food plus beer is just as delectable as food with wine, and two new brewpubs in St. John’s are capitalizing on the combo. Recognizing the growing scene, Toronto master Mill Street Brewery has moved into town, the company’s first foray into Atlantic Canada. The far-east version of Mill Street offers the largest beer selection in town. Go for happy hour pints and choose from the ever-changing list. Adjacent is Mill Street partner Bier Markt, a Canadian brand also based in Toronto with numerous locations. The concept is a cellar with 150 small-batch ales, lagers, and the like from 25 countries, 20 from Canada’s East Coast, plus five rotating taps. As if that weren’t enough, the menu includes craft cocktails, global wines, and high-brow pub fare in an open-space, contemporary setting with live entertainment.
Craft beer festival
After decades of mass-produced suds dominating, the province’s first cult craft beer celebration, St. John’s BrewFest, happened in 2016. The concept was a weekend of guided tastings, some 50 craft beers both local and from four countries, with some available in Newfoundland for the first time, plus food, parties, and live entertainment.
If you want a comprehensive overview, go on a St. John’s Beer Tours guided outing of the capital’s best. Fun is paramount on these social-minded tours for up to 15, and options vary from Hoppy Highlights and axe throwing, plus brew sampling to a three-stop townie tour. You’ll check out the upstarts and also check in with the original pioneers. For example, locally-owned YellowBelly Brewery & Public House, set in an 1846 historic building, and Storm Brewing, with its raspberry wheat standout. Sometimes, there’s even a “Screeching in” ceremony — when visitors get crowned official Newfoundlanders in a zany tradition that involves tossing back Screech rum and kissing a cod fish.
Newfoundland craft beer trail
First, get outside: Hike the windswept, poetic coastline on a trek like the Skerwink Trail near Trinity (and Port Rexton) or hire a guide to take you out squid jiggin' (aka catching a squid). Then embark on an ale-focused road trip across the province.
Start in St. John’s hitting all the faves — Quidi Vidi, YellowBelly, and Mill Street. Drive three hours outside of town for a Baycation Blonde at local darling Port Rexton. Then plan your own route from there, but be sure to hit Gander’s open-concept Scudrunner Brewing, the only microbrewer in central Newfoundland, and enjoy watching the brew action while you taste. Keep a lookout for English-style Split Rock Brewing, set to open soon in gorgeous Twillingate, and Secret Cove Brewing Company in Port au Port East, also still in progress.
Uncork top drinking and dining ideas at the Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism website.