Posted on 08/31/2015 | About Nova Scotia

When I heard that Nova Scotia launched a Good Cheer Trail this year, of course I had to rush to the province to imbibe. Called Canada’s first winery, craft brewery and distillery trail, it encompasses over 35 beverage-specific culinary tourism experiences across Nova Scotia. Every day I plotted my travel to end up surrounded by good spirits, in a gorgeous locale with the car parked.
History is behind the trail. In 1606 Samuel de Champlain established the Order of Good Cheer in Port Royal. As the first gastronomic society in the New World, the Order of Good Cheer raised the spirits of early settlers. Any good idea has legs thus the birth of a trail from that weaves its way across the province from Yarmouth to Cape Breton taking in 14 wineries, 12 craft breweries, five distilleries, five brew pubs and two historical (Port Royal and Fortress of Louisbourg) experiences in its inaugural year.

That’s too much to do in a month, let alone the five days I had so I picked my small portion of the route carefully to take in a few of my key loves. I started at Cabot Links, nestled between Inverness and the Gulf of St Lawrence over abandoned coal mines in Cape Breton. Cabot Links and its new sister course Cabot Cliffs are among the world’s finest golf courses. The dining and accommodation are also world class.

My large, modern room at Cabot had stunning views over the golf course and Gulf and was less than a minute walk away from Panorama, the picturesque fine dining restaurant on-site.  Local and seasonal are key to the ever evolving menu. While the sun set in spectacular colours, I dined on snow crab salad and buttery, perfectly poached Cape Breton lobster served with grilled potato salad, cheddar chive biscuit and asparagus. The wine list had over a dozen Nova Scotia wines by the bottle including the impressive champagne method Benjamin Bridge Brut.

After golf the next day I drove just ten minutes to get to Glenora Inn and Distillery. It’s Glenora’s 25th anniversary this year and to celebrate the distillery has released a 25-year-old whisky and a 21-year-old. The first company in North America to make single malt whisky on premises, the distillery is open year round and the inn, restaurant, pub and gift shop are open from May to October. During the season free Ceilidhs feature Cape Breton musicians.

If you are staying overnight in one of their nine luxurious guests rooms or in their cozy chalets, then the $32.95 tasting of five different whiskies might fit the bill. I picked a half ounce pour of 19 Year Old Cabot Links Whisky to go with my fish cakes served with green tomato chow chow and a garden salad and restrained myself from ordering the sticky toffee pudding with whisky caramel sauce.

My overnight stop was at DesBarres Manor Inn in the historic seaside village of Guysborough, first settled in 1629. In town the Authentic Seacoast Distilling Co. (making Sea Fever Rum) and Rare Bird Craft Brewery are on the trail. The Manor, under the same ownership as the distillery and brewery, has an excellent chef Anna Nickerson so good food and drink are all in the family. Chef Nickerson’s husband is a fisherman and supplies the Manor with some of its seafood. Halibut, haddock, lobster, crab and scallops all come from local waters. As well as an international wine selection, DesBarres has a separate Nova Scotia wine list of about 22 by the bottle and some by the glass.

My second night at the inn, I sat down with owner Glynn Williams, Chef Nickerson and staff to taste our way through a selection of “Tidal Bay” denominated Nova Scotia wines (a new premium appellation for Nova Scotia white wines that are styled fresh, crisp and fruity). The favourite was Tidal Bay by Benjamin Bridge.

At Rare Bird I tried a seasonal brew flavoured with handpicked spruce buds that was delicately sap flavoured in a way that was most refreshing. Authentic Seacoast Distilling’s new building with tasting rooms are set to open in the fall so I tried their rums at the Inn. Fortress Rum is created by patiently maturing select Caribbean rum in oak barrels protected behind the massive stone walls of the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. Coffee Maple Rum has locally roasted organic Full Steam Coffee, local maple syrup and a hint of licorice. The delicious Spiced Rum is flavoured with fig, cinnamon, vanilla and a hint of citrus.

On my way route back to Halifax I took a drive along the beautiful Sunrise Trail to Arisaig, a fishing village known for its first class lobster. Their tiny Lobster Interpretive Centre included a tea room which served among other things a terrific locally made seafood chowder thick with lobster, scallops and fish served with tea biscuits.

That primed me for nearby Steinhart Distillery my last stop on the Good Cheer Trail. Thomas Steinhart, whose family has been distilling for generations in the Black Forest of Germany, opened his distillery in Arisaig in October 2014. His gin, based on a family recipe, is a wow. Highly flavoured and aromatic it’s steeped with juniper and other botanicals such as clove, licorice, allspice, hops, cardamom, orris root, star anise and more.

He also makes flavoured vodkas using local ingredients such as maple syrup, strawberries, haskap which is an unusual berry that’s a member of the honeysuckle family. Tiny sips of his gin and vodkas in the tasting room so impressed me that I ordered a six-pack for delivery to my home in Toronto. It arrived in about a week without trouble or spillage.

This small chunk of the trail that I did has me thirsting for more.