The launch of a brewery is always a very tense time for the brewer. Years of perfecting and planning finally get put into motion and the beer moves from the safety of a circle of friends and colleagues to the glasses of the general public. The initial reception can tell the brewer several things, like whether or not they should go back to the drawing board and reassess their beer.
For Jeff Manol, brewmaster and founder of Muddy York Brewing Co., it was a time when he realized that his hard work and careful planning finally paid off. When The Wren on Danforth’s owner, Dennis Kimeda, informed him barely into last month’s beer launch that the initial keg of the brewery’s first offering, Muddy York Porter, was empty and they were moving on to the second, Manol let out a sigh of relief and became more relaxed. People were enjoying his beer and having more beyond the first pint. It was the best result anyone could have hoped for.
For sure the process of Muddy York Brewing is not one that went by quickly. Even after deciding to start a brewery in 2012, the multiple award-winning homebrewer, BJCP-certified beer judge, and author of the blog Hoptomology had a lot of ground to cover and was reluctant to make any promises on what his product would be like before there was beer in his own facility. “I wanted to make sure the beer was right before anything.” Manol says. “There’s been a lot of breweries opening up, and I wish them the best, but they’re really gung ho on talking about it. And that’s great, but it inevitably takes time. This is many, many months after I thought I was going to have beer and if I had been talking that whole time I would have been very uncomfortable.”
Along with the technical and legal hurdles involved in starting a brewery, there were also conceptual and branding elements to consider. History has long appealed to Jeff, and even in the early planning days of the brewery the name “Muddy York,” a reference to the difficulty rain would bring on the unpaved streets of the settlement of York in the late 1700s, stuck with him. With the help of his wife, multiple Juno Award–winning graphic designer and art director Susan Michalek, a logo was created to match Manol’s picture of how rough and earthy life in Toronto was back then.
Delays, however, became inevitable and were ones that all new brewers have come to expect. Originally slated to launch in the spring of last year, licensing, facility renovations, getting familiarized with the equipment, and perfecting the recipes all came into play, leading to a later launch date. Though Manol is a touch frustrated that he missed out on attending beer-friendly events last summer, putting a beer out before it met his expectations would have been worse. “I could have launched something long before now, but I will never do that. If a beer’s bad, it’s not getting put out. So finally when I got it to where I wanted it, we launched.”
It’s interesting to note that Muddy York first launched with a Porter, as most breweries tend to play it safe by debuting with an IPA or Pale Ale. While Manol does love those styles and hopes to get to them soon, starting with something as seemingly ambitious as a porter made sense for him both as a way of standing out amongst the crowd of breweries and from a conceptual point of view, since historically Porters were the drink of the time period that Muddy York was in. “In my homebrewing the Porter always seemed to work out well, and I think one of the reasons for that is that the water in Lake Ontario is very similar to London, which was the Porter center in the 1700s,” he says.
The patience and attention to detail Manol put into his work has paid off in his first offering. At 4.7 per cent ABV, the Muddy York Porter is a light offering both in alcohol and mouthfeel, increasing the likelihood of ordering more and smashing any misconceptions that darker beers have to be heavy, boozy drinks. The taste brings forth thoughts of dark chocolate, a bit of dried fruit, and a nice dry finish that rounds it off. In the end, it’s a beer that at first seems simple but reveals itself to have several layers of complexity to it. A very well grounded, well balanced, solid beer with an English influence that doesn’t overwhelm and will prove to be a welcome addition to the midwinter bar scene of Toronto and beyond.
For now Muddy York Brewing Co. is taking things one day at a time. The brewery’s second offering, Unearthed Amber Ale, made an appearance at The Only Café’s Winter Beer Fest over the weekend and a Double IPA is also on the way. Additionally Manol will further be working on expansion, bringing in more fermentation tanks and possibly making way for a bottle shop in his brewery, which shares space with Manol’s second business of a steel rule die shop in East York.
In the meantime you can get a hold of Muddy York Porter at The Wren right now, and it will soon be making an appearance on the guest taps at The Mugshot Tavern. If you’re going out of the city, The Bent Elbow in Kitchener has it, as does downtown Oshawa’s Buster Rhino’s Southern BBQ.