On a snowy Saturday afternoon, I didn’t expect the new Junction Craft Brewing tasting room/retail store to be all that busy. The brewery is in a rather industrial section of the Junction and the sort of place you have to know about to find. It has only been open for a couple of weeks and has garnered little fanfare so far because of the busy holiday season, though business was quite steady for the hour and a bit I was there, with a lot of people coming in for growler fills/refills. It was a steady flow, but slow enough that Junction Craft Brewing President Tom Paterson still had enough time to chat with everyone and talk about the beers, giving samples while people patiently waited for their growlers. As I sampled the beers, it became obvious why so many people were already coming back for more.
The Junction organizes the available beers in a hybrid arrivals-departures timetable meets beer chalkboard (seen above). It lists the beers available, those just brewed and those no longer available, plus the ABV, IBUs and a little description of the flavours for each beer. The beers are available in 5oz samples ($1.75-1.95), 10oz glasses ($3.25-3.65) and 2L growlers ($12-14, plus deposit). The growler fills are done directly from the taps, so you know the beer is fresh and that the growler hasn’t been sitting around for a while (though that would clearly not be a problem right now). The selection of beers is rapidly changing as things run out and get replaced by newer offerings. An Extra Pale Ale, Warrior Pale Ale, Grand Trunk Bitter, Stationmaster’s Stout and English Brown Ale were available, with a Winter Warmer, ESB and Porter coming out soon (or, as the chalkboard put it, “on the platform”). They had recently run out of the Red Ale, but did have a guest tap of the Shacklands Pale Ale (made by Jason Tremblay, a brewer for House Ales). It’s quite likely that a visit now would mean a completely different board than the one I saw.
From that list, it would seem like the Junction was going forward with very British-inspired beers, but Tom explained that things would likely change as more fermenters were added and winter ended. Space and time are both issues, as they are for most breweries, which means that the shorter fermenting time of ales makes it easier for the brewery to keep up with current demand. After tasting the full selection, it was easy to see why so many people were coming in to refill growlers. The 3.4% Grand Trunk Bitter is a true session beer, a full-flavoured ale that would hold up well over multiple pints. Its cousin is the English Brown Ale, a more toasty, fuller beer with a dry finish. The Extra Pale had lots of light grain, a little hopstw and a very dry end. The Stationmaster’s Stout was serviceable, though the body was a little thin. The Warrior Pale Ale was the one beer that did nothing for me – the bitterness was odd and the earthy qualities didn’t work with the overall beer. Oddly, the Conductor’s Pale Ale was not available and it seemed like a strange choice not to have your flagship brand for sale. (The Conductor’s is still being contract brewed at Wellington, so there is probably some red tape about selling a beer brewed elsewhere. Also, expect it showing up at the LCBO in cans this spring.)
The overall quality was very high, though that’s not a surprise to those of us who have had the beers of Brewmaster Doug Pengelly when he was running Saint Andre. The beers are balanced, yet never boring. (That being said, the Shacklands Pale Ale was a nice burst of hoppiness after a number of tamer beers.) It will be curious to see how people react to this brewing philosophy at a time when big, brash beers are becoming increasingly popular. The beers aren’t sexy, but I think people will appreciate a brewery that consistently produces well made beers in traditional styles.
In many ways the Junction brewery is the antithesis to its neighbour the Indie Ale House, which will hopefully work out for both breweries in the long term. One is making well made beers that are indebted to traditional styles, while the other emphasizes modernity. Heck, the Junction brewery even has a wall to remind people of the history of the area, one more clue that it is a brewery that looks past for inspiration. That’s not meant as a negative, not when the beers are so damned good. In fact, it’s a nice reminder of why these styles have been around for so long.