As a relatively new transplant to Toronto from the West Coast, one of the things that I miss is beer. I mean real beer, like the I.P.A’s that are almost as easy to find as water in Vancouver from beer capitals like Portland, San Diego, and San Francisco. Going to a LCBO store here can lead a hops lover to despair and the not very aptly named Beer Store seems like a cruel joke. But like most major centres these days there is an uprising against the monopoly that the beer giants have over consumers, and new breweries are opening all over the Greater Toronto Area and Niagara region every month. An example is the success of mid-size Ontario breweries like Mill Street, Steam Whistle, and Amsterdam, but what interests me even more are the tinier DIY breweries. These new breweries can be found on tap around town at dedicated beer bars like Bar Volo and Beer Bistro and favourites of mine include Oast House, Church Key, and Great Lakes Brewery. One brewery though that has really stood out for me is Bellwoods which is considered by many to be the best new brewery in Canada.
Conveniently located close to my house in the trendy Ossington-Dundas area, Bellwoods has gone quickly from upstart brewery to neighbourhood fixture. They are so popular that one cannot travel a single block in the neighbourhood without seeing the ubiquitous red bell that is their logo, found on all their bottles, tote bags, t-shirts, and cardboard carrying cases. Started just over a year ago by Luke Pestl and Mike Clark, formerly brewers at Amsterdam Brewing, it is stationed in a transformed old auto garage complete with sliding garage doors. With 20 foot plus ceilings it is perfect for their fermenting tanks, but it also houses their own minimalist farm chic pub that wouldn’t feel out of place in Brooklyn or Portland. Their white picket fenced patio with picnic tables is the area’s most sought after spot for an after work beer in the summer and they also have a bustling retail space at the side which sells their bottled products exclusively. As well, this spring saw them launching a new food menu that features an excellent short ribs dish with shitake slaw and pickled potatoes as well as a beer friendly Pork Belly and Clams. Plus they still have on the menu their ever popular charcuterie board and for the more adventurous, grilled duck hearts. In a recent article in New York Times, Bellwoods was at the top of their list for places to visit if you had just one day in Toronto. I couldn’t agree more.
Here are my three favourite beers that are currently available in bottles at their on-site retail shop:
WIZARD WOLF (Dry-Hopped Session Ale)
Bellwoods version of a session pale ale, this one weighs in at 4.8% alcohol, but still has a high enough level of hops which gives it a complex flavour. It pours a nice golden colour and is has a slight pineapple taste without being too fruity. One of my favourite every day drinking beers, I wish they could serve this at my local sports bar while I watch the Jays play.
WITCHSHARK (Imperial Indian Pale Ale)
As I mentioned earlier, I love those hoppy I.P.A beers that dominate the West Coast scene. So I was very happy when I took my first sip of Witchshark – in fact it is the beer that originally converted me to Bellwoods tasty brews. As a double I.P.A it is definitely the hoppiest of their beers and with an alcohol volume of 9% you must be careful as one can hardly stop at a single. I enjoy drinking it best on the patio accompanied by their charcuterie plate.
I was pleasantly surprised by this one, as to be honest I have never been much of a fan of German beers. One of Bellwoods newest concoctions, it was inspired, of course, by a trip to Portland. It is very hops- forward for a Hefeweizen and is complimented quite nicely by banana and citrus flavour notes. I enjoyed it so much that it is certain to be my new summer beach beer or for chilling in the evening at nearby Trinity-Bellwoods park.
Beyond picking up their beer at the shop you can also find it on tap at over 10 local bars and restaurants in Toronto including hotspot Parkdale taqueria Grand Electric and David Chang’s T.O. outpost of Momofuku. Unfortunately though their facilities are currently too small to accommodate distribution outside of the GTA. So for now you are going to have a hard time finding Bellwoods in your town which is kind of rough since they were ranked the world’s 3rd best new brewery in 2013 by highly influential beer blog Ratebeer.com. It just means you have another excuse to visit the big smoke and check out all the great new restaurants and bar that have made the city become one of North America’s rising culinary destinations.
John McFarland was once a leading music tastemaker and DJ, but gave it up for cooking and the pursuit of the perfect meal. His current obsessions are Afrobeats, Sixties Soul, Street Food & Southern Cooking. A former Georgia Straight contributor, he now resides in Toronto where he is our East Coast Editor.