Newfoundland Brewery Tour: YellowBelly Brewery, St. John’s
YellowBelly Brewery is considered the most easterly brewpub in Canada and is situated in one of the oldest buildings on the east coast, on Water Street in historic downtown St. John’s. The building, which was originally a merchant’s house, and the place where the “Geat Fire of 1892” ended is now known as “Yellowbelly Corner”.
Liam McKenna, YellowBelly’s brewmaster first became involved as a consultant in the early days of the project when owners Craig Flynn and Brenda O’Reilly were looking for insight and opinions. When they asked him for help in finding a brewmaster, he suggested himself for the job. “By that time, I was completely enamoured with this city,” McKenna told The Racket via email. “The renovation of this building was a multi-year project to prepare it for occupation by a brewery. It was in pretty hard shape but the vision of the owners won out over years of effort.”
The name “YellowBelly” dates back to the 1700’s when Irish immigrants would frequent the area of Water Street and Beck’s Cove, which would earn the nickname YellowBelly Corner. The Irish immigrants of County Wexford would frequent this area. “Their county coat of arms is a blue field with a diagonal yellow stripe,” said McKenna. “The Wexford immigrants used to wear a yellow sash around their waist to identify their county colours. Thus they were called 'YellowBellies'.”
YellowBelly Brewery and Public House opened in 2008, specializing in wood-fired pizza, gourmet burgers, fresh seafood & gastropub appetizers and entrees as well as a collection of unique beers brewed in-house. They are known for the Fighting Irish Red, Wexford Wheat, YellowBelly Pale Ale and the St. John’s Stout, which we were told has been compared to the original Guinness recipe by older Irish tourists.
YellowBelly often brews seasonal treats like a Bakeapple Cider. McKenna said that owner Craig Flynn is “a huge fan” of bakeapples. Because they are subtle, yet tart with a hint of apricot, and very expensive, McKenna believes they would be “lost in a beer” it was decided to try them in a cider. “With bakeapples and other seeded fruit, I process them and remove the seeds before exposing them to an alcoholic moiety,” said McKenna. “The seeds can yield a weird, distasteful bitterness (cyanogenic glycosides) if left exposed to alcohol for more than about a week, I find.”
Unfortunately, the cider is gone now but it will make a return. “I have $800 of bakeapples on hand for a future cider release,” promised McKenna. He did tease that he is currently processing blueberries for a future cider release. “[Blueberries are] another subtly flavored berry. I'm sure it will be delicious,” he said. (Editor’s Note: It is available as of the time this article was first published).
McKenna admitted that he “[doesn’t] really know” how YellowBelly differs from the other breweries in the province but said that he and the brewers at YellowBelly do not use fining agents, exogenous enzymes, head retention agents or anything else he would refer to as “snot” when brewing. “We also have the best location and the best beer!” he boasted.
In terms of influences in brewing beer, McKenna said that it comes down to “drinkability and balance.” “I only brew beer I like to drink. I am not influenced by others and their brewing styles.” McKenna doesn’t have a favourite style of beer either and selects a brew based upon his meal, mood, the weather and time of day. “I do not appreciate 'wild beers'. Never have and never will. My inner microbiologist has no tolerance. My inner beer lover cannot swallow it.”
McKenna and the team at YellowBelly are doing something right as the brand has expanded since opening. The YellowBelly Takeaway Shop opened in late 2017 just ten doors down from the brewery, which specializes in serving pizzas and offers growler fills and merchandise. ““I like to call it a brewer’s retail meets a Subway meets a bar,” Craig Flynn told The Telegram. A YellowBelly outlet referred to as “YellowBelly YYT” opened in the departures area of the St. John’s International Airport during summer 2018.
According to McKenna, the response to the YellowBelly brand extension has been “fantastic”. “[There are] bums in seats and a constant push to brew more beer is highly indicative of our successes. The YYT YellowBelly is on fire right now in terms of volume throughput.” Refusing to rest, YellowBelly plans to develop a much larger production facility with more news on this being released in the coming months.
The Racket’s Recommendations for a Flight: Bakeapple Cider, Wexford Wheat, YellowBelly Pale Ale, and Crooked As Sin Apple Cider.
***As with the nature of breweries and small batches, these brews may not always be on tap.***