Kingston craft beer scene year-in-review

It’s been a whirlwind of a year for Kingston’s breweries.  Although the craft beer industry across Canada is still growing, Kingston seems to be going through a bit of a re-adjustment period.

At the beginning of 2019, there were 11 craft breweries within a twenty-minute drive of here:

But in the last 12 months, there have been a number of changes: Wolfe Island shut down production quietly in January; King’s Town Beer Company handed their keys over to Skeleton Park Brewery this summer; SanTur Brewing closed seemingly out-of-the-blue in October, citing problems from a “flood,” but a ‘for lease’ sign appeared in the windows not long after and the business remains dark.

That’s the bad news, but there is a lot to look forward to. There are two new breweries expected over the next few months.

Daft Brewing has been brewing out of their Williamsville location for most of the year. Their beer is available in a few places around town already, but the opening of their taproom is a bit behind schedule, and the sign out front cheekily says “opening eventually.”

Kingston’s next craft beer venture is expected to open in the spring of 2020 in the east end — Fine Balance Brewing Company has announced on social media that it has started brewing on Innovation Drive — great news for the east end, which has long struggled to have nice things.

And though the owners of King’s Town Beer Company have left the beer business in order to focus on their day jobs (they ran a security systems company before and during the time they opened King’s Town), they struck a deal with Skeleton Park Brewery to take over their space and keep their staff. Skeleton Park had been contract brewing for several years without its own taproom.

Provincially and nationally, the craft beer market continues to grow. The most recent available statistics suggest there are 276 craft breweries in Ontario, up from 250 in 2018, and there are somewhere around 80 in the planning stages. The provincial craft beer market share has more than doubled in the last five years, sitting at just shy of nine per cent of Ontario beer sales — the share was only two per cent in 2002. LCBO sales stats claim that craft beer accounted for over $120 million in sales in 2018/19, representing an increase of 11.7 per cent over the previous period. Looking Canada-wide, there were 995 licensed breweries operating in 2018, a more than 260 per cent increase from five years prior. 

As the craft beer business continues to grow in general, and even though there have been setbacks locally, there has been a lot of excitement for the existing area breweries. As already mentioned, Skeleton Park Brewery grew from a contract brewer to a brewery with a taproom and bottle shop. MacKinnon Brothers’ annual Back to the Farm festival (disclosure: I’m one of the organizers for the festival) attracted 5,000 people to their farm in Bath, selling out three months in advance, and the brewery itself is likely the biggest microbrewery between Ottawa and Toronto. Kingston Brewing Company, the second oldest brewpub in Ontario and a downtown Kingston mainstay since the mid-80s, has just launched a few of their beers in the LCBO — the last time you could buy their beer off-site was the late 90s when their Dragon’s Breath Pale Ale was sold in beer stores for a time. Spearhead has continued to offer some of the city’s most intriguing brewery events — escape rooms in the brewery, burlesque shows, live wrestling, and even a Sam Roberts concert — while Riverhead, in the north side of the west end, has a popular Thursday night which rotates between trivia and musical bingo, live music on the weekends, and a variety of in-house tournaments like euchre and cornhole. 

Stone City Ales, the second-oldest craft brewery in Kingston, remains probably the most innovative beer maker in the area, known for its unique one-offs and seasonal brews. Napanee and Gan have both been slowly growing outside of their small towns to the LCBO and tap handles across the region.

What was your favourite local beer this year?  Do you stick with the staples, such as Crosscut or Hawaiian Pale Ale? Or do you seek out the rare sours and goses and such that pop up around town from time to time?  Do you have a favourite taproom, or do you prefer to take your preferred local beer home?  

Let us know in the comments, and stay tuned for more to come from our exciting local craft beer scene in 2020.

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