Part one of our three-part Guelph, Ontario craft brewery crawl.
Guelph is home to a burgeoning craft beer scene, as well as a long history of brewing – Ontario’s oldest brewery, Sleeman, is a large part of the city’s history. And between September and April, 15% of the city’s population is students. The University of Guelph (Josh’s alma mater), a major landmark in the city, brings a youthful vibe and plenty of folks willing to grab a beer.
Our first stop was Royal City Brewing.
Named after Guelph’s unofficial nickname (“royal” because Guelph was the surname of the British royal family when the city was established), the brewery was founded in 2013. The owners seem to lean toward brews with a hint of flair.
This flair is best exemplified in their flagship product. Usually flagships tend toward the status quo, but Royal City pulls no punches. Smoked Honey is a light brown ale made with smoked malt and fermented honey. Despite its complex formation, it’s actually on the milder side, and even those who aren’t big on smoked beers can enjoy it (we’re into smoked beers, but we also like this one!).
The brewery is tucked away inside a busy strip mall. Not much to look at from outside. But inside, it’s got the bare essentials you need for a decent brewery hangout: a long bar for interacting with the staff and ordering samples, a few tables for sitting down with friends, and a fridge off to the side with the take-home bottles. The brewing area is clearly visible from the bar area.
Also… Han Solo frozen in carbonite (with Royal City growlers)? Yes, also that.
At Royal City you can try your beers in a full glass for $5, a little sample glass for $2, or just a taste for free.The beer is split up into several categories. First the mains, available year-round, then the rotating offerings – some seasonal, some just based on availability – and then “by the glass”, a special handful of beer only available in full glasses. They also offer a “Barrel Select” – a limited-time offering, specially crafted and barrel-aged.
Here’s a selection of what we tried:
- Dry Hopped Pale Ale – definitely for those who tread on the lighter side of hoppy pale ale. The flavour is crisp and clean.
- Autumn Ale – Made with sweet potato and butternut squash instead of the usual pumpkin, but with the “pumpkin” spices. A bit avant-garde if you’re not expecting it, but all-around a good beer for those who like their gourd ales.
- Munich Dunkel – Dark and malty, mixed with a strong, almost fruity taste. A bit too fruity, and not quite rich enough for our tastes.
- Oktoberfest – Made in the traditional märzen style, but somewhat less malty than most. Nevertheless, the flavour was spot on. We were happy to find a proper Oktoberfest beer.
- Bamberg Smoked Lager – Definitely our favourite of the bunch! A rich, amber lager with a medium-strong smokiness running through. Worth a taste for any fans of smoked beers.
We also bought their Barrel Select offering at the time – a Russian Imperial Stout. A heavy, bitter body mixed with slightly sweet undertones made for a truly delicious brew. It ranks near the top of Imperial Stout-loving Josh’s list, and even Jess enjoyed this one.
They’ve got a teensy little rack of Royal City merch, but the really interesting extra is the huge line of growlers from other breweries all along the top wall of the bar. Interestingly, they’ll trade you a growler from another brewery in exchange for one of theirs in the same size – but only if they don’t already have one from that brewery.
We’re fans of Royal City, but we’re fans of Guelph’s breweries in general too! Stayed tuned for our next Guelph brewery crawl series coming soon.