The first beer I ever drank tasted like cat piss. Not even fresh cat piss, but cat piss that had been collected from a very, very sick cat, let sit in a plastic Pepsi bottle in the garage for a few days, then “cold-filtered,” poured into a can, and labelled, sarcastically, “beer.”
That is not how beer is supposed to taste, a fact of which I was tragically unaware. Emotionally scarred, I decided that day I didn’t like beer. I refused to touch the stuff again until I was 20, when I clipped a sip of a friend’s brew just for kicks, and discovered, to my immense surprise, that beer is freaking delicious. I know what you’re thinking. It was the same thing I was thinking. All those years. Wasted.
The ancient Mesopotamians — those clever bastards — not only developed beer, but had a goddess of beer, Ninkasi, whose job it was to “soothe the heart.” Just like beer. Humans have been brewing beer for literally thousands of years — a proud tradition of debauchery and delight.
A microbrew is a beer that is made in small batches, often specific to a certain area. Care, time, and love are put into a good microbrew. Not chemicals or preservatives. This is not for frat boys on a budget, this is for people who care about taste.
Here in Ottawa, we are the proud hosts of two particularly fine microbreweries — Beau’s All-Natural Brewing Company and Heritage Brewing. Two breweries that offer vastly different but equally delicious beers.
Heritage Brewing recently moved from Lanark, just outside of the city, to the heart of Ottawa. The minute you step inside, you can smell it — the thick, yeasty, bread-baking smell of beer brewing. Donna Warner met me inside their freshly renovated office, looking cheerful despite the ungodly hour — but who wouldn’t be cheerful, if they made beer for a living?
Warner, 62, recollects that her grandparents, “always had something brewing in the basement,” and she has been involved in brewing since college. When she retired, it seemed like getting involved in a microbrewery would make for “a great little retirement job,” she says with a laugh. Her “retirement job” is now a full-time occupation to which she and everyone at Heritage Brewing seem very devoted. They make all their beers in small batches, purifying and re-mineralizing their water for consistency in their product.
“Water is such an important part of beer — it contributes greatly to the taste,” Warner says, showing me around the brewing floor, with the great brassy tanks and the smell of malt and yeast heavy in the air.
Heritages currently brews two year-round beers — Heritage Traditional Dark Lager and Heritage Premium Lager. The Dark is delightful, especially for those of us who love a thicker, clean-finishing lager, and the Premium is wonderfully hoppy. They also make several beers that Warner calls “experimental,” such as their Maple Bush Lager, which, although made with maple syrup, is not at all sweet or sickly, as one would think, but smooth and smokey with an intriguing maple aroma. They also produce a Blackcurrant Rye Lager around Christmas time, the head of which is an unusual pink colour.
Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company makes very different but equally delicious brew. Located in Vankleek Hill, just outside of Ottawa, Beau’s makes organic beer. A father and son company, Steve and Tim Beauchesne started up the brewery after a brain-storming session and several pints one evening.
“We sobered up the next morning, and it still seemed like a good idea,” says Steve.
And it was a good idea. Beau’s is a unique, delightfully proud brew. Their signature beer, Lug Tread, is a “lagered ale” with a crisp body and a clean, easy-drinking finish perfect for summer. Like Heritage, they also brew some seasonal offerings, and the one available now, Beaver River India Pale Ale, is delicious, with a thicker, meatier taste than its lager counterpart.
The most distinctive and eye-catching feature of Beau’s is the tall, plus-sized bottles with the traditional cork-style plug more often found in champagne bottles than in beer. The plus-sized bottles are made “for sharing” Steve says with a laugh. Which points us to the only downside of this brew — it doesn’t keep. You have to drink the whole bottle in a day or two or it goes flat and stale, as it cannot be resealed.
Nonetheless, this could be seen in a more positive light — it could be seen as inspiring a shared experience. Beer as a community-builder might not be a joke after all.
Especially because both Heritage and Beau’s are supporters of the queer community. Beau’s sponsors the Capital Pride festival and both companies sponsored this year’s Swirl and Twirl.