Tag! You’re It!, the Maritimes’ first conservation in a can

The Ocean Tracking Network (OTN) is a global aquatic research, data management and partnership platform headquartered at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It tracks more than 160 aquatic species in collaboration with over 400 research partners worldwide, working to support both science-based decision making and raise awareness of ocean ecosystems globally. Big Spruce Brewing is an award-winning brewery in Nyanza, Cape Breton. But, what do a research organization and a brewery have in common, and where is this introduction going?

In the unconventional case of OTN and Big Spruce, the common denominators are a mutual love of delicious beer and healthy oceans. What started as a pipe dream (and an inside joke) blossomed into a partnership that unites oceans enthusiasts and beer aficionados alike—and for the past two years, has raised funds for research, education and conservation initiatives across the province.

In the winter of 2017, a group of OTNers began musing on a seemingly wild idea: to brew a special edition beer while allocating a percentage of sales to local organizations dedicated to oceans-related initiatives in the Maritimes.

OTN’s scientific director (and four-time winner of Halifax Brewnosers home-brew competition) loved the idea, but would a brewer get on board with such an outside-the-box partnership, and if so, who were they?

Enter Jeremy White, owner and alesmith of Cape Breton’s beloved Big Spruce Brewing. With their ethos for supporting local, organic and environmentally conscientious practices, OTN felt a natural pull toward Big Spruce. But, would the brewery be on board to turn OTN’s sudsy musings into reality? Luckily for OTN, White loved the conservation financing idea right away. Without hesitation, he jumped on board (literally, he’s joined OTN’s shark tagging expeditions), and the partnership began to take off.

In the early stages, the newly formed friends in fermentation were full of ideas–concepts manifested in the form of word clouds and sea animals scribbled across the surface of shiny office whiteboards. What would the beer be called? What would it taste like? How could this vision be brought to life in a way that resonated with Maritimers and raised awareness of issues facing oceans?

Left to right: the new edition of Tag! You’re It! pictured next to last year’s edition of the brew (Photo: Jon Pye)

The can design was drafted, and handful of names for the brew were shortlisted, but the team struck proverbial gold with a line provided by Canadian political satirist and national treasure himself, Rick Mercer. In 2014, Mercer and his film crew accompanied OTN researchers on the water to electronically tag and release blue sharks—part of OTN’s tracking programs in the Northwest Atlantic. Mercer ended the segment with a cheeky, “Tag, You’re It!”…and to White, the winning one-liner was the perfect moniker for the beer.

Back in Nyanza, White concocted a unique recipe for the brew—a hoppy, tropical, late-addition IPA inside a bright blue can graced by a hungry spruce tree-eating shark. The can was pretty epic, and the beer was decidedly delicious, but OTN and Big Spruce weren’t the only ones espousing the “crushability” of Big Spruce’s newest brew: Tag! You’re It! was amongst the top picks for Nova Scotia’s 2017 beer selection.The logo even scored a nomination for an international design award.

The initial launch of the beer in late summer 2017 drew tremendous media attention. OTN and Big Spruce (dubbing themselves ‘colla’beer’ators’) turned several local news appearances into shark and ocean education opportunities. The Maritime community rallied for the cause, and with the help of Halifax’s strong craft beer community and generous local retailers, the conservation financing fund began to grow. For each can of Tag! You’re It! purchased by thirsty Maritimers, Big Spruce donated 50 cents to ocean research, conservation and education initiatives based in Nova Scotia. In its first year, the brew raised more than $11,000 for groups including the Marine Animal Response Society, and Sharks of the Atlantic Research and Conservation Centre. The first edition of Tag! You’re It! was so successful, it spawned an ongoing collaboration that puts local organizations at the forefront of its mandate.

Tag, You’re It! swam into stores again this August, but this year with a “shocking” new mascot: the can featured the mysterious Atlantic torpedo ray electrifying the Big Spruce tree into a splintered frenzy. While the primary goal of the brew was to raise funds for, and highlight, local oceans groups, the beer also sought to educate Nova Scotians on some of its resident marine fauna.

Last summer, OTN and Big Spruce hosted a summer launch party at Halifax’s Stillwell Beer Garden, giving oceans and beer enthusiasts a chance to talk with marine researchers and learn about torpedo rays, and of course to pick the beer-savvy brains of the Big Spruce crew. In 2018, the colla’beer’ation raised another $15,000 for three new oceans initiatives: the Fishermen and Scientists Research Society, Back to the Sea Society, and Harrison Lewis Coastal Discovery Centre, who are all busy cooking up engaging and educational events and programming for 2019.

Equally as exciting as the upcoming plans of the organizations is the upcoming third edition of Tag! You’re It!, which will launch this spring. Hint: 2019 is the year of global collaboration for a certain iconic “king of fish” which can be found in all three Canadian oceans. Any guesses? Stay keyed into springtime announcements by checking OTN updates via Facebook or Twitter.

Happy swimming!

Part of the proceeds from this year’s IPA went to the Harrison Lewis Coastal Discovery Centre, which works to promote and advance environmental conservation through research, instruction, literature, and the arts.
The Back to the Sea Society was another recipient of this year’s Tag! You’re It! campaign. They are a registered charity dedicated to sparking curiosity for local marine life off the coast of Nova Scotia and to fostering a desire to protect our ocean.
Part of this year’s conservation dollars were allocated to the Fishermen and Scientists Research Society, which connects fishers/harvesters and scientists to work toward sustainable marine fisheries in Atlantic Canada. Some of their projects include coastal mapping and lobster abundance surveys and sampling…pretty cool stuff!

Anja is the communications manager for the Ocean Tracking Network, a global research, technology, data management and partnership platform headquartered at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., Canada. Integrating writing, visual content production, planning and project facilitation into her role, she shares OTN’s work with a variety of audiences, including: media, industry, government and the public sector. She draws inspiration and energy from books, people, places, landscapes and creative pursuits.