If you ever find yourself visiting Halifax and you are interested in beer History, Alexander Keith’s Brewery Tour might just be for you. The Alexander Keith’s Brewery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, offers an immersive and entertaining tour that provided visitors with a glimpse into the history and brewing process of this iconic brewery. This is one of the best tour I have had been on in my life, replete with loads of great beer samples, wonderful anecdotes and even some pretty epic songs.
- How much? 26.95$ per adult
- How long Roughly 90 minutes.
- When? There is roughly seven tours per day. Hours are available here
- What does the tour include? A visit of the first original Alexander Keith’s Brewery, the history of its founder, an overview of the brewing process, and at least four delicious beer samples.
Who was Alexander Keith?
Alexander Keith was born in Scotland in 1795 and spent his early adult life learning the brewing craft with his uncle. After numerous travels perfecting his trade (and hopefully enjoying the world), he finally settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1817. At the time, there was only one big brewery in operation, but it was not performing well. The brewery had been the official brew provider of the British navy, but its contract was cancelled because British sailors were complaining about the appalling low quality of the brew.
Enter Alexander Keith, who was the only certified brewer in the whole British North America at that time. Keith rapidly found himself as the manager of the brewery and turned the place’s poor reputation around. In no time, the 23-year-old brought back the mighty British Navy as a client. Business was so good, in fact, that he bought the place and immediately started expanding to a proper industrial scale.
In addition to his exceptional brewing skills, Alexander Keith was a prominent public figure in Halifax and a true titan in the entire maritime region. He was elected as a city alderman and later served as the mayor from 1843 to 1844. His strong leadership and commitment to the community earned him the nickname “The People’s Mayor.” He also served in senior management of several companies, including the Bank of Nova Scotia, the Investment Society, the Halifax Fire Insurance Company, Colonial Life Assurance Company, and the Provincial Permanent Building.
When Alexander Keith passed away, news of his death dominated the front pages of nearly every Canadian newspaper, and the entire city of Halifax was deeply affected. As a mark of respect, business owners shuttered their shops, and downtown streets came to a standstill. The procession in Halifax was so massive that it took a full ten minutes at any given point for everyone to pass through. To this date, October 5th, Alexander Keith’s birthdate is still widly celebrated, even by his main local competitors. A news story from 2015 recalls how 1500 people gathered at the museum to celebrate for his anniversary.
How did Alexander Keith become such as staple of Canadian beer?
As a testament to his enduring legacy, the slogan “Alexander Keith’s: Those Who Like It, Like It A Lot” still graces the brewery’s products to this day. The Alexander Keith Brewery continues to be an essential part of Halifax’s identity, preserving the rich history and tradition of brewing in the region.
The brewing mecca of the day was London, where the porter was invented less than a century before, driven by the higher want of high alcohol beer of the Industrial Revolution. IPAs were also the sensation of the time. Both brewing processes involved new innovations and new discoveries about the water profile, grain bills, and proper fermentation techniques. Keith would have already have been exposing to this before setting foot in Nova Scotia.
Alexander Keith’s IPA
As porter was starting to fade away and IPAs became more prominent, Alexander Keith’s very first official beer would be the good old IPA. But hold on, this wasn’t your modern-day, super-hoppy West Coast IPA. Oh no, Keith’s iconic brew had a more subtle charm to it. It was the British Navy’s best drinking choice because those IPAs, along with porters and marzbeers, had a higher alcohol content that kept them fresh during those long sea voyages across the globe.
Naturally, the IPA style was perfect for long journeys, making it a top choice for exporting to other provinces and countries. Even today, the flagship IPA remains a star product, but some experts say it’s a bit too lightly hopped to be a proper IPA.
Funny enough, even the modern day IPA hasn’t reached the extreme hop fanfare of modern trends. At the 2016 Canadian Brewing Awards, Alexander Keith’s IPA won third place, but… not in the IPA category. Nope! It snagged that spot in the “North American Style Blonde or Golden Ale” category. So, it might not be your traditional IPA, but it’s still a tasty brew with a cool history to sip on! Cheers to the hoppy goodness! 🍻
What is the legacy of Keith’s Brewing today?
As for the impact on Canada, Alexander Keith’s Brewery holds a special place in Canadian beer history. It is not only one of the oldest surviving breweries in the country but also a symbol of maritime culture and identity. The brewery has become intertwined with the history of Halifax and Nova Scotia, and its products have been enjoyed by generations of Canadians.
Over the years, the brewery expanded its operations, and by the mid-19th century, it was exporting its beer to various parts of Canada and beyond. The brewery’s reputation for producing high-quality beers and its status as a cultural institution in Halifax continued to grow.
Despite the ups and downs, Alexander Keith’s Brewery managed to survive through various economic challenges, including prohibition in Canada during the early 20th century. Introduced as a war measure, the prohibition went on to continue until the second world war in Nova Scotia, much longer than in most Canadian provinces (in Quebec, the usual outlier, prohibition lasted a mere 12 months…)
In the latter half of the 20th century, the brewery faced stiff competition from larger national and international beer brands. However, Keith’s managed to maintain a loyal following among Canadians, particularly in the Maritimes.
In 1971, the Oland family, another prominent brewing family in the region, acquired Alexander Keith’s Brewery. The Oland family has played a significant role in preserving the brewery’s heritage and maintaining its traditional brewing methods.
Today, Alexander Keith’s Brewery remains an essential part of Canadian beer culture, and its beers continue to be enjoyed by Canadians and beer enthusiasts worldwide. While the brewery has experienced changes over the centuries, its legacy as a pioneer in Canadian brewing and its impact on the country’s beer culture remain significant.
Alexander Keith’s Brewery Tour : where to book?
Simply visit the Alexander Keith’s Brewery website and register! Be sure to book it in advance so make sure you have a spot!