Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Monday, July 28, 2008

The Henry House, Halifax NS: Part 1

The following is an article I put together during my time in Halifax about one of my absolute favourite pubs: The Henry House. It was supposed to run in the Summer issue of TAPS; however, due to space restrictions of the new edition it had to be removed. Every Thursday evening when I was living near the ocean, a group of us would head down to the pub every Thursday evening and good times were always had.


In 1985, Kevin Keefe a brew master by trade, purchased the building at 1222 Barrington Street to re-locate his Ginger's Taven, which was the 2nd brew pub in the nation at the time (the craft brewing industry had yet to grapple the country). The move allowed Keefe to expand his brewing capacity of English style, unpasteurized ales and he called the new location the Granite Brew Pub. Here Keefe brewed ales like Peculiar, Best Bitter’s, India Pale Ale, Stout and more using only natural ingredients with no preservatives or artificial carbonation. His ales along with his terrific food menu created a following and it didn’t take long to see that Keefe was onto something. Not long after, due to the Granite’s success, Keefe’s brother Ron opened a larger brew pub and store in Toronto, ON that has helped create the Ontario craft beer scene. It wasn’t until 2001 when a man by the name of Bill Alsop would happen to visit the Granite and change Keefe’s operating plans for the future.

In September of 2001, Bill Alsop would get in his car and make the drive from his home in Toronto, ON to Halifax to get his daughter settled into her new residence at Dalhousie University. As the story goes, Alsop figured he needed a couple of days to make sure his daughter had everything she needed before he got on his way. After meeting her roommates though, Alsop was left to wander the city during the day while his daughter socialized. By sheer chance, Alsop stumbled onto the Granite Brew Pub and was fascinated by the grand architect of the building’s granite and ironstone structure. Hailing originally from England, Alsop was quickly reminded of homes back in his native country. Upon entering the establishment Alsop fell in love with the ambiance of the place, the beer and the pub. He called his wife Donna on his cell phone and promptly asked her if she wanted to purchase the pub. Her response, “sure”, and for a year and a half, the Alsop’s did everything they could to convince Kevin Keefe to sell them the building.

It is believed that the house was originally built in 1834, yet some visitors and historians alike have told the Alsop’s that the house might have been constructed closer to 1812. It was built in the suburbs of Halifax on what was known as Pleasant Street which was home to other wealthy Halifax descendants. It was built with granite that was shipped over seas from Scotland, and ironstone from Nova Scotia creating a strong foundation. The building’s architect as a side hall building is unique in itself and led the house to garner distinction as a Historical Property. The house would go on to be the home of one of Canada’s most influential leaders of the 1800’s in a man by the name of William Alexander Henry.

Henry was born in 1816 in Halifax but moved away to Antigonish where at 24 years of age he became the youngest member of the House of Assembly. He went on to be named the Attorney General of Nova Scotia, a job which relocated him back to Halifax in 1854 and prompted him to purchase what is now known as The Henry House. Henry wasn’t done there. He went on to be a founding father of confederation, helped write the British North American Act, and was the first Supreme Court Judge appointed from Nova Scotia.

After Henry’s departure from the house, the building endured years of new residents and was primarily used as a home. It was in the 1960’s, where some renovations took place in the house to create a fine dining restaurant. The owners decided to name the restaurant “The Henry House” paying homage to the man who once lived there. The downstairs pub was created and named “Little Stone Jug” and not much has changed since. In 1985 Keefe entered the picture and the Granite Brew Pub was created.

After the Alsop’s purchased the building in 2003, they relocated to Halifax from their home in Toronto to embark on a venture. Both retired and with no experience in the hospitality industry, they didn’t’ know what to expect. They knew that the Granite Brew Pub had a loyal following of people that appreciated great ales and terrific food so their first decision was a simple one: keep Granite’s ales on tap and don’t change the menu too drastically. One decision the Alsop’s made was to change the name back to “The Henry House” out of respect to the man who once lived there.

Like in every great pub, you must serve great food. The Henry House’s food goes above today’s standard pub grub like deep fried wings and deep fried potato skins by serving delicious pub food prepared by Chef Eric Orickle, with specialties like the Ultimate burger, Bangers and Mash, and Steak and Kidney Pies which are all crafted by hand. The burgers are the most popular item on the menu next to their beer, and Donna credits their success to Orickle’s preparation and attention to detail. Everything on the menu is fresh, bought locally and prepared the day of. All sauces, dips and soups are made in the morning ensuring freshness and Orickle creates wonderful daily specials that leave you completely satisfied. But the Henry House isn’t just known for its terrific food. No, the Henry House is known for its beer, its hospitality and its good nature.

When Keefe sold the building to the Alsop’s in 2003, Bill already knew that Haligonians and Nova Scotians alike were finding the Granite’s ales interesting in taste and flavour and the pub had developed a loyal fan base. Bill, being from England and all, loved the ales himself and thought he shouldn’t mess with something so good. So the Alsop’s stuck with Keefe’s ales and to this day Keefe delivers the fresh cask conditioned beers and kegs to the Henry House personally. The lineup of ales include: the award winning Peculiar ale (that was designed after the famous “Old Yorkshire Peculiar Ale” in England), Best Bitter, Best Bitter Special, India Pale Ale, Keefe’s Irish Stout, and Ringwood Ale. There are also mixed beer creations like the Black and Tan, Lunatic Stout and more. The Peculiar, Bitter and Best Bitter Special are all cask conditioned, which means the beer is still fermenting in the keg and later it is pushed out with beer gas through hand pumps which prevents CO2 that causes bloated-ness.

Stay tuned for Part Two


Alan said...

You have missed a bit of history, as Granite Brewery started off not in the Henry House but in an old tavern a block or so away called Gingers. Not the new Gingers at the nicer end of Barrington but the old one nearer the docks, past the ladies of the night (to whom, being polite, we said hello) as we headed in to practice pool in front of a gallery of winos and to drink the first experimental batches of the beer served by a great barman called Kenny.

Troy Burtch said...

Thank you Alan for pointing that out. Revisions have been made.

When I wrote the article over a year and half ago, I submitted it to various people for review and no one mentioned Ginger's coming before the Granite. I submitted an electronic copy to Keefe and I never heard back from him.


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