Far too many local business owners have learned the hard way that the success of a new downtown establishment is never guaranteed, rather, it requires the right mix of quality ingredients, carefully crafted to meet the ever changing needs of thirsty patrons. In recent years, businesses have cashed in big on consumer trends, flooding downtown Kingston with dozens of sushi restaurants, gourmet burger joints, caffeine dispensaries, sugary dessert pushers, and the list goes on. But that list is constantly evolving, and just as yesterday’s sky-high Cronut sales begin to plummet, the appetite for cross-cultural egg rolls, DIY pizza and craft beer becomes insatiable. Some may argue that the latter is not a fad, nor is it new to downtown Kingston thanks to the long-standing service of the Kingston Brewing Company. Nevertheless, with every other restaurant and bar serving one flavour or another of craft beer, and specialty watering holes such as Alibi and The Brooklyn specifically catering to craft brew aficionados, it’s clear that Kingstonians have a tremendous thirst for IPAs, wheats, porters, Belgians, lagers, stouts and all the rest.
Late last year we learned that Stone City Ales, a new locally-owned producer slash distributor would soon be making their foray onto the craft beer scene. For what seemed like forever, Stone City Ales teased their followers on social media with pictures showing off everything from the transformation of their brewery, tap room and bottle shop, to their colourful merch and tantalizing recipes they were about to try out. All good things come to those who wait, and when Stone City Ales finally opened their doors in late July, many Kingstonians instantly fell in love with the upstart, start-up craft brewery.
Stone City Ales’ storefront is an attractive sight to passersby thanks to the modern facade, which adds a bit more character to an otherwise uniform brick building. The front of house sports a roll-up glass garage door, which allows ample sunlight and atmosphere to flow in from the outside. Inside, you’ll find exposed brick, polished concrete, industrial fixtures and a glass-enclosed area housing impressive stainless-steel vessels such as the mash tun, boil kettle and fermenters. This is where the real magic happens, and depending on when you pay them a visit, you might even catch of glimpse of the brewing and bottling process in action. With kegs propping open the front door, the interior space is otherwise divided into a bottle shop and tasting room.
The bottle shop is essentially the space you enter into from the street, which shows off their locally-crafted merch and of course, allows patrons to purchase growlers ($19/64oz) or squealers ($13/32oz) of Stone City Ales’ various concoctions. A chalk menu board advertises what’s available for purchase, including brief tasting notes to help guide you. The bottle shop has proven to be a real hit thus far, as I’ve witnessed healthy lines of thirsty fans queue up to take out a reusable growler or two.
During our inaugural visit to Stone City Ales, we sat ourselves at a table in the tasting room and eagerly set out to try all 5 flavours that were on tap. Rather than order pints ($7/each), we opted for two flights ($8/each), which is a fantastic option for those looking to do exploratory tasting at a fraction of the price of full pints. Each flight gives you the choice of 3 varieties of beer, so we had to double up on one of their selections: Watchtower.
The initial offerings on tap at Stone City Ales included:
- Windward Belgium Wheat: 4.9%, 18 IBU, refreshing, fruity and spicy
- 12 Star Session Ale: 4.8%, 35 IBU, crisp, dry, hoppy
- Uncharted IPA: 7.0, 70 IBU, lots-o-hops, caramel, dry
- Watchtower Conspiracy Imperial IPA (collaboration with Big Spruce, Cape Breton NS): 9.1%, 85 IBU, huge, balanced, hoppy
- Ships in the Night Oatmeal Stout: 5.6%, 25 IBU, dark chocolate, roasty, velvety
In the event you’re not sure about which option you want to taste or purchase for take-away, just ask one of the helpful servers who’ve tried them all and have their own faves and recommendations depending on what you’re looking for. I tend to enjoy hoppy IPAs with puckering amounts of citrus, so I was right at home with Watchtower, Uncharted and the 12 Star. That said, surprisingly none of these really stole my heart and made me want to walk out with a growler. Instead, I was moreso taken with the taste of the stout and wheat offerings. The stout had a pleasant, lightly roasted malt aroma that tasted of rich, creamy chocolate and nuts. I could easily sip a pint of this oatmeal stout on a hot day during the summer, or cozy up next to the fireplace during winter with a wee squealer. I also unexpectedly loved the Windward Belgium Wheat, which offered light wheaty aromas with just a hint of crisp citrus. This beer is perfect for quenching one’s thirst on a hot day after cutting the lawn. All in all, this was a very satisfying first visit, that left me dreaming about what seasonal flavours Stone City Ales might have to offer in the Fall and Winter.
For those looking to grab some nibblies along with their beer, Stone City Ales also offers soft pretzels with mustard or sweet & spicy almonds ($5/each). Additionally, our server offered a free small bowl of roasted barley, which is apparently the same stuff they use during the brewing process. This was a really cool touch, and it served to drive home the fact that their products are made in house. That locally made appeal, combined with the craft beer niche, has proven to be a popular pairing, generating well-deserved buzz for Stone City Ales.
I truly hope that the future is bright for this new addition to downtown Kingston. I would love to see them continue to experiment and introduce new brews, while at the same time develop loyal followings for their core brands. Who knows, perhaps they’ll have what it takes to really put Kingston on the province’s thriving craft beer map.