*sure, the title of this post should probably be “Drinking in and around Prince Edward County”, but that doesn’t sound as catchy.
Last week, to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, my wife and I took a trip to Prince Edward County. While we’re both somewhat amateur oenophiles, and the wine was a draw, I was anxious to see if I might be able to track down some decent local beer–perhaps owing to the fact that I was very much aware I was missing Session 99, the closing ceremonies of Ontario Craft Beer Week.
And while we were able to find some beer (more on that later), we actually unintentionally stumbled on something of a craft spirits hidden gem when we ended up at 66 Gilead Distillery.
Recommended to us by an employee of Huff Estates winery who overheard that we were embarking on an alcohol-related tour of the county, 66 Gilead is, amazingly, a former hops farm that now houses a craft distillery on an 80-acre piece of land that features a beautiful house built in 1874.
While we didn’t go into the barn (and I’m now kicking myself for not requesting a tour) their website notes that the hops barn next to the house remains intact with it’s drying floors and brick ovens.
Inside the house is a great tasting bar where we sampled some of 66 Gilead’s products, including the fantastic Loyalist Gin, Prince Edward County’s first local gin and one that features a blend of botanicals, including juniper grown on the farm.
They also make a pine infused vodka which is as unique and clean-tasting as it sounds. I took home a bottle of each. Both have been considerably dented in the week that followed. Seriously tasty stuff, this.
They’re also currently making a whole wheat vodka and an exceptionally smooth rye vodka, all of which you can sample on-site (which we, of course did).
Also in the works are brown liquors. 66 Gilead whiskys are already barreled with an eye to a likely 2014 release.
If the clear spirits and the brief conversation I had with the owners is any indication, these are going to be some whiskys worth picking up. Both owners, Toronto-area professionals with a history in science, have a clear passion for spirits. Their whisky promises to be brewed with a keen eye toward the traditional techniques used by Canadian distillers of yesteryear and, after reading about the composition of “tonic” from the time the gin and tonic was invented, the founders of 66 Gilead took it upon themselves to also offer a “tonic syrup” so that patrons might have a taste of what a real gin and tonic might taste like (This tonic is also available for sale on-site and I can assure you that a G&T crafted with this stuff is vastly superior to any you’ve ever had made with tonic purchased at the grocery store).
66 Gilead is looking to get a few of their products onto LCBO shelves soon, but in the meantime, if you ever find yourself in Bloomfield, Ontario, get out to their farm. This stuff is good. Get it now before everyone in Toronto is drinking it and you can tell your hipster friends you liked it before it was popular.
But what about the beer?
I honestly had no idea what to expect of beer in Prince Edward County, but I knew there were some breweries there so I approached the prospect of hunting down some local beer with an open mind. Surprisingly, upon my arrival at my aunt and uncles house in Bath, where we were staying (with a considerable load of Toronto craft beer in tow in case I struck out the following day), I was handed a Barley Days Wind Sail Dark Ale.
What, I thought, was this?
Here was a nice dark ale with some subtle roasted malt flavour, good head and maybe a little noticeable caramel. This was a damn good beer and I’d never even heard of it. If this tasty little beverage was any indication of the kind of the beer I might find this weekend, I was in for a nice little weekend.
And so it was that evening that I happened upon “The Kingston Brewing Company” (after a few more Wind Sails and some other usual suspects at nearby Chez Piggy) with what one might accurately call a semi beer boner. If my uncle, an amateur beer enthusiast at best, had managed to dig up this great offering from Barley Days, what, pray tell, might I find at this local brewpub?? Surely some hidden craft gems awaited me inside, right?
I don’t want to say that the beer at Kingston Brewing Company sucked but–wait, actually, no, that’s exactly what I want to say. The beer at Kingston Brewing Company sucked.
This was definitely a nice little brew pub in terms of the atmosphere and the myriad interesting beer-related-crap that adorned the walls, but the beer they were actually making in-house was decidedly…blah. I asked our server for the beer that Kingston Brewing was known for and was presented with a cask-conditioned Dragon’s Breath Original Real Ale. What I got was a watery, far-too-sweet, middle of the road cask ale. I’ve virtually never in my life sent a beer back, but I had no interest in finishing this one. As far as first impressions go, this one was decidedly lacklustre.
I also tried their Dragon’s Breath Pale Ale which was probably the best of the bunch. It was a sort of decent, uninspired, English-style pale ale with some caramel notes but with nothing too interesting going on.
A White Tail Cream Ale seemed like it might have something to offer given that the menu noted it’s currently contract-brewed by Muskoka Brewery, but it too turned out to be a sort of flat, pale gold ale that tastes like a run-of-the-mill lager.
Thankfully, the pub offered a pretty decent selection of other craft beers and I was able to cleanse my palate with a Dead Elephant IPA from Railway City Brewing before I left.
Still craving some local craft beer the next day (are craft beer blue balls a thing?) we added nearby Barley Days to our alco-tour following 66 Gilead and I was pleased to not only pick up a six pack of Wind Sail Pale Ale, but also their new Royal George Brown Ale, an excellent little Brown Ale brewed to commemorate a Lake Ontario warship which resisted an American attack and marked the only action fought at Kingston during the war of 1812.
So new was this beer, in fact, that the six I purchased were yet to be labeled.
Next time you’re in Prince Edward County, be sure to hit up Barley Days (after you’ve picked up some booze at 66 Gilead). And, if you have to visit The Kingston Brewing Company, skip the beers they make in-house.