2013: A Year In Review

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Whether or not we want to entertain the thoughts, December is a time for reflection. As one year draws to a close and another begins, we stop for a moment to look past the day-to-day and evaluate the changes, progress, and inevitable failures of the year that was — though I would like to say that the President’s Choice Hamburger flavour chips were really more of a folly than a failure. Failure is just too harsh. The question now, for us and for the future of esoteric potato chip flavours is of course, what next?

A wise woman once told me, there are no right or wrong decisions, we simply make choices and deal with the ramifications of such. And I think this is a good mantra for a craft brewery because we’re constantly working hard, taking risks and experimenting, always hoping that the 50lbs of de-pitted plums we just added to the fermentor will produce a delicious beer. Because to be honest, that de-pitting sure did take a while…

For some, it was the year of finally deciding to buy a god foresaken protective case for their cell phone. For others, it was the year of microwavable chimichangas, or new heights in caffeine addiction.

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And for us at Bellwoods, among other big developments, it truly was The Year Of Barreling. Though I would love to tell you that I mean that metaphorically as in, “we really came barreling into the hearts of people everywhere”, my usage is much more literal, as in, we worked to brew enough beer to supply the brewpub, booming Bottle Shop, and then fill over 130 barrels. We ordered cognac barrels from France and port barrels from Portugal, we picked up red and white wine barrels from Norman Hardy in Prince Edward County and Tawse in the nearby Niagara region, we acquired tequila barrels from Mexico and ordered rum barrels from Jamaica. Then we reordered those same rum barrels from Jamaica after they got sawed open at US customs for posing a ‘national security risk’. At least their God Blessed country remains safe!

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Aside from barrels, there were a lot of highlights this year. In February the Retail Store went from a small operation of bi-monthly pop-ups to a serious full-time store (open everyday until 11pm!). On paper that statement takes up a mere sentence, but in real life this shift was probably the single most significant event that changed the way we brew. The new 6 head bottler was also a huge determining factor, not just in how much beer we could package quickly, but in delivering us back to the world of the sane (the world where bottling a skid of beer doesn’t take 50 hours). Of course, I don’t think any of us could have anticipated the extent to which demand would grow. Between the pained tweets and aggressively inquisitive emails, you’d think that Roman Candle was a loved one we had kidnapped and threatened to keep in our possession forever. We want to take this chance to say, fear not! Roman Candle will return, Wizard Wolf and Witchshark will return. It’s a matter of when, not if. 

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This would also be a good time to extend a humungous thank you to Matt and Andrew at Doublenaut, the incredibly creative duo behind all our beer labels. Their work continues to impress and delight both our staff and patrons, and we’re always excitedly anticipating the next amazing design. The launching of the Retail Store would not have been the same without their massive contribution.

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March saw the major overhaul of our kitchen and menu, as we moved the entire operation into a bigger space, and finally upgraded to a commercial range. This allowed for more substantial dinner options, and of course, the highly-addictive, deity-like frie. All praise the frie!

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In April we participated in the breast cancer fundraiser Beer 4 Boobs with Omerta, our blood orange pale ale brewed with hibiscus (so popular we brewed it again, and then again once more!), and celebrated our 1st anniversary with the release of Bring Out Your Dead (Imperial stout aged in cognac barrels) and then later Motley Cru (annual barrel-blend). We think the results were successful, if not stupidly delectable. 

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Of course no beery year would be complete without a trip to the Canadian Brewing Awards. In May we traveled to Victoria and were lucky enough to scoot around the island with our hands in the air attend some great seminars about barrel-aging from both our friends at Trou Du Diable and Matt Brynildson, the brewmaster at Firestone Walker. We managed to snag a bronze for our Lost River Baltic Porter and Wizard Wolf, a silver for Hellwoods, and a gold for Blitzen! We were so proud to see fellow Toronto brewery Great Lakes win Best Canadian Brewery of the Year!

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We would meet with the wonderful team from Trou Du Diable soon after, for a collaborative raspberry Saison we named Frambizzle. This jewel red beer was perfect for the hot weather, as it was fruity and refreshing while still maintaining a strong Belgian yeast character. We were so happy to host the guys here in Toronto and even more delighted to brew Frambizzle a second time, later in the summer at Trou Du Diable’s brewery in Shawinigan. It was a real honour to work with and learn from Andre, and we know this is just the beginning of all the collaboration beers we’re bound to brew together in the future.

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And on the topic of collaborations, we have to say that our second with Jeppe of Evil Twin Brewing (Denmark/Brooklyn), was really something delicious. No Sleep Till Brooklyn, the stout aged with Brett in wine barrels for over 6 months, was served simultaneously here in our brewpub and at Tørst in Brooklyn! The happy marriage of malty and tart inspired us to attempt such a combination again, and informed our decisions to put the porter (that would later become Donkey Venom) into barrels. 

The summer came and went, as it often does, in a blur of back to back to back brews. We finally got that awning (that we bought a year ago), and shouted with glee when the first rainfall hit and we were dry beneath it on the patio, sipping our Witchsharks nonchalantly. We finished off the sunny season with the ambitious tap takeover, “Sunsplash”, at Bar Volo, a fun event that featured 34 (!) of our beers and [delicious food prepared by Matthew Duffy and Aiden Galligan of Cafe Boulud. Alongside some of the old favourites of the past year, we also pulled two kegs from our barrel room, debuting a Brett barrel-aged Saison with cherries, and a Brett barrel-aged Quad (both knocked our socks off). 

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September could only be summed up with two words: Brewing Man. This was the month in which we closed down the whole Bellwoods operation for two days, in order to go deep into the wilderness and set on fire a man we constructed entirely from brewery pallets. Part spirit quest, part druid fest, and part inner MacGyver soul-seeking mission, we returned to the city forever changed. 

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And as summer turned into our 5 minute fall, and fall into the frozen ice shield we call winter, there were a few new beers released late in the year that brightened our days and stood out as clear winners of 2013.

- 3 Minutes to Midnight: This imperial stout barrel-aged with cherries and cocoa nibs is all about no brainer combinations.

- Farmageddon: Tart and funky barrel-aged Saison.

- Donkey Venom: Brett barrel-aged porter. Perfect mix of tart, cherry, vinous, chocolatey, and Brett flavours.

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I would say, that if we learned anything this year it’s that with great risk comes great reward, and we really did take some huge ones. New tanks, new bottler, new (100+) barrels, and new bizarre beer styles that we weren’t sure anyone would necessarily like. These have all been commonplace for us in 2013, and the reward was an outpouring of support from all of you. And we feel the significance of this support shouldn’t be downplayed because it’s about more than ‘just beer’. It’s about grassroots craft industries, and voting with your purchase. It’s about unabashedly establishing Canada as a space where quality craft beer is both produced and valued. And we think that’s important — it’s why we wake up each morning excited to do what we do.

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So above all when we look at the past year in review, we are overwhelmingly grateful of this amazing support from our patrons. And in return you have our promise that we’ll continue to be risk takers. 

With all this reflection behind us we’re looking to 2014 with excitement and tons of new ideas. Stay tuned, and we leave you with the friendly reminder that Robert-f&!king-Plant wears a Wizard Wolf t-shirt, and you should too.

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Cheers from your friends at Bellwoods Brewery!

PS — Our new and improved website is coming very soon in the new year!