Bellwoods began as a small brewery, and pub in downtown Toronto. We officially opened our doors to the public in April 2012, and have spent the last 4 and a half years working towards the rather ambitious goal not to run out of beer. However, sunny weather, long weekends, liquor store closures, and arbitrary festivities sometimes result in us falling short.
In 2013 we opened our bottle shop full-time, further intensifying both our excitement to release new beers, and our tenuous relationship with supply. We can assure you that, for a long time, we only packed lunches that could be eaten with one hand and no cutlery (wraps are great for this) as the brewing, barreling, cleaning, and packaging never seemed to experience a lull. We’ve been extremely grateful for the ‘problem’ of high demand, but also have known for several years that our production schedule was unsustainable within such a small footprint. We pushed our equipment to the limits, brewed from sun up ‘til sun down, and spent more hours than we ever care to calculate feeding bottles on and off our 6 head filler. We took vertical storage space very seriously, and did our best to stave off mental breakdowns with humour. You can think of us as urban survivalists.
Though the planning and bureaucratic hoop jumping began long before, we finally succeeded in firing up a second production facility (with our second brewery retail store coming soon) in August of 2016, just north of the city core on 20 Hafis Road. This relatively small growth spurt felt monumental for us, despite how commonplace brewery expansions have become, as it represented long-awaited alleviations to significant bottlenecks. Certainly the process hasn't been stress free, and we’re still not entirely acclimatized to two locations yet, but the promise of and potential for less strenuous production weeks, improved consistency, and increased availability was enough to settle the nagging eye-twitches we’d simply grown to accept.
Knowing us, we’ll likely maintain our poor work/life balance and continue to prioritize beer production over sleep, but we can assure you that this works fortuitously in your favour. And no, we’re not naïve to the fact that mo’ tanks can bring mo’ problems, but nothing can dampen our excitement about this next chapter. Our hope is that you’ll come along for the journey, enjoy the incredible diversity of what beer can be, and bask in the veritable fruit bowl of our labour. We tell ourselves this every year, but we’re only getting started…
When it comes to our beers, these have evolved (and will continue to evolve) over time – and it makes sense, because we’ve travelled, collaborated, and learned a lot since we opened. We make a variety of bright, fresh, hoppy styles ranging from aromatic pale ales, to fruity Double IPAs. Our enthusiasm for Imperial Stouts is undeniable, and recreating our big releases each year like Bring Out Your Dead, Skeleton Key, or 3 Minutes to Midnight, is always a fun challenge. Of course, we also recognize that most of what we brew these days is to our preference rather than a clearly outlined style guideline, and we’ve fully embraced the not-quite-an-exact-style style.
An additional area of focus is in the production of farmhouse and/or wild ales, and we often utilize various strains of Brettanomyces (a type of "wild" yeast) and bacteria. We've noticed a lot of people have no info, some info, or incorrect info about how these micro-organisms work. That’s fine, but we’d love to clarify what flavours each of these forces of nature are capable of creating. (See our FAQs).
Though our barrel-aging efforts began very early, it took us close to a year and a half to develop the organization and volume necessary for regular releases. We’ve honed our processes, created a custom database for monitoring every conceivable detail along the way, and designed barrel blend series like Motley Cru and Barn Owl that change with every release, highlighting the best of what’s emerging from the program that particular season. Barrel-aging is a laborious and risky undertaking for many reasons, but it has also yielded some of our most rewarding beers – complex, layered, tart, sour, funky, dry, refreshing, yeast-forward, occasionally fruited and often bottle conditioned styles that remain memorable long after the final drop is gone. As we move forward with 2 locations, a new fleet of large foudres, and ample room for our stacks of barrels, we’re finally getting the opportunity to create the breadth and volume of excellent beer that we’ve been envisioning for years.
Mike Clark and Luke Pestl spent several years brewing in the Toronto beer industry before branching off to open their own place. Between the two of them they’ve amassed a Biochemistry degree, a Biochemical Engineering degree, 60ish% of a Master’s degree, one third of a Diploma in Brewing from IBD (the notorious Module 1), and several denied applications to med school. But before these semi-impressive credentials in varying levels of completion, came an array of character-building experiences that transformed them into the people who would eventually create Bellwoods Brewery. Mike holds the esteemed title of Grand Regatta winner from 1983, which is granted to the kid who can collect the most pinecones, and reign supreme in jousting. Luke managed to snag several little league softball championship trophies in 1988, much to the chagrin of the East Side Tigers. Mike’s first concert was Michael Jackson’s Victory Tour, for which he stole and wore his mother’s white, sparkly gardening glove with the fingertips cut off.
Luke, most notably, has a solid record for being thrown out of school(s), and sleeping in parks during class time. Mike’s haircut of choice at age 7 was the coveted rat-tail (that could be seen fluttering out the bottom of his hockey helmet while snaking through defenders), while Luke favoured the more practical mushroom cut. It’s clear that they both had grand visions from early on.
Neither is too comfortable with the ‘brewmaster’ title – Smoothie Master, Bottling Machine Error Message Slayer, Bureaucracy Wrangler, and Long String of Numbers Rememberer are fair game -- but they’re the ones responsible for much of what goes on behind the scenes. Their aim is to make the most delicious beers that ever existed, and to share those with beer lovers in Toronto and beyond.