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Left Field Brewery brings baseball themed beer to Toronto

Posted by Ben Johnson / March 12, 2013

Left Field BreweryThe Eephus pitch in baseball is an extremely rare junk pitch. It's a high-arcing, impossibly slow pitch that sometimes crosses the plate at speeds as low as 50mph. Of the pitch, Pittsburgh Pirate Maurice Van Robays once said, "Eephus ain't nothing, and that's a nothing pitch."

When you learn that this rare pitch was the inspiration for the name of one of the beers brewed by Left Field Brewery, you'll start to appreciate the philosophy of Mark and Mandie Murphy; the company's co-founders and sole employees, whom I spoke to recently about being Toronto's newest microbrewery, and the first one to embrace baseball puns.

What are your backgrounds? How did Left Field Brewing come about?

Mark: "It was an idea I had at least three years ago when I started attending the Niagara College Brewing program [as part of the very first graduating class] and I've always been a huge fan of baseball. I've been a chartered accountant and right out of school I worked at Molson, but I always wanted to work for myself, and I finally just took the opportunity to combine two passions."

Mandie:"I'm a marketer. I worked in beverage alcohol before, but I don't currently. I used to manage Grower's cider, I worked there for a couple years, then I worked for a number of different industries and I've managed a number of brands since."

Where did the beer ideas come from?

Mandie: "The concept of the brewery started by brewing beers we like to drink. These are recipes that Mark's refined through homebrewing."

So you've just been drinking your own stuff then decided, "Hey, I could sell this?"

Mandie: "Well yes, but we've also done a few blind tastings and discovered that Mark's beer holds up against commercially available beer."

Do you have any accounts lined up? Where can people try your beer?

Mark: "barVolo already asked for it, Tequila Bookworm already asked for it [Since I met with them, Mark confirmed that he's delivered Eephus to both these locations. Go get some!] We actually had a handful of bars approach us before we even had beer."

It's kind of nice that the craft market in Toronto is such that bars are actually approaching people who have something new to offer.

Mark: "Even Pub Milos [in London], they contacted me. They're willing to drive all over Ontario once a month just to pick up beer. That's kind of nice."

That's sort of a double-edged sword, isn't it? On one hand beer bars like to support the new guys, but in six months they could say, "Nah we're not interested, we've already had that here."

Mark: "Yeah, it's ironic but it's actually hard for the guys who have been around for ten years and who only have core brands. They're invested in these brands that they need to keep the lights on and don't have as much time to play around and evolve."

Mandie: "To some degree, while we see advantages with having flagships or go-to brands, we think there's maybe even more opportunity with continually offering new and interesting styles."

So these aren't your core brands, these are just kind of your first out of the gate beers?

Mark: "Yeah. The market will decide. I'd love to have one-offs and stuff throughout the summer. We're going to be at the Toronto Festival of Beer. People are already throwing out tons of baseball-related names for one-offs."

Mandy: "There's no shortage of baseball puns available--which helps, and the type of person who would be drawn to our brand seems to always be looking for the next new thing."

Left Field BreweryYou're contract brewing right now, but hoping for a Toronto headquarters some day? How's that search going, or is it even going on at all yet?

Mark: "Yeah, we're at Grand River Brewing [in Cambridge] but the Toronto brewery is on the back burner. We want to launch and get out there. Right now it's just the two of us but further down the road when we have an established brand and some volume we'll be able to approach investors once we have experience and some numbers behind us. I didn't want to make up things and say 'Here are my projections' when we don't really know."

That seems to be the way things are going. Contract brewing for a bit, building up some capital then looking for a location.

Mark: "Yeah. But my ideal brewery is something with a 20 hectorlitre system in East York. Because that's where we live."

Mandie: "And there's a growing beer community in East York--a number of bars supporting craft beer--but brewing-wise there isn't a lot going on. Mill Street is in the East, and now Amsterdam is up in Leaside, but compared to the West End, it's still extremely underdeveloped. Danforth, Danforth East, Leslieville, and the Beach--there are lots of craft beer fans without a neighbourhood brewery of their own."

Mark: "But we don't want to be the three barrel local. We'll wait until we can do something full scale."

Well you have an interesting hook. Whereas the trend seems to be to associate breweries with neighbourhood, you guys have opted to be baseball themed.

Mark: "Well that was a worry, maybe some people don't like baseball but--"

Fuck those people?

Mark: "Ha! No. I mean, maybe everyone doesn't identify with Kensington or Bellwoods or Liberty Village. We love what all those guys are doing, but we wanted something more universal."

Mandy: "Everyone [in the brewing industry] is incredibly supportive and collaborative and we honestly couldn't be doing what we do without the help, advice, and support from a bunch of great people in the industry. We have huge respect for the other craft brewers out there but we're all approaching it a little bit differently.

We also like the idea that baseball gives us a possible inroad into the United States. It's not part of the plan right now, but maybe someday down the road."

Left Field Brewery's beers are available exclusively in a handful of bars here In Toronto. Look for the Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale now and expect the 6-4-3 double IPA and the Maris American Pale Ale in a growing number of the city's beer bars soon. You can also attend their aptly named "Home Opener" on Friday April 5th at 3030 Dundas West at 7:07PM --handily lining up their official launch with the opening pitch of the Jays / Red Sox game that is occurring that evening. All three Left Field Brewery offerings will be on tap, there will be $5 plates of "ballpark food," naturally the game will be on, and the evening will close out with soul music.

Top photo by Mark Horsley. Additional photo by the author.

Ben Johnson also writes about beer over on Ben's Beer Blog.

Discussion

14 Comments

BH / March 12, 2013 at 12:45 pm
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Nice to know of another player in the local market. We'll have to keep an eye on these guys as its becoming a very crowded market for brewers in the GTA and they'll need a location to anchor their reputation at some point.

The baseball theme sounds a bit like a gimmick and having the co-founder admit its already being considered as part of a long-term marketing strategy into the U.S. doesn't exactly sound promising. I hope the priority is on the beer. But if the beer tastes great then the rest doesn't matter--time will tell.
johnsonstarfish / March 12, 2013 at 01:14 pm
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The baseball branding is whack but it's great to see another craft brewer. Seems like they're becoming the new hamburger... I mean burrito... I mean cafe... I mean taco... I mean...
Thirsty EastEnder / March 12, 2013 at 01:14 pm
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Please Please Please come to the East side of the city.
Dave / March 12, 2013 at 01:17 pm
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Having had a few of the beers, I can say this - they're really, really good. The 6-4-3 double is fantastic.
Christopher / March 12, 2013 at 01:23 pm
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I wanna hear more about the beer! What styles and flavours are you working on? What are your inspirations? What will we get in the glass? Love the label, btw!
Left Field Mark / March 12, 2013 at 01:44 pm
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Hi everyone, we're excited to be a part of the Toronto brewing scene. We're launching with an oatmeal brown ale, single hop series American pale ale, and a double IPA. For more info, check out our Facebook page at Facebook.com/leftfieldbrewery. Website is coming soon!
Matt replying to a comment from Left Field Mark / March 12, 2013 at 02:31 pm
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Exciting! Coming from Michigan (
Matt replying to a comment from Left Field Mark / March 12, 2013 at 02:32 pm
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What I *meant* to say was: Coming from Michigan, I'm really stoked to see lots of new small brewers doing their own thing here in Toronto. Seems like it's really picked up recently.
Sean / March 12, 2013 at 05:58 pm
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Someday, in our lifetime, let's hope there will be SPECIAL beer stores (not owned by the big guys) but run by/for micro-breweries, craft breweries and such. This could start in one big city then slowly grow in other communities.

Someday...
gloog / March 12, 2013 at 08:17 pm
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More craft beer = world is a better place

Now that Keith's is launching their 2 bullshit special hops beers
gloog replying to a comment from Sean / March 12, 2013 at 08:18 pm
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I can't believe there isn't someone out there figuring out a business model that does exactly that: feature only craft brews. It would be the most wonderful beer store in the world.
gloog / March 12, 2013 at 08:20 pm
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And I hope they launch a special DOCK ELLIS IPAA (India Pale Acid Ale)
Josh / March 12, 2013 at 10:36 pm
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Simmer Down there Gloog. My Beer doesn't need a theme, just make a good beer. Quality taste, get you pissed/buzzed... GIT R DONE BOYS!
Tom / March 13, 2013 at 09:23 am
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i also like beer

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