FOOD AND DRINK
The Most Interesting Places to Grab a Drink in Moncton
There's a rising tide in New Brunswick's biggest city, including a burgeoning beer scene, fruit wines, craft cider – and fun places to try it all
New Brunswick is unique in Canadian history for having tried to outlaw liquor twice. While the rest of the provinces and territories toyed with prohibition at some point during or just after the First World War, New Brunswick made liquor illegal in 1856, and again from 1917 to 1927. They’ve recently decided to make up for it.
Moncton is in a beautiful part of the world, for sure, but adding to the city’s charms is a fledgling local beverage scene, including promising experiments in fruit wine, craft cider and fun places in which to try them out.
But beer is still the main event. Chad Steeves, owner of the must-visit Tide & Boar, puts it this way: “When we first opened it was hard to find a lot of local beer to put on tap. We had a few dedicated lines. But now there are so many to choose from.”
Given the local enthusiasm and increasing expertise at making booze, Moncton will very likely be the next big destination for the discerning tippler on the move. One encouraging fact to note: The indie distilling and brewing scenes have worked out pretty well next door in Quebec.
For a taste of what’s going on in Moncton now, here are four places to stop in for a drink – and make sure to soak in the atmosphere while you’re there.
Pump House Brewery
The improvement of Moncton’s drink options started with Lilia Fraser and her husband Shaun, who opened Pump House Brewery on Orange Lane, just off Main Street. With a fire station theme and a big room (it seats 149), it must have looked ridiculously ambitious back in 1999 when the first-time business owners opened it.
Yet to hear Fraser tell it, Pump House has been successful from the beginning, thanks in part her business skills and Shaun’s brewing (he had set up several microbreweries around town, and around Kazakhstan, before striking out on his own), and in part to the fact that Monctonians like to drink.
Before Pump House, Moncton was a Moosehead and Keith’s sort of town, and Pump House has served as a sort of bridge between old and new. Their brews are gentle crowd-pleasers. After noticing that regulars would pour the dregs of one beer into their next, Fraser says Pump House started marketing the most successful accidental mixes (their Scotch Ale and the blueberry become Scotchberry, Fire Chief red ale and the house IPA gets you an Angry Chief). If you’re hungry enough, test your appetite on “the burger that ate Moncton.” It’s big. It’s that kind of place.
Bert Archer / Billy
Plan B Lounge
Moncton is very much a working-class town, evolving from being Canada’s rail hub, where the trains came to get fixed, into the centre of the nation’s bilingual call centre business. Located on Moncton’s other main drag, St. George, Plan B is very much a working class bar, at least during the day. It’s the sort of establishment where, in Toronto or Montreal, Edmonton or Vancouver, you’d expect to find a lot of Labatt and Molson products, and maybe some Jäger. But the guys propping up the bar at Plan B offer a selection of 32 microbrews, imports, and ciders, in addition to the big domestics. Among New Brunswick products, look for beers from Petit-Sault Brewers of Edmundston and the multiple-award-winning Picaroons of Fredericton, and also Scow Cider from Memramcook.
Magnetic Hill Winery
The concept of good fruit wine is not one the average Canadian may be familiar with, but walk into Jane Everett’s Magnetic Hill Winery in an old house (built the year Canada became a nation), situated on a hill with a multi-level terrace overlooking the city, and ask for a taste of the Illusions. It’s not a good name, but it is a good wine. It tastes a little like a not especially sweet Riesling, but it’s made from rhubarb. The other fruit wines, while good, taste like fruit wines, which you’ll either like or not. But the Illusions, at a healthy 12.5% and an easy $14 price tag, is something you’ll want to have on your rack at home to use as a party trick. They won’t believe it’s not grapes.
Bert Archer / Billy
Tide & Boar Gastropub
Finally, when visiting Moncton for the first time, a visit to the Tide & Boar is absolutely essential. When it opened in 2011, it brought something completely different to the city: stylish casual food and a great menu of local and foreign beers. It’s the busiest spot in Moncton, and you may need to line up to get in on evenings and weekends in the summer months (they have a great patio), but it is well worth it. The menu reflects both the land and the sea, which is one reason for the name, with the other being a play on words as the tidal bore rushes through in the Petitcodiac River just behind the restaurant.
Owner Chad Steeves says that there were a couple of places that were serving good high-end food in Moncton, but they weren’t as relaxed. “When we opened up we were the first place that had local food on the menu, [made-]in-house charcuterie, oysters, small plates,” he says. It was a risk, especially in a city where most places served up typical deep-fried Maritimes grub and Keith’s on tap, but it paid off big time.
“I’ve always said that we’re trying to educate our diners, but I feel like we’re at the point where we don’t have to anymore. When we first opened, we were calling things by different names to make it sound more appealing, to try to get Moncton to eat more adventurous, and it kind of worked.”
Courtesy Tide & Boar
Today, shareable platters piled with local products – smoked salmon, boar bacon, house charcuterie and pâtés – are among the most popular items at Tide & Boar.
“Having lots of plates of food and sharing, having a noisy environment, those are key things I like. Everybody should be able to eat like that, you don’t have to wear a suit or dress up, you can be yourself,” Steeves says.
It worked so well that the Tide & Boar soon expanded into more space in the huge Main Street building that Steeves had bought with his business partner, his dad. The Ballroom, as Tide & Boar called its companion music venue, opened in 2014 and fits 500 people. “In the last year we’ve had Steve Earle play there, Owen Pallett, Sloane, Hey Rosetta,” Steeves says.
Last September the Tide and Boar expanded again, opening a brewery on premises that specializes in IPA and sour beers, called Tide & Boar Brewing. He is still selling other local beer though, and the varieties they have on tap are a matter of pride. “We try to keep a good selection in different styles, and we always have to have industrial beer on tap too, but people come in for [local specialties] now. They say, ‘I heard you had this brewery on tap, so we came here for that.’ ”