Introducing: Beer Academy, downtown’s new brewery, education centre and tasting room for hopheads
After Duggan’s shuttered its downtown brewpub last year, it felt as though the wind was knocked out of the sails of the burgeoning Ontario craft beer movement (the opening of Bellwoods Brewery went some way in reversing that). Late this June, however, Beer Academy opened in the very Romanesque building that Duggan’s vacated, and their team of brewers and beer sommeliers are adamant that Ontario craft beer is here to stay. We went down to Victoria Street to take a look.
Beer Academy, run by Six Pints Specialty Beer Company (Molson’s craft beer wing), is not your typical brewpub. In fact, it’s not really a pub at all. Instead, the focus is on beer education: when people walk into the building, they enter by the tasting room, which is equipped with 10 beer taps, six of which are dedicated to Beer Academy brews. Customers can order a pint, or enjoy a flight of three six-ounce glasses (both $5.25). Each beer comes with a card that details the malts, hops, yeast, strength, bitterness and colour of the brew. “Our goal is to be as transparent as possible, because we want people to learn about beer and appreciate its complexities,” explains operations manager Aaron Bilyea. Each table is equipped with a stack of comment cards, and feedback is incorporated into the recipe for the next batch. There’s also a retail shop with 625 ml bottles ($6.50) and growlers ($16) for sale.
The back room is a spacious event space with a library of beer books, an expansive bar and a Beauty and the Beast–sized dining table perfect for large family gatherings or other big events (the Ontario Brewing Awards were held here earlier this summer). The décor leans more towards the traditional Bavarian than Duggan’s colder feel, with a few eye-catching embellishments like a bar top made of recycled beer bottles and reclaimed wood. Curious patrons are invited to take a tour of the brewery ($15), which involves a history of beer (the walls are covered with beer-related dates and facts) and a walkthrough of the beer’s three-storey journey from whole grain (second floor) to fermentation (basement) to glass (main floor). Beer Academy is also beginning to host culinary beer tours ($20), which explore the interplay between beer, food and the palate. We checked out a cheese and beer sampling led by beer sommelier Justin Lamontagne, which involved four beers, each paired with a matching cheese. When Duggan’s closed, many beer fans speculated that the space was just too big to operate as one huge bar. If that’s true, perhaps the academy has struck upon a more reliable formula.