MacKinnon Brothers Brewing | Bath, ON | Reviewed June 2017
If you found yourself in one of the great bars in downtown Kingston, Ontario, in the spring of 2014, you might have noticed something strange about most of the pints being poured. If you were working behind one of those bars, you certainly did. Seemingly all of a sudden, wherever you looked, people were eschewing tasteless mass-produced lagers – those much-advertised ales associated with lunch meetings, watching football games while bellied up to the bar, and after work pints – for something more malty, flavourful, and most impressively, very local. It felt as if overnight all of my big-brand-lager drinking regulars had started to turn up their noses at the offer of a “cold one of the usual,” opting instead for “MacKinnon’s, if you’ve got it.”
If you were really watching and listening, you might have connected the talk of a farm in Bath, Ontario, that had been converted into a brewery, and the appearance of a friendly rugby-player-looking-guy who could be seen up and down the charming streets of Kingston throwing kegs over his shoulder like the first responder at a brewery fire, waving at everybody he knew, with this new taste among Kingston’s lager and ale drinking community.
When I started bartending downtown in the summer of 2012, I felt like I was riding the crest of the craft beer wave. The bar that I tended was constantly bringing in the newest and best craft beer that Toronto, Ottawa, and Montréal had to offer. But, while the local bar movement was already as well-established a part of Kingston’s history as Fort Henry or the old guy who plays original compositions outside of the Mac’s Convenience on Ontario Street, the local beer movement was no more than a nice idea discussed at length on slow afternoons.
Kingstonians are known to put back their fair share of cheer in the name of supporting local bars and restaurants, and as a means of enjoying their tight-knit community, so it’s surprising that it took so long for Kingston to turn into a craft beer producer in its own right. Yes, MacKinnon Brother’s brewery is located in Bath, and yes, Kingston is home to Canada’s oldest licensed wine-bar-turned-brew-pub, but being in Bath doesn’t make MacKinnon Bros. any less important to downtown Kingston, and the Kingston Brewing Company (or simply “The Brew Pub” as it’s affectionately known), as much as it is a staple of downtown Kingston, didn’t qualify as the brewery that Kingston needed.
So, a city (as we used to joke) built on drinking – “Have you seen Sir John A’s old law offices? They’re a pub now. Of course.”– deserves a brewery. At the time of writing this, the tides have turned and Kingston boasts the KBC, MacKinnon Bros., Stone City Ales, and the King’s Town Beer Company, with the Wolfe Island Grill set to enter the arena this summer. But, in the summer of 2014, everything was still brewing under the surface.
Sure, the thinking was there: If I can have Seed to Sausage bacon for breakfast; if I can have crunchy Pan Chancho bread, baked in the heart of downtown Kingston, with that bacon; if I can have fresh made pasta from Pasta Genova for lunch; if the bartender at Chez Piggy – a dinner destination for Ontarians since it was opened by the Lovin’ Spoonful’s Zal Yanovsky and his second wife Rose Richardson in 1979 – is making his own soda syrups for deadly local cocktails; then why am I drinking a beer made by some small-toque-wearing hipster in Toronto? (It’s no secret that the good people of Kingston can be a little funny about Toronto.)
Enter MacKinnon brothers, Ivan and Daniel with their cousin Ben Vandenberg, and close friend Andrew Weel: The MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co. with a clear mission statement: using hops and malt grown and harvested on their farm, they would brew beer that was born from, and would become a part of, the unique character of rural Canada.
Miller Seed Farm has been owned and operated by the MacKinnon family since 1784. For nigh on the last 40 years, the MacKinnon family has been growing corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, and feed barley on their farm. They added malting barley to their line-up in 2014, for the purposes of brewing their own beer with hand-grown ingredients, and, as Ivan tells me, malting barley now makes up about 5% of their 1300-acre farm. With yields of 1 to 1.5 tonnes per acre, the MacKinnon Bros. harvested 60 tonnes of malting barley last year. Keeping the process local, the Bros. send their barley to Belleville’s new micro malthouse, Barn Owl Malt (see story in our Culture section).
Their inaugural brew, MacKinnon Bros. 8Man English Pale Ale, offered a much-needed alternative for bored lager and ale drinkers, and a taste of local history and sensibility.
When the MacKinnon Bros. first arrived on the Ontario craft beer scene, hop-heavy, palate-punishing IPAs were the norm. The well-balanced beers that Brewmaster Daniel Mackinnon offers are a testament to his schooling in brewing and distilling at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, and the entire crew’s dedication to growing their own ingredients – a labour of love started in 2010, four years before their first barroom pint would be poured.
In the last three years the MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co. has proven that a solid malt backbone and a dedication to your ingredients is the perfect recipe for beers that appeal to a large cross-section of craft beer drinkers, as well as traditional beer drinkers who might be looking to hang up their Anheuser-Busch hats. Today, MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Co. beers are in 100 bars in Ontario, and on some of Ontario’s most coveted rotating taps, like craft beer havens the Red House and Grad Club in Kingston, and the ever-popular Bar Hop, Bar Isabel, and Food and Liquor in Toronto. A full list of bars and LCBO locations carrying their brews can be found on their website at mackinnonbrewing.com.