THE GRIFFIN CHALLENGES LOCALS WITH ONTARIO CRAFT BEER
The Griffin Gastropub in Bracebridge, Ont., gives the locals some beers to cheer about.
Little Bracebridge, Ont., experienced a frothy upheaval in 2008 when new owners took over the Griffin Pub. In keeping with the pro-craft ethos of partners Jed Corbeil and Curt Dunlop, the familiar big brands were cast out to make room for an all-Ontario, all-independent slate of brews. Most of the regulars were all too happy to express their displeasure.
“We lost, I’d say, 75% of our clientele overnight,” Corbeil recalls. Those who stuck around abused the staff who were tasked with suggesting a local pale ale or saison in lieu of the no-longer-served Molson Canadian. There was yelling. A server felt overwhelmed. “They made her cry,” says Corbeil, now safe in the knowledge that the experiment worked in the long run. Sales eventually doubled in the newly rechristened Griffin Gastropub, and it became a loyal northern outpost for the craft beer movement.
Bracebridge is nestled in Muskoka, one of the regions that Ontarians call “cottage country.” It fills up with recreational traffic in the summer and goes quiet in winter. The Griffin found many of its new customers in the mostly white-collar seasonal residents who typically have their main homes and earn their living in Toronto.
Rather than settle into a comfortably provincial routine, Corbeil and Dunlop plan to keep challenging local tastes. They’re cellar-aging large-bottle beers in a former jail cell in the basement of their building, waiting to be popped just like Champagne for celebrations. And Corbeil is considering offering cask ale on a regular basis — that means beer served English-style, at not-quite-cold temperatures. But he’s wary, just this once, of pushing Bracebridge beer drinkers too far. “Our crowd up in Muskoka is not begging for it yet.”
Griffin Gastropub owners Curt Dunlop (left) and Jed Corbeil are also members of the Griffin House Band, and have three of their own beers on tap.