All Hopped Up: The Rise of Microbreweries

By Lindy Mechefske

Passion for local beer has seen craft breweries leading the charge in the small scale, locally produced, farm-to-table movement. Across Canada, “big beer” sales are falling while an explosion of microbreweries has witnessed steadily increasing demand. Here in Ontario, the Ontario Craft Brewers’ Association is adding new members at the rate of three per month and report that craft beer is the fastest-growing segment in the LCBO’s beer category.

Way ahead of the craft beer craze is the Kingston Brewing Company – known for its beer, its laid back vibe and the gorgeous, private patio in the old carriageway beside the pub; the well-known landmark is Ontario’s oldest brewpub, now in its 31st year of operation.

Housed in a 1800s telegraph office, the place is packed to rafters with assorted beer memorabilia. Brewmaster Peter Snell oversees the brewing operation which includes four beers brewed on site: Dragon’s Breath Ale, Regal LagerDunkelnacht, and Framboise Royale. Snell lights up when he talks about the pub’s 9% alcohol Rampant Rooster beer. “We brew it with a whole, cooked, marinated chicken in it.” He says, “But we only make it every five years.” Two other beers developed on the premises, Whitetail Cream Ale and Dragoon’s Breath Pale Ale are so popular that they are now produced off-site by breweries with more capacity.

The Kingston Brewing Company also proudly sell beer from all the other craft breweries in Kingston and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the first beer from the new Skeleton Park Brewery.

Kingston Brewing Company’s awesome patio on Canada Day. Photo by Kingston Brewing Company.
Chef Colin Burtch has a time out at the bar. Photo by Lindy Mechefske
Chef Colin Burtch has a time out at the bar. Photo by Lindy Mechefske

Just down the road in historic Bath, the MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company conduct tastings and beer sales on the 1400 acre farm which has been in the family since 1784.

Six years ago, brothers Daniel and Ivan purchased the farm from their father and continued growing crops including oats, barley, and wheat. Two years ago when they started brewing beer, they added hops to their crop list. Today, Ivan, a mechanical engineer, and Dan, a Scottish trained brewmaster, along with cousin Ben Vandenberg, are working flat out brewing beer with ingredients grown on the farm. I can’t talk to the MacKinnon brothers because as staff member Kori tells me, “They’re actually busy farming.”

So I join in the fun in the old hen house where an enthusiastic group of visitors perched on tractor-seat stools at the bar, are working their way through the tasting flights which include three year round beers – CrossCut Canadian Ale, 8 Man Ale, and Origin – a German-style wheat beer, and one of two seasonally available beers – a peppermint stout in winter and in summer, Red Fox, flavoured with beets from the farm.

Daniel and Ivan MacKinnon. Photo by: Mackinnon Brothers Brewing.
Daniel and Ivan MacKinnon. Photo by: Mackinnon Brothers Brewing.
Some of Mackinnon Brothers' goods! Photo by: Travis Sharrow
Some of Mackinnon Brothers’ goods! Photo by: Travis Sharrow

At 2 pm on a rainy Saturday afternoon, Kingston’s Stone City Ales is packed.

This is a place with a definite vibe – there’s lots of natural light along with exposed brick, metal, blackboard menus, and the impressive glassed-in, gleaming stainless-steel brewery. When owner Ron Shore opened the place in August 2014, he was interested in the local food movement, so in addition to craft beers, the menu at Stone City Ales is dedicated to local ingredients.

I ask Justin da Silva, Head Brewer, who guides me through a quick beer 101 course, about the evolution of the customer base. “We have witnessed a big change in the increasing sophistication of beer drinkers. Part of that change includes many more females, especially young career women. Our clientele are here for a reason. They come here to socialize and appreciate the fact that we have no televisions, great local food, and our award-winning craft beer.” I raise my glass, “Cheers to that.”

Photo by: Stone City Ales
Photo by: Stone City Ales
Brewmaster Justin da Silva hard at work. Photo by: Stone City Ales

More Information

Kingston Brewing Company
34 Clarence Street, Kingston, Ontario

Stone City Ales
275 Princess St. Kingston, Ontario

MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company
1915 County Road 22, Bath, Ontario