with notes and recounts from Orval and Julie Meisner
I had the unique experience of learning about homebrewing while I was growing up thanks to my parents. Not many can say that especially when you grew up in the 80-90’s. My parents have always been in tune with the world of homebrew and craft beer and have witnessed its amazing growth over the years. It was a period of learning and experimentation for brewers, and as we now know, many of them transitioned into the craft brewers that have given us our favourite beers and brew pubs.
Craft beer back in the 80’s, you could almost say, did not exist in the Maritimes. Your standard brewery and beer options were the “big guys” who dominated the market. In the early 80’s, Granite Brewery in Halifax, NS began a mission to change that. Brew pubs were basically non-existent in North America at that time but despite that, Granite Brewery began experimenting with “real-ale” and introducing it to the people of Nova Scotia at Ginger’s Tavern in 1985. It was the second brewpub and third craft brewery in Canada. Within that year, people started warming up to the beer and the concept of a brew pub. The craft beer revolution had begun!
With Ginger’s starting to open people’s eyes to the vast craft beer world, some gained an interest for homebrewing. If you had an interest in homebrewing though, your options for ingredients and equipment were still limited. Different malts, yeasts and hops were not available. Your choices were extract syrups, corn sugar, and yeast—that’s it. No Citra hops, chocolate malts or funky farmhouse yeasts. Your style options were light or dark. It was not elegant brewing but it was a start and began to introduce people to the possibilities of what beer could become.
During this time, the Meisner’s (my parents) were already on the homebrew/craft beer wagon. In the mid-70’s, they tasted a friend’s homebrew and knew immediately they had to start brewing their own. They were convinced that they could also brew a better beer than the large commercial product. Then once they had been introduced to Granite’s Best Bitter and Peculiar, they were convinced that better beer was a reality.
They began homebrewing using what ingredients were available. As a young budding brewer, I have specific memories of the cans of Coopers Malt syrups sitting on top of the old wood cookstove so the heat would make it easier to pour into the big vat of boiling water. That was all that needed to be done then—boil water, add syrup and corn sugar, cool and pitch yeast. The malts were infused with hops so you didn’t even have that step of the process. It was simple compared to what you can do today with beer but provided a blank canvas for people to begin experimenting and learning more about craft beer. It did not take Orval and Julie long to jump full into craft beer. They began growing hops in their organic garden and started experimenting with adding fresh hops to the brewing process. They were enjoying homebrewing so much that they wanted to share it with their friends and family. So, the North Queens Homebrew Association (NQHBA) was born in 1981. The main goal was to share their beer and love of brewing with everyone. Through this, others close to them started homebrewing and joining the world of craft beer. Once, enough in the group starting brewing, the idea of the beerfest came up. It was an opportunity for the members of the group to get together and try what they have been creating at home. Throw in a trophy, food, live music and you have yourself a party. In 1981, the first NQHBA fest was held.
The North Queens Homebrew Association Beerfest became serious business. Members prepared for the event every November and very quickly it went from being hosted at the Meisner’s home to moving to a local inn to accommodate everyone that attended. They divided entries into light and dark categories and developed the proper score sheets to evaluate the entered brews: Taste, Aroma, Clarity, Effervescence and Head Retention were all scored. Each year more of the members entered beers and each year they became more unique. Because of the limited availability of ingredients, many of the early brew entries were quite similar. But soon it became apparent that the dark, more malty, full flavour beers were the favourites. The early light lagers evolved into ales and stouts. This led to the creation of a second trophy and distinct light and dark category winners. Cooper’s Malt syrup was one of the more popular ingredients. At the 16th NQHBA gathering, all but two of the seventeen entries featured a version of this malt. At this point the brewers were also experimenting with adjuncts such as ginger, cranberries, and raspberries. It was certainly a forerunner to the future world of craft brewing.
The Beerfest was held for 19 consecutive years and holds some amazing memories for my parents and myself as I got older. Now that I am an avid homebrewer myself, I want to take part in this iconic part of my family’s brewing history. Being 2020, my parents and I thought it would be special to finally celebrate the 20th fest. The current COVID pandemic, however, may prevent a fall fest gathering from happening. Either way, the Meisner’s will soon celebrate the 20th NQHBA Fest and when it does happen, it will be epic. The world of beer has evolved and homebrew creativity is endless. The Meisner’s will be going head to head in this fest so it will no doubt be another great moment in the North Queens Homebrew Association history.
Cover photo courtesy of Chelsea Meisner.
Chelsea Meisner is a Food Scientist by day specializing in new product development. Homebrewing is her professional hobby which she has become extremely passionate about over the last 8 years. She has had the opportunity to apprentice and guest brew at a few craft breweries in New England and the Maritimes. Most recently she won the Gahan Maritime Homebrew Competition and was able to see one of her favourite homebrews canned and sold around the Maritimes. You can find her @ladyscotiabrewing on Facebook and Instagram, and @ladyscotiabrew on Twitter.