Best of 2015: Six Questions for Stone City Ales

With the unstoppable popularity of craft beer, local brewers such as Stone City Ales and The MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company enjoyed a continuous flow of thirsty supporters in 2015. For downtown Kingston’s newest brewhouse and bottle shop, Stone City Ales, that loyal fan base was earned thanks to the tireless efforts of Head Brewer, Justin da Silva, brewers Roy Roebuck and Eric Guindon, manager Mallory Jones and the talented team who continue to tweak and refine the recipe for success. This past year saw Stone City celebrate the huge milestone of their first anniversary, as well as receive 2nd & 3rd place awards at the 2015 Ontario Brewing Awards in the West Coast IPA category.  In year one alone, they experimented with upwards of three dozen mouth watering craft beers, with demand for our faves regularly outpacing supply.  Our insightful interview with President and General Manager, Ron Shore, and Head Brewer, Justin da Silva, was easily one of our most popular pieces from 2015.

Stone City Ales, craft beer, Kingston, Ontario
Justin da Silva, Head Brewer, filling a wine barrel from Norman Hardie, it’s got a beer that will be released in the coming months.

Coming up on their one year anniversary, Stone City Ales has built a tremendous following thanks to their hip, open-concept brewery slash tasting room slash bottle shop. We recently had an opportunity to catch up with Ron Shore, President and General Manager for Stone City Ales, as well as Justin da Silva, their Head Brewer. Ron spent 20 years in the non profit sector before starting Stone City Ales. He is a family man, hockey lover and rocks a great beard. Justin spent 5 years in Ottawa brewing professionally before moving to Kingston. He is avid sailor, snowboarder and as you might expect, he is also an all around nice guy.

1. Stone City Ales is arguably the most popular, new, locally owned business downtown Kingston has seen in years. Looking back on the wild ride that has been your first year of operation, how do demand and growth stack up against your expectations? What surprises and challenges have you had to contend with along the way?

Ron: Does it exceed expectations? yes and no. We always intended to make a splash, knew Kingston wanted this, and had full confidence that folks would choose excellent, fresh and locally made beer if given the chance. “Consumers” as we are called, are way smarter than large corporations have traditionally given us credit for. People want choice, and quality, and meaning in what they buy. Here, you can meet the folks who make the beer you put in your mouth and share with friends.

So, the love we are being shown has exceeded expectations, but we also aimed for the stars and have busted our asses to get here. We are really excited to see where this all goes, and all we can say is that everyone who comes to Stone City, supports us or who is into what we do, will help shape where this all goes. It’s uncharted territory, so to speak.

Lessons learned? Trust each other, work hard, make a list and check it off everyday, learn from your experience, don’t be afraid to take risks, and be sure to always build community. Winter was hard for us, and long, and we learned that you really need to know who you are, have each others’ back, be honest, and believe in what you do. Make and drink good beer. Beer takes time, and the love you put into it is palpable. We take our time, we don’t cut corners, and we source quality ingredients. We also aren’t afraid to keep growing and to stay creative. We have made over 30 different beers in ten months!

2. Prior to opening up Stone City Ales, what sort of experience did you have producing beer? What inspired or otherwise led to you establishing your own brewery/business?

Ron: What inspired Stone City? Love, passion, and a history of building community. Beer has always brought people together, and reminds us to enjoy life and the company we keep. Kingston has a glorious brewing past, whether its the old Bajus brewery on Wellington (the 12 Star building), the former brewery that is now the JK Tett Creativity Centre, or the ground-breaking Kingston Brewing Company. We are just the most recent innovation in what will continue to define this remarkable city as an innovative place for craft, creativity and community.

Plus, we all needed jobs!

Justin: I’ve always had a strong interest in beer. After finishing university and moving to the BVI’s to coach sailing I got a job working at a brew pub in Ottawa and fell in love with the craft. I quickly became obsessive with home brewing and devouring brewing text books outside of work. I moved on to work at other Ottawa breweries, such as Beyond the Pale to grow my experience and worked as Nickel Brook Brewing’s Eastern Ontario sales rep to giving me a multifaceted perspective of the craft beer industry. Ron was introduced to me by the owners of Beyond the Pale, we hit it off. Being a sailor I have profound love of Kingston, it wasn’t hard to convince me to pack up my brewing boots and make the move. Now, almost a year later here we are making great beer if I do say so myself.

3. Stone City Ales prides itself on making the highest quality beer possible, using the best ingredients including local elements wherever you can. Can you describe how this philosophy manifests itself through your brewing process? Furthermore, what’s the weirdest ingredient you have used in one of your batches?

Justin: We use local, provincially and Canadian products as much as possible. A lot of our base malt comes from the Canadian prairies. Some of our hops come from British Columbia and we are working with a local Prince Edward Country hop grower for the 2015 harvest. We do source a lot of speciality malt from Germany, UK, Belgium in order to create certain styles of beer as well as hops from the US to as far as Australia and New Zealand from their unique characteristics. Hops are like wine grapes, terroir and geographical location have a huge impact on the flavour and aroma profiles they produce. As a brewer it’s my goal to create not only unique sessionable beers but also brew beer true to it’s historic style which means sourcing ingredients from where they originated.

Now for the weirdest ingredient. We aim to make beer that you want to sit down and are able to enjoy a few of which keeps novelty ingredients at bay. You’ll never find us creating any bacon, sriracha or bubblegum concoctions. That being said we like to get creative. During the holidays we released Tannenbomb, and Imperial Beglian wit beer. This beer was brewed with locally sourced cranberries, and spruce needles which were provided by Salt of the Earth farm located here in Kingston. The result was a very unique yet drinkable ale that was received with overwhelming love.

4. If you had to pick a favorite beer from your brewery to serve to a stranger, which one would it be and why? What does it taste like, and what might you recommend pairing with it?

Justin: Windward Belgian Wheat. It is light, refreshing and fruity which appeals to a variety of beer drinkers yet it’s subtly complex and true to style which means it also appeals to the more discerning beer drinker. It’s been consistently one of our best sellers and it’s a great introduction to our line up of beer. It pairs well with our vietnamese steam bun, lighter fair like salads, bloomy-rind soft cheeses, and sunshine. That being said, I personally love hoppy IPAs. I’m pretty partial to Uncharted IPA, which recently won a medal at the Ontario Brewing Awards. We aim to make drinkable and balanced IPAs that show off unique citrusy hop flavour and aroma. Unlike most IPA’s that are often associated with tongue-cutting bitterness and malt sweetness, Uncharted finishes off smooth and dry. It pairs excellently with spicy food like Indian curries, aged cheddars, and your favourite record on vinyl.

5. Tomorrow Stone City Ales will launch a special beer in support of the Skeleton Park Arts Festival. Can you give us sneak peak of what your Skeleton Park Session Ale will taste like? What inspired you to create a beer to tie into this year’s festival?

Justin: Many of our customers live in the Skeleton Park neighbourhood so this beer was largely inspired by them. It’s a fun and evolving neighbourhood with lots of young families. Speaking with many of them, we got a lot of positive feedback on our 12 Star Session ale, so it would be fitting to make a unique session ale in support of the festival. The beer we ended up with is light and crisp, with a biscuity malt flavour, layered with citrusy, floral and bright hop notes. It finishes dry, is super refreshing yet packed with delicious flavour.

Brewing beer is truly a craft which combines science and art. With this collaboration we are showcasing the creative and artistic aspect of brewing, using the Skeleton Park community as our muse to design a fun, crushable beer. We are big supporters of the Kingston art community, working with local designers and artists as much as we can. We love art and music of all kinds — we feel fresh local beer pairs perfectly with these experiences.

Ron: The Skeleton Park neighbourhood is our home! Of course we wanted to jump on board. That, plus Greg Tilson and the folks behind the festival are quite simply very good and very cool people. Its a festival that combines creativity and community — pretty much our core values! The music festival has always been fun, memorable even through rainy years, and brings people together with great musicians. Its also always supported local talent, which is pretty much part of this whole “second city movement” where cities like Kingston are becoming destination points for a new kind of creative economy where people are doing and making things in new, innovative and remarkably successful ways.

6. How important is it for Stone City Ales to integrate with events such as the Skeleton Park Arts Festival, and the local arts scene in general? What sort of future projects and partnerships with the local creative community do you have planned or otherwise envision in the near future?

Justin: It’s incredibly important. We think of ourselves as a community meeting space. Beer is a creative craft and aligning ourselves with like minded creative communities, individuals and businesses not only inspires us but keeps us motivated to continue brewing up awesome beer for all you great people to enjoy.

We hope to showcase more local artwork in our brewery. We have a slew of amazing events coming up from the Skeleton Park Arts Festival to magical pop-up dinners – we’re looking to engage Kingstonians and support the talented people that have been in here supporting us from the get go.

Ron: We definitely see part of our mission to help support the local creative scene. You’ll see our logos, labels and hangtags are a huge part of our brand. The design and letter press is all done locally by Vincent Perez of Everlovin’ Press. Our tees and merch are done up by Julian Berry at Ironclad Graphics. Basically the way we see it is that we are all in it together, and that extends to the artists who beautify our walls or bring music to our space. We hope to continue to host musical events after the success of our Oh Susannah gig a couple of weeks back. You’ll see more pop up events and the like over the next little while so stay tuned.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

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