FOOD AND DRINK
Beau’s Is Interpreting Canada Through Beer Goggles for Canada 150
CEO Steve Beauchesne talks about the brewery's cross-country collaboration series for the sesquicentennial
Canada is a huge and diverse country, and those facts are reflected in our beer: The ingredients and popular tastes that shape local beer vary quite a bit from coast to coast. Beau’s Brewing Company set out to reflect that sudsy heritage with its Ottawa 2017 series, an homage to Canada’s sesquicentennial.
Over the course of 2017, the Vankleek Hill, Ont., brewery is releasing one new beer a month, and they’re all products of partnerships with local breweries and organizations from across the country. The brewery says it’s an attempt to “interpret Canada through beer goggles.”
“We set out to look for a series of breweries or groups that we felt all represented something special about Canada and then tried to bring that into this collaborative series of beers,” says Beau’s CEO Steve Beauchesne.
“It’s this wonderful, eclectic mix of different viewpoints and ways of interpreting what’s local and important to Canada, and then creating a beer.”
For instance, what could be more British Columbia than an organic beer? So for the series’ April beer, Beau’s, itself an organic brewery, partnered with Crannóg Ales in Sorrento, B.C., to create a Blackstrap Bootstrapper, an organic British-style porter brewed with organic blackstrap molasses. “They were the first brewery in Canada to become certified organic,” Beauchesne says. “So it was an interesting way to give props to them for being pioneers.”
Beau’s itself is located about an hour outside of Ottawa, and Beauchesne says the capital has supported the company and its beer since it launched 10 years ago. In the leadup to this year’s anniversary, Beauchesne approached the organizers of the city’s sesqui celebrations to become the official brew of Ottawa 2017, and so it is.
“We’ve always felt like our success has been built on the success of Lug Tread, our flagship beer, and the reason it’s been successful is because Ottawa has really embraced it,” Beauchesne says. “We’ve always felt like Lug Tread is the unofficial beer of Ottawa. Now, for a year, we’re the official beer.”
But being the official beer of one city seemed narrow in scope, says Beauchesne, and the team at Beau’s wanted to add to the celebrations across the country. That’s when the idea of looking at Canada through beer goggles came up.
Beau’s partnered with non-brewing organizations as well as breweries so that a variety of influences and processes were incorporated in the series.
“When we’re working with a brewer you can really hone in on specific flavours and brewing techniques and that ends up becoming a lot of the collaborative process,” he says. “With non-brewers, the conversations tend to be more about us understanding what they’re about and what they’re doing so we can interpret that from a culinary perspective that we could then bring into a beer.”
"[It] all happens through a back-and-forth, almost like musicians riffing off each other.”
The first beer in the series, a myrrh-smoked gose called 49° 54°, was launched in January in partnership with Fogo Island Inn and exemplifies this approach. Drawing inspiration from the rich cultural heritage of one of Canada’s oldest settlements, the recipe includes Newfoundland partidgeberries, foraged sea salt and myrrh-smoked malt.
Beauchesne says the partridgeberries became a more central part of the beer as his brewing team learned more about the culture of the island.
“At first we were hearing about all these berries that were available on Fogo Island and that was really exciting. But the more time we spent in Fogo, the more we realized that these particular berries were integral to life on Fogo Island,” he says. “People would fill rain barrels full of them before it got to cold so they could use fresh berries through the winter. It really helped us define the beer. Then you get into these cool things like smoking the malts with myrrh. That all happens through a back-and-forth, almost like musicians riffing off each other.”
If the inspiration for the Fogo Island brew came from the Inn and its surroundings, the partnership with Winnipeg’s Half Pints brewery draws on Slavic roots to make kvass, a beverage that often isn’t considered beer, but a different thing entirely.
“This all started because we were talking with Dave Rudge, president and brewmaster of Half Pints, about what makes Winnipeg special. He said it’s the bakeries,” says Beauchesne.
As Beau’s brewmaster Matthew O’Hara explains, “it’s a historical style that’s only recently been revived. It’s of Eastern European and Russian origin. It’s a low-alcohol session beer but it’s got a lot of interesting nuances. There’s lactic acidity going on and one of the feature elements of this beer is that it incorporates actual bread into the mix.”
Ensuring all beers produced are organic is something that Beauchesne takes seriously – enough to dump an entire batch of brew down the drain, if necessary.
For its collaboration with the David Suzuki Foundation, the series’ June release, Cross Pollination, the plan was to work with plants that help bees thrive, plus a touch of honey, in support of the Foundation’s pollinators project. A slightly sweet and moderately hopped farmhouse ale, the first batch didn’t pass muster because one of the ingredients couldn’t be certified organic.
"It’s community, culture, it’s a very Canadian view of what’s important."
“Everything we make is certified organic. There was one ingredient that we were planning on using, liquorice mint, which we were able to get at the last last minute before we brewed. We were told it was organic and that we’d get the paperwork,” Beauchesne says. “We brewed with it and then we found out that the paperwork was not going to come so we couldn’t certify it. We’ve literally had to re-brew the whole thing without that ingredient because we weren’t willing to put out a beer that wasn’t certified organic. For us, it’s too important that what we’re doing is organic that we literally had to scrap the whole batch.”
Each project also raises funds for a charity of the partner’s choice, including Mining Watch Canada, Shorefast Foundation (Fogo Island Inn’s social enterprise) and the David Suzuki Foundation’s project to encourage pollinating insects.
Meanwhile, if the goal of this series was to interpret the country through beer goggles, are there any conclusions about what Canadian beer means?
At first blush it couldn’t be more different from place to place, Beauchesne says. “But as you start talking to people, you notice the themes are the same: it’s community, culture, it’s a very Canadian view of what’s important.
“There are a lot of differences from one part of the country to the next, but there’s also a common thread that strings it all together, and you see that in the beers that are being created through this project. There’s a lot of hope and optimism in the future. There’s a lot of pride in who we are as a people. And there’s a real feeling of duality to being local: you’ve got the community that you’re living in but there’s also this understanding that there’s a connection with the rest of Canada,” he says. “The thing I’m walking away from is that the differences [in this country] are dwarfed by the commonalities between one place and the next.”
As for the beers? “They’re here until they’re gone.”
This article was originally published on May 5