Many people have that one brewery that they are complete fanboys for. Stone, Lagunitas, Firestone, Dogfishhead all have their armies of loyal followers but for me, its Beau’s All Natural Brewery out of Vankleek Hill Ontario Canada. But if you live outside of Ontario, its not likely that you have heard (or tasted) much from them, but that should change soon as they have recently announced that they will be exporting a number of their products to neighbouring New York State, where they can still ensure a certain freshness in all their products.
Beau’s launched their brewery in 2006 with their Lugtread Lagered Ale, which for my money is the best kolsch I’ve ever tasted and their line of special and seasonal releases are always something a little different than what everyone else is doing. Last February, they cemented themselves further as ‘off the beaten path’ brewers when they inaugurated February 1st as the first International Gruit Day which launched their 5 week FeBREWary festival and saw the launch of 3 new gruit ales.
Maybe I should back up. What exactly is a Gruit Ale? The International Gruit Day Site provides the following definition:
Centuries ago it would have seemed odd to consider using only one herb to spice beer. Dozens of plants, such as bog myrtle, yarrow, mugwort, heather, and juniper were commonly used in ancient brewing, providing beer makers with a wide array of aromatic and flavourful options. These beers were known as Gruit or Grut (German for herb), and a brewers’ spice blend was a proprietary and carefully guarded secret. However, after the Reinheitsgebot (Bavarian Purity Act of 1516) ordered that only hops were to be used to spice beer, and the Bavarian style of brewing took hold in most of Europe, the Gruit Ale gradually faded into obscurity.
Since 2009, Beau’s has been brewing their winter seasonal Bog Water, which is spiced with wild grown Sweet Gale, (which is harvested each season by an Algonquin man during his seasonal Moose hunts – Oh Canada!). Its really unlike any beer I’ve ever tasted, with the bog myrtle adding a sweet pungent earthiness that hops could never provide. Last year, with the launch of Gruit Day, Beau’s added to their Gruit line, including Oiseau de Nuit, a pumpkin gruit ale, and Dubbel Koyt, an oatmeal gruit that has been described as both ‘delicious’ and ‘grease-like’. They also released BogFather, a barrel-aged version of the BogWater, which, my bartender brother tells me, isn’t the easiest thing to push on unsuspecting customers. For this year’s International Gruit Day, Beau’s will release “St. Luke’s Verse,“ a brand-new gruit brewed with a variety of herbs including Rosemary, Lavender and Thyme.
But here’s the thing about Gruits; I’m allergic to them! Upon the release and my first pint of BogWater every year, I take a few sips and within minutes I’ve got all my regular symptoms of hay fever. My eyes start to get itchy and my nose stuffy. I genuinely like some of these beers, but I have to enjoy them sparingly so that I don’t become a sneezing, snotty allergic mess.
Last fall Beau’s released the first beer on their ‘B-Side’ sub-label of brews, their Nordic Pale Ale with Kissmeyer (a one-man gypsy brewing co. out of Denmark). Its an amazing beer. Its got everything you want from a solid pale ale but there’s this wonderful herbal spiciness to the back end of it that really takes you by surprise. But about halfway through my pint, I started to get familiar symptoms andquickly checked the bottle. Of course – this beer too included sweet gale, yarrow and heather flowers, something that’s become more of a staple for Beau’s.
But I’m not writing this as a warning for everyone to stay away from gruit Ales. I’m actually writing this because I’m proud to come from an area that supports a brewery doing incredibly original and avant-garde things with their brewing. While the BogFather and Dubbel Koyt are certainly novelties that only appeal to an adventurous market, Bog Water is their winter seasonal beer and sees a wide release every year – as wide as their Beaver River IPA and Night Marzen. A gruit has become one of their staples, and its only just the beginning. Allergies or not, everytime Beau’s releases a new beer, I’m gonna give it a fair shot.
Beau’s has become a world leader in the re-emergence of Gruits, with New Belgium, Magnolia Pub and Brewery, Arbor Brewing Company Microbrewery among others joining in the International Gruit Day festivities. Check out the official site for more details.
Last week at the LA Beer Bloggers summit, John Verive of Beer of Tomorrow posed a question: What is going to be the Los Angeles signature style? Its hard to imagine that the West Coast IPA is going to lose its footing as the supreme ruler of the California craft scene, but with International Gruit Day coming up here’s hoping that LA breweries will find a way to add something a little different to these common styles and create something a little bit gruit. I’ll be there, growler in one hand, antihistamine in the other.*
(*CaskAleLA.com does not support or encourage drinking while on medication. But of course, one pint can’t hurt…)