Known for nearly 800 kilometres of shoreline and half a dozen picturesque small towns, Prince Edward County swells with tourists and cottagers every summer. However, the county’s charm doesn’t disappear along with the hot weather, especially if you’re looking to warm up with the help of local beers and spirits. In fact, with AirBNBs at a discounted rate and crowds at a minimum, winter is the perfect time to take a road trip a few hours down the 401.
With close to 40 wineries offering an innovative variety of reds, whites, and bubblys, Prince Edward County has long been a destination for wine lovers. However, since 2016, a craft beer explosion has diversified the county’s food and drink culture, which also includes cideries and a distillery. This growing beverage scene seems fitting considering Prince Edward County’s proximity to the American border made it lucrative for rum-runners during Prohibition.
Before you plan your road trip, check with each brewery, cidery, or distillery for their reduced winter hours; however, you’ll find most remain open at least a few days a week year-round.
First Stop: Wellington
Located on the north shore of Lake Ontario, Wellington is a lakeside community with Victorian-era homes, many of which are now studios for jewellery makers, painters, and other local artisans. It’s also home to the Drake Devonshire, the rural 13-room boutique hotel, restaurant, and bar (with a menu featuring many local beer and wine) opened by the folks behind Toronto’s Drake Hotel. In the summer, Wellington’s weekly farmer’s market and waterfront park and harbour draw locals and tourists alike.
In 2017, Wellington’s Midtown Brewing Co. (266 Main Street) opened its doors, transforming an old meat factory into a brewpub and event space that’s open almost every day of the year. The kitchen serves up shareables and mains daily until 9:00 p.m. and Midtown’s beer menu includes not only it’s own core brews and seasonals, but also includes taps from other local breweries — something that seems quite common in Prince Edward County’s small towns.
Among Midtown’s core brews are an extra special bitter, with a “clean caramel and nutty character”, a Kolsh ale, and a classic dry stout. It also brews French, German, and Belgium beers, including a hefeweiss and witbier. Midtown’s bottle shop is expected to grow to include barrel-aged beers in 2019.
Eight minutes from Midtown, in the neighbouring community of Hillier, where limestone-laden soils have given the town “a unique terroir for viticulture, wine making, and hop growing,” you’ll find Strange Brewing Company (371 Chase Road). Strange launched in 2016 with its signature Horntrip Juniper Pale Ale by Dave Frederick, an experienced winemaker.
Next Up: Bloomfield
Located just a few minutes east of Wellington, Bloomfield is situated in the centre of Prince Edward County. Lined with small shops, B&Bs, cafes, and restaurants, Bloomfield’s tiny main street bustles with activity and Loyalist architecture. When visiting this one-kilometre stretch, stop by the Bloomfield Public House (257 Bloomfield Main Street), a trendy coffeehouse and bar specializing in seasonal market cuisine from local farmers and taps from the county’s breweries. It’s a cozy spot to plan your day over coffee or have a night cap after a day of exploring the county.
Four minutes down the road from Bloomfield Public House, hang a sharp right down Gilead Road. Here you’ll find Kinsip House of Fine Spirits, the county’s only distillery.
A farm-based, grain-to-glass small batch distillery, Kinsip creates products that “are fermented, distilled, and aged onsite with care.” It’s located in the Cooper-Norton House, which was built in 1874. The large property includes a heritage hops farm, roaming chickens and peacocks, and, in the summer, a large outdoor bar and patio that serves up cocktails made with Kinsip spirits.
Give yourself plenty of time at Kinsip to wander the grounds and visit the tasting room. Here knowledgeable staff will walk you through their award-winning spirits, including their Coopers Revival Rye, which just won a gold medal at the Canadian Artisan Spirits Awards, County Cassis (Made with local black currants, offering a tart berry fruit and a silky, sweet finish), and the Juniper’s Wit Barrel-Aged Gin (A grain-to-glass gin handcrafted with locally-sourced juniper, lavender, and hops). Your tasting will end with a spoonful of Kinsip’s whisky barrel aged maple syrup. Kinsip’s shop also stocks unique handcrafted bitters, including chili espresso, sour cherry, and coffee pecan.
Prince Edward County’s largest community is Picton — a hub for arts and culture, museums, and restaurants. It also has the highest concentration of breweries in the city: Prince Eddy’s Brewing Co., 555 Brewing Co., Parsons Brewing Company, and Barley Days Brewery. If you don’t have time to visit them all, stop at the County Canteen (279 Main Street West), the city’s first brewpub, which has 24 craft beers on tap, including many from the county.
Located in Picton’s downtown, 555 Brewing Co. (124 Main Street) is a perfect place to stop for a pint and pizza from their wood-fired oven before or after stocking up on firewood and groceries at one of the town’s big box stores. 555 Brewing Co. opened in March 2017 with a philosophy of brewing beer that’s uncomplicated. The brewery’s decor and extensive tap list throwback to the county’s infamous Lazier murder. While visiting, you might find brews with names like the Witness, the Verdict, the Executioner, and the Jail Cell Sour Series on tap.
If you’re looking for something more rustic, Parsons Brewing Company (876 County Road 49) is located just a few minutes down the road. A family-owned and operated farm brewery, Parsons brews sustainable flagship and seasonal beer. Among the brewery’s staples are the Crushable Pilsner, a malt-forward traditional German pilsner and (my personal favourite) Grandpa Miguel’s Coffee Stout, a smooth beer with “deep notes of toasty chocolate from dark malt grown in Patagonia, Chile and an uncompromising coffee punch balanced by the citrus and herbal aromas of Cascade and Willamette hops.” Parson’s impressive taproom is cozy but roomy, so give yourself enough time to stay for a flight (or two).
When the cold weather gets you down, Prince Eddy’s Brewing Company calls itself “Mahalo in the county.” However, a Hawaiian surf theme and a bright, open tasting room doesn’t mean that Prince Eddy’s isn’t brewing darker beer, including the Milkshaka Stout, a sweet stout with mocha frothiness and creamy chocolate notes. Prince Eddy’s is located off Picton’s main drag in the city’s industrial park. The brewery brands itself as “the ultimate playground,” which includes a two-storey tasting room, a summer patio with a beach volleyball court, outdoor kitchen, and stage for live music.
Ten minutes down the road from Picton’s Main Street, you’ll find one of Prince Edward County’s geographical highlights, Lake on the Mountain. With no apparent source of water, the lake is “a natural curiosity with a constant flow of clean, fresh water” touring more than 200 feet above the Bay of Quinte. The scenic drive to Lake on the Mountain Provincial Park will also take you to Lake on the Mountain Brewing Company (11369 Loyalist Parkway). See their rotating tap list here. This impressive area of Prince Edward County is one that you can’t miss even if you’re only there for a day.
Have you ever been on a beer-focused road trip? Tell us your favourite destinations in the comments.