Junction Craft Brewing
Junction Craft Brewing opened its retail store and microbrewery last December, but had already been making beer at Wellington Brewery for about a year prior to setting up shop in the neighbourhood after which the company is named. And although they've yet to host an official launch for the new space, the operation is very much up and running. The on-site brewery now accounts for about half of the total beer offered by JCB and the tasting area has already been put to use for a number of events. And, of course, folks are stopping by to buy beer.
Founded by Tom Patterson (formerly of the Paddock) and brewer Doug Pengelly, JCB is currently producing about 1500 hectolitres a month between Wellington and their on-site facilities, about half of which is their flagship Conductor's Craft Ale and the rest is composed of a variety of small batch offerings. The prominent "arrivals and departures" board — just one of a number of railway motifs to be spotted at the brewery — lists off these beers, many of which are available on a limited basis before being replaced by new concoctions.
For all the pride that Patterson and Pengelly have in their Conductor's Craft Ale, it's obvious that these small batch creations are what keeps the creative juices flowing at the brewery. On my visit I tried a small sample of their Millenium brew, which was a hoppy bit of deliciousness — and really the furthest thing from the cans of Budweiser and Heineken that I'll admit can sometimes be found in my fridge (sorry, but it's true).
During my tasting, I asked Patterson and Pengelly how they'd define "craft beer." The term is so widely used nowadays that I was curious to hear what the two would have to say about it. Interestingly, Pengelly argues that the term should be thought of as a statement about flavour rather than the brewing process. Although JCB does lots of small batch brewing, his thinking is that it'd be possible for a massive corporate brewery to turn out a similar tasting product if they cared to or tried. They have the tools to do so, despite their lack of inclination.
As such, that's what sets craft beer apart from the vast majority of the stuff you're going to find at the Beer Store. There's a real desire to make it interesting to drink. "The craft industry started back in the 1980s as a reaction to the overwhelming amount of bland beer on the market. Early craft brewers like Sierra, Upper Canada and Wellington were looking to make a more interesting tasting beer," explains Pengelly. In other words, it's difficult to come up with an all-encompassing definition of "craft beer," but the passion of the brewers to offer something different is almost certainly a crucial component.
You can expect to see a lot more of JCB's Conductor's Craft Ale in the coming months as the brewery expects to have it on LCBO shelves in the spring. At that time, the production numbers will likely increase significantly. Patterson tells me that Wellington estimates that monthly output will rise to 2000 hectolitres, but he thinks it'll be even higher. "We kind of want to prove them wrong," he tells me. "I hope that we double the amount of Conductor's that we're making now."
That still leaves them in craft beer territory as far as the size of the operation goes, but if you agree with Pengelly's views on the matter, size isn't the key issue anyway. These guys are beer fanatics, and take great pride in brewing the most interesting stuff that they can — and that's a good thing for Toronto beer drinkers.
Photos by Denise McMullin