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Brewing Away the Blues

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Fermentations, located at 201 Danforth Avenue.


As Maclean’s reported last week, alcohol sales at large Canadian retailers were up seventeen per cent this past October in comparison to October 2007, while the Globe and Mail reported in December that the sale of high-priced liquors, such as champagne and ice wine, were way down. This isn’t surprising: when times are tough people tend to hit the cheaper bottles a little harder. But sales of inexpensive liquor aren’t just up at retailers—in order to save money, more and more Torontonians are making their own booze or turning towards Toronto’s on-premise beer- and wine-making establishments.


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Cellar’s Choice: located at 812 The Queensway.


“We’re significantly busier now,” said Fermentations owner Charles Fajgenbaum. “Everyone enjoys saving money. A lot of people come here at first to save money, but then they enjoy our products so much that it keeps them coming back.” Fajenbaum isn’t the only person in the industry whose business has been positively affected by the recession. “Sales are getting better,” said David Crate of Cellar’s Choice. “Sales are up ten to fifteen per cent. We’re also getting a lot more new customers. I may be a bit biased, but the quality of our product is totally comparable to what you would find at the LCBO—except it costs forty per cent less.”

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An amateur vintner at Fermentations.

Homebrew equipment manufacturers have also experienced a surge in sales. “There’s been an uptick [in Ontario],” explained Derek Hamilton of Fermtech, a supplier of equipment for home vintners and brewers. “But there’s been a bigger uptick in the U.S., as they’re in much worse shape than we are. The industry is recession resistant; it may even be recession proof. When things get bad people still want to drink—they just don’t want to pay for it.”
Although many people assume that making your own beer or wine is time consuming, difficult, and expensive, it’s actually pretty simple. We made a fantastic Bohemian Pilsner at Fermentations a few months ago, and we were surprised at just how easy it was. It only took a few minutes to choose the type of beer we wanted and to add the yeast to the other ingredients. (Legally, the customer has to add the yeast.) Then, after two weeks we were able to return to bottle it. Wine making is just as simple, although depending on the grapes, it takes anywhere from four weeks to four months before you can bottle it.
Making your own beer or wine is also a lot cheaper than buying it. Our Bohemian Pilsner—one of the pricier beers available at Fermentations—was only $92 for twenty-four litres. That’s about the equivalent of three cases of twenty-four. The same amount of Pilsner Urquell, a similar tasting beer (yes, we’re well aware that Pilsner Urquell is a Czech beer), would cost $136. That’s a savings of $44, and that’s not too shabby if you ask us.
Photos by Stephen Michalowicz/Torontoist.

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