Indie Ale House has been a long time in the making. Rumours first came out at the end of 2010 about a possible brewpub opening in the Junction and their initial hopes were to open in the spring or early summer of 2011. Then time started ticking by and the brewpub was turning into a beer-soaked version of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Bureaucracy got in the way while other brewpubs opened their doors in Toronto and Ottawa. It seemed like this day might never actually happened, but then Indie finally opened with little advance warning just before the Thanksgiving weekend.
I was finally able to stop by yesterday with a friend of mine, settling in to an afternoon with a couple of flights. The brewpub is a decent size – not the Granite or Mill Street, but larger inside than Bellwoods (no patio, though). The retail store is just to the right of the entrance, though growler and bottle sales aren’t available yet. (The good news is that Indie has one of those fancy growler fill stations, like the ones at the Beer Academy.) High top tables dominate the area by the front-left window, with the bar and other tables stretching back to the left. Not the best layout from a business perspective – there are a couple of spots of dead space, especially on the long walk towards the bathrooms at the back. The design is what one expects from a new restaurant or bar opening in a hip area with an exposed brick wall and lots of wood everywhere else.
With a draught board of nine beers during my visit, the flight was the way to go in order to try the greatest selection without getting absolutely plastered. Flights are $10-14 for five beers, the final cost depending on the beers ordered. Between our two flights, we were able to cover the whole selection and get a strong idea of the beer quality. The only problem was that the glasses aren’t great – the aromas were really hard to pick up and probably didn’t do proper justice to a number of beers. The first beer I tried was the Broken Hipster Belgian Wit, which had a nice fruity hoppiness to go with the wit yeast. Not traditional tasting, but flavourful and just dry enough for balance. The Barnyard Belgian RyePA had a lot of sweet Belgian yeast flavours upfront, citrus hops in the finish. Not really all that bitter and no noticeable rye, which may have possible been because of the glass. The Instigator IPA was not in fine form – a green and vegetal finish that was only emphasized by a harsh bitterness. Not the same as previous versions that have popped up at events and the one miss of all beers we’ve had. After that it was a good time for a palate cleansing Spadina Monkey, a sour raspberry beer. A very clean sour beer, it was a two-note mix of raspberries and a tart finish. On a hot summer day this would probably be refreshing, but not enough going on to satisfy on a fall afternoon.
Those were the lighter offerings that hovered in the 5-6% ABV, but Indie also features some beers with a big booze quotient. The Breakfast Porter is another beer that has made the rounds before and wasn’t quite as good now. A lot of chocolate, but the finish was a little too clean and the beer could use some more body. The current winner of the draught board is probably the Abbey Pumpkin, a dark pumpkin beer that uses roasted malts to balance the intense spices. No abbey character was present, but it was nicely balanced and easy to drink for 9%. The Cock Puncher Imperial IPA was fine for the style, giving some rye notes, orange pith and a little pine bitterness at the end. Tasty, but nothing special for an IIPA. Last was the Red Tape Stout, an imperial stout even if it wasn’t called as such. (And yes, the name is an obvious poke at the lengthy delays that plagued the opening of Indie.) Another beer that wasn’t best served by a small flight glass. The heat of the alcohol was quite noticeable, but probably would’ve been offset by the increased flavours and aromas that would have been found in a proper glass.
The one negative against most of the beers, especially the stronger ones, is that they were missing some body. The dark beers were hurt the most by not having a bit more weight to them. Not sure how much the body would be affected the glassware, but hopefully something they try to adjust in subsequent batches. One other issue is that there currently isn’t a standout beer that I would say everyone has to try when they visit. The best is probably the pumpkin, but it’s not a beer I would go out of my way to seek out. The Instigator IPA and Breakfast Porter have been around the longest, but neither felt like a flagship beer on this day. (Whether a flagship beer is needed is open for debate, but that topic can be left for another day.)
There are also lots of positives. Once again, a brewpub has opened right away with an interesting and challenging beer list filled with IPAs, beers with Belgian yeasts and a couple of dark beers. Even the beers that would appeal to a wide sampling of people (Street Wheat and Broken Hipster) are interesting, tasty beers that will be even better in warmer weather. (These were also the two pints we ordered after our flights, which shows that they clearly are not write-offs.) A wide range of glassware for different styles and serving sizes. I’m always happy to see 9 to 11 ounce serving sizes for stronger beers, especially when no beer on the menu hits $7 or above. (Yes, that is correct – Indie has bucked the trend of rising beer prices in a big way. It will be interesting to see if they can stay so low.) The servers seemed to be pretty knowledgeable about the beers. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the food because the kitchen was closed from 3-5pm.
While it is a strong opening for Indie Ale House, so much has changed in Ontario during the past year and a half that it doesn’t feel as exciting. The brewpub will no doubt do great business in the Junction area, but it currently feels more like a good beer spot than a must-go destination for craft beer lovers. (That could also be my east-end bias, because Indie is damn far from where I live.) There is room for improvement, which is not surprising for any new business. Perhaps the weight of expectations was just too much after being built up for so long. Or it just goes to show how spoiled we are in Toronto that a new brewpub is just another great place to drink.