Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Courageous Liquid: Bellwoods Brewery Opens In Toronto.

Bellwoods Common. An American Style Pale Ale,
one of the amazing beers by Bellwoods Brewery

"He was a wise man who invented beer."-Plato

Usually I blog about art or my travels. Now it is time to blog about another love of mine: craft beer. 

I really started to enjoy craft beer a couple of years ago. The idea that all beer was definitely not created equal, and that some were well into the definition of 'sublime' intrigued me. But I won't get into a huge rant over the nastiness of macro beer versus the deliciousness of micro brewed ales here. Instead I want to share the good news that finally, good craft beer has arrived in Ontario.

I like supporting local breweries, and I do. I must say that U.S. microbreweries really have it going on, but Ontario has been steadily gaining momentum in the world of quality craft beer as well. And it's a good thing, because the LCBO puts a stranglehold on any craft brewery from the United States trying to introduce their products into Ontario. The have virtually hermetically sealed the door on quality beer crossing the border...including Provincial borders. It is draconian and frustrating. For example, you can purchase divine beers from Brewery Ommegang (located in Cooperstown, NY, just across Lake Ontario) in Alberta, but not Ontario. Yes, well, I'm starting to rant here so I'll stop and get to the point.

Now I love Flying Monkeys and Beau's All Natural craftbeer. I also adore what I have had from Railway City, Muskoka Brewery and some from Great Lakes (the Canadian one). However, I was completely blown away by the beer I sampled this past weekend at Bellwoods Brewery, a brand spanking new microbrewery in downtown Toronto. 

A few months ago myself and about one hundred other beer devotees were selected from hundreds to be taste testers for the new beer being developed by Bellwoods Brewery. We wrote in, submitted our names, ages, genders, and a little poem, artwork, or some other creative element, along with our top three favourite beers and why we loved them. I practically submitted an essay and to my delight was chosen as a taste tester. I waited anxiously as the weeks passed by to hear when we could go and sample their crafty brews. I followed their website showing installation of all of their brewing equipment, and could monitor their progress. Finally, the email came describing our specific tasting time, and off I went to Toronto last Sunday to sample their wares.
Arriving at Union Station in Downtown Toronto

I had been in touch with Mike and Luke, business partners who had formed Bellwoods. We emailed back and forth about our favourite styles of beer and I could tell these guys knew what they liked, and presumed they probably knew how to make what they liked. They do, and then some.

Walking up to the hand-written sign proclaiming "Private Event" on the door of 124 Ossington, I had a surge of excitement to know I could walk in to said event...that my taste buds were expected. Mike welcomed me in and showed me around. I was immediately struck with how close all of their brewing equipment was to where patrons sit and enjoy their beverages. It is as though they are brewing right in your lap. Often tanks are tucked away behind walls out of sight. You know you are in a brewery but you feel somehow separate from the excitement. Not here. 

Looking down the bar, you can see the
 nice proximity of the brewing vats to where patrons sit.

I had a great chat with Mike and then met Luke. We talked about what beers they have been developing. Patrick and John, two bartenders on hand, were full of knowledge about the beer as well, and I chatted with them while sampling. 

First up was Bellwoods Common. 5% ABV (I forgot to ask IBUs). An American Style Pale Ale, it was, not surprisingly, very hop forward. It poured a deep golden colour and was bright and a bit bitter but with a quiet finish. A very accessible beer. I would recommend this beer to anyone. But accessible doesn't mean milquetoast or "safe". It is a great beer with lots of personality. It was the first of four beers I tried at Bellwoods, and stands toe to toe with the rest of them in terms of quality brewing.

Bellwoods Farmhouse Saison

Next up was a sample of Bellwoods Farmhouse Saison, a Belgian style saison that clocks in at 6% ABV. Luke informed me that it is made with Saison Dupont (nom!) yeast. Saisons, designed to slake the thirst of farmers toiling in the fields all day, are one of my favourite styles of beer (along with sours, Berliner Weisses and DIPAs). Saisons are often paler than many other ales, some are unfiltered,but all should very drinkable, like this one. It has a nice citrusy-zesty profile with all sorts of great Belgian characteristics. You can tell where its origins are from. Lively carbonation and some notes of banana were happening in the background. Would order it again. And again.

"Toil And Trouble", a Belgian Style Dubbel with a lot of personality

The third of four beers that I sampled was "Toil And Trouble", a dark and delicious Belgian Style Dubbel. I am not normally a Dubbel drinker, or a porter or stout drinker for that matter, but this beer is outstanding. At 8.7% ABV it has quite a kick, but massages your palate with kid gloves. Crafted using Chimay yeast, dark malts and Belgian candy sugar it opens up beautifully as it warms, delivering notes of dried plums, raisins and even some chocolate I thought. This is a great dessert beer and it has a smooth and buttery feel on the tongue. No visit to Bellwoods would be complete without trying this beer.

Happily, I found out that they will be offering flights when they open. Flights are samplings of beers from the brewery, often with descriptions of each beer so that you can compare them side by side and see which you prefer. It is one of my favourite components to a great brewery: a well-designed and attractively presented beer flight.

Last but definitely not least was a sample of Bellwoods' Witch Shark Double India Pale Ale

Witch Shark DIPA

"Witch Shark" is a 9% ABV Double India Pale Ale and lives up to it's dangerous name. This beer is everything a DIPA should and can be. It is reminiscent of the infamous Hopslam, brewed by Bell's, and that's saying a lot for all of you Hopheads and Bell's-lovers out there.It is better than Pliny The Elder in my opinion as it is smoother and not as biting. Pours a deep amber and immediately you smell tonnes of glorious citrus notes happening in the glass. It is not boozy at all, but very smooth yet full and round with all of those hops packed in there. It is a complex DIPA, with some mango and subtle fruit happening on the sides of your tongue. I basked in lupulin-induced delight with this beer. Highly recommended.

Apparently in the next few weeks they will be releasing a Berliner Weisse...I hope they save me a pint! If you are in the area or traveling to Toronto, you must stop in at Bellwoods Brewery. It is a 20 minute walk from University and Queen, or an even quicker streetcar ride. Send me a comment if you make it there. I would be interested to know what your experience was like.

There will be a retail store opening up soon next to the brew pub. For now, you can purchase their beer in growlers and at the brewery I believe. In the next few months they plan on expanding into local pubs and eventually the LCBO. I cannot wait for the day I can find their beer in my local beer store. 

I thank Mike, Luke, Patrick, John and the rest of the folks at Bellwoods for a wonderful experience. Finally, some craft beer with courage has arrived in Ontario!


"I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer."~Homer Simpson