Kingston Brewing Co.
Kingston, ON K7L 1W9
Kingston, Ontario is a city that has won me over on many occasions. It has a beautiful and vibrant downtown core, is close to the water, features many magnificent turn of the century limestone homes, the population stretches from young university students to youthful retirees, and it is steeped in Canadian history. It is also home to a healthy drinking culture, likely established during its hay day as a military city. There is another reason why I love the city of Kingston - The Kingston Brewing Co., or better known as the Kingston Brewpub.
In 1986, four partners decided to transform a historic 19th century building that once served as Kingston’s telegraph office, into Ontario's second brewpub after prohibition (the first? The Atlas Hotel in Welland, which is no longer in business). And two weekends ago I finally found the time to pay a personal visit. After visiting the local downtown farmer’s market, a group of us headed in the direction of the red brick building, clearly identifiable by the red 1947 ‘paddy wagon’ that sits out front.
The brewery, which produces wine, pop, cider, and beer, is probably best known for the legal battle with Guinness over the naming of one of their beers. In 1992, Hart Breweries in Carleton Place was awarded the contract to brew and bottle Dragon’s Breath Pale Ale for Kingston Brewing. The beer was bottled and sold in local Kingston Beer Stores before changes occurred years later, which saw Hart Breweries take over the sales and marketing of the pale ale.
Hart, wanting to get the beer into the LCBO system, decided to re-package the Dragon’s Pale Ale in 750ml bottles and witnessed quite a following. It also attracted the interests of Guinness, who had a beer being sold in the LCBO called Dragons Stout. Hart was slapped with a trademark infringement (due to the name, even though bottles and labels were very different in shape and colour) and a legal battle ensued. The result: Hart Breweries ended up closing (not because of this), thus ending the run of Dragon’s Breath in LCBO and Beer Store retail outlets, and Guinness and Kingston Brewing made a deal that the term could be used only in Kingston, and only to promote the restaurant/brewery. Today, at the brewpub, the cask conditioned pale ale still goes by the Dragon’s Breath name, and the once bottled version of the pale ale has been renamed Dragoon’s Breath to honour Kingston rich history of military dragoons.
Back to the pub. There is a split patio on the sidewalk that you have to walk through to get to the front door and the first thing that we noticed upon entering was the vast amount of beer memorabilia on the walls. We took our seats and within minutes we had a flight of house beers to sample.
There were four available during our visit: Framboise Royale, Regal Lager, Dunkelnacht Dark Lager, and the already mentioned Dragon’s Breath pale ale (cask). The first sip I took was from the pint glass holding the cask conditioned pale ale and it wasn’t what I was expecting. It was off. Buttery, wet leather nose, and sharp fruitiness in the taste. The second pint was the Dunkel, which I found to be in top form, a newer batch the manager related. There are two other beers brewed under contract for the brewpub – Dragoon’s Breath by McAuslan and Whitetail Cream by The Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewery.
Not only does the Kingston brewpub produce their own beers, they also support other local, and not so local, craft breweries. Beau’s, Church Key, Heritage, Steam Whistle, McAuslan, and many more, can usually be found on tap, along with other brands like Guinness, much to my surprise given the history between the two companies.
As I mentioned, the pub is full of beer memorabilia. It hangs from the ceiling, covers almost every inch of the walls, and consists of beer ashtrays, bar towels, tap handles, posters, brewing equipment, glassware, coasters, mugs and much, much more. I've never seen so much in one place at one time. For someone that's quite interested in this particular hobby, it was a sight to behold. In speaking to the manager, he informed me that the pub has just as much if not more stuff in storage and it is quite the experience to look through it all. He also mentioned that many of the items on display are gifts from regulars upon returning from vacations. The owners also attend many shows and flea markets to obtain the rare collectibles.
The pub is so full of the memorabilia that some people I know think it makes the pub look tacky, and cluttered. I think that's what gives it its character. When I took my seat and looked around I felt comfortable and relaxed, it felt like drinking in a large cottage. To compliment the collectibles, the pub is full of wood. Wooden rafters run the length of the pub, wooden partitions separate the tables, nooks and booths, and it all looks and feels rustic. Brick walls and the exposed original stone foundation also add to the character of the pub; a real pub feel. There are a couple of televisions playing sport programs, but the volume is on mute and we are treated to the pleasant sounds of chatter coming from other patrons, which just exceeds the soft classical music playing in the background.
The manager leads our group past the busy bar area and into the small brewhouse where a product is in process of being brewed. The brewpub offers customers the opportunity to check the system out when requested, all you have to do is ask.
We head back to our table and get ready to head out. That's when I looked around one last time and realized how big the place is. There is a back courtyard, a front patio, an upstairs event room, and the main pub level, which all equate to a 230 person capacity.
It's quite the spot. A good place for collectors to waste hours with a variety of good beers to keep them company. I'm told that the brewpub is a very local establishment, a place that has retained customers from the day they opened their doors. While I would have liked to sample a fresh batch of the real ale, the other beers we sampled were quite nice, and having a selection of other quality Ontario craft breweries helps to ensure each customer has a number of styles to choose from and supports others in the industry.
I'm a fan.