Beau’s Brewery in Vankleek Hill offers more than your average pint
The Beau’s Brewery was born out of a pipe dream shared between a father and a son – appropriately, over a couple of pints of beer. The two talked excitedly about it in a small outdoor tavern as if it were fantasy, but later found that the idea still held worth, long after the beer buzz had worn off. Tim Beauchesne closed his textile company after 17 years of business, as his clients began closing up shop and moving offshore. His son, Steve, left behind a steady government job as well as his record label, Go! Go! Go! Records. Together they opened up a microbrewery in Vankleek Hill, and since opening in 2006, their crisp Lug Tread lagered ale has become a fast favourite.
Many restaurants in Ottawa now offer Beau’s on tap, but you can also pick up Lug Tread at your local LCBO. Part of the appeal is its iconic packaging. It’s sold in large ceramic bottles that look like they ought to be filled with maple syrup. Shipped in from Germany and decorated locally, each bottle holds a couple of generous glasses of beer. Most people like to reuse them for flowers, or salad dressing, but I personally like to think they make neat candleholders – perfect for your next casual dinner party.
As nifty as these bottles look, getting them back to the brewery turned out to be a challenging affair for Tim and Steve. The Beer Store will accept the empties and return the 20-cent deposits back to the customers, but it won’t give the used bottles back to the brewery.
Steve explains, “When we called The Beer Store to figure out how to get our bottles back, they said, ‘Well, we’re not going to give them to you.’” The Beauchesnes spent several months trying to work something out, to no avail. “Instead of letting us pick up the bottles, which would cost them nothing, and we’d pay them extra to do, they collect them all, ship them to Toronto and crush them into dust at great expense.”
As odd as this all sounds, it makes a lot more sense once you learn that The Beer Store is actually a for-profit monopoly owned by Labatt, Molson and Sleeman Breweries. You’ll often find the LCBO and The Beer Store side by side, but the LCBO is a provincial crown corporation that funnels money back into health care, education and other important programs.
The Beauchesne family got creative and found a way to both retrieve their bottles and have a positive impact on the community. The brewery partnered up with Operation Go Home, and set up four depots in the city where you can return your bottles on the first Saturday of every month. The depots are manned by homeless youths, who participate in a program that aims to give kids job experience, an income and the confidence to get off the streets. So far, six young people have graduated out of the program and into full-time jobs elsewhere. Beau’s donates 40 cents to the charity for each bottle that’s returned, while the charity asks that the customer donate the 20-cent deposit. Tim pipes up, “It’s a real win-win situation for both sides here. We get our bottles back and they get a little bit of extra revenue out of it and the kids are helped. You can’t lose on that.”
Steve is proud to be supporting the charity as well as the local economy. “It’s an incredibly positive thing. We’ve taken something that was a ridiculous problem, and we’ve turned it around and made it ten times better than the existing system was, because now instead of profits [the deposits] going to the Beer Store, which is foreign owned and leaving the country, profits are staying not just in the country or in the province, but right here in Ottawa.”
The Beauchesnes don’t want to be just another faceless corporation you get your alcohol from. That’s why you’ll find them sponsoring events like Kelp 15, the Jazz Festival or the upcoming CD release show for The Good Lovelies. They even have their own band, The Oh-Yeahs, who do country covers of classic punk songs.
Though they’ve been using organic ingredients from the start, this June they’ll finish the lengthy paperwork process needed to get their organic certification. “There’s an insane amount of record keeping you have to do to maintain your organic status.” The Beauchesnes need to be able to trace each beer back to every stage of its production, from the brewery all the way back to the farms that grew their wheat and hops. Unlike all the major manufacturers, Beau’s doesn’t use corn syrup or a laundry list of chemicals in their brewing process. According to Steve, good beer only has a handful of ingredients. Thankfully with Beau’s, the catch phrase “All Natural” really does mean all natural.
Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company
(10 Terry Fox Drive, Vankleek Hill)
(10 Terry Fox Drive, Vankleek Hill)