A week ago I was treated to a tour of the new Six Pints brewery that is coming together at 75 Victoria St in Toronto, previously home to the Denison’s and Duggan’s brewpubs. Six Pints, for anyone that has not already heard, is the craft beer division of Molson Coors that also encompasses the Creemore and Granville Island companies that were purchased in 2005 and 2009, respectively. The building will not be used as a brewpub, but will likely be split into a Six Pints tasting bar/retail store and The Beer Academy, which will handle events, education and more (the exact details haven’t been nailed down). Slightly confusing, I know.
My tour guides for the day were Aaron Bilyea, (Director, National Marketing & Specialty Sales) and Stephen Rich, who will be helping out with the brewing and also runs the website Definition Ale. The first stop was the bar/retail area, which is in the same spot as the old Duggan’s bar area. Lots of exposed brick, keeping much of the buildings heritage exposed. The counter at the bar contains pieces of recycled beer bottles, which is a nice touch. 650mL bottles will be available to go, as well as Creemore and Granville products. They also have two amazing growler fill stations, which will fill up growlers in a way that minimizes excess foam and is more sanitary than a hose/tap. Can’t wait to see those in action!
Beer education is a large part of the Six Pints/Beer Academy ethos, both for customers and those in the industry. Much of said education will take place in this space, either informing consumers about the beer they are drinking or showing bars/restaurants how to make sure that a flawless beer is making it into glasses. A lot of that knowledge comes from Todd Fowler, head of the brewing side but also an expert in draught systems. The hope is to show licensees every essential part of serving good beer, from maintain a keg room, cleaning lines and properly serving. A worthy undertaking, which will hopefully lead to better beer across the city and province.
The old restaurant space from Duggan’s is mainly going to be an event space, but will also include a beer library and a wall of beer history. The large bar, seen in the picture above, will feature three glass panels that will contain barley, hops and water. (Yeast will be worked in somewhere, but Aaron correctly stated that live yeast is not really something you want to look at.) A set of drawers that are eerily reminiscent of card catalogs have been built into the bar that will have different kinds of barley and hops for people to touch and smell (and eat, in the case of the barley). The library is still in development, but will include a wide range of beer and brewing books, available for use by anyone. The smaller section at the back might house smaller events, like cult movie nights. In the basement there is a room with an open kitchen for food and beer events, which will hopefully be introduced at some point down the line. Six Pints offices will also be located in the basement, as well as brewing equipment, aging tanks and the bottling system.
That provides a nice segue into what everyone wants to know: “What beers will they be serving and how are they?” Neither answer is currently known, either by myself or the brewers. A lot of hard work has been put into updating and cleaning the brewing equipment, work that is still being done. (Acrobatic welders were fitting into the tiny tanks when I was there.) I’ll be honest in saying that not all of the work that was done made sense, because I’m no brewing expert. But most of the work was done to make the brewing process easier on the brewers and to ensure that there would be no points in the brewing process where sanitation could be a problem. The major equipment, from the mash tuns to aging tanks, is the same that has been there since the building became a brewpub, so don’t expect to see giant tanks. The process of making a beer is still going to be very hands-on for the brewers, unlike more modern breweries where everything is controlled by the push of a button. The downside to all this work is that Todd and Stephen haven’t actually been able to brew yet.
If there is one statement that dictates what Six Pints will brew it is not to make brands but styles, so expect a lot of standard English styles at first. (Yes, they are making ales and no, they won’t be using corn syrup or other adjuncts that shouldn’t be in beer.) Expect some sort of pale ale and a porter or stout early on, but there is no guarantee. Stephen hoped to be brewing with spices at some point and also mentioned the possibility of using tea at some point, but that will likely be after they figure out the quirks in the brewing system.
Six Pints will likely be the most scrutinized new brewery in Ontario this year. For the most part, the tour was a promising sign that Six Pints is striving to make excellent beer and given relatively free reign from the parent company (at least for now). The cracks do sometimes show, like when Aaron that they hope they space will also become a tourist destination for beer lovers coming to Toronto. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does bring to mind the relatively bland offerings at Les 3 Brasseurs not far away on Yonge St. The only other problem could be that the Beer Academy may be taking on too many projects at the beginning – brewery, event location, licensee education and more. At the same time, everyone involved seems to genuinely care about quality beer and improving the state of beer in Toronto. With any new brewery, that is all we can ask for.