When it comes to famous wine regions in Canada, the Okanagan in British Columbia and the Niagara region in southwest Ontario take the lion’s share of notoriety amongst travelers and drinkers alike. While these regions receive hoards of crowds during peak summer tourism months, savvy travelers looking to get their drink on are flocking further east to Ontario’s Prince Edward County.

Located two and a half hours east of Toronto, or just under three hours west of Ottawa, Price Edward County is home to some of the most charming wineries I’ve ever encountered. Moreover, it’s perhaps one of the most well rounded booze destinations you’ll ever visit. A plethora of craft brewers and even a few distilleries are popping up between boutique cheese shops, antique stores, family run inns and the scenic shores of Lake Ontario. Whether you’re looking for an affordable group destination, a camping trip, or just a short stopover, Prince Edward County should be your next travel and drinking destination.

Add in the charming Prince Edward County Lavender farm and the free admission to the outdoor OENO Gallery at Huff Estates Winery, where guests can explore art exhibits around their four acre property – and don’t seem to mind if a picnic and bevvies are brought along –  and you may very well want to make a permanent move.

Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - ONEO

Brewers in the Neighbourhood

The charm and quality of the craft beer scene in Prince Edward County leaves me speechless. With nearly 10 breweries and cideries in PEC and over 20 in the broader Bay of Quinte region, there are too many to name. And too many to visit in just one day, or one week for that matter. Whether you’re a total beer geek or just enjoy a cold brew and a pleasant view, it’s phenomenal to see such a supportive brewing community here.

A Quick History Lesson

Local brewers are rallying around the ambition of bringing heirloom hops and malt barley production back to the county. By the by, Prince Edward County was one of Canada’s premiere barley producers back in the mid 1800’s. During the ‘Barley Boom’, the crop covered over 1/3 of all the county’s cultivated farmland, and barley were primarily shipped to upstate New York to satisfy US demand. A bountiful single season was capable of paying off a farmer’s entire mortgage. Several of the craft brewers of today are committed to resurrecting this status and are actively supporting farming of hops in the county. Perhaps the most notable of which is Fonterra Farm, Camp & Brewery. But more on Fronterra later.

Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - Parsons Chrushable

Barley Days Causing A Craze

On the main road (Loyalist Parkway / HWY 33) between Bloomington and Picton you’ll find Barley Days Brewery. Operating since 2007, it proudly stands as Prince Edward County’s first craft brewer. It’s aptly named in honour of the aforementioned barley boom of the region. With both a convenient bottle shop and taproom on site, it’s easy to pass more time than you expect here at the brewery. Beer can be bought to go or enjoyed in the taproom daily from 11am to 5pm, and until 6pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Saturdays during the summer feature live music from 1 to 4pm, and tours are offered if arranged in advance.

The range of brews has grown over the years, with a full eight beer roster always on seasonal rotation. On tap, classics like Loyalist Lager and Harvest Gold Pale Ale continue to be crowd pleasers. One of the newest offerings with skyrocketing popularity is the Hibiscus Ale. They describe it as a ‘romantic blend of raspberry and hibiscus; an enchanting combination of lightly tart and fresh picked raspberries’. This light to medium bodied 20 IBU, 5% ABV brew tastes like a glass of summer afternoons and has a remarkably bright ruby red colour to go along with. If you can’t make it to Barley Days, the Hibiscus Ale is also served at several local restaurants and other taprooms in the region.

Heritage Buildings On The Family Farm

Further east just outside of Picton sits Parsons Brewing Company. The family run farm and brewery “encompasses two 150 year old heritage lumber buildings that were disassembled, moved and repurposed as a bottle shop and taproom”. The site is home to an outdoor kitchen serving up tasty Mexican and southern comfort bites, massive wooden picnic tables, outdoor games and a bar. This place has it all, including a classically restored fire truck. What more could you want?

No less than 15 different brews are regularly on tap and available to be taken home in 650mL bottles or growlers. A flight of four five oz brews is only $10. If you’re a newbie, the flight can be curated on your behalf. If you’re a well versed beer geek, feel free to choose from the impressive list yourself. One of the most unique offerings on the menu is the ‘Stout family tree’. Several variations of the Devil’s Right Hand Premium Stout, a bold yet smooth 6.66% ABV Stout, exist including The Son (chocolatey and smooth), The Father (8.0% ABV and barrel-aged), The Elder (malt forward Imperial Stout) and The Legend (10% ABV and barrel-aged in Wild Oak Whiskey barrels). I know what you’re thinking: how do I get into that family?

Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - Parsons Brewing
Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - Parsons Brewing
Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - Parsons Brewing

Just Down The Road

Yet another highlight is County Road Beer Company, an offshoot from Hinterland Wine Company that shares the same property in Hillier. County Road has received quite a bit of positive press as of late, and after tasting some of their brews it’s clear why. We fell pretty hard for the Juniper Saison, a medium bodied 21.2 IBU, and 6.6% ABV brew that infuses their Farmhouse Saison with local Prince Edward County juniper berries. Bottle conditioned to improve with age, this saison delivers a fruity and spiced flavour enhanced with earthy and herbal undertones. The Pale Ale also punches well above its weight, at 5.2% ABV and 36 IBU it’s the perfect blend of citrus, pine and hops. Impressively the growler I took home and drank (with friends, not alone) a week later tasted just like the pint I originally enjoyed at the brew house.

If you can’t make up your mind on the beer menu, fear not, County Road Beer Co. serves up flights of four different beers (a total of 24oz/700mL) for just $10.00. Once you’ve drank your way through the roster and have a favourite, staff are happy to bottle up growlers to enjoy at home. Food is also served seven days a week, with a lighter oyster and charcuterie menu Tuesday to Thursday during “chef’s day off”, and a full menu of local eats otherwise.

Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - County Road
Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - County Road

A World Beyond Beer

Beyond the roster of talented craft brewers in the region several brewpubs such as the County Canteen, cideries, most notably County Cider Company, and mead producers like Honey Pie Hives and Herbals can be found around Prince Edward County.

In addition to insights from your dear friends at Prostly, thirsty travelers have a wide selection of easy-to-use trip planning resources such as Quinte Craft. The website shares details on over 20 local cidery and craft beer producers, brewery tour packages and accommodation info.

Wineries To Write Home About

Prince Edward County is home to nearly 40 wineries that use the rich terroir to produce some impressive wines with great minerality. While still maintaining a much smaller “county” feel versus Niagara, many of the operations are big business with multiple Ontario Liquor Board listings at retail as well as international exports. In their infinite wisdom, the Prince Edward County Winegrowers Association also has a website with map functionality to conveniently plan your drinking route. As a bonus, it also includes restaurants, lodgings and brewers in the area. Check out Prince Edward County Wine for more information, including free tasting coupons for nearly all wineries. Once again, you’re welcome!

Meet My Friend Norm

We quickly became fans of Norman Hardie Winery and Vineyard. Not only are there ultra cool clothing and toques for sale and impressive wood fire pizza on offer Thursday through Monday, but the wine itself is damn good. Like really damn good. Wines here tend to come in on the upper price tiers for the region but are worth the splurge, particularly the 2014 Cuvee “L” Pinot Noir, at $75 CAD. The “L” series is available in both Pinot and Chardonnay varietals. For the Pinot, it employs blends of Niagara and County Pinot Noir grapes, each component being fermented separately for eight months in French Oak, in small batches using indigenous yeasts. The components are then blended together for an additional eight months. The end result is a complex yet balanced, slightly spicy and fruity treat for the senses. If your budget is, shall we say, more limited, the tasting bar is open seven days a week during the summer from 10am to 6pm, and offers 1oz tastings of a wide range of quality wines for $2 each.

Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - Norman Handie

In It For The Long Run

Located just down the street from Norman Hardie is Rosehall Run. Not only are the Rosés on offer are a refreshing break in your day, the site is also home to the award winning PICNIC food truck and a mini provisions shop, the ‘Greer Road Grocer’. There you’ll find ample organic chocolate, cookies, local preserves and unique snacks to sustain you during an afternoon of drinking. Tasting bar is open seven days a week, from 10am to 6pm. Tastings are a very affordable at three for $5, or complimentary when purchasing two or more bottles of wine. Let’s just say it was not difficult for me to find well over that to bring back home. Speaking of which, orders of only six bottles or more are shipped free of charge to anywhere in Ontario. And don’t get me started on the bargains to be had when joining the Rosehall Run Wine Club.

Local Is Where It’s At

It’s also worth adding local gems like Grange Of Prince Edward Vineyards & Estate Winery to your tour. This boutique winery in Hillier only produces 100% estate grown and made wines. As 2017 marks their 17 year anniversary, various events are taking place throughout the summer to celebrate. Open 11am to 5pm May to October with four for $5 tasting flights.

The list in Prince Edward County goes on with cool names and tasty vintages from the likes of Huff Estates Winery (great Chardonnay), Hinterland Wine Company (sustainably produced sparkling wines) and Three Dog Winery (with an on-site yoga studio). Round out your drinking pleasure with Sandbanks Winery located in Wellington. Better known for sweeter whites, Sandbanks produces more accessibly priced wines regularly available in the LCBO. I wouldn’t peg them as a 90+ point award winners, but sometimes a well priced bottle of white is all you need. The draw here is the dog friendly picnic area and complimentary tastings with the purchase of any bottle. Free vineyard tours are also offered at 10:30am and 2pm daily. Open from 10:30am – 6pm every day, from May to October and extended to 7pm in July and August.

Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - vineyard

Where to Stay In Prince Edward County

With all that drinking and eating you’re going to need a good place to rest your head. There aren’t many large five star resorts in the region, and that’s just fine with me. Prince Edward County is better known for an abundance of B&Bs as well as camping options including Sandbanks Provincial Park. Here is the rundown of my top picks in each community:

Picton

The June Motel is the newly renovated and reimagined labour of love from friends April Brown and Sarah Sklash. Located in Picton it offers 16 rooms with rates starting as low as $139/night. What impresses guests most (besides wine happy hour and bursts of colourful prints through the property) is the attention to detail by the owners who continue to go above and beyond. Want to rent a bike? Make a last minute dinner reso in town? Need to coordinate a facial? Order a surprise Rosé bottle? They literally do all of that and more. Yoga sessions (affectionately dubbed ‘detox to retox’) are held on weekends or can be booked upon request.

Bloomfield

Angelines Inn. An established staple just down the main street of Bloomfield, this property is a converted motel with more economical rooms ($119/night), as well as a collection of uniquely designed cottages around the property (up to $349/night). Breakfast buffets are enjoyed on-site at the popular Hubb Eatery & Lounge. But the real draw to Hubb is the dinner – reservations strongly recommended. An impressive appetizer menu includes jerk octopus, lamb corndogs with honey mustard and charcuterie plates, and not to mention the bottomless garlic bread knots and seasoned popcorn served with your meal. However, the menu is limited when it comes to main courses (only four options), and portions aren’t overly generous. Overall the atmosphere and ease of rolling back to your cottage after a few drinks makes this place a winner.

 

Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - Angelines
Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - Angelines
Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - Angelines

Consecon

If you fancy yourself more of a glamper, then Fonterra Farm & Brewery is for you. This serene waterfront ten tent site blends nature, organic farming and a love of beer like nowhere else. The operation invites guests to “reconnect to food, self-sufficiency and simple living while overnighting in our luxury prospector tents complete with a summer kitchen and ensuite bathroom”. Take note, the brewing side of things are still in development (no liquor license for summer 2017). However, beer geeks will be happy to hear that a hands-on brew camp as well as barley field tours are in full swing. Once more, the operation aspires to eventually be a zero waste brewery, by feeding spent grains to their livestock and using spent hops as a soil amendment for the hop yard. Glamping rates for this up and coming agro-tourism experience start at $255/night and require a minimum two night stay.

Wellington

If you crave eclectic Canadiana decor and being right on the water, then The Drake Devonshire Inn is for you. With prime waterfront real estate in Wellington, this offshoot of Toronto’s chic Drake Hotel impresses from the moment you pull up. The food is as delicious (try the trout or burger) as it is Instagram worthy. They also coordinate special wine tours for guests of the Drake allowing you to sip, sip, and savour all day long without having to make one of your friends the designated driver. Be warned, the Drake sits on the higher end of the price range (rooms starting at $339/night) and due to it’s popularity it often books up a full season in advance.

Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - Drake Devonshire
Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - Drake Devonshire
Prince Edward County Beer Wine Whiskey - Drake Devonshire

Prince Edward County photos courtesy of Madeline Burch.


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