Two days ago in a piece for the Globe and Mail which I still haven’t read because it has a paywall and seriously who pays for things on the internet it was revealed that the Toronto location of Eataly will feature an onsite brewery operated by Toronto brewery Indie Alehouse.
Eataly is a global luxury Italian grocery and restaurant chain and recently announced a 50,000 square foot flagship space in the Manulife Centre in Toronto that will feature a market, groceries, and “half a dozen bars, counters and coffee shops.”
The first Eataly opened its doors in Torino in 2007, when an old vermouth factory was transformed into Eataly Torino Lingotto and it has since expanded to 35 global locations. The business model has also involved partnerships with craft beer, most famously the rooftop brew pub at Eataly New York that was built in partnership with storied Delaware craft brewery Dogfish Head back in 2000.
When the Eataly team started planning a Toronto location, they began a search for an appropriate brewery to partner with here and the shortlist, for a time, seemed fluid. During at least one point in the process it looked like the brewing operations in Toronto were going to be a collaboration between two popular local breweries, but when the dust settled, Junction area company Indie Alehouse was the last, and only, brewery standing.
Fans of the Indie Alehouse will likely see that this is a collaboration that’s pretty consistent with the brewery and brewery owner Jason Fisher’s vision. The company has been a little slow to expand over the years, opting instead for what I’d deem strategic growth – never taking on too many licensee accounts, begrudgingly limping into the LCBO only recently, waiting years to find an appropriate location and plan for a larger production brewery (which took a huge hit when the supplier of their brewing equipment announced receivership), but the Eataly vision has been a passion project behind the scenes for Fisher for some time.
Now that plans are (almost) public, Fisher is uncharacteristically upbeat. “The first time I set foot in Eataly NYC I wanted to be part of it,” he told me via email. “I hadn’t even come close to opening Indie yet but I knew I wanted to open a brewery and be part of an Eataly.
“We’ve been chasing this dream since 2013,” Fisher says. “After our first year, a few senior [Indie Alehouse] staff made a list of the top goals we wanted to achieve in the next five years and mine was to get a partnership with Eataly Toronto. At that time they hadn’t even announced they might come to Canada, so from the time it became an actual possibility until now has been pretty crazy.”
The brew pub at Eataly will be called Birrotecca and, to oversee operations of the brewery, Fisher has tapped brewer John Jenkinson, who cut his teeth in commercial brewing at Toronto’s Folly Brewing and came to that role by way of homebrewing clubs in London, Ontario (Forest City shout-out!). Jenkinson will likely spend 70% of his time at the Eataly location and Fisher says he will definitely be supported by Indie’s entire brewing staff. Shockingly, there is no shortage of people on his team willing to spend their time at a monument to gourmet Italian food. The focus will be largely selling beer to go so Birrotecca’s space will be mostly retail fridges, plus a teaching brewery to talk to customers about beer, and a bar with 12 seats and an additional 28 seats nearby at tables.
To start, Fisher says, the food program will be minimal. “We anticipate we will be too busy to go too hard on food at the start, so we will focus on simple things and ingredients of the highest quality – Italian cheese, meats and snacks paired with tasting flights.”
Fisher is not ready to reveal details about the beers they’ll prepare for the Eataly location, but he did it let it slip the lineup will be led by an Italian-style pilsner that took four batches for his team to perfect. It will be for sale in long-neck 330ml bottles and while I’m not allowed to tell you the beer’s proposed name, I can say tell you that Fisher has enlisted Toronto artist and long-time Indie collaborator Dave Murray to craft the label art. He also suggested that regular collaborations with Italian, American, and Canadian brewers will be the norm given Eataly’s access to world-class brewers across the globe.
Details are still scant about when exactly the place will open, but the official party line is still 2019 so we know Torontonians will be able to enjoy prosciutto and a cold Toronto-made Italian pilsner within at least the next three and a half months. Molto bene!