A new brewery on Ossington Avenue raises the bar for local beers.
It’s the first week of May and Toronto is in the middle of a string of cool, cloudy days. Mid-afternoon, the Bellwoods Brewery is preparing for that night’s service and the space isn’t ready for photography. Mike Clark, co-owner along with Luke Pestl, suggests we return just before opening. Given the weather, and that it’s a Monday, he expects a slow start. After all, the brewery has only been open for a few weeks, even if it sits on busy Ossington Avenue. After five, the space is unexpectedly packed with a pleasantly mixed crowd: a table of older men and women in fleece zip-ups at a table by the signature garage door wall, a group of suits at another table, and some locals seated upstairs. The shoot is rescheduled.
As summer approaches, grabbing a table at Bellwoods will become even more difficult. The brewery boasts a coveted space in the popular West Queen West neighbourhood with a welcoming and airy interior, matching its namesake, the nearby Trinity Bellwoods Park. “We both have lived near this immediate neighbourhood for the better part of the last ten years. We’re both fans of hanging out in the park,” notes Clark.
Clark says that he and Pestl lucked out with the location, because breweries require spaces with some special features. “It’s really difficult to find a building to pull this off in,” says Clark. “Some of these mechanical garages have the right combination of zoning and physical attributes to host a brewery.”
Bellwoods Brewery’s location was previously a car wash, then an auto body shop. Left-over features like high ceilings, properly reinforced flooring, and large drains made the space “unique” in Clark’s eyes.
Of course, none of this would matter if the beer wasn’t good. But it is, perhaps in part because Clark and Pestl are wholly invested in what they brew. “We are lucky to brew what we want,” admits Clark. Beers made locally have the benefit of freshness, and Bellwoods offers some particularly distinct flavours, including a bright saison, a porter with notes of dark chocolate, and a dubbel that tastes of fruit and malt.
The variety of beers reflects the increasingly sophisticated palates of Toronto beer drinkers, who have become accustomed to craft brews over the past few years. Clark says he has seen the shift happening and believes beer lovers can look forward to more: “Toronto is lacking, compared to some of the bigger cities in the States, in smaller breweries or brewpubs,” he says.
Bellwoods is working on a retail outlet that will allow them to sell beer by the growler. Some restaurants in the neighbourhood will be selling it by the glass. Even so, Clark says he’s being careful to save enough suds for the brewery itself—and he’ll be even more cautious after they’re done building their patio. “We’re holding back a good amount of our stock until we know how much will be consumed from the patio and in here: we don’t want to run out of our beer,” he said. With patio season approaching, neither do we.