Black Bellows Brewing Company operates a craft brewery, restaurant, and fully-stocked bottle shop on the corner of Simcoe and Sainte Marie in downtown Collingwood. The brewery officially opened its doors in 2020, but was conceptualized many years before. After meeting in high school, Head Brewer Peter Braul and Marketing Manager Scott Brown made a tradition of going on an annual canoe trip together. After Peter started home brewing, he would use these canoe trips to test his recipes out on a friendly audience (who we’re hoping helped him carry the beer). Following years of informal tastings and many nights musing about owning their own brewery, in 2014, Scott and Peter decided to take a chance on themselves.
By this point, Scott had been living in Collingwood for 7 years, and had always had his eye on Dey’s Body Shop as a potential location for some kind of interesting business. The building has a unique look and a rich history that reflects the many transformations Collingwood has undergone over the past century. It was owned by the same family for six generations, operating first as a blacksmith shop, then as a carriage building operation, and finally as an auto body shop. Scott and Peter approached the owner of Dey’s Body Shop in 2014 to express their interest in the building. Unfortunately, the timing wasn’t quite right. Still, the old blacksmithing building held a special place in their hearts, so they decided to name their brewery Black Bellows Brewing Company in tribute to the tool a blacksmith uses to blow air into their forge.
They officially started producing their beer in 2016 as a contract brewery (a company that produces their beer using another brewery’s equipment) and soon started selling their flagship beer ‘White’, a Witbier with Elderflower, through the LCBO and local restaurants. After a couple of years operating this way, driving cube vans of ingredients, packaging, and beer all over the countryside interspersed with long days driving beer to bars, restaurants, and LCBOs all around the province, they decided it was time to look for a permanent home.
As luck would have it there was another up-and-coming brewer named Bryn Davies who was also looking for a brewery location in Collingwood. He was introduced to Scott and Peter through a connection at the local Centre for Business and Economic Development in Collingwood. At the time of introduction Bryn was brewing out in Prince Edward County but was looking to make the move to Collingwood and the Dey’s building had caught his eye as well. After meeting, the trio were fast friends, and learned that they shared a joint vision of creating a progressive, creatively-inspired brewery in a historically-compelling space. After many beers shared and a few hazy ‘research trips’ to beer destinations around North America, they decided to make it official and joined forces in 2018 as partners, working together to solidify a new home for Black Bellows. Shortly after coming together, the ‘Dey’s Building’ at 40 Simcoe Street was successfully acquired as the home of their new brewery and restaurant. They earnestly began restoring the space in late 2018 and were finally able to open their doors to the public in January of 2020.
The three partners grew up in other small towns, but were no strangers to Collingwood before moving to the area, having come to ski every year. The town has huge appeal for anyone wanting to not only start a business but also to pursue their favourite outdoor hobbies.
Scott and his wife Cathy started two other retail businesses in Collingwood before the brewery, and they had become well-acquainted with the Business Development Centre downtown. The Centre for Business and Economic Development, which is a partner organization of the Collingwood Business Development Centre (BDC), was one of the first places the guys turned to when they started looking for financial support for their Brewery. “The Centre for Business was one of our earliest financial supporters. They believed in the vision, and they’ve been very helpful along the way, especially during this last year when we needed a lot of flexibility, they’ve absolutely been there for us” said Scott about CBED.
At the conception of the company, Collingwood was just beginning to show signs that it would become the hub for craft beverages that it is now. The advantages of starting a brewery in a supportive craft community like Collingwood soon became clear. “If we’re in need of a part or some ingredients, we can just call somebody up at one of the other breweries and their usual response is ‘sure come grab it”. The craft beer community has been really open and friendly. I mean we brewed our White beer at the Collingwood Brewery for the first two years, and they have always been super helpful and generous, and Northwinds [Brewhouse] bought our very first keg of beer” Scott explained.
Scott, Peter, and Bryn’s appreciation for the Town of Collingwood comes through in so many ways. Whether through their detailed restoration of the brewery’s building, their commitment to creating an open and accessible community space, or even through the names of their beers (have you tried their “EL 9 Wye” lager that was named after Collingwood’s postal code?), their investment in the surrounding community is palpable.
Looking to the Future
Eight years into their brewery project and four kids later (including a set of twins!), the owners of Black Bellows Brewing company continue to push the limits on what they can do. When the first year of having their own space and the first pandemic summer collided, Black Bellows decided to open a second, apocalypse-themed, patio. They aimed to create more space for guests to safely spend time together while taking some of the sting out of the scariness of the pandemic. In the future, they’re excited to expand on their cultural mission and launch numerous events out of the brewery, including an arts & music festival, regular live music performances, long-form seasonal events like Oktoberfest, as well as hosting workshops, speakers, comedy, and trivia nights. They will begin taking bookings for private events in their multifaceted space once Covid restrictions allow. They are also excited to continue developing their online store, which currently offers local and provincial delivery options.
Speaking with Scott it became clear that there is no shortage of passion or creative ideas at Black Bellows Brewing Company, and it will be a delight to see what the team comes up with as they continue to establish themselves as a must-visit location in Collingwood.
To learn more about Black Bellows Brewing Company or order their products visit www.blackbellows.com
Photo Credits: Dave West Photography