“Terroir” is the idea that a liquor’s flavour can be traced back to the specific soils and climate in which its ingredients were grown, even the practices used to raise, harvest and transmute these ingredients into the drink being enjoyed, all culminating in the unique taste of home. The more specific a drink’s origins, the more unique its “terroir,” and it doesn’t get more specific than what flows from the taps at Millstone Harvest Brewhouse.
Matt Harvie is a second-generation poultry farmer who, at one time, also raised beef and vegetables on his 200 acres in Sheffield Mills, Nova Scotia. When he discontinued these secondary endeavours, he was left with a great deal of land and no clear vision for what to do with it, landing eventually on the addition of malt barley and hops to their rotation.
Three years ago, with financial support from the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board, Matt and his wife Carolyn began construction of Millstone Harvest Brewhouse on their farm. While “terroir” typically refers to wineries which harvest grapes from their own vineyard – growing, harvesting and fermenting all on site – the term is rarely applied to breweries, which tend to purchase their key ingredients from a variety of distant sources.
“We’re trying to do the same thing with beer as they do with wine,” said Matt, “where the grain that’s grown here on the farm, the hops as well, go into something completely local.”
Their farm is growing over 90 per cent of its own barley. The flavour profiles of some of their products require a diversity of hops from places like New Zealand, Germany and elsewhere which would be impractical to grow locally, so they only grow a portion of their own hops, sourcing the rest from other local producers and beyond as required.
Matt has been working with the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board for over 30 years, their support evident throughout the farm and now built into Millstone Harvest Brewhouse. Above and beyond tapping a new market, Matt considers this brewhouse an opportunity to improve the viability of the farm long term, and to keep his family in the business. His daughter Nicole manages the brewhouse, and her husband Joe is head brewer. Drawing on experience gained from Sea Level Brewing, which they purchased in 2018, and brought home to the farm with the construction of the new brewhouse they use the Sea Level brand to distribute their products. His son Lucas helps keep up the poultry but is the head hop farmer in the family as well.
Millstone Harvest Brewhouse produces its signature Millstone Harvest Pale Ale which is available across the province at participating NSLC locations, as well as a Red Ale, an ESB, Pilsner, Porter, a Blueberry Ale, various IPAs, seasonal beers and a specialty brew made with maple syrup also harvested on farm, yet another opportunity to reinforce their terroir. They have also added an apple cider line up which utilizes local Annapolis Valley apples with the addition of arctic kiwi and raspberries also grown right on the property.
In time, Matt will install a solar array on the roof of their young Brewhouse, harvesting even its energy on site. Whether connoisseurs will notice this aspect of his beer’s terroir is anyone’s guess.