Capital Pint

CAPITAL PINT: Forget hops. Beau’s celebrates International Gruit Day with an unusual style of beer made using bog myrtle

Capital Pint by Travis Persaud is generally published every second Thursday at OttawaMagazine.com. Follow Travis on Twitter @tpersaud.

Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. is heating up their operations for February.

The Vankleek Hill brewery has proclaimed the 28-day period as FeBREWary, which will see them unveil seven beer releases in four weeks.

Not impressed? Seriously? Give them a break! That’s a lot of beer coming your way.

Still waiting? Okay. Well, how does the first ever International Gruit Day sound? Yup, Beau’s is setting aside Feb. 1 to celebrate this unusual and rare style of beer.

Now you’re excited? Good.

You may also be slightly confused, especially if you’ve never heard of gruits before. Fear not, we’re here to help. Or, more accurately, Beau’s co-founder Steve Beauchesne is here to help.

We stole a morning out of his busy schedule to talk about the history of gruits, BogWater (their current gruit that’s available right now), and Beau’s place on the world beer stage.

What exactly is a gruit?
There are different ways to look at a gruit. The most simplistic way is a beer that’s made without hops. In my mind, though, a gruit needs to have bog myrtle in it. There are Scottish beers known as heather ales, which could be lumped in with gruits but it makes more sense for heather ales [to be its own category] and gruits to be another.

We’re in a cool position because we’re one of the leaders in this style of beer so we kind of get to define it. I’m sure other people will find reasons to agree or disagree based on historical data, but from my perspective, when I’m talking about gruits from our brewery, I’m talking about beers where bog myrtle is the primary spice.

BEER INNOVATION: Steve and Tim Beauchesne have created a beer made with bog myrtle to celebrate International Gruit Day

Why haven’t more people heard about gruits?
Well, no one is doing it because people can’t find sources of bog myrtle.

Before the Bavarian Purity Act of 1516, [bog myrtle] used to be very predominant in beer. In fact, in Netherlands you were able to pay your taxes in bog myrtle. Just before the purity laws, in the late 1400s, there were two lobbying groups – one for hops and the other for bog myrtle. [Hops won], but if it went the other way people would think that hopped beers were exotic.

The purity laws saved a lot of lives (people were brewing in lead vessels, adding opium to beer and practicing other hazardous brewing methods), but it also destroyed hundreds of legitimate beer styles.

If bog myrtle is so difficult to source, where do you find it?
There’s a First Nation’s individual that told us he did know where to harvest the bog myrtle. He harvests it for us while he’s on his moose hunts, so sometimes he gets it from northern Ontario, and other times from northern Quebec. Because he’s Algonquin he follows the Algonquin harvesting technique, only taking one-third of the plant to ensure it will thrive the following year.

How did you come in contact with him?
Well, we first wanted to name a beer after the Alfred Bog, which is close to the brewery. It’s a wonderful part of Eastern Ontario. The bog really shouldn’t exist, because it’s too south for it to thrive. So it means there are a number of rare animals and vegetation there. After doing some research we felt that using bog myrtle to make our BogWater beer would be the most appropriate. We chatted with the people from the Alfred Bog conservation and they put us in touch with the Algonquin fellow.

Why did you decide to create International Gruit Day?
People around the world are really amazed by our work with gruits. We want to be world leaders of that style of beer. We’ve done some interesting things, but there isn’t a list of breweries that have been working with gruits.

Does the exclusivity of the style draw you toward it?
I think so. A lot of the craft beer movement is based around the thrill of discovery. For a lot of people, their entry into craft beer is a lot less adventurous. They want something that has more flavour but is still within the realm of what they know.

But once you get to the point that you want something unique, there are not a lot of beers out there that are more unique than a well-made gruit. I also think it has a legitimate place in the world of beer that has been totally missed for centuries. If it hadn’t been for the purity laws, you probably would see dozens of gruit styles in the same way you see ales and lagers. I’m hoping that in 10 to 15 years people will point to our brewery as being one of the pioneers that really brought this style of beer back into the world.

What gruits will we be able to try in Febru…er…FeBREWary?
We’ll have BogWater, of course, and BogFather, which is like an imperial version of BogWater. Then there are two collaboration gruits. The first is Oiseau de Nuit, a pumpkin gruit, brewed with Dick Cantwell of Seattle’s Elysian Brewing. And the second is an oatmeal gruit, made from a recipe from the 1400s, brewed with beer historian Ron Pattinson.

For more information check out beaus.ca/febrewary and gruitday.com.

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