This week’s Canadian Craft Beer post comes from our Ontario and Quebec craft beer guy, David Ort. Today David tells us how Muddy York Brewing went from humble beginnings to one of Toronto's most popular breweries.
The size of brewing vessels is measured in hectolitres and that can be a tough unit to understand. So, I always try to convert hL into an easier to visualize unit like pints of beer. Even still, I feel like the impression that everyone who works outside the beer industry gets when they hear how much a brewery can produce in one year is something like: “Wow, that sounds like a lot.”
I'm stressing this point because Muddy York Brewing in Toronto based their success on growing gradually from a very small start. When they launched at the end of January 2015 it was with a 3 hL system that produced just 300 litres of beer for every batch. “If we weren’t the smallest in Toronto, we were definitely one of the three smallest,” says brewery founder Jeff Manol of Muddy York’s starting point.
He counts himself “lucky to have the unique circumstances of a functioning successful business in the building.”
The dye-making business (his previous career) meant that they could start small and grow gradually. That reduced the amount of risk but also meant they didn’t need to borrow tons or bring in outsider investors. Manol summarizes the entrepreneur’s dream by saying: “I don’t want to have to answer to anybody anymore.”
Subsequent expansions have more than tripled the brewing capacity and they added a full-time retail shop in April 2016. Susan Michalek, Manol’s wife, left her job to join the brewery operation on a full-time basis around the same time.
The most recent big development for Muddy York was the official launch of their taproom in September 2017. Manol’s voice really lights up when he talks about how successful this 12-tap venture has been and how much it’s allowed him to connect with the people who drink the beer he makes. He estimates that 50 to 60 percent of their output is sold through their own doors.
Since the early days, the beer lineup at Muddy York has also expanded greatly. Their popular porter and bitter have been joined by a variety of IPAs and a very good stout. In addition to the generally English-style lineup, they also make a helles lager that's an exceptional example of the easy-drinking style and has attracted a well-deserved following.
All of their offerings are granted a historical sounding name that adds to the charm. So, for instance, Stork Derby is their stout, Gaslight is the aforementioned helles, and their main pale ale is named Diving Horse after a popular entertainment for early 20th century Torontonians. (It was definitely a more innocent time.)
I’ve long had the impression that Muddy York is represented on more high-quality beer lists than other breweries their size. The beer quality and sales efforts (led by David Wallace) have found them available through so many accounts that Manol had to reluctantly take the step of contract-brewing his four most popular beers.
Here again, he counts himself lucky because Brunswick Bierworks opened nearby. Compared to other host breweries, they offer more opportunity for the person who created the recipe to run the show. “Their whole mantra,” says Manol, “is you come in and brew the beer.”
Expansion means that as well as making more of their core brands, Muddy York is also expanding the range their lineup covers. Manol is excited that selling the dye business means more floor space for their fledgling barrel programme. Inkwell imperial stout in cognac barrels and a barleywine in ones used for Sauternes are just two members of this section of their catalogue.
For the 2018 version of their anniversary beer (due out in late January), Manol is putting the finishing touches on a version of their Baltic porter that's aging in port barrels.
The other big news from Muddy York is that by early spring 2018 the LCBO will be carrying Gaslight helles. That will give even more of the province’s beer drinkers the opportunity to try one of the best from a brewery that started as one of the smallest.
Check out all our Canada’s Craft Beer articles.
David Ort writes about food, travel, and craft beer for various online and print publications. His first book, The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook, is in bookstores and available for purchase online. For more of his thoughts on all things edible and potable follow him on Twitter or get in touch with him at [email protected]