Karl and Rebecca Whiffen will not only be busy making craft beer this summer, they will also be serving it on Pictou’s waterfront.
As owners of Uncle Leo’s Brewery, located in Lyons Brook, the couple have decided to expand their business into Pictou by opening a German-style beer garden at the Hector Heritage Quay.
“The idea is to have all-Nova Scotia beer on tap and we will have eight different taps and it will rotate so every time one runs out we will have something totally different. When you come in, you try what is here. You don’t know what you are getting from day to day,” said Rebecca.
The quay and the beer garden will operate as two separate businesses. Uncle Leo’s is renting land from the quay and setting up their beer garden near water.
People wanting to visit just the quay will be given a bracelet when they pay admission. There is no admission fee for the beer garden so people can walk onto the property, but they must be 19 years or older to enter the beer garden’s roped-off area.
The 65-person beer garden will operate in fair weather only from July to September and it will be open seven days a week, noon to 10 p.m. Food won’t be served, but Rebecca said staff will be happy to point out restaurants and businesses located in the town.
“It is going to be a really relaxed, wonderful atmosphere to showcase Nova Scotia Craft beer,” said Rebecca.
The couple came up with the idea after seeing similar gardens in Halifax, so when Karl was recently volunteering with the Ship Hector, he mentioned the idea to people involved with the site.
“They said, ‘Why not do it here.’ We kind of thought of asking them so it was kind of a mutual idea that we both thought it would be a great location,” she said.
Considering its brewery in Lyons Brook served thousands of people last year, the Whiffens see the new relationship as a win for everyone.
Rebecca said Uncle Leo’s staff was often recommending restaurants and attractions in the Town of Pictou to people who wanted to do more while they were in the area so now they can direct them to places within walking distance of the quay.
She said by being at the quay, they can also capitalize on foot traffic from bus tours, cruise ship visits or tourists that it wouldn’t normally see its Lyons Brook location.
“This is kind of marrying the two things together to see if we can draw more people downtown and raise the level of tourism a little bit through what we do,” Rebecca said.
The Whiffens said when they opened their micro-brewery five years ago, they thought they would operate Uncle Leo’s Brewery as a side business, but the interest in the craft beer industry has made it a full-time job.
Uncle Leo’s currently has three listings with the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission and is planning a fourth. The company is also looking at selling its craft beer in New Brunswick in the future. A lot of its keg beer also goes to the Halifax area, but they see rural Nova Scotia starting to recognize the industry more and more.
“It’s more mainstream now,” said Karl. “Mostly everyone knows what craft beer is now.”
The couple hope to have the beer garden open by the end of next week so they can prepare for a busy July, starting with the Pictou Lobster Carnival the weekend of July 6-8.
“We will try to keep a variety of what people like. The whole point is to keep a wide range of styles so something appeals to everybody,” said Karl.
The Hector Heritage Quay also has a busy season ahead, says volunteer co-ordinator Brian Kellock. The month of June had higher-than-usual visitor numbers and there are currently more than 55 bus tours booked for tours of the quay with more to come.
He said the Ship Hector is in need of repair and the quay society is currently looking for grant money to allow it hire someone to do a business plan for the quay.