Saltbox Brewing Company in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia

Stuart Forster heads to Canada and visits the Saltbox Brewing Company in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, interviewing brewer Jon Rains.

The Saltbox Brewing Company is a craft brewery based in Mahone Bay in Nova Scotia, Canada. The small town overlooks an inlet on the Atlantic coastline, about an hour’s drive southwest of Halifax, the provincial capital.

The view of three of the town’s churches reflecting in the water of the Atlantic is one of the most photographed scenes in all of Canada. Dotted with art and craft stores, Mahone Bay is a pleasant place to break a road trip. Lunenburg, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, is less than 15 minutes’ drive away.

A winter view of the three churches at Mahone Bay in Nova Scotia, Canada.
A winter view of the three churches at Mahone Bay in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Chatting with brewer Jon Rains

Jon Rains is the brewer at Saltbox, which was established back in 2016. He was kind enough to set aside time to answer my questions about the brewery.

“The four founders recognised there was no local brewery in Mahone Bay. They also saw an opportunity to provide an employment base in the community,” explains Jon, who has been with the craft brewery since it opened.

“Actually, I started out working on the construction crew that built Saltbox and once the brewery opened, I started to learn about keg washing and cellaring. I quickly developed a passion for working in the brewery and I began to get more and more involved in the brewing side of things,” says Jon, who studied to be a heritage carpenter.

Part of the community

“The taproom has become a hub the community. People feel a sense of pride about it. They bring their company from away to show it off, and wear T-shirts when they travel,” says Jon with palpable pride.

Saltbox has a 10-barrel brewhouse, meaning it produces around 1,173 litres of beer in every brew. The brewery’s produce has been exported as far as the Netherlands and Japan but most is sold locally, in Nova Scotia.

Logo of the Saltbox Brewing Co. on the door of the brewery's tap room in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
The logo of the Saltbox Brewing Co. on the door of the brewery’s tap room in Mahone Bay.

What’s in a name?

The Saltbox Brewing Company’s beer names tend relate to aspects of the province’s heritage. For example, Make and Break double IPA takes its name from the marine engine used by fishing vessels in the early 1900s. The Loyalist Old English Ale is a tip of a tricorn hat to the 35,000 British subjects who resettled in Nova Scotia following the American Revolution. Blue Nose 1850 is named after the famous schooner that was built in Mahone Bay and features on the reverse of Canadian 10 cent coins.

“I take a lot of pride in the Dynamite Trail Ale Hefeweizen, I love the way the recipe has developed over the years,” says Jon, about a beer named after a 12km stretch of abandoned rail line — ideal for cycling or walking along — between Mahone Bay and Martin’s River.

Chalkboard listing the beers available in the Saltbox Brewing Company's taproom in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia
Chalkboard listing the beers available in the Saltbox Brewing Company’s taproom in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.

Saltbox’s Crustacean Elation ale

One of the brewery’s more unusual seasonal beers is its Crustacean Elation ale, made with lobster.

“Our lobster beer was inspired by the South Shore Lobster Crawl, which happens every February in Nova Scotia. We feel it pays homage to the hardworking fishermen who have made the lobster one of Nova Scotia’s major exports,” says Jon.

“At first we thought the idea was pretty wacky, and well, I guess we still do! But the reception from drinkers has been great. Many people want to try it for the novelty, but they are pleasantly surprised once they taste it,” he adds.

“It’s a light, sessionable beer which pairs well with seafood,” says its brewer.

Glass of Crustacean Elation ale by a can at the Saltbox Brewing Compan's taproom in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada
A glass of Crustacean Elation ale by a can at the Saltbox Brewing Company’s taproom.

Craft brewing in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia’s craft brewing scene has changed markedly since I first visited the province a few years ago. As a lover of good beer, I find there’s now a significantly broader selection of characterful beers to choose from in the province’s pubs.

“We have definitely seen a lot of breweries pop up over the last couple of years,” confirms Jon. “It’s a great thing really. There’s a sense of camaraderie among breweries and brewers in Nova Scotia.”

I ask for recommendations about breweries to look out for and Jon doesn’t hesitate to provide suggestions: “Schoolhouse Brewery, in Windsor, makes some excellent beers and they have a beautiful taproom. Tusket Falls Brewing Company, in Tusket [near Yarmouth] is a must try for anyone passing through.”

“If you ever find yourself in Mahone Bay, come say hello at our taproom,” comments Jon when I ask if he has anything else to say to Go Eat Do’s readers.

Cans of Haskap Cider, Balsam Blue, Crustacean Elation ale and Nun on the Run pale ale, products of the Saltbox Brewing Company
Cans of Haskap Cider, Balsam Blue, Crustacean Elation ale and Nun on the Run pale ale; all products of the Saltbox Brewing Company.

Be sociable in Nova Scotia

If you do find yourself raising a glass in Nova Scotia you might find it handy to know that people tend not to say ‘cheers’ when clinking drinks. ‘Sociable!’ is the most common toast.

Further information

See the Saltbox Brewing Company website for more information about the brewery and the beers that it brews.

Stuart Forster, the author of this article, is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers.

Illustrating photos are by Why Eye Photography.

Thanks for reading this article about the Saltbox Brewing Company in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. If you like beer you might enjoy this interview with Daniel McColl of McColl’s Brewery in northeast England. Mahone Bay is a lovely place to visit during a road trip in Nova Scotia.

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