Follow beer writer, Troy Burtch, as he explores the wonderful world of craft beer and the pubs that serve it. Great Canadian Beer is a place to come to catch up on beer news, read tasting notes, check out event listings, and for pub previews and reviews.


Monday, June 23, 2008

YellowBelly Brewery & Public House: St.John's NFLD - Part 1

Imagine my disappointment as I stood in front of such a lovely old building at the corner of Water and George street and noticed construction still taking place in the YellowBelly Brewery and Public House in St.John's. I had come so far and was looking forward to spending my entire week in St.John's only brew pub, and it was still not opened for business.

I could have done more research before my trip, but that would have taken the fun out of it. It's all about surprises, and surprised I was. I stood at the front door and said, "screw it, I'm going in anyway," before opening the old wooden door and stepping inside.

I asked one of the construction guys if Liam McKenna was around, the brewmaster and by all accounts a professional brewery start up guy (he has spent 25 years in the industry with over 20 or so breweries all over the world). He wasn't around, but Craig Flynn was, who happens to be the owner. Craig welcomed me deeper into the ancient building and started giving me a small tour through sawdust, 2x4's, drills and saws and showed me two of the five floors he is occupying. Because I was already late for the wedding I had travelled to St.John's for, I had to excuse myself and promised to return the following morning for a more formal tour with Craig and Liam.

Next Day: I woke up with blurred vision from the wedding activities the night before and headed downtown from our place at Memorial University. My head was splitting and the thought of sampling three of YellowBelly's beers was making my stomach curdle. I was glad to hear that Craig and Liam had a rough night as well. Frank MacDonald, a fellow Newfoundlander and reader of this blog, had contacted me earlier and after a brief chat he joined the three of us at the public house much to his pleasure. It was greet to meet a reader so far away, and let me tell you what a stand-up guy he is; he ended up driving my fiance and I to the airport after the tour.

Anyway, back to the brewery. Liam started it all off by telling us that the YellowBelly has been a five year project. Why so long? Some of the building dates back to 1749 and other parts to the early 1800's, so time, patience and extra attention had to be strictly practiced during the construction phase. It took two whole years to rip the inside out, fix the floors, install metal support beams by HAND (all five floors) and a lot more. Liam tells us about the stone walls that withstood the 'great St.John's fire' of the late 1800's and shows us a wooden support beam in the basement that bares scars from that fire. So I'll start the tour here.

Basement: This is one of my favourite rooms in the building. It has the feeling of a dungeon with its lantern style light fixtures dimly lit, the rock foundation and old fireplace remnants. This room will be used for special, intimate functions, out of the way of others. We continue through the room to the fermentation tanks and deep walk in refrigerators.

Main Floor (Street Level): Large windows on the Water street sidewalk let in a lot of sunshine (which is hard to come by in Newfoundland) and create a lovely glow in the main room. This is the pub area. A lovely bar runs down the length of a makeshift wall to the right as you enter from the street. Beautiful old shelving units surround the bar and will be used to hold artifacts that pay tribute to the location. It is also on this floor that passerby's can watch Liam brewing through two of the aforementioned large windows on the street level.

Upstairs #1: Kitchen and dining area. This is another great looking room. The floor boards were put together from old wood collected from the building and it took two solid weeks to lay the old planks. Two large garage door (windows) overlooking the famous George street will roll up during the nicer days and nights, allowing patrons to watch the activity on George. The stone walls, exposed wooden beams and supports and and old press keep the rustic theme to compliment the brand new kitchen. A wood burning pizza oven is the main feature and the Chef has terrific plans for pizza creations.

Upstairs #2: A huge events room with a large space for dancing the jig, playing the fiddle or hosting weddings, work parties or birthdays. Again, large windows overlooking Water street, exposed wooden beams and supports, old stone fireplaces and rock walls make this room as attractive and comforting as the rest.

Upstairs #3: A continuation of the events room, only this room is smaller and will provide more intimacy. A sloped roof is the selling point in this room. It has the appearance of an old hay loft you'd fine in a barn or an old cabin.

Throughout the tour we were walking up the 'staff' set of stairs, the public set is located on the other side of the building. It is an understatement to say this building is huge.

Part Two - Liam, Craig, Frank and I sample the three YellowBelly brews, talk about the name behind the brewery and I'll let you in on when it opens and some fun facts.


Anonymous said...

Went to the YellowBelly for dinner on Monday night. Big mistake! The service was ok, considering they were understaffed. Not my words the waitresses. The food was not what we anticipated. Cold potatoe chips with blue cheese??? Right out of the fridge. Ask for ceasar salad and get a oil soaked garden salad. Let people know if you're not going to give them what they want. Won't be returning.

Troy Burtch said...

Anonymous - thanks for commenting.
Sorry to hear that you did not have a good time at the 'brand new' brew pub. While I never did eat there, I can understand they will need to work out the glitches. Saying that you'll never return is pretty harsh. You should try it again once they've been up and running for a while.

What did you think of the beer?


Anonymous said...

I went there as well, and I can't say enough wonderful things about it. While they were understaffed, the server were unbelievable pleasant and knowledgable. And because we were asking questions, they gave us a tour, in which we saw the kitchen and the potato chips being freshly made by the way. Our food was divine, the tastiest I've eaten in the city actually. And one of our party had the caeser salad and it was delicious, with croutons made from toutons! And I'm sure that the server would have given you another salad if you told her you didn't like it, they were among the friendliest staff I've ever been served by. I know of the owners reputation in the business world and am confident that the servers are very well trained and professional. I suggest you try it again before you write it off competely.

Just my experience, but I will definately be returning, and soon!

Troy Burtch said...

Anonymous #2 - thanks for providing your input.

Anonymous said...

anonymous said- i went to the yellowbelly for lunch. i have been a regular since opening. i really like the seafood chowder. however recently i ordered the chowder and imagine my surprise when i found what appeared to be glass (was plexi glass) in the bowl of chowder. i was surprised and shocked. This could have been fatal. i know they are a new restaurant but things like this should NEVER happen...

Anonymous said...

I went there as well and absolutely loved the place from the moment we entered. Very warm atmosphere as well as the staff. Food was very good and I loved the Pale Ale they brew. Took the Wife and kids and we all had a great experience. The Potato Chips were excellent and the Pizza's were very good as well. The bartender was very knowledgeable and friendly. I went back on the same weekend and had the same experience. Loved it!


Anonymous said...

Well after reading the reviews here earlier tonight I was convinced that the yellow belly pub/restaurant was a littler less than a great place to eat. Well I made the trip anyway and after just getting back I had to post. I LOVED it. The service was probably the best I've seen. The wait for food was average. Longer titan fast food but decent compared to anywhere that actually has people cook the food. The atmosphere was lovely, and the beer was fantastic. I had to stop off at the liquer store on the way home and pick up a couple bottles of the "fighting Irish red ale". I'll be back yellow belly!

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