This new feature column, Community Brews, aims to celebrate the small breweries in our community, sharing not only the tasting notes of their latest feature beer, but also telling their story and describing their history in our local area.
In this edition, we introduce Magnotta Brewery. Gabe and Rossana Magnotta founded its Winery business in 1990, producing 100% Ontario vintages from grapes grown at 180 acres of family-owned and operated vineyards. The story of this winery business, which is now the third largest in Ontario, is familiar to many local consumers. A lesser-known part of its history began in 1996 with the formation of Magnotta Brewery, which a location in the heart of North York at Yonge and Finch.
It introduced traditionally brewed craft lagers and ales that would win awards at national and international competitions including Brewery of the Year. More recently, rotating experimental brews have been added to the classic lineup, expanding the repertoire of available tastes for beer lovers. These specialty brews were created by staff members who work at the brewery and are interested in honing their skills as an apprentice under the watchful eye of the head brewer.
Barbara Ziola is a seasoned veteran of the Canada brewing industry who takes her role as head brewer seriously when it comes to safety, sanitation, and quality yet always has a smile and time to take a curious person on a tour of the brewery, teaching as she goes. “I love what I do,” she told me as she described how a large tank known as a “sparge” extracts the sweet sugary liquid, known as “wort” from the crushed barley and hot water mixture known as “mash”. Later in the process hops are added to impart flavour and then yeast is used to ferment the sugars into alcohol. While I was learning about brewing, I also learned about Magnotta’s community involvement.
The brewery hires people of all ages and backgrounds whether they have a formal education or not, including people with disabilities. I saw many smiling faces going about their tasks, chatting casually with one another as they filled a box with the latest brews. I was not surprised to learn the company was recognized as one of Canada’s 50 best managed for over 10 consecutive years.
Its annual Art on the Bottle competition and scholarship, which was won by 4th year arts student Kelly Baskin this past year, promotes the work of art students by featuring it on the bottle of a new release. It is also a strong supporter of medical research through its G. Magnotta Foundation that works closely with local medical institutions including the Humber River Hospital.
A family business with deep community ties is a good fit for the growing craft beer culture in our city, but only sets the stage for the brews themselves to shine. Originally only available at the Vaughn head office, all of the classic beers can now be ordered and picked up at any Magnotta location, including in North York.
After my tour, I had the pleasure of sampling one of the exclusive new brews that make the trek up to Vaughn a worthwhile treat: Peaches En Regalia. Made in the traditional Belgian wheat beer style, this honey-coloured ale has a sour nose, smooth body, and a crisp finish that lingers pleasantly with hints of Ontario peaches sourced from P.G. Enns Farms. Its 4.8% alcohol and low bitterness make it a great complement to a light meal of chicken and pasta.
Next, I sampled Dungeons and Flagons ESB, the creation of employee and amateur brewer Dean. “I wanted to create something with a bit more bitterness and boldness than our classic beers,” he explained as he walked me through his creative process. With some experimentation and healthy competition between employees, he succeeded in melding the tradition of English extra special bitter ales with Ontario hops to create a lighter, honey bodied brew with a crisp bitter finish. At 5.5% alcohol and around 20 International Bitterness Units (IBUs), the hops and malt are well-balanced. Enjoy it beside a roaring fire with steak-frites and let your imagination soar!