Jason Hynes and his wife Sheila Dwyer were marking the third month of operation as I visited Secret Cove Brewing in Port au Port East on a cold and windy March evening. Having just taken a walk on The Gravels Trail at the start of the Port-au-Port Peninsula, I was ready to come in out of the cold and have a pint. Thankfully, there were five Secret Cove beers on tap ready to slake my thirst. With so many to choose from, a flight was in order; but before I even had a chance to take off my coat and put in my request, a local already at the bar had deftly extracted my name, hometown, what I did for a living, and my reason for being there. This is the sort of hospitality I’ve come to love about Newfoundland: folks want to know all about you, so they can make you part of the family. As a CFA (Come From Away), I was well used to it, and happily played along.
Once I was thoroughly vetted, I got down to the serious business at hand, enjoying this beer from the extreme West Coast of Newfoundland. Pouring that evening were James Blonde 00709, Malt Water Joys Brown Ale, When in Stout, Hop a Ryed in my Dory Double IPA with Rye, and Hard Case In Your Face Double IPA. The taps also showcased a pair of beers from another Newfoundland brewery, Cormack’s Crooked Feeder Western Brook Wheat and White River Wit, but those would have to wait for another evening.
Secret Cove’s tagline is “Where Locals Play” and I soon learned why. A stage is setup near the door, outlined by a stack of kegs, with a backdrop of whale bones (donated by a local) and the last of the St Patrick’s Day decorations (I could only imagine the party that night!). The donated pieces don’t stop there, with the the decor showcasing fishing and navigation with industrial accents, including a dory and lobster trap, Hynes’ father’s fishing jig and reel, plus a chunk of purpleheart wood Dwyer’s father gathered on Chacachacare, while sailing between Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela. That same wood is used, unstained, as the accent on their locally-crafted tap handles.
Hynes and his father spent 13 months renovating the former Viking Lodge, which had sat empty and unused for several years. Tearing up the original carpet and wood, opting for poured concrete in the brewery and Newfoundland hardwood in the taproom, floor boards became accent walls, former walls became accent door frames. The back rooms, used for dry storage, and soon a kitchen where they will be preparing food for visitors, are still largely untouched, a gentle reminder of the building’s former tenant.
The walls feature pictures of the Vikings hardball team, a throwback to the strong American influence in the area, thanks to the American base in nearby Stephenville, which operated 1941-1966. The airmen were there protecting the Straight of Belle Isle, among other tasks, but still had plenty of time to leave base and interact with the locals, bringing their national pastime to this corner of the world. We can imagine some family in Kentucky enjoying fish and brewis thanks this this cultural exchange.
The brewery is visible through the windows of the large taproom, and Hynes will often take curious folks back there for a closer look. The brewhouse is a 10 barrel (1200 litre) system from DME Brewing Solutions, which they received just a couple of months before that PEI business went into receivership, meaning the Hynes men were mostly on their own installing and commissioning it (DME’s brewery equipment operation has recently been purchased and is working at getting back to capacity). They also faced a shortage of local tradespeople, as many of those trained were working on the mainland, in the Maritimes, Ontario, or Alberta, which strained the local companies to provide service in a timely manner. This pushed their opening date to later than anticipated, into December, rather than Summer, which is a common refrain heard from local breweries.
Secret Cove is a Newfoundland good news story in the age-old style, as Hynes grew up in here Port au Port East and left for schooling at Memorial University before leaving the province for work, but has come home to open his brewery. While living in Nova Scotia he witnessed the explosion of craft beer and had taken up brewing as a hobby, amassing a book full of recipes honed during years of practice. After many years away, his line of work was no longer rewarding, so coming back home with his wife meant becoming his own boss, and turning his passion for beer into a professional reality. While the number of hours spent working may not have diminished, being in control and seeing the immediate positive impact his handiwork has had on his community is worth it. The stage has played host to countless musicians since the brewery’s opening on December 19th, with a mix of touring professionals and “kitchen party” fiddlers and guitarists playing their first paid gig, always with a happy audience ready to sing and dance along. Secret Cove truly is a place where locals, and CFAs, play.
Secret Cove is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 4 PM (2 PM Sundays). They feature five or six of their own beers (two additional serving tanks are on their way to increase availability), with a few guest Newfoundland craft beers rounding out the offerings. Growler fills are available, with canning a possibility in Fall of this year. Food service is not yet available, but food can be brought along or ordered in. They often host live music on Friday and Saturday evenings, check their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the latest updates.