This week’s Canada’s Craft Beer post comes from our Ontario and Quebec craft beer guy, David Ort. Today David highlights Beau's Brewing Co., touching on their project of 12 new beers for Canada's 150th birthday, their efforts to help build a brewery in Rwanda, and what's up for their annual FeBREWary celebration.
“The thing that makes us Canadian is that there’s not one thing that makes us Canadian,” Steve Beauchesne said of his brewery’s project to create 12 beers to help celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial.
Beau's has been around for 11 of those 150 years, so it's not the oldest craft brewery in Canada but it's pretty clearly a leader from the generation that were founded this century. It's also a well-known pioneer of certified organic beer in Canada.
Beau's started as a family operation in Vankleek Hill, a small Ontario town (population 2,000) that we think of as close to Ottawa, but is nearer to the border with Quebec and, depending on traffic, just as close to Montreal.
By guiding the company from small-scale roots, Beauchesne gained an appreciation for the challenges of all parts of the operation. “A typical day 10, 11 years ago,” he remembers, "would have been going out with Jamie or my brother, Phil, to visit an account, working on purchasing ingredients and supplies in the afternoon, management of everything else and, in between doing all that, probably washing kegs and scraping out the mash tun for [brewmaster Matt O’Hara].”
They’ve done away with the all-night bottling sessions, but Beauchesne does his best to stay connected with all of the brewery’s operations. That appreciation for the top-to-bottom hard work that goes into making beer did help inspire the big announcement from their tenth anniversary year in 2016. With a bit of fanfare, they shared the news that the original ownership group would gradually sell part of their share in the brewery to its employees.
At the end of this month, the shares employees have bought in this fiscal year will be transferred to them. “In a concrete way," says Beauchesne, "it will let people know how important this change is."
For customers, an expanding territory is the best way to tell that Beau's is growing at a steady clip. Their beer, Lug Tread in particular, is now available in all provinces except Saskatchewan. The holdup in the prairie province is not due to a lack of demand, apparently, but because Beau's chose to forgo using an agent there and handle all facets of sales and distribution themselves.
Less time spent on keg-cleaning duty frees Beauchesne up to lead important initiatives for the brewery. In September 2016, they launched a special project to help build a brewery in Kigali, Rwanda. Local entrepreneur Josephine "Fina" Uwineza will run the brewery with the goal of supporting women — both as employees and by buying ingredients from women who operate farms in rural Rwanda.
The Kickstarter campaign they launched last fall has raised funds needed for a bottling line, B.C.'s Newlands Systems is going to donate the brewhouse, and Beauchesne expects more fundraising will be needed for fermenting tanks and a chiller. He's optimistic that the first beer will be in bottles by summer 2018.
Closer to home and more immediately, Beau's is launching their annual FeBREWary program. Each week, participating restaurants and bars release a new and unusual offering from Beau's. This year, two of them are gruits, traditional ales made with herbs and other bittering ingredients instead of hops.
“The core of the program is beautiful in its simplicity: You go to a pub, there’s a beer, you come back next week, there’s a different beer,” says Beauchesne. “FeBREWary is perfect, so we don’t want to change the program.”
The thing that makes us Canadian is that there’s not one thing that makes us Canadian...
- Steve Beauchesne, Beau's
One of the five FeBREWary brews will be from Beau's most ambitious series this year: 12 collaboration beers made to celebrate Canada's provinces and territories, as beer partner for Ottawa 2017.
“Let’s try to make beer working with people from right across the country," says Beauchesne with obvious enthusiasm, "whether they’re brewers or chefs, just interesting people with a unique perspective that we can use to make a beer that wouldn’t otherwise exist."
I had the chance to attend the Toronto launch at Ruby Watchco of January's offering, 49° 54°, a special gose made in collaboration with the folks from Newfoundland's Fogo Island Inn. They included partridge berries, birch bark and local sea salt and, for an added level of flavour, smoked the beer's wheat malt over foraged myrrh (the hardened resin from certain coniferous trees.)
Despite the long ingredient list, this is a subtle beer with plenty of nuances.
Beauchesne tells me that not all 12 will involve as much foraging or advanced brewing techniques, but he does think they'll hit the target of representing an important time and place in Canada. “This doesn’t have to represent every single part of the country," he clarifies, "let’s just make them represent things that we’re finding interesting about Canada right now.”
Check out all our Canada’s Craft Beer articles.
David Ort writes about food, travel, and craft beer for various online and print publications. His first book, The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook, is in bookstores and available for purchase online. For more of his thoughts on all things edible and potable follow him on Twitter or get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.