By Jill Bellefontaine
At 26 years old, while sitting in an old pub in Wales, Rebecca Atkinson had an epiphany that she later turned into a reality. “I graduated from Mount Saint Vincent University with a degree in Tourism Management,” Atkinson told the Cooperator in an interview. “I’ve always loved food and beverage, so I originally studied wine. It wasn’t until I started working at Noble Grape that I got into ‘real beer.’”
After leaving Noble Grape, Atkinson spent some time travelling, but always found herself returning home to Sheet Harbour “My first winter of travelling I visited my birthplace, Wales, for 5 months. When I was there I saw an Oyster Stout on tap that read ‘brewed with fresh oysters.’ It instantly clicked to me that this is what I had to do. I had to bring Oyster Stout to Nova Scotia.”
Now 29, Rebecca Atkinson of Sheet Harbour is the Founder/Owner of Sober Island Brewing Company, in Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia. Starting with just two employees in 2016, the Sober Island Brewing Company team has since grown to five. “I’m really thrilled to be offering employment to local people. And I just brought a young brewer to our community too
Sober Island Brewery offers three core brand products: Beth’s Blackout Oyster Stout (their best seller, brewed with Pristine Bay Oysters from Stellarton), Beachstone Bitter, and Marigold Blonde Ale. “We have a seasonal rye series which people can expect to see both the Summer Rye and Kirby’s Canoe,” Atkinson said.
There’s also a foraged beer series made with locally foraged ingredients from the Eastern Shore.
“In the past, we have brewed a Chanterelle Mild Ale, a Juniper IPA, and a Wintergreen Cocoa Porter,” Atkinson said. Our newest one coming out in July is a Red Spruce and Fireweed Red Ale. These are super unique and always an interesting challenge for us.”
A day in the life of a small business owner is never the same. “I usually spend 3-4 days in the brewery canning, cleaning and planning,” she said. “The other days are spent doing deliveries to Halifax/Dartmouth, New Glasgow/Pictou and Antigonish. Besides that, we always have events to attend and Farmer’s Markets on the weekend.”
As a small brewer in Nova Scotia, Atkinson feels there are some changes that could be made to the regulations to get your product on an NSLC shelf. To get your product on an NSLC shelf, you have to have the volume to supply 36 stores.
“I’m currently part of a working group in the Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia and we’re working on several items with the province, federal government and NSLC to make changes to the craft brewing environment, whether big or small.” said Atkinson. “To me, it doesn’t make any sense that I can’t go to my local NSLC in Sheet Harbour, Jeddore, Porters Lake or Sherbrooke and deliver them any kind of beer they want to have on the shelves.”
You can find Sober Island Brewery products at the brewery which is open 7 days a week in Sheet Harbour, co-located with the Henley House restaurant that Atkinson’s mother owns. The company also sells at the Musquodoboit Harbour Farmers Market every Sunday. “I love the Eastern Shore and would love to see more businesses start up, Atkinson said. “Through the business I have found a passion for the local area and being involved in my community. It’s been a really great discovery. I am very grateful for the experience I have had so far.”