The Friday Four is a weekly feature where I mention some beers I either drank this week, am currently drinking, or am looking forward to drinking.
My craft beer journey actually started with Kensington Brewing Company.
It was 2011 and Toronto’ foremost digital journal of record, blogTO, had put out a call for a beer writer. I was a writer who liked beer so I threw my hat in the ring and submitted an application.
Then, I had a lot to learn about beer.
Thankfully, as anyone with experience in craft beer will know, most of the folks working in or enjoying craft beer are happy to chat so I quickly found people eager to school me and share some insight. One of the very first people to do so was Brock Shepherd, who, at the time, was the founder and sole employee of the eight month-old Kensington Brewing Company. He was also the owner and operator of Burger Bar, which even as late as 2011 was something of a rarity in that it was a restaurant where the beer on tap was entirely local craft beer and there was even a cask engine. There were also occasional health code violations, but I considered that all part of the charm.
I met Brock under the guise of digging for a story–and eventually wrote this one, about how Augusta Ale was soon to arrive in bottles (even though I’m not entirely sure it ever actually did)–and I ended up sitting and chatting (and drinking) with Brock for at least a few hours.
Brock was one of my first interactions with someone who had that certain passion for craft beer–the kind where some annoying wannabe writer shows up when you’re trying to run a business but you end up chatting with him for hours just because you dig craft beer. At that time, Brock was getting some media buzz for attempting to grow usable hops around Kensington Market and was planning to open a nano-brewery in the back of Burger Bar while continuing to contract brew his production beer under the watchful tutelage of Paul Dickey (at the time, this was still a novel idea and not a marketing plan they teach you at Niagara Brewing College. I kid, I kid).
Since then, I’ve always been quietly rooting for Kensington Brewing Company and, looking back, they may have even gotten an inordinate amount of attention from blogTO over my tenure there (I’ve just noted that I even wrote an entire article announcing that the company had unveiled a second beer–What a scoop!). But lately, much like many a storied Toronto sports franchise, it’s been a bit hard to follow KBCo. I mean sure, I’ll check in on them from time to time, but I’m not watching as much as I used to. And that’s because for the better part of half a decade, the company has been trying to build an actual bricks and mortar brewery within its namesake neighbourhood. And while delays are to be expected when it comes to opening a brewery, considering that the company announced their physical location in 2013, they surpassed “OK what the fuck is taking so long” territory a while ago.
Fast forward to almost 2018. For various reasons, Brock Shepherd is no longer really part of Kensington Brewing Company and, to finally get the place open, private investors have been brought in along with a new President, Emma Livingston, who comes to KBCo by way of Labatt’s. And, handling what a press release might refer to as the “day to day” is Michael Gurr. The first person Brock Shepherd hired to work for Kensington Brewing Co, Gurr still seems a bit like a bright eyed kid anxious to take on the world of craft beer, but at this point is very much a veteran of the scene. Officially, Gurr is Kensington’s Vice President, Operations and, regardless of what might have happened between him, the company, and his former employer, Gurr is a dude who toiled hard and worked through a near half-decade of frustrations to finally, in May of this year, see Kensington Brewing Company open the doors on an honest-to-goodness brewery. He really did it, and deserves credit.
I know all of this of course, but it didn’t really hit home for me until this afternoon when I was greeted on my porch by a box of beer. Not an odd thing for me to receive; especially at this time of year, but when I noted that return address, “299 Augusta Ave,” I admit I had a moment akin to, “Well, fuck yeah. They really did it, didn’t they?”
So while I like all beer samples (of course), I’m excited to get into these three beers this weekend for different reasons. I don’t know much about the liquid in the bottles or even what Gurr and crew are up to these days since I no longer live in Toronto, but I’ve got some pride in finally tasting some Kensington Brewing Co. beer that’s finally fucking being brewed in Kensington.
These guys in Ottawa make really nice beer, but I almost never get my hands on any here in London. So when I noted that they have an online store and that, on black Friday, they were waiving shipping fees, I jumped at the chance to order some of their stuff I haven’t tried (and some I have). One of those beers was Civic Pilsner, which I already wish I ordered more of.
It’s super crisp and dry, almost to the point of being spicy. It’s a touch bitter with a sort of white pepper herbal note and it has a sort of subtle, bready, saison-ish (that’s a word!) cereal note. It’s just 4.5% and is a great thirst quencher.
I don’t know anything about this dry-hopped sour except that it was included with my review copy of the book East Coast Crafted, and so I love it. First, every book should come with a beer, right?
Second, this book is fucking awesome.
It’s simply beautifully done. Well written and comprehensive, East Coast Crafted features rich pictorials and profiles of 80 breweries and brewpubs written in an accessible style. In short, it’s a fairly comprehensive guide to Atlantic Canada beer that’s just nice to look at and it’s written from a philosophical bent I can dig. To whit, from the introduction:
Choice and quality. As more people are learning every day in Atlantic Canada, real beer, not that industrial stuff we’ve been drinking for every generation since Prohibition, the stuff that’s fresh and unfiltered, made from quality ingredients by your neighbour, is best enjoyed close to the source, and, increasingly, purchased directly.
Yeah. I’m on board.
This beer, which came with the book, is from a a brewery that’s got “small-town charm at its finest” and was formerly a butcher shop that later took over the library next door. The brewery also happened to win four Canadian Brewing Awards in only three years of operation. I look forward to trying this east coast beer while I dig in to my new east coast beer book.
‘Tis the season for stouts, and this is one of those. A malty, lactose-forward, chocolate stout, this delivers a lot of rich stout flavour without a ton of those roasted, smoky and bitter notes you get from some big stouts. I like Big Rig. I’m in the mood for stouts lately. This one is smooth, so I drank it while writing this and am now writing about this beer that I drank while writing.
What are you drinking this weekend?