An edited version of this post appeared on blogTO’s “grocery store” section back on June 18, 2013, but because I’m not sure anyone has ever read blogTO’s grocery store section (I didn’t even know it existed), and because it means I can simply copy and paste to plop some content on my blog this week, I’ve opted to repost it here. Lazy!
What are your thoughts on “you brew” facilities like Fermentations?
In the argument about micro- vs. macro-brewers and the conversation about who brews the best beer locally, we tend to forget that there is another option when it comes to beer drinking, namely, making it yourself. But when few have the time, inclination, space, or knowledge to set up their own homebrewing operations, are there any commercial places in Toronto one can go to brew a batch of beer themselves?
Well yes, as it turns out–but just one.
The place is Fermentations and it’s actually the only onsite brewing facility in the city of Toronto. It hasn’t always been the only one, but they’ve managed to stick it out as their competitors “raced to the bottom” and have stayed in business for 20 years. As owner Charles Fajgenbaum will gladly tell you, “When we opened up there was no such thing as craft beer. We were the craft beer.”
And the vibe is indeed decidedly crafty. An assortment of bottles, containers, and pails greets you as you walk into Fermentations and, with a focus on function over form, it’s at first hard to know where the public area ends and the staff-only parts begins. But when you get over the vaguely utilitarian aesthetics and the smell of things at various stages of…well, fermenting, it becomes very clear that the place is not without its charms.
Charles and his small staff are exceptionally friendly and it’s clear they know a thing or two about beer (and wine, if that’s your thing). I was treated to a taste of a Belgian dubbel clone that long-time staffer Scott Fitches had brewed in-house and was immediately forced to reconsider my previous notions of onsite brewing as something weird uncles and strange neighbours did because they were too cheap to buy real beer.
That is to say, this actually tasted like beer.
However, as for my preconceived notions, Charles assures me they’re not unfounded. “When we first opened up 20 years ago these places were everywhere,” he tells me. But as everyone else focused on price as the selling point for make-your-own beer and wine, everyone started trying to undercut the other guy and the result was shitty ingredients resulting in shitty beer.
Charles on the other hand, has maintained a focus on quality ingredients–as evidenced by the newly-arrived New Zealand Cascade hops I opted to use a ton of for my own refreshing summer concoction–and as a result has maintained a loyal following. Underlining his point were a trio of gentlemen who had been Fermentations customers for the last 15 years who, on the day I visited, were happily bottling (and sampling) their own creations.
But despite Fermentations insistence on using higher-quality ingredients, it’s still hard to argue with their prices. Single batches of beer, for example (roughly 23 litres, or 66 standard 341ml bottles), can range from $79-$90 depending on the style–the equivalent to $1.20-$1.40 a beer.
As for the beer, well, it’s pretty damn good. They’re extremely open to brewing whatever a customer might want to try (a customer came in while I was bottling my beer interested in brewing a hot pepper beer), and if you happen to have a favourite beer, well they’re not too bad at…er, mimicking…commercial brews if you’ve got one in mind you’d like to emulate. “We have people come in and ask us to brew copies of this beer and that beer,” says Charles. “We’re not going to get it exact, but we’re pretty good at getting it close. And the craft breweries will happily post the ingredients to their beers [online] so it’s pretty easy.”
Of course, all this presupposes you’ve got the foresight to visit the Danforth a couple weeks before you think you’ll be thirsty and also requires a couple hours to not only create your brew, but come back and bottle it yourself later. But there are certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon than packaging a beer you designed yourself and taking home a few cases of it for just $1.20 a bottle.
Photos by Lindsay Rosset
8 thoughts on “Where to brew your own beer in Toronto”
Good review of a place that I use because my wife doesn’t like those fermenting smells you mention. If you want to get under the hood and fiddle with ingredients, bring in your own yeast, add additional hops and all that. Well, they will help you out.
My last brews were a root beer and a ginger tea ale.
Thanks, I guess, for exposing a good secret.
hey so where can i brew my own beer? i have been searching for a place for a while until i get my own stuff to do it. Also dose anyone know where i can get ingredients for it too?
See article, above.
I pay 42 cents a beer that I brew in my basement. All-grain mash, everything from scratch. I am sure these guys beers are great though. Most people don’t want to go to the expense of buying all that beer equipment, so going to these guys is a great option and the Beer Store gets nothing which makes it all worth while.
I am interested to brew my own Beer and would appreciate guidance.
Where can I economically buy the equipment and ingredients.
Years ago we used to brew at a place called Select Brewing on Mowat Avenue in Toronto.
The guys there were great and the beer, after a very few tries turned out to be as good as commercial – we stopped drinking anything else and were brewing in 150 litre batches.
Select is no more (sad to say), and I don’t know if you remember those guys.
Since then, a few acquaintances have foisted their home brew and U-brew on me and I had to quietly go to the bathroom and pour their “this couldn’t pass for beer at the annual Worst Beer in the World Contest” into the toilet bowl.
Would you match Fermentations’ product against commercial?
If so, we’d love to give it a try.
Hey Tom. I wrote this article three years ago, so I don’t know if I’m the best person to ask about giving it a try. In my experience though, I have yet to have a beer made at a “you brew” facility or one that is home-brewed that stands up to the stuff I can buy in the LCBO.
Tom, if you were still wondering about the quality of the beer brewed at Fermentations, I’ll do my best to reassure you that it is worth trying. I was the employee at Fermentations who persuaded Ben to put aside his understandable biases and come check us out. I have been here for close to ten years, and have been a serious commercial beer geek for much longer. I would confidently say that our beer is equivalent in quality to the best of commercial beers available in Toronto. It is brewed from all grain worts , high quality yeasts and hops, with no chemical preservatives. It also has the added advantage of being fresh as possible (as opposed to the wide variation of “freshness” in the LCBO and the Beer Store). We can also make custom brews for clients using their own special ingredients, or attempt to clone their favorite commercial beers. We can make just about any style of beer you wish except for beers requiring wild yeasts (There is a risk of infecting other people’s beers). We stand behind any beverage brewed or fermented here. If anyone is unsatisfied for any reason, we will replace it – period. That’s how the owner here has managed to stay in business for more than two decades.
Anytime you want to come in and play brewmaster, please come and visit us. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.