Jason Fisher had been dreaming of opening a brewpub for years. But his long, difficult struggle to get the Indie Alehouse open was finally coming to fruition and he was about to share his beer–recipes for some of which he had held onto for years–with the world.
Five minutes after finally getting a liquor licence and becoming legally entitled to pour the fruits of his labour for thirsty residents of the Junction, he opened the doors and welcomed a customer–a Junction resident–who told him how excited she was that the doors were finally open on the neighbourhood’s first brewpub. So she placed her order–for a glass of wine.
And while that first customer clearly didn’t understand what the “ale” in Indie Alehouse was all about, it will be obvious to any beer lover who sets foot inside and orders a pint: This place, and Fisher, are all about beer.
A former instructor at Niagara’s Brewmaster and Brewery Operations Management course, Fisher has been thinking about beer for a long time. “I’ve been brewing since I was 16 and most of the recipes for these beers were my home recipes.”
As you might imagine from recipes that have had that much time to be perfected, there’s very little to complain about with any of Indie Alehouse’s line-up. On my first visit, I managed to try seven different brews (yes, it was an interesting bike ride home), and not one left anything to be desired. Indie’s Pumpkin Abbey (9.5%) and Red Tape Stout (10.5%), for example, are about as flawless as two beers can be. The Pumpkin Abbey has a great sweetness balanced with really subtle spice and manages to be unlike any pumpkin beer I’ve ever had before. There’s even some notes of jelly bean and it’s a bit like having a beer after having eaten some candy. Style-wise I’d say it’s got more in common with a saison than any other style and managed to remain really fresh-tasting–not bogged down with the sort of thick pumpkin flavours that turns me off of most pumpkin beers. As for the stout, it is quite simply, a perfect beer. It’s got the ideal feel of a stout and just the right touch of smokiness. It’s black, it’s creamy, and it’s god damn amazing. There’s nothing new here–Fisher’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, he’s just up and decided to make a perfect fucking wheel.
And he knows it. As he noted of the Pumpkin and Stout: “They’re picture perfect. We’re not changing anything.”
Not all the beers here have sprung forth from Fisher’s dusty recipe book though. He’s entrusted Jeff Broeders, recent graduate of Niagara’s brewing program, with the brewing duties at Indie Alehouse. Speaking of both Broeders and head chef Patrick Fraser, Fisher notes, “I’ve found guys that I see eye to eye with, which is important. We all agree with the concept,” he says. And it seems to be paying off. “Some of these beers,” Fisher notes, “We just made up in the last month and a half. Plus,” he says, speaking of bringing his old recipes to life, “the home to commercial scale isn’t one-to-one, so we’ve had to tweak them.”
Indie Alehouse’s Witbier offering, or “Witster,” the Broken Hipster (5%), also has a lot going for it. There’s some comparisons to be made here with a sasion style as well as there’s some subtle citrus and a little pear but also great spice on the nose of this beer. It’s just 5% ABV so it’s the lightest offering at Indie Alehouse but with underlying notes of coriander and cloves, it feels odd to peg this down as your classic summertime witbier with all that great complexity. As Paul Aihoshi, my companion for the evening poetically noted of the beer: “It reminds me of leaves. Like the smell of walking around picking out a pumpkin.”
Their Street Wheat, a collaboration made with Crystal Luxmore of The Grid, is an interesting beer comprising sumac, birch, and blackberries and it has an interesting depth and sweetness. It’s quite unique and the flavour notes are something like red licorice, but with a little cinnamon spice.
Experimentation is set to be a cornerstone at Indie Alehouse. Already the basement is filling up with an assortment of wine and bourbon barrels and various iterations of their beers are aging in them for future release. For now though, the focus is on in-house sales, but a retail space–already selling 1.9 litre growlers–will eventually feature the more potent offerings, too. “By Christmas,” Fisher tells me, “we hope to do smaller bottles and we’ll probably sell some of the higher alcohol stuff; like 500ml or 750ml bottles of the Cockpuncher [11% Imperial IPA] or the [Spadina Monkey Belgian Raspberry] Sour or some of the barrel-aged stuff.”
My first impression of the Indie Alehouse’s beer was from a sip of their Instigator IPA, what I would deem an almost picture-perfect example of an American-style IPA. And while my notes included that it had great aromatics and a nice, bitter finish, one of the first things Fisher told me after I praised the beer was that it could be better. “Our first batch was better so we’re going back to that. It’s going to be more aromatic with a better finish.”
And so it’s clear that, while he may be enjoying the fruits of his labour, he has no intentions of relaxing his standards. The long quest for perfection that seems to have resulted in this spectacular line-up of beers seems to be one that’s still ongoing, so it seems pretty clear we can expect even more great beers from Indie Alehouse in the future.
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Be sure to check out my complete review of my dinner at Indie Alehouse, going live tomorrow on blogTO.
And now, a recorded exchange with Paul Aihoshi, photographer, on the state of Indie Alehouse’s washrooms:
Paul: The smell of the bathroom is very nice. It was very welcoming. It smelled like an old home. It didn’t have a urine smell.
Me: Well they’ve only been open 13 days, Paul.
Paul: Maybe that’s why. The only problem though is the taps. When you turn them on it splashes you.
Me: I got that too. I almost splashed on my own crotch as well.
Paul: Yeah. It looks like I peed all over myself.
Me: I think you actually did and you’ve found a convenient excuse. Am I right?