It’s Halloween. A man donning a shark mask jumps from a ledge on a construction site, straddling a broom. It’s a moment in time that encapsulates the inception of a brewery, an image that would prove to be elemental in the naming of one of our first beers, an Imperial IPA aptly titled Witchshark.

This shot of one of our brewers caught suspended in mid air off the brew-pad ledge launched a roster of beer with eclectic names, where mystical meets animal and beer styles run amok. It’s where creativity and community meet heart, all bottled into a beer capped with a red bell. I proudly work for Bellwoods Brewery, a family co-owned business founded in 2012 based in Toronto’s west end. Recently, we expanded with a new brewery at 20 Hafis Road just southeast of Lawrence and Keele and I’m excited to bring you all on a tour of our new space. Who’s to say how high we stand to fly?

Bellwoods Brewery Hafis Witchshark Patch

The drive in or saunter from the nearest subway station (Lawrence West Station) has you walking into the heart of an industrial wasteland. The surrounding area is peppered with warehouses. But a huge bright red bell set on a large white building is there to greet you at the finish line. When you think about where to find a great brew, most people don’t head down to the train tracks. In this case, that is exactly where you need to go.

Once you arrive, the hard work is officially over. Big, bright and shiny tanks and a brand-spanking-new mill where we crack the endosperm of the malt to gain access to invaluable convertible sugars for our brews are there to greet you. We also have our very own Koelschip, an open fermentation vessel that is used for the cooling of wort and the production of spontaneously fermented beers. The plan is to allow our first spontaneously fermented brew to oak age for three years with the hopes of blending with younger batches down the line, all the while staying true to the practices of admirable Lambic and Gueuze producers like Cantillon and Drie Fonteinen. Our office space is set in an old school silver Airstream trailer, and there are barrels upon barrels stacked high, often stretching to the farthest vantage point of the space. Once upon a time these barrels housed wine, rum, tequila, cognac, etc. The list goes on with only a few people knowing what is planned for their future.

The barrel stacks are visually captivating and showcase beer in varying cycles of maturation. These beers are unique styles with a mysterious concoction of yeasts and bacterias suspended in the interplay of biology and history reunited to create often unrepeatable beers. Many of our reserve styles are sold in a limited supply series as a result. This is because some of our beers are a mix of ales that have been oak-aged for varying periods or years of time before they are blended together to achieve the desired result. There are giant foeders from far away places and of course, our white picket fence. This is a nod to our Ossington home and to the community that built us and sustains us to this day.

Fancy a Taste?

Bellwoods Brewery Hafis Brew Pub

Nab a sip or two in the tasting room as you mull about the bottle shop and select your brews from the shiny 500mL bottles lining the glass front fridges. We care a great deal that you get what you’re looking for, so feel free to ask questions or check out the info board to learn interesting facts and flavour profiles. Perhaps you have done some research before hand, (our website is updated on the daily to reflect current bottle availability) so in that case sip and select away.

If you are in search of merch then go on and bring a bag to collect yo’ swag! Or we can give you a paper bag when you buy (no plastic though, cause of the environment and all). We currently sell patches, posters, hats, toques, tanks, t-shirts, hoodies, bottle openers and glassware as well as gift certificates. At the moment, we are closed Mondays and Tuesdays and open for business at noon Wednesday through Sunday.

See How it's Done

Our new state-of-the-art bottling machine is a game changer for Bellwoods Brewery. Keep in mind that up until now everything to come out of Bellwoods used to be bottled and labelled all by hand. Bottling meant that a brewer, staffer or, often times, owner would hand feed bottles under six spouts, whereby bottles would be filled, capped and then placed into twelve slot boxes and then stacked onto pallets headed straight for the bottle shop.

From there everything was hand labelled with a desk-top labeller operated by the press of a foot pedal, one bottle at a time. You’ve got to be very self motivated to get as much beer labelled and ready to go as possible. The highest number for bottles labelled in a day clocks in at well into the thousands. While we still do it old school like this over at Ossington, the new machine over at 20 Hafis Road helps us streamline this process to get more beer out into the community.

Meet the Brewers

Bellwoods Brewery Hafis Toronto

This is John over on the left. John is a talented Jujitsu fighter and rides a motorcycle, so, he’s cool. He’s now in charge of running the brew game over at our Ossington location.

This is Pat on the right. He has a strong background working with and connected to nature (he knows a shit ton about birds). He is also pure metal at heart so he’s cool too. Pat runs the brew game over at 20 Hafis Rd., but also curates our imported bottle list at the brewpub so he knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

Not pictured:

Rocky skateboards to work every chance he gets, and has a beer service background. He understands what it takes from brewing to serving and appreciates people for the work they do. If he is doing a night brew or sanitize when the brewpub is in full swing he takes time to field questions from interested brew pub patrons.

Cam loves blaring metal music as much as possible and has a unique courage-under-fire-knowledge of yeast production after he found himself thrust into running a brewery yeast lab just after graduating from beer school. Sometimes brewing can mean you either sink or flocculate.

Owners & Integrity

Bellwoods Brewery owners Mike and Luke are put your head down and work your ass off kinda guys. They are involved with every brew that they make. Barrels are carefully monitored throughout the maturation process, discussed and rated. Beer integrity and flavour is of the utmost importance at all times. Together they tweak and decide what is best for the beer. If the beer is off-flavoured in any way, even a stitch of Diacetyl, you best believe it’s destined for the ditch. You will notice that I don’t include a picture of either of them and I know they would prefer it this way.

Risky Business

Bellwoods Brewery Hafis

I’ll pick a beer out of a hat to demonstrate the risk inherent in the brewing game; let’s say our fruited dry-hopped sour, Plum Jelly King. This style is a mixed fermentation ale made with a house blend of lactobacillus prior to secondary fermentation and is heavily dry-hopped with Citra, Simcoe and Cascade hops. For the plums alone you’re looking at a cool $8,000 gouge in your plummy pocket book. While sipping these creative brews, one doesn’t often think of the coins necessary to achieve these styles – but if you do, you could liken it to buying all the produce at a farmer’s market. Not cheap!

From recipe to bottle, many decisions need to be made to see a beer make its way to fruition. You have to source your malt to get the optimal grist bill, add in the cost of sussing out unique blends of yeasts and bacterias to pitch, acquire special oak barrels for beers that need to mature on reserve for a year or more, obtain ingredients like whole fruit, purees and pectins, lactose sugars, and other convertible sources (malt, oats, etc), and wait patiently as you babysit the brew.

Oh and of course hops! Lately Bellwoods Brewery has been using increasingly interesting hop varietals and proprietary hop products, such as lupulin powder, to achieve new and unique flavour profiles. We have also started using hop hash, but we still remain true to the use of hop pellets and fresh hops. Depending on the beer you might need to check on the availability of the hop and then you can hop, fresh hop, dry hop and even double dry hop. These costs can really add up. This past year we tripled the total weight of dry hop for all our hop forward beers.

From yeast and bacterial cultivation and management, brewing, sanitization, monitoring, settling on a name and label design (all designed by the talented brothers of Doublenaut), bottling, labeling, and settling on a fair price to sell, there are enough factors to make your head spin and I haven’t even touched on them all.

A commonly asked question is how much beer do we produce, especially with our Hafis Brewery now up and running. How many barrels or hectolitres? Before now we were one thirtieth the size of a commercial brewery. This question is a tough one to answer because in the plight to make great beer we regularly combat beer loss in the process – sometimes upwards of 40%. This can occur during the barrel aging process and fermentation where yeasts and bacterias in combination with residual vegetal matter, from fruit and hops, lay waste to your hectolitre count. Many things can go awry, especially with barrel-aged beers that sit for over a year, a lot of loss can happen in a year but a great deal of good too. Either way you look at it, you have to respect the choices, risk and investment made.

Growing & Stepping up

Bellwoods Brewery Hafis Bottle Shop Toronto

In the heat of the summer, many have asked why we have been ransacked down to just a brew or two. It’s because we give you everything we’ve got (literally). This summer, with the addition of this new space and a newly implemented deliveries program, we are looking forward to quenching your thirst and filling the taps at selected locations across Toronto and beyond!

Prost!

Ayns xo

A Behind the Scenes Tour of Bellwoods Brewery's New Hafis Location
Article by Aynsley Leonard // Photos by Jamie MacDonald

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