Half Cocked Brewing is a small brewery launching this week in North Grant, located 6 kilometres North of the town of Antigonish, NS, on Highway 245. Partners Greg Oicle and Matt Thompson have been enjoying flavourful beers for years, during their travels and work across the country, and have “come home to roost” in the region. We caught up with Greg and Matt to learn more about their interest in beer, the first offerings from Half Cocked, and their plans for the future.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Brewer Greg Oicle and Hop Grower Matt Thompson have partnered at the old Oicle chicken farm, which will be the location of the brewery and hop farm. Greg, a St FX alumnus and geologist by trade, spent time in the oil patch before moving to Ontario. Matt, a recent transplant to Antigonish, moved back to the motherland after a near decade in Victoria BC where he honed his arborist skills, and grew as much food as humanly possible.
How did you get into the world of beer?
Greg: I had a Howe Sound Devil’s Elbow IPA in Fort McMurray (probably due to its huge size) and really enjoyed it. I then starting buying that and Granville Island stuff, because it was all that was available there. In Ontario, I got into Flying Monkeys, Collective Arts, Muskoka, etc and haven’t looked back from there.
Matt: The first craft beer I had was likely an early Picaroons keg in residence in Fredericton. Before moving out west, I was heavy into the Pics Irish Red and Best Bitter. In Victoria, I was quickly seduced by the hops; a fresh Driftwood Fat Tug IPA is still near the top of my list.
What made you decide to take the step into opening a brewery?
We had been homebrewing because it was too hard to get the beer we wanted in town. We enjoyed Big Spruce but it was still a 2 hr drive away. After a while, we thought our brews were getting pretty good and friends were also encouraging us to go in that direction. We knew we weren’t the only ones interested in local, fresh, beer, and live in a community that really supports local businesses, so we decided to go for it.
What is the ethos of the brewery?
We craft American style ales with quality ingredients. Obviously, taste is important, but also getting the most out of all the ingredients. We started brewing with Horton Ridge malt almost the same time we got the Sabco BrewMagic in order to get our recipes right where we want them. Often, the sweetness of the malt gets overpowered by hop craziness, so we strive to keep it a big part of the flavour profile.
Can you tell us about the beers you plan on offering initially? Any seasonals or beer “series” in the works?
We are launching with five beers this week:
Cock of the Walk – 6.5% India Black Ale (or black IPA). A nice combination of dark malt roastiness, big hop flavour and nice bitterness.
XPA – 6% Extra Pale Ale. A floral and citrus nose leads to a sharp hop bite, followed by a biscuity sweetness and drinks like your favorite West Coast Pale. Brewed with a grist featuring Horton Ridge 2 Row, bittered with Warrior while Centennial, Citra, Mosaic, and Cascade are added for flavor and aroma. Matt swears this beer stays on your palate 2 or 3 sips longer than most beers, but we will let you be the judge of that.
Pete’s Sake– 4.5% Blonde Ale. Very approachable. Perceived bitterness is minimal, light and refreshing. We all know a Pete; small town guy who drinks the same beer his dad does, enjoys supporting local, wants to get on that craft beer wave but doesn’t know where to start. Well, we brewed this beer for Pete’s Sake!
Fruit Cocked Ale – 5% Fruit Beer. Our take on a Radler, it comes in higher than a trad rad at 5%, and is made with grapefruit juice. The name was suggested to us by a local homebrewer and while perfect, Greg maintains we would have thought of it on our own someday.
We will be experimenting with IPA and Double IPA recipes, as well as doing a harvest- or fresh-hopped beer from Matt’s already-established plants at his home, and going forward with hops grown here in our hopyard.
The first of these beers is a 7.7% Imperial IPA, which was also the first beer brewed under our much-awaited excise licence. It is a sneaky little troublemaker, featuring hop darling Mosaic crafted using 2 Row, Munich, and Vienna malt from Horton Ridge, appropriately called Wait for It.
How will folks be able enjoy your beer?
We will be easing into it filling growlers once or twice a week, as stock permits. Once we see how quickly it moves out of the barn, we may begin to circulate some kegs around the region, and start hitting up the Farmers’ Market circuit. Plans for a tasting room are in the works sometime in the next year, along with what we are sure will be a much needed size increase in our system and production capacity.
Do you have some initial accounts in the area lined up to serve your beers?
Like we said, it’s gonna be a little while before the beer can leave the barn, but when it does you can be sure it will pop up on the guest tap at the Townhouse in Antigonish and possibly at the Horton Ridge tap room. Our XPA and Cock of the Walk IBA both have malt bills which are predominantly Horton Ridge malts.
Have you had any assistance from other breweries/people in Atlantic Canada?
Like most of the new breweries that have started up the last year or so, we have done a lot of visiting/brain picking/pestering of most of the breweries in the province. All have been very welcoming and supportive as we have worked our way towards opening. Terry and Rose at the Townhouse deserve special mention, Terry allowed us to brew on his BrewMagic a couple of times, so we could get some feedback on our recipes and start to brew up a little buzz for the brewery. Jeremy at Big Spruce heard from us a lot in the beginning and helped encourage us to go for it, Jeff Saunders from Bad Apple Brewhouse showed us how much you can do on your own, Mark and Sean at Lunn’s Mill helped us with a lot of the start up logistics and let us pour for them at Beer and Bites to get a taste of the other side of the table. Most recently Greg got to spend some time with Greg Nash of Unfiltered and talk water chemistry and all things brewing. We’ve been to TataBrew, Uncle Leo’s, 2 Crows, Tidehouse, Backstage, Sober Island and everyone has been very positive and helpful and we cant wait to be a part of such a vibrant industry in our province.
Where do you hope to see your brewery in the next 2-3 years?
Hopefully with a 7-10 barrel system, cranking out delicious brews and serving pints from our own tap room. We would like to tap into the potential of our area and put as much of the 9000 sq ft barn we occupy to use. We plan to have year round events, there are already 5 km of trails behind the barn that are perfect for snowshoeing or cross country skiing.
For the beer nerds:
What type of system will you be brewing on?
We are starting on the Sabco BrewMagic, it’s a 1/2 barrel (60 litre) system, so we know we will be working our butts of in the beginning. Our yearly output will be approximately 80 barrel, or 100 hectolitres.
Care to share some info on your homebrewing history?
Greg and his brother Dave had been homebrewing for a couple years now, which started as trying to brew a beer they really liked, prompted by having a somewhat limited selection in the NSLC at the time. That quickly became more focused on developing recipes we liked and thought other people would like as well. When we got the BrewMagic in October, we really started to focus on specifics as we dialed in our recipes.
Do you have a favorite beer style, beer, or brewery you enjoy drinking?
Greg: My tastes in craft beer started with the biggest IPAs I could get my hands on. The higher the IBUS and ABV, the better! My tastes have changed a bit and I’ve learned to appreciate more styles. Now I can usually go for a well crafted pale ale. Collective Arts Rhyme and Reason is a favorite as well as the American Pale Ale from Bad Apple Brewhouse.
Matt: That’s a tough one, I like IPAs of course, but definitely enjoy a variety of sours and strong dark beers like Imperial stouts and Barleywines. While I enjoy a variety of beers and breweries from around the world/country/province, I would be lying to you and myself if I didn’t say I’d love to crush DOA at Charm School in some kind of wonderful Groundhog day scenario.
How about favourite style or ingredient to brew with?
We are currently enjoying making big hoppy IPAs for fun and pushing our little system to the limit. We have also enjoyed using the unique malts coming out of Horton Ridge and tailoring our beers to get the taste profiles we desire
Now that we’ve got everyone thirsty, how can they enjoy your beer?
We are launching our first five beers tomorrow (Friday, August 4th) at the Townhouse in Antigonish, and will be on-hand to talk shop and beer from 4pm. We hope to have our first growler filling days at the barn in early August (but having written that down, anything can happen now). Stay tuned!
Thanks to Greg and Matt for taking time out of their busy schedule to tell us all about Half Cocked! Keep an eye on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest releases and news, including their first growler sales later this month. Congratulations guys!