Thursday was a big day for Toronto beer lovers as the Bellwoods Brewery on Ossington opened its doors, part of a three-day soft open before reopening for good tomorrow, Wednesday April 11th. It was no real surprise to find the brewpub packed on Friday night at 7pm and a short wait before a seat opened up, especially because there are only forty seats right now (a summer patio should double that number).
The main floor contains a small seating area (three tables for groups and bar seating) before opening up to the brewery at the back. The kitchen is on one side, filling the space with the delightful ringing of a bell whenever a food order is up. There is more seating over the kitchen – some tables for two, plus more bar seating that overlooks the dining area and brewing equipment (added bonus: the delicious smells of food coming out of the kitchen). The space overall is very white and sparse, the main attraction being the wall of branded glassware behind the bar.
Five beers were part of their opening menu – the Common Pale Ale, Toil and Trouble Dubbel, Farmhouse Saison, Witchshark Imperial IPA and Cuvee du Grandma’s Boy. The highlights for me are the Farmhouse and Witchshark, two very different but tasty beers. The Farmhouse is the saison I’ve been waiting for an Ontario brewery to make – dry, funky, but oh so refreshing. Can’t wait to be drinking lots of these on the Bellwoods patio this summer. The Witchshark is on the other hand is a brashly hoppy beer, but also very smooth with little noticeable alcohol even with its 9% ABV. Basically the kind of beer that everyone else in Ontario has been waiting for.
The Toil and Trouble and Cuvee are good, but lacking the same oomph as the Farmhouse and Witchshark. The Toil and Trouble is a dubbel with a lot of chocolate and dark fruits, but not as complex as many other versions of the style. The Cuvee is a tripel/saison hybrid, made with both Chimay and Saison Dupont yeasts. Super dry and green tripels aren’t my favourite, so take that into account. Unfortunately the Common was a miss for me because of a strong butterscotch flavour, more than only would expect to find in an English ale. Compared to the other beers, it seems that Bellwoods might undergo a learning curve in making a subtler beer.
But I don’t want to end talking about their beers on a negative note – the fact is that a brewpub has just opened in Toronto with a saison, imperial IPA, dubbel and Belgian hybrid. There is no trying to appease to the average beer drinker – the generic ale is almost an afterthought. Bellwoods is clearly trying to be a beer geek paradise and succeeding. This is easily going to become a beer destination in the city, especially when the patio is opened and they finish the expanding into the building next door, which will allow for retail sales. I only hope they will be able to make enough beer to satisfy demand.
A quick word on the food: the menu is mainly bar snacks and not built for a sit-down dinner (which helps create lots of turnover during the course of an evening). That said, it is not an afterthought. The menu is designed by Guy Rawlings (recently of Brockton General and Lucien) and is a nice compliment to the wide array of beers. We sampled two of the “sticks” (really skewers), which were flavourful but the potato and turnip were a little too crunchy (but, at $2 and $2.50, make for a pretty cheap snack while drinking). The friendly servers were obviously a little overwhelmed by the amount of people, but were very knowledgeable about the beer and menu. For a soft-opening, things looked like they were running fairly smoothly (and if they weren’t, no one seemed to notice).
Bellwoods continues a recent trend of smaller glass sizes but charging normal prices. Most beers were in the seven to eight dollar range, with standard 16 ounce servings for the Common and Farmhouse and smaller 12 ounces for the higher ABV beers. I have no problem with this practice, which is quite common in the United States and reflects the higher cost of making a beer with more alcohol content. And no one honestly needs a full glass of an imperial IPA.
Overall, a strong opening for the Bellwoods crew and a welcome addition to the Toronto beer world. On a personal note, it saddens me to say that yet another of my 2012 predictions has come true: Bellwoods opened a month before I move across town. But regardless of where you are in the city or province, the brewery should become a frequent stop in your beer adventures. I know it will be in mine.