Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Story of Dragon's/Dragoon's Breath from Kingston Brewing

Our beer club visits the Kingston Brew Pub every year as part of our mini-convention held in Ganonoque, ON during the last weekend of April or first weekend in May. During our most recent visit we were given "The Story of Dragon's/Dragoon's Breath" and I thought it would be a great addition to the blog.

The Story of Dragon's/Dragoon's Breath

When the Kingston Brewing Company first opened in 1986, our cask conditioned real ale was named "Cobbler's Real Ale". During the Canadian Olympic sailing regatta in Kingston known as C.O.R.K., the Dragon's fleet adopted the Kingston Brewing Company, making it their home away from home. In their honour the "Cobbler's Real Ale" name was changed to Dragon's Breath. Originally, it was planned to change the name back to Cobblers after the regatta. Immediately, the power of the Dragon's Breath name was evident. Sworn, died in the wool, confirmed, main stream beer drinkers suddenly wanted to try the beer with the crazy name. Thus, the original Dragon's Breath real ale was born.

For those who don't know what a real ale is, it is an all natural, non-filtered, naturally carbonated ale, which is drawn through a traditional beer engine directly from the vessel in which it was matured. It is also served at cellaring temperature, which is slightly warmer than mainstream beer. A real als is one of the most unique products in the long line of beers. All of the goodness is left in the glass and not filtered out. Its natural carbonation is light on the tongue and is not 'fizzy' and like a fine cheese or good red wine the slightly warmer temperature allows the full flavours of the ale to shine through. A real ale drinker will often talk lovingly about their pint and study its cascade and head. Most beer drinkers want a consistent product every time they take a drink. A real ale drinker knows his pint will register subtle changes from the beginning of the batch to the end of the batch. Some even argue a noticeable difference from beginning of a pint to the last mouthful drawn from the glass. As you can see, a real ale is not a beginner's beer.

This, over the years, created quite a dilemma. Servers would actually have to talk people out of a full pint because they indicated their favourite beer was some mainstream swill but they loved the name Dragon's Breath. But as stated before, a real ale is not a beginner's beer!

This fact, combined with K.B.C. owners' frustration with the Brewers Retail monopoly and antiquated regulations in the province of Ontario, let us to develop a pale ale recipe to be bottled and sold in Kingston only as a "once off" in an attempt to garner a little press for Ontario's oldest brew pub. Alan Pugsley, a world renowned brewer who had aided K.B.C. in the early years, was engaged, and with the owners, profiled an extremely hoppy pale ale for the Kingston market.

Originally packaged in a long (6 by 6) 12 pack in a very standard red box with black markings and with a unique red cap with a black dragon, Dragon's Breath Pale Ale was launched in the beer stores of Kingston. Because of laws governing brew pubs in Ontario, it was necessary to brew under contract to then Hart Breweries of Carleton Place. The product was sold under their micro-brewery license.

During this period, mainstream brewers were engaged in a bottle and brand war. They were adding new bottles, labels and brands to the Ontario market at the same time as the micro-brewery industry was demanding equal billing in the monopoly of the Brewers Retail stores. Brewers Retail, in an attempt to curb the onslaught of brands from micros, increased their listing prices for non-members. Overnight, entry fees into beer stores rose from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. However, those who already listed could expand their distribution for as little as fifty dollars per new beer store.

Dragon's Breath Pale Ale, originally thought of as a "once-off" suddenly had the interest of several breweries who wanted to expand their product selection at the grandfathered pricing. Hart Breweries, which had brewed the product, soon took over the sales and marketing of Dragon's Breath Pale Ale, which was available between Toronto and Ottawa in the bottle and by the keg for about the next 10 years, until Hart Breweries' insolvency. During Hart's tenure, the product got a new look with standard industry bottles and a new bilingual label.

After being on the market for three or four years, it was decided to launch a 750ml bottle into specific liquor stores within the province. Beer, to be sold in a liquor store, required a 6 pack format or a "distinctive bottle", thus the 750ml bottle. Dragon's Breath's launch in the province's liquor stores was greeted with great reverence by its followers. It also proved to be the awakening of a sleeping dragon far larger than that of small town Kingston.

Desnoes and Geddes, a company from Kingston Jamaica owned by Ireland's brewing giant Guinness, also had a beer listed in the L.C.B.O., a stout by the name of Dragons Stout.

Although the product and the logo were not even remotely similar, a trademark infringement was launched against the use of Dragon's Breath Pale Ale. For the next ten years, an on-again off-again legal battle was waged. As the Kingston Brewing Company had used the name prior to the Desnoes and Geddes date of trade mark in Canada, our lawyers argued "first usage" and that there was no confusion in the marketplace.

With the demise of Hart Breweries, there was little chance of another brewery being interested in bottling Dragon's Breath, because the grand-fathered clause for the beer store died with the insolvency of Hart Breweries. Soon after,Desnoes and Geddes and the Kingston Brewing Company agreed that K.B.C. would use "Dragon's Breath" only in Kingston to promote our restaurant and brewery.

Today, in order to maintain the high standard of pale ale our customers have enjoyed and because our little brewery just isn't beg enough, we have contracted McAuslan's Brewery of Montreal to brew our pale ale. The real ale is still called Dragon's Breath and is brewed on the premises. The pale ale name has been changed to Dragoon's Breath as a way of honouring the many military dragoons that have been such a courageous part of Canadian military history.

Many locals still refer to the pale ale by its old name, but whatever you call it, you will be drinking one of the world's finest pale ales.

Just like David and Goliath, it's a happy ending!

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