Ale in the familyPublished on September 21, 2008

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  • Steve Beauchesne Photo by Darren Brown

  • Beau's Beer-Braised Beef Cheeks Photo by Darren Brown

Steve Beauchesne is living out many people's fantasy. As co-owner of Beau's All-Natural Brewing Company in Vankleek Hill, he gets to enjoy not only the fruits of his labour - an endless supply of delicious, handcrafted beer - but also the satisfaction of seeing the company he's helped create grow exponentially.

Beau's currently brews about 6,000 litres of beer per week, using all-natural ingredients. Like his parents and siblings, Steve takes great pride in the absence of an organization chart at their two-year-old company. "Everyone pitches in to do whatever needs to get done, even if that means pulling an all-nighter. We're lucky to have a lot of support - we actually have volunteers who come in for ‘Laverne and Shirley' parties when we need extra hands for bottling - it's a blast!" Despite the gruelling hours and labour-intensive work, Steve literally bubbles with enthusiasm when talking about what's happening at Beau's. He recently sat down to enjoy a pint and discuss the rising popularity of their delicious beer, how the brewing process works and what it's really like to work with his family every day.

1. Do you have a background in brewing?

No, but I do have extensive experience drinking beer! Before Beau's, I dabbled in the bar and recording businesses and was a business-planning manager for the Ontario government. My dad was running a textile manufacturing operation that had taken a hit due to NAFTA; he was ready for a change and to me, there was something irresistible about the idea of moving back home to open a brewery with my family.

2. Was it hard to get the company off the ground?

Securing financing took a lot longer than expected; we remain very grateful to the Business Development Bank of Canada and our friends and relatives who were brave and smart enough to invest in Beau's. We worked really hard at developing solid relationships with local restaurants and pubs. Getting into the LCBO was another hurdle, but it's great to be on board now.

3. What did you do to learn more about making beer?

We visited small breweries throughout Ontario and Québec; we also joined the Ontario Craft Brewers Association, an invaluable source of information and support. The biggest stroke of luck came when we found Matt O'Hara, an incredibly talented brewmaster who had recently moved to nearby Apple Hill and was looking for a job just as we were starting up.

4. How would you describe Beau's products?

Local, organic and tasty. Beau's Lug-Tread Lagered Ale has a beautiful golden hue and a clean, balanced taste. What makes it special is that it's first top-fermented and then cold-aged, so the beer has both light ale notes and the crispness of a lager. We're also extremely proud of our delicious seasonal beers, Bog Water Dirty Brown Ale and Festivale.

5. Has Beau's beer won any awards?

We took our first batch to the Toronto's 2006 Golden Tap Awards, where we were ecstatic to receive the prestigious "Best of the Festival" award. In 2007, our Lug-Tread Lagered Ale was honoured as the best beer brewed in Ontario outside the GTA.

6. Why don't you advertise?

One of our founding principles is that we hate most beer companies' marketing. We decided to be as honest as humanly possible; that's reflected in our down-to-earth branding. We liken our customers to fans and we think it's pretty neat how Beau's has taken off simply through word of mouth.

7. Do people mind that Beau's is more expensive than many other domestic beers?

I think people today realize that life is about choices - few of us can have it all, so, for example, you might choose to live in a more modest home so you can travel and enjoy good food and drink. We're really lucky in that Eastern Ontario is an ideal place to make and sell a high-quality food-based product. People here really get what we are trying to do and the area's chefs, who were among our earliest fans, have a lot of influence too. Their support speaks volumes to the fact that people appreciate what Beau's is all about.

8. What's with your unusual packaging?

We think a premium product should come in nice containers. In addition to supplying kegs to restaurants and bars, we sell beer in nifty 750 ml ceramic swing-top bottles as well as half-gallon jugs dubbed "growlers," which we recommend consuming within 48 hours of opening, before they lose their carbonation.

9. Has your location played a part in Beau's success?

I'm not sure, but I do know that it certainly would be a different experience to run this business elsewhere. There is a true synergy that comes from all of us living nearby. Also, the Ottawa-area craft beer market certainly isn't oversaturated the way Toronto is.

10. How is it working with so many family members?

It's tricky because if we don't agree on things it impacts both our professional and personal relationships. My wife has been incredibly patient. I think it's been toughest on Mom, who's quite risk-averse by nature. Things were pretty scary for her at first, but she was always behind it 100 per cent. The great thing about it being a family operation is that it's something we can all take pride and satisfaction in together.

What's with the name?

Beau's is short for Beauchesne, the hardworking family responsible for the delicious beer flowing out of Vankleek Hill. Why the tractor? The lug tread of small tractors which have worked the land in the area for generations leaves unique tracks in the mud. The founders chose an old-fashioned tractor to symbolize their cherished values of hard work, close family ties and the superlative flavour of their all-natural product.

Beau's Beer-Braised Beef Cheeks

Steve Beauchesne loves the way Beau's Lug-Tread Lagered Ale adds a new twist to a quintessential comfort food dish that traditionally uses red wine as its liquid. This recipe comes from Chef Rahul Chakraborty at Éléphant Cuisine Du Monde, in Hawkesbury (www.elephantcuisine.com), not far from Beau's Vankleek Hill Brewery. While beef cheeks are an uncommon cut, they become meltingly tender and have a rich, deep flavour after braising. You'll likely need to order the beef cheeks in advance from your butcher.

Ingredients:

2 lbs of beef cheeks or short ribs ¼ cup vegetable oil 6 onions 3 cloves garlic, sliced 12 oz Beau's Lug-Tread Lagered Ale 1 bay leaf 3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried) 5 tbsp flour (or enough to dust meat lightly) 2 tbsp parsley ½ tsp paprika ¼ cup hoisin sauce Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Combine the flour, salt, pepper, parsley, and paprika. Dust the meat with the flour and spice mixture, tossing gently to coat. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. While the oil is heating, peel and slice the onions. When the oil is hot, add the onions and sauté until tender; add garlic towards end to avoid burning. Remove the onions and garlic. Place the meat into the skillet and brown on all sides, adding a little bit more oil if needed. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place the browned meat into a roasting pan and add Beau's All Natural Lug-Tread, sautéed onions, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and hoisin. Add just enough water to partially (but not completely) cover meat. Cover with foil and bake for approximately 3 hours, then remove foil and bake for another hour or until meat is very tender, and liquid is reduced. This dish is even more delicious made a day or two ahead and gently reheated, covered, in the oven.

STRANGE BREW | Steve explains what it take to make a batch of Beau's Lug-Tread Lagered Ale.

HOP TO IT Each 1,600-litre batch of Beau's starts off with 350 kilograms of certified organic grain - a mixture of 90 per cent barley and 10 per cent wheat. The grain is malted, causing it to begin to germinate, releasing essential starches and proteins. The grain is then quickly harvested and roasted in a kiln. We mill the grain to crack it open, then mix it with 2,000 litres of warmed pure spring water to form the mash, which is heated to transform the starches into sugars. THE HEAT IS ON The mash is filtered, becoming wort, which is then transferred into the boiling tank where about three kilograms of hops are added to the mixture, serving both as a natural preservative and adding some pleasant bitterness to balance the sweetness of the malt. Once it's been boiled, the mixture passes through a special heat exchanger on its way to the fermentation tank. The heat exchanger allows us to cool the wort and also harness its heat to warm the spring water for the next batch of beer. MAKING MAGIC Once in the fermentation tank, the wort is mixed with liquid ale yeast which gives the beer both flavour and complexity. It's held there for seven to 10 days to let the yeast work its magic, transforming the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Once the yeast has finished its work, the beer is purified with a special diatomaceous earth filtering machine and transferred into a holding tank, where it's aged at 0 Celsius for three weeks. Often ales are aged at room temperature for a shorter time, but we believe our longer, cooler aging process is part of what gives Beau's its unique flavour and drinkability. After aging, the beer is transferred into kegs, jugs or bottles and shipped to restaurants or retail outlets within one week of packaging. Written by Paula Roy




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