The soon-to-open Indie Alehouse has brewed up something special for us. We’ll be drinking it this weekend and think you should, too.
“Sumac is actually a drupe,” said Laura Reinsborough, clipping a cone of the fleshy red fruit off of a tall, leafy bush. We were in a dense valley near the Evergreen Brick Works, and I turned to see a grey heron landing in a nearby pond. Sumac bushes—which I’d never noticed in Toronto before—were everywhere.
As the founder and director of Not Far From the Tree, a not-for-profit that harvests the bounty from backyards and private property that would otherwise go to waste, Reinsborough spends a lot of her time spotting overlooked fruit in places like this. On the other hand, Jason Fisher, who is about to open the Junction’s new Indie Alehouse, and I are far more comfortable sidling up to a bar than foraging for urban fruit. But we were on a higher mission: to create the ultimate Toronto beer, one that Grid readers would love, using ingredients that grow around the city.
“The sumac will give the beer a really tart, citrusy flavour,” Fisher said. “That’s why we’ll need the honey to sweeten things up.” So we looked to a few collaborators. The rich wildflower honey came from Jozef Winter, who has three hives at the Brick Works. The red currants came from Fisher’s friends at Gurts, a yogurt spot on Roncesvalles, while the Ontario blackberries and raspberries were grabbed from a market. Great Lakes brewer Mike Lackey donated the birch leaves, and Amsterdam Brewery’s Iain McOustra brought us English-style hops grown in Guelph.
At nine sharp on an August morning, armed with our foraged ingredients, we fired up the kettles in the Indie’s brewhouse. After playing alchemist with the malts, hops, honey, and birch (the fruit would be added a week later to maximize its flavour), we finished our suds by 6 p.m. It was a steamy day, but luckily, the Indie’s other fermenters were full of show-stopping beers, so Fisher kept brewer Jeff Broeders and me very well hydrated.
The question remains: What will Toronto’s backyard taste like? There’s only one way to find out. On Sunday, Sept. 23, we’ll pour our one-off brew, Street Wheat, alongside special beers from Bellwoods Brewery and Indie Alehouse. It’s part of the Brewer’s Backyard at the Brick Works, a giant beer garden that caps off Toronto Beer Week. It’s not often you get to sip a pint just a few minutes away from where the ingredients were harvested. And who wants to be a locavore when you can be a locaholic?
Brewer’s Backyard runs from noon to 4 p.m. on Sept. 23 at the Evergreen Brick Works, 550 Bayview Avenue.