2012: A Year In Review

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It was a big year for us here at Bellwoods Brewery, and although we haven’t quite been open for even 12 months yet, it feels simultaneously like it was just yesterday and also 100 years ago that we first opened our doors. We made it through the festivities of Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve — and now that we’ve choked down our kale smoothies to repent for our sins and ward off depressive shame spirals, we feel ready to take a good look at ourselves in the mirror and review 2012. 

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We knew from the beginning that our beer was flavourful and shameless, and we hoped, as our doors opened for the first time in April, that this fermenting love affair would not be unrequited. It’s impossible to know for sure how a community will receive a new business, but we are so grateful and indebted that the lovely folks of Toronto have accepted our modest offerings of the almighty brewed beverage. We were lucky enough to get early shout outs and mentions from publications like The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Grid, Toronto Star, Imbibe, The New York Times, and most notably, um, Yelp. How else would people find out that we have God forsaken pits still left in our olives? Damn us anyways!

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For us, 2012 highlights include a gold medal from the Canadian Brewing Awards for our Lost River Baltic Porter, a Golden Tap Editor’s Choice Award, two Best in Show awards for Cask Days (Toronto, and Beau’s/Van Leek Hill), and a Ontario 2012 Brewery of The Year nod from Stephen Beaumont/World of Beer. We also moved decisively to triple our fermenting capacity just 9 months into our existence. The awards were flattering of course, and the tanks, well, how ambitious of us…19 back-to-back brews in two weeks was a breeze! Really! A breeze that tears through your precious sleep pattern like a 1 and a half year old child. Oh wait, Luke already has one of those I guess…

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Our retail store survived as a twice per month pop-up shop, and though we’re sorry for the huge line-ups (see below), we’re glad that people wanted craft beer so badly! We’ve now printed our second edition of Bellwoods t-shirts and have added hoodies to the mix, because we still have some depths of winter to endure. 

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We held events with The Group of 7 Chefs, Grand Electric, and Chantecler, where we were able to showcase the dynamic qualities of beer paired with food. Whether it’s spicy Mexican tacos, or delicate heart tartar with scallops, we’ve got a beer that can blow your mind-doors off. Of course, tied in with our events were the successful releases of our collaboration beers.

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First up was Fruit Helmet — an american style pale ale brewed with mangoes and apricots — that was a joint effort with Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin Brewing. Released in the height of summer, this refreshing pale ale was hoppy but not aggressively so, and showcased bright fruity flavours that served to be very thirst-quenching. It was hard to just have one, and has been greatly missed in the months since the final pint was poured. I believe I poured the last pint myself, and it went to the lovely Caitlin Stewart of local Pizza Hut Commerical fame. 

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Our second collaboration was with Luc “Bim” Lafontaine, formerly of Dieu Du Ciel, right before he jetted off to Japan to build his new brewery. We were very honoured to work with Luc, and devised a complex hoppy strong ale recipe that focused on the Wakatu hop from New Zealand. Last Splash is a beer that really developed with age and impressed us at all stages. The last keg was tapped with some sadness, and we hope that somewhere out there, someone has saved a bottle. 

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In addition to our collaborative ales, we have a special place in our hearts for the beers that quickly became instant favourites among staff and patrons. In no particular order we’d like to pay thanks to Grandma’s Boy (both Cuvee and Barrel-Aged Sour), Hellwoods (bless its 10% heart), Roman Candle (a fine american IPA, no bells or whistles), Monogamy Summit (the most assertive in the single-hop series), the Bootknife (see, we can do malty too!) and of course, the inimitable Witchshark IIPA (we’re not picking favourites because we love all our children equally but just sayin’, if we were forced…our favourite). Luckily all of these will come back to grace the brewpub and retail store, so fear not. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, remember.

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And sooner or later we had to address all the less than ideal aspects of the past year, so here goes…(A) There was the lack of supply (trust us, no problem with the demand) for the retail store, various beers even running out before people at the end of the line could purchase them, (B) The limited food menu in the brewpub due to the microscopic kitchen under the stairs and mezzanine, (C) No rain shelter on the patio (mother nature does what she wants), (D) Line ups for the bathroom, and (E) General cramped seating downstairs. Lucky for y’all, we’ve got some solutions.

(A) First of all, the retail store should be up and ready to go towards the end of January or beginning of February with regular hours due to all our new tanks. We have a lot more fermenters and that means a lot more beer to sell. Now we don’t have to save everything for the brewpub, and can confidently bottle it so that you can take it home and enjoy it while you do laundry. I can’t guarantee you’ll ever enjoy the laundry part itself. 

(B) The food menu has been limited because we have never had a commercial kitchen with adequate ventilation to allow frying, gas cooking etc. We’ve scraped by with a residential electric stove and a space the size of a closet, so it’s impressive that we’ve been able to churn out house-made sausages, roasted squash, braised beef dishes, and of course grilled duck hearts. However, in conjunction with our tank expansion is the building of a brand spanking new kitchen complete with a holy deep fryer. This means the menu will get a big upgrade, and though my mouth will love the new fries we’re adding, I can’t say that it’ll work wonders for my ass (or yours). Regardless, we’re taking care of business.

(C) We’ll spare you the snooze fest of details (going back a year) on this one…..but maddening holes in the building/zoning code covering “garden pergolas” (there’s apparently no such thing in the arcane world of Toronto zoning code) have forced us into a very long permitting process concerning a permanent rain shelter solution. Anyway…the take home message is we’re on it and there will be rain coverage by spring 2013. 

(D) Have I talked about the expansion yet? Well, along with the tanks and the kitchen is also a couple more bathrooms. No more line ups for you.

(E) We’ll be able to make seating downstairs a little roomier and comfortable with the kitchen relocation. The space we formerly used for our kitchen will accommodate more tables, and more people, which should alleviate some of the bottleneck in the door line up as well.

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For all these reasons we feel that 2013 is going to be a great year at Bellwoods. In fact February will see us firing on all cylinders for the first time. We should be finished building/renovating, the retail store will open for full time hours, many of the bars/restaurants on our wholesale waiting list will finally get the beer they’re asking for, the food will get a face lift, the seating will expand a bit, and the beer will continue to be delicious and full of integrity. We’re committed to furthering the craft beer industry, and improving upon everything we do. And although I know I generally reserve this blog for communicating my arbitrary love for Arnold Schwarzenegger or making jokes about celebrities in general (don’t worry, this will still prevail in 2013), I want to take a second to get serious. 

The outpouring of support for Bellwoods both in our brewpub/retail store, and at festivals like Session 99, Brewer’s Backyard, and Cask Days has given us a lot of hope about the future of craft beer in Ontario and beyond. If people are this excited to drink beer with a backbone, support local businesses, and vote with their purchases — perhaps flavourful and diverse beer selections will one day become the norm. So we’d like to send out a big thank you from us Bellwoods folk to you, for making 2012 so incredible. Your backing has been invaluable to us.

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For 2013 we have lots of incredible beers on the horizon. On Jan 2 we picked up 20 wine barrels from Norman Hardie, within the month we’ll see the return of several old favourites to the bar (Roman Candle, White Picket Fence, Lost River Baltic Porter, to name a few), and if we’re lucky, the Flanders Red that’s been aging for almost a year now will be released before the year is up. These are just a few of our plans for brews to come, but stay tuned for what will surely be a creative and delicious year. 

Cheers to a great year gone by, and an even better one on the horizon!

PS - Honourable mention: We dodged the Mayan apocalypse. No, big, whoop.