Nestled away in Liberty Village, sits the beer shop/tap room of Big Rock Brewery attached to Liberty Commons (42 Liberty St). I was lucky enough to win a ‘Big Night Out’ with Big Rock for myself and 5 friends. It included some samples of small batch beer a mysterious man named Dan creates in the basement of the tap room (we’re talking 600 litres!), a private brewery tour and dinner! Fuzzy Peach Ale caught our attention, and my girlfriends and I all ordered a round waiting for the other members of our party to show up.
“It’s made with real fuzzy peaches… the candy!” Zach Warrick, events and partnership lead for Big Rock told us as we took our first few sips. I’m a sucker for sweets and really loved just how much the ale tasted of the candy. It would be a perfect summer patio drink. I could picture myself ordering a pint on the sunny backyard patio of Liberty Commons. (Let’s hope it makes another appearance this summer).
What’s really great about Big Rock (the liberty village location in particular) is that the Brewers (or the mysterious Dan) are encouraged to try different flavours and mixtures for small batches to be enjoyed in the tap room or in a to-go growler. I’m a little sad I hadn’t made my way to the Liberty Commons/Big Rock beer store before but I didn’t even know it was there, it’s tucked away on Liberty St and I’ve probably walked past it a million times without knowing. I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of unique small batches in that time, but knowledge is power and this will be my go-to spot for the summer. It’s in a perfect location for a drink before a concert at the Budweiser Stage or catching a football or soccer game on the Ex grounds.
If you’re not so much into the small batch or unique brews, they have their tried and tested Traditional Ale, Grasshopper wheat ale, Rhinestone Cowboy Kolsch style ale, Czech style pilsner, Citradelic single hop IPA and much, much more.
When the rest of our group arrived we took off in a couple of Uber’s to visit the larger Big Rock Brewery in Etobicoke. We rode with Connor Patrick, the brewmaster for the Toronto location (no big deal). He’s been working with Big Rock since 2006 and even moved from Calgary with his wife to run the Toronto location, talk about dedication.
He lead us through a private tour of the Etobicoke brewery that sat on The Queensway. We were shown the mash tuns where the grains are soaked to release the sugar, tanks where the beer was boiled, cooled, fermented and the bottle and label machines. We were even allowed to sample the Traditional Ale right from the tank, unfiltered. Now, Traditional Ale is my go to Big Rock brew and I really enjoyed the taste of it straight from the tank, it was a little stronger and crisper but had more of a cloudiness to it. We understand the reasoning’s behind having to have the ale filtered and why we can’t purchase it like that, but it was still really interesting to try.
I enjoyed hearing that the leftover spent grain was used for cattle feed or even customers looking to make dog treats. It was a fun was to recycle!
Zach told us a little more about their founder, Ed McNally. He was an eccentric retired lawyer who was bored with the available beers on the market in 1985. He wanted to try something new and launched his own brewery, Big Rock, named after a 16,000 ton boulder in the middle of the Canadian Prairies that he frequently drove by.
Big Rock wasn’t welcomed by beer drinkers right away, who were used to drinking Labatt’s and Molson lagers. The style of Big Rock was different- “The porter was so dark that some farmers said that rather than drinking it, they used it to drown gopher holes” Zach said with a shrug. It wasn’t really until 1987 when Labbatt and Molson both went on strike that the attention was turned to Big Rock since they were the only brewery producing that summer. Beer drinkers warmed up to them and now they’re producing from Ontario to BC.
I love an interesting back story and it seems like Ed McNally was a fairly ‘interesting man’. He knew what he wanted and apparently he was pretty hot headed. Sometimes that’s just the passion you need to create something as great as Big Rock.
We headed back to Liberty Commons to grab a little more Fuzzy Peach and BBQ. We had great brisket, jerk chicken, chicken wings, battered fish, fries, coleslaw, beans , mushy peas- the whole nine yards. It went along great with the beer selection and really cemented why we should come back again sometime soon. We were also surprised with backpacks filled with Big Rock swag, bottle opener, toque (which I immediately put on) and coffee stein (yes, a STEIN…badass, right?)
I’d like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Zach and Connor who were really great (and patient) with our group, they answered all of our questions and you could really tell they loved what they do. Can’t wait to head back to Big Rock to try out some more small batches and grab a shirt or two.
If you’re interested in checking out their Etobicoke brewery for a tour be sure to visit their website at www.bigrockbeer.com They also have locations in Vancouver and Calgary. If you want to catch them at an event, the next one they’ll be partaking in is the Winter Craft Beer Festival on Feb 10th, 2018.
Hey! I'm Sarah! A 30 something living in downtown Toronto with a great guy and an OK dog. I love seeing what my city has to offer and try to hit up as many fun events or attractions as I can! I haven't slept since 2004.