While Toronto is home to some fantastic examples such as Bellwoods Brewery, The Granite and Mill Street among others, the idea of the new generation of brewpubs either in development or recently opened here has elicited reactions of skepticism and cynicism from many in the beer scene. When it comes to the beer, nightmarish images of untested, badly made beverages with a complete lack of cohesion, even on basic styles, seem to come to mind.
Not so at The Burdock Brewery and Music Hall near Dufferin and Bloor, which will be celebrating the official launch of its brewing facility tonight at 5pm.
Stepping into the brewery side of the Burdock, it feels less like a place of work and more like an artist’s workshop. Unsurprising, considering that brewers Siobhan McPherson and Matt Park once belonged to the same artists’ commune (albeit a few years apart). It’s a well-made, professional set-up with no cut corners and is operated by people with incredibly capable abilities. Park’s nine years of homebrewing experience and McPherson’s professional experience at Mill Street and Amsterdam, along with her work in microbiology, are clearly implemented well here. They have even sectioned off an office upstairs for a yeast lab, which McPherson is especially proud of.
The Burdock has been two years in the making and was always intended to be a music venue with a restaurant and functional brewery. Not interested in repeating the mistakes of others, when they opened their doors in April of this year they didn’t push themselves as a brewpub without the “brew” aspect and instead put their marketing focus on the music hall portion of the building while pouring a decent selection of local beers and serving locally sourced and seasonal dining. During that time, the red tape was worked through, the brewing equipment was ordered and assembled, and many beers were tested and perfected to a point where the brewers would be proud to pour it to the public.
So finally, after what has felt like forever to the employees of the Burdock, but only a few short months to the public, the brewing facility is fully operational and ready to make its official debut tonight. While it’s been announced that six beers will be pouring, a West Coast Pilsner, California Common, Saison, IPA, Grisette, and Summer Stout, there will also be a number of special one-offs poured throughout the night including a Hefeweizen and some beers made with 100% brett yeast.
Of the four beers I sampled, the two especially of note are the West Coast Pilsner and the Summer Stout. The West Coast Pilsner, at 5.8% ABV, hopped with comet, cascade, and citra hops and further dry-hopped with simcoe, fills a gap in the scene’s growing demand for a hopped up version of the rising style of the pilsner. The Summer Stout, however, was the most…surprising. Utilizing a malt variety that offers a very dark colour but little to no roasted notes has yielded a stout with a very thin and light mouthfeel and remarkably clean finish. Served on nitro for a nice creamy head and at 4.2% ABV, the Summer Stout makes for a lovely beer for the patio, even in this hot and humid weather.
Normally my verdict in a new brewpub has been “let’s give it a few months”. Many of the newly opened places clearly need a little time to stretch and work things out on their brewing side before taking off running, which I recognize and say as much after my first experience. I’m not going to give that verdict with the Burdock. By spending as much time as they needed to work out their recipes to a decent level and by bringing on Siobhan McPherson, who possesses an artistic mind with the scientific and technical know-how to pull her visions off as well as the ability to look at her work objectively and improve where needed, the Burdock promises to do quite well indeed.
With the quality of their current lineup of beers along with their future plans, which include many collaborations from the local beer community, the Burdock is looking promising as a much-welcomed and worthy addition to the Toronto beer scene.