Bracebridge is a beautiful little city located in the Muskoka's, a 2 hour drive north of Toronto off hwy 11. Home to the Lakes of Muskoka Brewing Company and surrounded by an abundance of wildlife, lakes and cottages, Bracebridge attracts many summer visitors who navigate their water ways and many winter visitors to take advantage of the many snowmobile trails. Bracebridge is also well known for supporting their local businesses as they boost a successful downtown shopping area full of family run storefronts. Recently, Bracebridge welcomed their first craft beer only destination when the Griffin Gastropub opened for business back in August, much to the pleasure of the town's locals.
I stopped in for a visit on my way back from the family cottage in Dorset last weekend to have a chat and a pint with Jed Corbeil, a co-owner of the Griffin, and I had a wonderful time enjoying some food and pints on a nice winter afternoon.
The vine (ivy) covered brick building (completely covered in the summer/fall) is situated off Bracebridge's main street on Chancery Lane and dates back to the 1930's. "We were told when we took over the building that it was constructed in the 1930's and for may years it was home to a bunch of lawyers," stated Corbeil as he sipped from a glass of Heritage's Stuart's Session Ale. Walking from the main street you come across an arch-way that leads to the back of a couple of buildings, down a cobble stoned walk-way. You come into a clearing and there stands the front door to the Griffin.
The heavy wooden door opens and lets a glimpse of light into the entrance before we head into the main room, which is through a french door to the right. The first sight your eyes rest upon is the long wooden table in the middle of the room surrounded by big comfortable wooden chairs. To its left and right beside the door is an electric fireplace that heats the pub and offers a small glimmer of light even on the beautiful sunny day Bracebridge was experiencing. Further along the wall is the original safe left over from the building's days as a law office. Completely secure in its concrete foundation, the safe was not to be touched when the Griffin shut down during the month of January for renovations. "We fixed up the pub around the safe and actually exposed some of the original brick wall near the back of the seating area," claimed Corbeil. The exposed room gives way to the right as you hit the bar and here you'll find more tables and leather benched seating. It is not a large pub, it's 60 person capacity is broken into three areas: 30 inside, 20 outside on the front patio and 10 upstairs in a private dining area. "We're looking into a rooftop patio, which would help increase our capacity."
"When we took over the building in August, we were actually taking over another pub," said Corbeil. "We plowed away for a while but realized that we wanted to fix the smoke stained ceiling, decorate a little differently, add some new wood and a new bar, so we shut down in January and put our own touches into the place." They added pine wainscoting around the perimeter of the pub, installed an oak top bar, upgraded their seating to add a touch of class. The small 'L' shaped bar is surrounded by five or so wooden bar back chairs and the solid oak bar top features a soothing grey paint. When I look around I see a country pub full of wood, almost like drinking at a cottage itself, with a hint of sophistication. A nice blend really. They also serve some good beer too.
"We had a hell of a time at the start with trying to whine our regulars off the Canadian and Keith's brands," mentioned Corbeil while I enjoyed a pint of Robert Simpson's Flying Monkey (ESB). "We decided that once the kegs in the cellar were gone, we'd bring in Ontario Craft Beer products only and some of the local drinkers weren't to fond of that." Losing a chunk of regulars is something that most pub owners would cringe at, but Corbeil figured for the 50% or so that they lost, they've welcomed 75% more with their new approach. "We noticed that the Keith's drinkers that stuck around because of our laid back atmosphere started drinking bottles of Great Lakes Horseshoe Lager and decided it wasn't all that bad. For the new customers that come in daily, and we do get many new faces coming in all the time, the experience of trying new beers for the first time is in experience in of itself." All that being said, you'll often find a load of local residents at the pub as it truly is a local pub in every sense of the term.
The bar holds ten draught lines that were pouring Mill Street Cobblestone, Tankhouse, Muskoka Cream Ale, Nickel Brook Maple Porter, Nickel Brook White, Robert Simpson Flying Monkey, Peeler Cider, Steam Whistle and two more that have escaped my mind. The bar fridge is usually stocked with 30 - 40 different OCB bottled products, ranging from light lagers to Imperial Stouts. "We brought in a case of John By Imperial Stout not knowing how well it would sell and by the end of the first night we completely sold out of it; then the Black Irish Plain Porter." That may not sound like big news here in Toronto, but I grew up in the area, and let me tell you, to hear something like this is encouraging. The whole area is Molson territory, people are born and breed into the Molson culture, so this is a testament to the changing palates and curious minds. Corbeil also states that since they've decided to sell only craft beer they've noticed the selection at the LCBO grow with them. "There were four OCB products at the local Bracebridge LCBO months ago - there are 17 now, which is just so great to see."
The Griffin is also very active in beer dinners, hosting one on the last Sunday of every month featuring an OCB brewery. "We held our first one in October when we selected Great Lakes as the brewery of the month. By being named brewery of the month, the brewery gets two of their products on draught and four bottled beers are usually ordered and stocked. Then the dinner will normally be a four course offering using four or five of their beers. It's been very successful..and fun." Grand River followed Great Lakes in November, then December featured Mill Street. In January the pub was closed and this month Nickel Brook was named as the monthly brewery. Corbeil also let me know that Amsterdam (although not an OCB member) will be the brewery of the month in March. Tickets for the beer dinner run at $50 and usually include a half pint to start things off.
There is also live music three times a week and Corbeil and his partner occasionally perform much to the amusement of the pubs patrons. "We play a little bit of everything," claimed Corbeil. When there are no live bands the music is played at a soft note as one of the pubs main features is conversation. And there are many of them occurring as we sit and talk.
So why did Corbeil and his partner decide to venture down the craft beer route? Well Corbeil's older brother Sam is a brewer with Mill Street (also a contributing writer with TAPS)and his passion eventually wore off on Jed. "He is the most passionate beer person I have ever met. When he was experiencing new beers or training in Germany to brew, his excitement and knowledge rubbed off on me and here I am today. I had no experience in the pub industry before embarking on this venture, but I knew that if I took the plunge I would want it to reflect what I believe in, and that is craft beer."
It was a real pleasure sitting down with Corbeil listening to his goals, his ideas and his successes. His enthusiasm as a pub owner is contagious and exciting. It is this reason why I believe the Griffin gastropub will be a success for years to come.
9 Chancery Ln
Bracebridge, ON P1L 2E3