Bellwoods Brewery co-founders Luke Pestl and Michael Clark have been working tirelessly toward their goal of opening their laid-back, 40-seat, cafe-style brewpub at 124 Ossington before patio season arrives. Since they leased the space (formerly Rolly's Garage and, more recently, Meta Gallery), they've been doing double duty completely renovating the space and brewing their beer - all while fielding inquiries from curious beer fans, bloggers, and major media outlets.
When I dropped by this past Thursday evening, I managed to get the guys to put down the power tools and mash paddles long enough to chat about the process and (lucky for me) sample some of their beer.
Both Clark and Pestl come from science backgrounds (Pestl has a degree in biochemical engineering and Clark studied biochemistry and was on the waiting list for medical school) but both had changes of heart and found their passion in brewing beer.
"We're brewers," Clark says. "There's nothing I'd rather be doing," agrees Pestl.
And while, thankfully for Toronto beer fans, the duo traded in textbooks for yeast and barley, they still seem to take a very scientific and methodical approach to brewing their beer - part of the reason it was so important to them to brew in-house at their own brewpub as opposed to contract brew. "We actually want to make beer and we want to have it right here," he says.
And based on the fantastic beer I sampled, the hands-on approach seems to be working well. The brewpub isn't set to open until sometime in the next week or two, but the guys allowed me to preview some of the beer they've already settled on featuring on tap when they do open.
- Bellwoods Common: Pale Ale - A pale straw colour with a mild aroma and good head retention, Bellwoods Pale ale is the mildest of their offerings but still has a plenty of flavour and is a fresh, easy drinking beer with an ABV of about 5%. This will likely be the duo's staple beer, thus the moniker "common" but don't let the name mislead you, it's far from average.
- Bellwoods Farmhouse Ale: Saison - For the uninitiated, a saison is a beer that was traditionally brewed in the winter in Belgian farm houses for consumption during the harvest season. It's a style that is typically fairly complex and Bellwoods' offering is no exception. Theirs is a cloudy gold with good lacing, a floral aroma and multi-layered flavour. With an ABV of 6%, the Farmhouse ale manages to be remarkably dry without being bitter or hoppy. It has some subtle fruit notes and an excellent spicy finish, too. There's a lot going on in this beer.
- Toil and Trouble: Trappist-Style Belgian Dubbel - A deep mahogany beer with a nice, light brown, foamy head, this beer's got a malty, dark fruit aroma and all kinds of flavour. I noted an almost black licorice taste right off the top and it's got a sort of mildly spicy finish. The alcohol taste profile is decidedly low, despite weighing in at a considerably potent 8.7% ABV.
- Witchshark: Double IPA - Witchshark is Bellwoods' resident "hop bomb." Simply put, this beer is awesome. It pours with a serious creamy head and has tons of floral, citrusy aroma. The taste is, as you'd expect from a double IPA; extremely robust and hoppy; but it manages to stay remarkably well-balanced thanks to a good caramel malt backbone. At 9% ABV, this beer can get you into some trouble and has already developed its own verb: Getting witchsharked. As in, "Man, I got Witchsharked last night." (Witchshark is the only Bellwoods beer you can actually try before they open--if you're willing to brave the wait times down the road at Grand Electric).
- Cuvee de Grandma's Boy: Belgian Specialty Ale/Belgian Chimera - Likely to be available only at the brewpub, "Grandma's Boy" is the result of some beer experimentation. Why's it called Grandma's boy? "Because we both love our grandmas!" It's a hybrid of two different yeasts combining the Bellwoods saison with a Belgian triple. As for its flavour, I'm not going to lie to you. This is the last beer I sampled on Thursday and my tasting notes are scant. I seem to have noted "Interesting taste!" I guess you'll just have to find out about Grandma's Boy on your own. Sorry, but please see above re: the ABVs of all previous beers and "getting Witchsharked."
Mike and Luke plan to continue experimenting with all their beer and will continue to work their pilot system, which they've brought to the brewpub, to try new things. A baltic porter was in the works while I was there and they haven't ruled out someday trying to brew a one-off 100 Mile Ale from their much-publicized City Hops Project.
For the time being, the duo plan to concentrate their efforts on brewing beer for consumption at the brew pub, however, they've also acquired the space next store with the goal of renovating it too for use as a retail space where their beer will be available in a variety of bottle sizes, including growlers.
Photos by Traven Benner