After months of anticipation, Black Bellows Brewing Co. has officially opened its doors.
And with one week under their belt, the founding team is excited about their new home in Collingwood’s creative district.
“We’re so happy to see people’s butts in seats,” said Scott Brown, one of Black Bellows three founders. “We’ve gotten such a great response from the community so far. People bring the vibe. You set the table but people bring the spirit, and the spirit in this town is so great.”
The brewery's namesake, an oversized bellow, hovers over the bustling beerhall breathing in quiet rhythm as locals and tourists try out the tasting flights and sample the global-street-food-inspired menu.
The bellow pays homage to the building’s history as a blacksmith shop and represents what the founders are trying to accomplish.
“It’s a cool, evocative image and it speaks to what we’re doing,” said Brown. “Just like our beer. Most of them are old European recipes, and we’re adding new crazy twists to them for our own spin.”
While the beer hall is the newest addition to Collingwood’s ever-growing brewery scene, the beer itself is familiar, having been on local taps and available at the LCBO for several years.
Brown and Peter Braul founded Black Bellows in 2014 with the hopes of eventually brewing out of this particular space, which, at the time, was still an auto body shop.
Brown and Braul — who have been friends since high school — conceived the idea on one of their annual canoe trips. Braul had been homebrewing for several years, and at the time the craft beer scene was just starting to take off in Collingwood.
They developed the recipe for their flagship White and started contract brewing out of the Collingwood Brewery.
“Our initial plan was to follow the Steamwhistle model — do one beer and do it really well,” said Brown. But as the beer market changed, they decided to change along with it.
“We started creating all kinds of different styles but it was challenging not having our own home. We couldn’t be as adventurous as we wanted,” Brown continued.
In 2018, they were joined on their venture by Bryn Davies, who had recently purchased the old body shop. Davies had experience working in breweries in the past and the trio just “clicked.” The founders were later joined by Caesar Guinto and Sam Holwell, from the Creemore Kitchen, as the chef and house manager.
Black Bellows now features a main hall with an intimate “parlour” to one side and plans for an additional private seating area in the balcony. The main area is bright and open, highlighting the original architecture and the unique curved brick wall. Industrial glass windows have been repurposed behind the bar, revealing the tank farm for customers to witness where the magic happens.
“We tried to take a really creative approach to the historic preservation of the building. We didn’t want to lose what made it amazing,” said Brown.
Staying true to their vision — food, beer, and art — any corner of the building that isn’t a tribute to something historical is likely showcasing local talent. Brown said they plan to continually work with artists to feature rotating exhibits throughout the brewery.
One local artist has written coded messages on different bricks scattered throughout the building, and another took “found art” and thrift store paintings and scribbled words from Black Bellows beer cans, reviews and lines from the website on them. She calls it “beer poetry.”
“Every little thing is a snippet of us. Taking something old and making it new,” said Brown. “We want people to come and have fun with their friends, try a whole bunch of things and maybe discover something new.”
“Forge ahead” has become their motto.
“We’ve made it a place that some people will walk in and think, ‘oh this is bonkers,’” said Brown. “That’s the point. It should be a little bit surprising and very interesting. We want to push the boundaries in many ways.”
All three of the founders have plans to continue 'forging ahead' in the future, and they are looking forward to opening the patio next summer. But for now, Brown, Braul and Davies are happy to have reached the “finish line.”
“It’s been a riot,” said Brown.