With the legendary craft beer destination closing its doors for the final time this weekend, the people behind Toronto beer take a look back on what made Volo great.
It seems just like yesterday I was writing about the impending closure of one of Toronto’s original craft beer destinations, Bar Volo. Sure enough, that was back in May and now there are only two days remaining in the life of a venue that has shaped the way Toronto thinks about beer.
As I wrote back then, this isn’t goodbye. The Morana family—Ralph and his sons Tomas and Julian—are far from done with the Toronto beer scene, and had already planned on opening two new establishments back when they got word that the original building will be torn down for condos. Birreria Volo, the hip new bar on 612 College Street that places a focus on wild and sour beers, is now open and is already proving to be just what Toronto’s beer lovers needed. Meanwhile a new Bar Volo location is in the works, opening inside the historic mansion on 582 Church Street sometime in the new year. And, of course, the Morana’s other projects of Cask Days, Keep6 Imports, and their hosting of Cantillon Zwanze Day, Péché Day, and various tap takeovers, will still carry on as if nothing has changed.
However, you can still say your goodbyes to the original location and celebrate the bar’s 28 years of service the only way the Moranas would want you to—by coming out to drink some damned good beer. An incredible tap list is available today with special deals on bottle selections. Saturday at 4 p.m. there will be the legendary Cantillon Zwane Day, a world-wide celebratory release of a limited one-off lambic beer made by Brasserie Cantillon, with plenty of other special beers on tap. Considering this is the final day of the location, the normally ticketed event will be first come first serve, with a special limited edition glass available.
Even though this is far from the end of Bar Volo, the location has, without a doubt, been part of the many fond memories of the people within the Toronto scene. For me, Bar Volo was the place where I learned that beer was more than just a crappy mass-produced lager. A place that was warm and welcoming to all who were willing to learn about, and enjoy, beer. Even in my early days writing about beer, the Moranas were the first people in the industry who took the time to speak with me, more than happy to break away from their regulars to give some newbie a few words of advice. That location holds a lot of magic for me, and I’ll be sad to see it go.
But it’s not just my memories I want to highlight here. I reached out to a few of the city’s brewers, brewery owners, and beer writers to get their take on some of their memories of Volo and perhaps what it meant to them. Here they are.
“I’m not that nostalgic about the space. It’s beautiful and has a great history, [but] it’s more about the family. Everything they have done to support and challenge brewers over the years. Driving the beer community forward. Really caring about the people and breweries they support. They’re inspiring and have done so much for beer in Canada. Volo made its mark on Toronto and the country’s beer scene and it should be a celebration instead of mourning a location. I’m so happy for them and I can’t wait to see what they do next.” – Iain McOustra, Brewmaster of Amsterdam Brewing Co.
“When we were planning Halo Brewery and were considering how we were going to fund it, we tried courting a few larger investors. I remember bringing a few to Volo to give us a sense of what we wanted to build and the culture we wanted to be a part of. We had some extremely awkward meetings there that are pretty hilarious in hindsight.” – Eric Portelace, Co-Founder of Halo Brewery
“During one of the first cask days at Volo, I dropped off my cask the night before and Ralph gave me a glass and said to try whatever I wanted…basically I had the whole cask day to myself! Its all a bit of a blur after that!!!” – Ken Woods, Owner & President of Black Oak Brewing Co.
“After Ralph debuted Cask Days on Volo’s patio, he and I developed a minor tradition of meeting on the Sunday or Monday to sample from the left-overs and analyze the contributions of our local brewers. Frankly, much of it was bitching and moaning in the early years, at least on my part, but I still remember the time we looked at each other almost in shock and agreed that this was the breakthrough year, when our local brewers finally got it!” – Stephen Beaumont, Beer Writer and Co-Author with Tim Webb of the upcoming new edition to the World Atlas of Beer
“I’ve got two lasting memories from visits to Volo. One occurred on a random weekday night before Mandie (Murphy) and I went to a concert at Massey Hall. We thought we’d duck into Volo for a pint and share a charcuterie board. Ralph happened to be there and he joined us for the entire hour that we were there. The Morana’s have always been so warm and hospitable, Ralph has always been open to talk shop and the current state of the industry. I also have memories of the early IPA challenge days on the patio. It had an atmosphere of a party at a friends house. Always a great time.” – Mark Murphy, Co-Founder of Left Field Brewery
“My favourite time to visit Bar Volo has always been early on Sunday afternoons. The quiet of the place made it easy to study and really think about what I am drinking, and this type of reflection has inspired how Chris and I approach the beers we make now. There was a period where we went in on Sundays just to work through the bottle selection from Jester King. That experience alone had a big impact on the direction we want to move our brewing. I can’t think of another bar that would provide such an opportunity to explore a fantastic farmhouse brewery in such depth.” – Christina Coady, Co-Head Brewer at Folly Brewpub
“When I first moved up to Ontario in 2011, I really didn’t know where to start with trying to get a grasp on the beer culture here. In other cities I found brewpubs (Montreal) or bottleshops (many American cities) as the best guides. But, in the days before Bellwoods and with a limited array at the LCBO, I found both those avenues limiting. Then a friend suggested Bar Volo. The first time I saw that iconic massive (less massive, then) board I knew this would be my guide. Toronto was, and still largely is, defined not by its brewpubs or bottleshops, but its beer bars. As I slowly slipped away from my PhD at the University of Toronto and towards brewing, my classroom moved a few block east from the University to Yonge and Dundonald. Bar Volo, more than anywhere else, taught me about the state of Ontario’s beer culture and gave the best indications as to where it might head. Drinking a glass of beer I brewed on its patio is a memory I’m glad I could make. I’m excited for the next iterations, but Bar Volo will always be my spiritual home for Ontario beer.” – Chris Conway, Co Head Brewer at Folly Brewpub
“It was always a place where beer lovers gathered, talked about beer and always in the best way—so many places and events have beer geeks that argue or represent the negative stereotypes of beer geekery, Volo in my experience has always shown the positive side of this community; enjoyment, exploration, and sharing.” – Jason Fisher, Owner of Indie Alehouse
“I admire Ralph, Tomas, and Julian for their worldly palate and appreciation of beer, wine and food—their passion for the craft of brewing catalyzed a lot of new beer styles in Ontario. The growth of real ale the education of the majority of Ontario breweries about how to cask condition their beer, came out of Ralph’s Cask Days festival at the bar. He also organized an IPA Challenge, which had many breweries in Ontario making an IPA for the very first time, which then ended up on their regular beer offerings—and in some cases became a flagship brew. Then they did the same thing for sour beer in the province, with Funk Night, that they started back in 2011. That bar really was a hub for fledging craft beer drinkers, and a place where beer nerds of the highest order felt at home.” – Crystal Luxmore, Writer and Founder of craftbeertastings.com
Have some memories of your own? Please feel free to tell us about them in the comments.
And with that, there’s nothing much else to say other than…cheers, Bar Volo. See you soon.