The Ontario brewery’s take on a 500-year-old Dutch beer required an international collaboration, a Quebec bog forager, and a lot of detective work. The result is, uh, unique.
In a craft-beer market quickly exhausting the model of bolder, boozier brews (seriously, quintuple IPAs?), some breweries are setting themselves apart by getting old-fashioned. Really, really old-fashioned.
Last summer, the guys at Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company in Vankleek Hill, Ont, decided to create a medieval oatmeal gruit—beer brewed with oats, herbs, and shrubs, instead of hops—from a sketchily preserved 16th-century Dutch recipe. Why? Because it was there. “Oatmeal gruit doesn’t exist anywhere in the world right now,” says Beau’s co-founder Steve Beauchesne. “Taking craft beer to a place that hasn’t existed in 500 years puts us in uncharted waters.”
And when brewers need a navigator, they call Amsterdam-based Ron Pattinson, one of the world’s go-to beer historians. His amateur-history exploits began 15 years ago, when he tried to track down the origin of porter beers, eventually journeying to the London Metro Archives. “I’m obsessive,” he admits.
Pattinson has long collaborated with U.S. and European breweries, and worked with Beau’s last year to create a century-old style of Albany Ale for the brewery’s Oktoberfest celebration. This year, they asked him for something unusual.
“I thought, ‘What’s the weirdest thing I’ve got?’,” says Pattinson. That turned out to be the gruit recipe, from a medieval book about brewing in Holland. It wasn’t entirely new territory for Beau’s, whose Bogwater gruit has been a big success. But this was altogether more challenging. The gruit mixture required bog myrtle, a flavouring shrub, foraged in Quebec by an Anishnaabe beer lover, as well as yarrow, a flowering plant. And lots of oats. The result, Beau’s Dubbel Koyt, is pouring at 16 Toronto bars between now and Wednesday, including Bryden’s, Rebel House, C’est What, and The Only Cafe. And it tastes, well, different.
“It’s got a wonderful aroma from the yarrow and bog myrtle, a nice honey flavour,” says Beauchesne. “But because of the oatmeal texture, it slides like grease in your mouth. We’ve got a debate as to whether this is really cool, or really horrible.”
Beauchesne is decidely in the former camp—Dubbel Koyt is the first Beau’s beer to bear his name on the label. But for most, “there will be no in-between. It’s going to be love-hate.”