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Wayfarers’ Ale Society aims to support local economy through its own growth as a business

Wayfarers’ Ale Society chairman Chris Killacky and brewer Detlef Heiss on the balcony at the society’s Port Williams facility. Killacky said they have a great location with a spectacular view that is a hidden gem.
Wayfarers’ Ale Society chairman Chris Killacky and brewer Detlef Heiss on the balcony at the society’s Port Williams facility. Killacky said they have a great location with a spectacular view that is a hidden gem. - Kirk Starratt

PORT WILLIAMS, NS - The Wayfarers’ Ale Society is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to supporting local and this is as important a philosophy to those involved as creating good beer.

Wayfarers’ Ale Society chairman Chris Killacky of Wolfville said they built their Port Williams facility from scratch and pretty much all the equipment and furnishings down to the tables and chairs were purchased in the Maritimes or from elsewhere in Canada. The society was established in 2012 and the brewery was built in 2015 and 2016.

The society has purchased the Port Williams wharf. They’ve constructed a patio and had two large pontoons built that will be attached to the wharf. Eventually, these will give people travelling the Cornwallis River by kayak from a launch in Kentville a safe place to land. He said the Cornwallis River has an amazing heritage and there would be further investment in the wharf to come.

The Wayfarers’ Ale Society facility, overlooking the historic Cornwallis River in Port Williams.
The Wayfarers’ Ale Society facility, overlooking the historic Cornwallis River in Port Williams.

Killacky said Port Williams is a great destination with housing developments and an eclectic grouping of several high quality businesses, including other breweries such as Sea Level Brewing, the Port Pub Bistro, Barrelling Tide Distillery, The Noodle Guy and many more.

“For us, it made sense to invest in the area and one of the things I was keen on doing as the largest shareholder was to ensure that it wasn’t just about making beer, it was actually putting something back into the infrastructure of the local society,” Killacky said.

He said they purchase as much Valley hops as possible. The Valley is superb for growing hops and we need more hop producers in the region. They purchase specialty malts from the Horton Ridge Malt and Grain Company or malt from other Maritime producers.

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Rooted in tradition

Killacky said enjoying beer is a social experience, creating community by bringing people together. Wayfarers’ views craft beer production as a means to re-establish the “noble art of conversation” in an increasingly virtual world.

In years gone by, churches would provide horns of ale and pieces of bread to weary travelers or wayfarers. Killacky said the notion of being a wayfarer is one of understanding rural life’s path and realizing that we have to show hospitality and generosity to our fellow wayfarers. Beer is a food, something to be shared with friends.

He said their beers aren’t “super hoppy” and in some ways are more representative of traditional styles. They produce some unique beers including special stouts, their Sassy Ginger beer and the Hellene is doing very well.

Killacky said one advantage they have is a steam system that allows a great deal of flexibility in making a variety of beers. They’re producing 12 different types and are collaborating with Hennigar’s Farm Market to make a special cider. A second brewery site recently opened at Hennigar’s for this purpose.

The Wayfarers’ Ale Society facility, overlooking the historic Cornwallis River in Port Williams.
The Wayfarers’ Ale Society facility, overlooking the historic Cornwallis River in Port Williams.

Challenges facing craft breweries

Killacky said Wayfarers’ has been doing well but being involved in the craft brewery business isn’t a license to print money. There is a positive future ahead but there are some headwinds and business challenges to overcome. The craft beer industry in Nova Scotia hasn’t seen the investment on the part of government that the wine industry has. This is something that those involved in the craft beer industry hope to see.

He said Nova Scotia and the Maritimes are behind the rest of the country in terms of our promotion of craft beers. Killacky estimates that our province is 10 years behind Ontario in this regard. There are problems with the supply of aluminum cans, the business environment in Nova Scotia is very tax heavy and there are interprovincial trade barriers to overcome.

He said the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation has been slow to embrace craft beer although this is changing. Killacky said that, anywhere else in the world, you can walk into a supermarket and buy beer.

He said many beer consumers don’t realize that several long-standing brands including Keith’s, Molson and Oland are now all owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a large multinational corporation. People think these beers are Canadian but in fact they’re international brands owned principally by overseas investors.

“The craft beer movement is very much about recovering really good quality beer. For us, we just use hops, water, malt and yeast,” Killacky said. “It’s also about employing local people and supporting, in a very real sense, the Nova Scotian economy.”

He said it’s also about educating people that if we want to create jobs and enterprise in Nova Scotia, we have to recognize that we have to support and invest in local businesses.

Supporting local means hiring local

The Wayfarers’ Ale Society recognizes that supporting the local economy means hiring local people.

The society employs 19 people at the Port Williams facility during the summer months. Society chairman Chris Killacky said this means “real jobs for real people in the Valley, which is part of our philosophy as a brewery.”

There is no question the society had its genesis in eastern Kings County. Killacky, a Wolfville resident, started Wayfarers’ with brewer Detlef Heiss of Wolfville and cellarer Jamie Aitken of Coldbrook.

Former Horton High School student Breanna Darton did the design work for Wayfarers’ cans. With a view of the school from Wayfarers’, Killacky said this was another way to demonstrate their commitment to supporting local. Their cans are available from the brewery or Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation outlets and growlers and kegs are available at the brewery.

Wayfarers’ Ale Society retail staff member and bartender Keely Carey and society chairman Chris Killacky show a sampling of their product cans, which they are very proud of. The cans were designed by former Horton High School student Breanna Darton.
Wayfarers’ Ale Society retail staff member and bartender Keely Carey and society chairman Chris Killacky show a sampling of their product cans, which they are very proud of. The cans were designed by former Horton High School student Breanna Darton.

Keely Carey of the Gaspereau Valley, a retail staff member and bartender, has worked at Wayfarers’ for two years. She also manages promotional events for the craft brewery, including tastings. Carey said she enjoys the social aspect of the job, including getting to meet the many tourists who visit. It’s a “pretty relaxed environment” to work in and you “get a good discount on beer.”

Brewer Detlef Heiss of Wolfville said his passion is getting to brew the beer that he likes to drink. He said the Wayfarers’ Ale Society started working in 2012 to develop various brews.

“We spent a lot of time investigating traditional brews,” Heiss said. “You’ll see that some of our offerings are very traditional. Some things are a little further out, such as the IPA.”

He said the Hellene is by far his favourite and it has become his go-to beer. He likes a session beer and said he wants “something that knocks me right off my chair.” Heiss said the Hellene is a great refreshment, especially considering the hot, humid summer Nova Scotia has been experiencing.

He said developing a new brew involves a lot of trial and error. You start with some ideas of where you want to go and then you have to brew a lot of batches to get what you expected. Heiss said that when brewing beer in a system like the one at Wayfarers’, the most challenging thing is to maintain the mash temperature where you want it and this is a part of the process that he “likes to keep his hands on.”

Heiss said the Wayfarers’ Ale Society provides a very supportive environment when it comes to his work as a brew master. The administration of a brewery takes a lot of time but he doesn’t find this aspect as fun as the actual brewing process. He said he spends as much time experimenting and brewing as possible.

Kirk.starratt@kingscountnews.ca

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For more information on the Wayfarers’ Ale Society, visit www.wayfarersale.ca.

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