It doesn’t take a genius to realize that craft beer is A Thing. With a projected 120+ microbreweries opening in Ontario alone this year, craft beer is big business. Here in the Limestone City, we’re no exception to the boom. There are three new breweries scheduled to open within the year and one major player relocating their facilities here. King’s Town Beer Company is the newest of our craft brewers, their doors having opened to the public just before Christmas 2016.
King’s Town Beer Company is located at an unlikely location for a craft beer brewery. Located just a hair off Gardiner’s Road, the space is beautifully renovated: an immense polished wood bar, stylish Edison lights along its length, and floor-to-ceiling windows that give the whole tasting room a cozy bright feel. They’ve painted the most of the walls with chalk paint and descriptions of their beers are carefully written out for you to read as you sample and decide on which growler you’ll be taking home. The retail experience is the order of the day; King’s Town sets out to wow you with their beer.
Mike Demmons is one of the owners and head brewer for their operations.
1. What made you and your partners decide it was time to open a brewery?
I have always been in the IT business, and after roughly 20 years of that, I just wanted to do something that had better touch for the end user. Most of the time you never see the person who uses the end product, you neither go through the middleman or you just don’t have any contact with them at all. I think for the other guys, it’s something similar too where they wanted to do something local. Taking that sort of desire from the three of us and my passion for making beer–and their passion for drinking it–made it possible. And one partner being the sales front, and the other partner being the bean-counter, and myself made for a good mix for a small brewery.
2. You’re aiming to be a neighbourhood brewery, and not just a destination one. How you describe your brewery for folks who haven’t been here before?
That’s a great analogy. Straightaway we’re not focused in getting our beers in bars and restaurants, we’re trying to stay retail and local around Kingston and participate in rotating taps that promote local craft breweries. Even if we do venture into bars and restaurants, I think we’re just going to do rotating taps. We’re just focused on Kingston and the tourists that come to Kingston.
Our brewery is focused on the retail customer experience. When you walk into the brewery, I think that’s obvious. We have the front room, the big bar sampling area, and there’s lots of seating. That was the atmosphere we were going for, so it also translates into the kind of beer we’re offering here. So we’re not focused on novelty, the kinds of beer you come once or twice a year to get, but rather a product that you’ll want to come back for on a regular basis.
3. Seeing as how there is not a lot of foot traffic where you are, why did you open in a West End location? How has the community feedback been so far?
We did look at a couple of different locations. I guess when people think of Kingston they automatically default to downtown. We have a very vibrant downtown, but we also looked at places out on Highway 15, Amherstview, and Kingston’s West End. We settled on a mid-West End location for a couple of main reasons. One, there is a huge population of people who live around here and who work around here, and if our goal is to get them on the way home from work or to stop and get beer to bring it home, they can drive a couple of blocks or walk a couple of blocks. That was sort of our main goal! The last thing is that our other business is located through the back parking lot! It made it very convenient.
As for the community feedback, so far, so good! We haven’t done a whole lot of marketing and advertising; we’re just trying to get our feet wet and get everything figured out. But as of right now, it’s just three of us manning all the hours, doing all the behind the scenes stuff too, so yes, so far we’ve had very good community reception. A lot of people are referring us, saying, ‘oh my neighbour told me,’ ‘my friend told me,’ that kinda thing, which is fantastic.
4. What is your brewing setup for King’s Town Beer Company? What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced in getting the brewery up and running?
Our brewing setup is a five barrel (600l) system with five fermenters and five bright/serving tanks.
The biggest challenge was definitely sourcing our brew house and related equipment. We decided on that big commitment so it’s not like an industry where you try and it doesn’t work, you can move on to try something else. You have to have the location and you have to know ahead of time, so we were lucky in that the local breweries–Stone City, Mackinnon Brothers, and a couple that are further north of the city–were able to give us good references. But ultimately, that was the biggest challenge to pull the trigger and stick with it. [Equipment] is also the biggest expenditure, but we took our time and sizing had a lot to do with the space, so we waited until we found this place and then bought the equipment.
5. Your beers tend to be low ABV beers; is that a deliberate move on the brewery’s part? What would you say is your flagship beer? As for one-off beers, how do you decide what you’re going to brew for that?
Absolutely. That’s not to say that we’re not gonna have high-gravity beers; there is an appeal, I think, in those. But in fitting with the second question about the atmosphere, I think having a beer that people will drink and feel comfortable drinking more than one is a really good thing. I love all different kinds of craft beer and non-craft beer even, but when I go home and feel like I want to have some beer, I want to try two or three different kinds of beer. If they’re 7 or 8 percent, it’s probably gonna be limited to one before I fall asleep! So I think for our four main types, they’re 5.5% and down. With the one-offs, there will be a greater range. We have one coming up in the fall that will be closer to a 6%.
The King’s Town Ale is our flagship beer, and it wasn’t what we decided we’d pick. In one of our tastings–in all of our tastings–before opening, it was just a beer that stood out to people. It’s a roasty reddish-coloured beer with a very malt-forward sort of taste to it. And it’s currently tied with our Golden Pale Ale as the #1 seller, which are two very different beers. King’s Town has a flavour that I haven’t tasted in other beers in other places, but it seems to be a very easy-drinking beer.
As for one-off varieties, these will be determined by the season. For example, the Panacea Pale Ale was ready to go when the weather started warming up. It’s a lighter beer, infused with orange and sea salt, but still has a full flavour to it. Seasonal is a definitely an aspect to it, and in the summer we’re probably going to do a couple lighter beers, and in the winter, some darker stuff.
6. What do you see as the future plans for King’s Town?
There’s a long list of things but right now the focus is on the retail sales. Again, it’s a different sort of model but it’s what we want to push for and develop, especially while there isn’t a huge craft market right now. I think it’s important we establish that instead of the Beer Store or the LCBO as the places to get beer. But coming in the future, we hope to get a license so we can serve bigger sample glasses of beer that way we can have events for tourism. People can come in and try a beer on their way from, say, Toronto to Ottawa, or from downtown Kingston. And I think that different size products that will fill cans and smaller glass bottles. Getting ourselves into the LCBO is not a plan right now. I think we would probably look at some of the alternatives to the LCBO first: grocery stores, bars and restaurants, places that we can get in locally. Those businesses would be our number one priority. We have done a couple of guest taps at places like the Grizzly Grill and the Alibi; we’ve even done a tap at a local seniors’ home!
King’s Town is a welcome addition to the burgeoning Kingston beer scene. Their signature beers have names tied to the history of the city and there is always a friendly face to walk you through a tasting. The brewery inhabits a unique niche in providing Kingstonians superior service in a comfortable environment. They’re hosting a Moms’ Beer & Yoga event on April 26th, as well as being one of the featured breweries at YGK Craft Beer Fest at Fort Henry on June 10th. The brewery will also be open five days a week beginning May 1st and have a smaller 500 ml product as well as growlers.