Beau's Brewing Co. is located in Ontario. I'm in BC. So while I'd love to say that I got to sit down at the brewery with the lovely Beau's folks for this interview, I did not. We went the new-fangled cyberspace way and conducted it over email.
But! But, I will get a chance to talk to Jennifer Beauchesne and brewer Brian O'Donnell in a few short weeks when they travel all the way across the country to attend the Great Canadian Beer Festival - and all I have to do is hop a ferry over to Victoria!
(Full disclosure here: the lovely Beau's folks sent me some beer samples, I get a media pass to attend GCBF because, well, I am a beer blogger you know, and I contributed to the Rwanda kickstarter. Now you know.)
I'm sure everyone's heard of Beau's, even way out on the Left Coast, but just in case you're hazy on the details: Beau's is an organic brewery, established by the Beauchesne family in 2006 in Vankleek Hill Ontario (which is between Ottawa and Montreal). Beau's celebrated their 10th anniversary by selling themselves. But not to a mega corporation like everyone else seems to be doing these days. Nope, they sold themselves to their employees via an Employee Share Ownership Plan. They're certified organic, and socially and environmentally conscious enough to be B Corporation certified as well. And then there's the Rwanda Craft Brewery Project - supporting local women to build a brewery in Kigali. So if I sound a little cheerleadery, you know where it's coming from!
Now, on to the interview!
Answers are from Steve Beauchesne, CEO and the son half of the father-and-son co-founders of Beau's.
Let me start by asking about your attendance at the Great Canadian Beer Festival. I mean, I know it's called the Great Canadian, but going into it's 25th year in Victoria, it is still mainly attended by local BC breweries. What is Beau's getting out of attending? How many years has Beau's been at GCBF?
Our first year serving Beau’s at GCBF was back in 2010. Given all the great beer being brewed in B.C. these days, we feel pretty honoured that the organizers believe having Beau’s there adds something special to the festival – that says we are doing a few things right, I think. Festivals like GCBF give us a chance to have real conversations with people who enjoy our beer, and let us build relationships with them one on one. The people we meet always have awesome stories about how they found us, or first tried our beer with friends, and they genuinely want to know more about what we do and what we brew.
Have you got anything special planned for this year's 25th anniversary GCBF?
We’ll have three different beers on tap, including my personal favourite, Lug Tread. We have been brewing Lug Tread for a dozen years now, but I’m still occasionally stopped in my tracks by what a solidly great beer it is. And our head brewer, Brian O’Donnell, is coming out to be at our booth and represent – he developed the recipes for two of the three beers we are pouring, so we should be able to get extra-geeky with the beer talk at our booth.
You're bringing a West-Coast style IPA to the festival. Are you excited to see actual West-Coasters drink it?
Ha! Yes. We have had a great response to Full Time IPA since launching it in May, and it just won two awards. We took a lot of time to develop the recipe, and seeing the positive feedback is gratifying.
Tell me about your gruit! Almost everyone I know is a hop-head - why brew a beer without any hops? Are gruits gimmicky beers? Or a true test of brewing prowess?
It’s important to remember that back in the day, when hops first started getting used in beer, people thought beer made with hops was were suspect, as they were all quite used to gruits. In fact in England, they literally wrote poems and songs about how gruits (which they called ales back then) were far superior to those questionable beers brewed with hops. Once you've opened your mind to the possibilities, it is quite liberating to think that instead of only one ingredient to balance malty sweetness, you have an infinite selection of spicy, sour, bitter ingredients with a phalanx of interesting aromas you can use. The trick to avoid being gimmicky is to focus on balance - a one-trick pony that overwhelms the beer doesn't achieve much, but a practiced hand can create a masterpiece.
I understand you have some other projects you've worked on recently involving herbs, botanicals, and locally foraged ingredients. Is this a direction you intend to keep following? Is there a Sahti in your future? And how hard is it to forage organic ingredients?
We do brew with foraged and botanical ingredients, and we have been experimenting with smoking our own malts too. We will continue because it’s fun! One really cool project we worked on this year was a beer made with the Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland, as part of our cross-Canada Ottawa 2017 Series that was honouring Canada’s 150th. We went out to the island and met quite a few of the locals, and talked to them about what was foraged there. We ended up using Newfoundland partridge berries in the beer that they collected and shipped to us, as well as sea salt collected and dried. And we smoked the malts with foraged myrrh, which is hardened tree sap that gives the beer a kind of incense-like aroma. It was a beautifully complex beer, and we will be bringing it back in 2018 in a larger quantity, which means we need to be collecting some berries now and freezing them. Scalability is definitely one of the challenges of working with foraged ingredients – like, we made 1,000 litres of a really cool beer; now how do we make 35 times that so we can bring it across Canada?
We will indeed be pouring a sahti at our annual Oktoberfest this year, we just brewed it the other day. We used juniper berries in the recipe, and juniper boughs during the lautering, I’m looking forward to trying my first sample of it in the next week or so. It’s a great beer style with a very cool history.
Was the decision to sell the company to your employees the easiest one you've ever had to make?
Maybe not the easiest decision, but it was absolutely the most rewarding and right one. It’s an investment in our future, and will allow us to stay independent. We have seen employees start making decisions like owners. It changes how you feel about working for a company when you feel part of the family.
The Kickstarter campaign for the Rwanda Craft Brewery Project was a huge success. $110,400 was raised. In addition to lending your name to that campaign, you'll be providing financing, expertise and employee training. The brewery hasn't broken ground yet - how much call has there been so far for your financing, expertise and training?
Good question! There’s actually quite a bit of ground work that goes into getting ready to open a brewery that doesn’t involve the building itself. We have been advising Fina (Uwineza, the woman starting the brewery) most recently on financing, and our art director has been helping guide the branding and logo development. We have also been testing beer recipes on our pilot system, using locally available ingredients such as sorghum, cassava, and banana. We did a bit of brewing training with Fina last fall, and we expect to start training her brewing team this winter. The money we raised with the campaign is earmarked for packaging equipment, and so there is also the upcoming challenge of getting the equipment purchased and shipped to Rwanda.
How long do you expect Beau's to be involved with the Rwandan brewery? And will you be able to carry their beer on tap or in bottles?
We recognized in starting the project it would be at least a 5 year commitment at a significant level of investment. Fina has great business sense, but there are always day-to-day challenges running a brewery, many of which we have experienced and might be able to save time or headaches sorting out. The beautiful part is that our involvement will fade over time, and they will be taking over all elements, but the friendship will last forever. We are very much hoping to get at least some of the beer to Canada so that backers of the project can try it, but the true goal of the project is to make a craft beer in Rwanda for local people to enjoy.
Thanks so much to Steve for taking time while in Denmark to indulge me, and to Jennifer for facilitating our cross-country, cross-world interview. I'm very much looking forward to seeing Jennifer and Brian at the festival, and drinking more Beau's beers, of course!
If you haven't already got your GCBF tickets, what are you waiting for?
|Beau's co-founder and CEO Steve Beauchesne|