Beau’s Lug Tread: An Oral History, Part One – Choosing the Perfect Beer
Beau’s Lug Tread: An Oral History, is a three-part blog project that looks at the early days of the independent craft brewery Beau’s Brewing Company’s flagship beer, Lug Tread.
Through audio recordings, press clippings and original documents, we’re telling the sometimes tumultuous, often hilarious—and always entertaining—origin story of the people behind the original lagered ale, and the beer itself.
When Beau’s was starting out in the mid ’00s, the independent craft brewing landscape in Canada was quite different from what it is today.
Bar and restaurant owners were more reluctant to carry craft beer, as it was a harder sell. Banks were less eager to offer financing to brewers, as craft beer had yet to be proven the sound financial opportunity it is in today’s marketplace. Craft beer drinkers were not as common as they are now.
For a father and son duo—and a handful of friends, family and co-conspirators—stepping into uncharted territory would prove to be an interesting gambit. We all know how it turns out, but how did it begin?
To discuss the early days of Beau’s and its flagship beer, Lug Tread, on Thursday, May 31, 2018, we gathered some of the original key players from Beau’s in a room to discuss those early days over a few beers.
In the room:
- Steve Beauchesne:
Beau’s Co-Founder and CEO
- Tim Beauchesne:
Beau’s Co-Founder and President, father of Steve
- Matthew O’Hara:
Beau’s Brewmaster, father of the Lug Tread beer
- Jamie Kaufman:
Beau’s foul-mouthed Sales Manager
- Phil Beauchesne:
Beau’s Packaging Manager, Steve’s younger brother
- Jen Beauchesne:
Beau’s Director of Communications, Steve and Phil’s older sister
- Jordan Bamforth:
Beau’s Creative Director, the designer of the Beau’s tractor
The set-up: It is the early-to-mid 2000s and Tim Beauchesne is closing his Eastern Ontario-based textile plant. He has informed his son Steve, who is working in Toronto as a business planner for the Ontario government, of this decision. Over a few beers one sunny afternoon Tim tells Steve about his plans to one day soon open a craft brewery by transforming his existing building. Steve is inspired by the idea. Excited about the prospect, they start to discuss a business plan.
“I was thrilled that Steve decided right there that he was totally interested in joining in this venture, and said that he was willing to quit his job to do it,” says Tim. Steve would move back from the metropolis of Toronto to his small hometown of Vankleek Hill, halfway between Ottawa and Montréal, and would enlist some friends and family to help out. They would also find a local brewer, a fellow named Matthew O’Hara.
Related reading: My Brewing Philosophy, with Beau’s Brewmaster Matthew O’Hara
Part One – The Perfect Beer
Steve Beauchesne: In my memory, Matt had a beer that he really wanted to make—
Tim Beauchesne: There were a few things that we insisted on, such as brewing something that no one else was making in Ontario, and then it was sort of up to Matthew.
Steve: We didn’t want to tell him ‘This is the beer you’re brewing’—
Tim: —because he’s the pro.
Matthew O’Hara: There were three. What we went with was the prototype of Lug Tread. So it was the Kölsch-style ale, a Märzen, and then what would become ‘Festivale,’ an altbier.
Steve: I remember absolutely falling in love with the Märzen, and that became one of the biggest battles early on. Whether to launch with what is now Lug Tread, or to have made Lug Tread what is now Märzen.
Tim: —keep in mind all of this was done at Matthew’s house.
Steve: On his stove.
Jordan Bamforth: Matt, what made you think of those three beers?
Matt: I’d already homebrewed all three styles, but unlike the other two, I hadn’t had a commercial example of Kölsch, so I was kind of working blind. I was basing everything on the book Kölsch: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes by Eric Warner from Brewers Publications, and I thought that—as I tasted what I’d brewed at home—that I’d hit the mark in terms of the overall description of the style and the flavour profile.
Tim: You also did the Kölsch in both organic and non-organic.
Matt: Yeah, I have my old brewing logs here, and we did a few different versions. At some point we settled on the fact that we would want to run with the Kölsch style as the flagship. At that point we started doing various test batches. We used certified organic malts with such.
Phil: We wanted to prove to ourselves that we were doing it because it was for the good of the beer—
Tim: It tasted better.
Phil: We did a blind taste test—you can’t call it a scientific study, we had 17 people try it—
Steve: I think it was closer to 70 people.
Phil: There’s a seven in there. *group laughter* I’ve been saying 17 for like 11 years. I’m not going to stop now.
Steve: The funny part for me: There’s only one person who did not choose the organic version, but that one person was Stephen Beaumont. He refused to pick either. In clear-Stephen-Beaumont fashion he said to me: ‘How can you ask me to taste test these two! They’re wildly different! I’m not picking one!’
Jen Beauchesne: We must have done at least three test batches, because when I came back from Calgary in 2006 the bottle cap had ‘K’ and ‘3’ on it. That was the one Dad and Steve were saying we had decided on.
Tim: That’s the one.
Matt: There were four. One of which was organic.
Jordan: So, when you were choosing, what were some of the arguments that made the lagered ale stand out?
Tim: From my perspective, it seemed to have the most mass appeal. This was a year-round, very drinkable beer.
Steve: I remember the argument that was made that had me finally say ‘Yeah, I’m on board with it.’
It was the argument that Lug Tread is more of a summer beer, and we promise you we’ll launch the Märzen in three months, and I said ‘Fine. I’ll shut up about this.’
*group laughter* (Later named Night Märzen, the beer Steve had been campaigning for would be released several years later, as opposed to a few months.)
Tim: I think our business plan did call for three beers—
Steve: It was supposed to be four beers in one year, but the first batch of Lug Tread came out and it was pretty obvious right out of the gate that there was no way we were going to fit anything else in.
Phil, pondering aloud: Lug Tread. The first time I tried it, it was the best beer I’d ever had. It’s still my favourite beer. I almost don’t drink any other beers, except just to try them. I’ll have a glass — sometimes I’ll have three—but I love lamp! (I mean Lug Tread.)
Steve: As for the selection, in those days, basically we just kept talking to each other until someone gave up.
This is one of those cases where: I’m so glad I gave up, because like Phil said, it is my favourite beer. Granted I’ve had a lot more Lug Tread than I’ve had Märzen because it’s only available for a few months of the year…
I sometimes wonder if the trajectory of the brewery would be different had we launched with Märzen instead of Lug Tread.
Jordan: Oh, absolutely.
Steve continues: It’s funny because in my mind, I really don’t know how much of it was a matter of right time, right place, great beer, and how much of it was right time, right place, right beer. I’m sure that Lug Tread absolutely had an impact there. It always gives me that wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night thought: What if I’d kept pushing for Märzen?
Phil: The darkest timeline.
Steve: It was definitely the right beer—introducing craft beer to a fairly conservative market—
Jamie: The marketplace was so different back then.
Tim: Even in the business-planning stages – bigtime.
Steve: When trying to remember what beer was like back then—it’s messed up, right? There were 30 breweries in the province, and they all made a pilsner.
Jordan: Pilsners and traditional English ales.
Steve: There might have been one or two IPAs.
Phil, addressing interviewer: Did you know we invented the term ‘lagered ale’?
Steve: Matt was adamant that we didn’t call it a Kölsch—out of respect for the Kölsch convention—which we totally agreed with, but it presented a problem: What do we call the beer?
Matt: It was kind of two-fold really, because one of the other obstacles that we perceived was if we had decided to market it as a Kölsch, no one would really know, at the that time, what Kölsch even was.
Steve: I don’t know where the flash of brilliance came from—I don’t remember who brought it up—but when we came up with the term ‘lagered ale’, the whole point was to say: if you like a lager, the part you hear in ‘lagered ale’ is ‘lager,’ and if you like ales better, the part you hear is ‘ale.’
After coming up with the term, I remember very quickly a lot of people asking, ‘Are you going to trademark that term or copyright it?’ and I joked at the time that if Molson or Labatt ever wanted to call a beer ‘lagered ale’ then I’d consider everything we’d done to date to be a complete success. Then the idea of them essentially advertising Lug Tread with that title? Well that would be the best thing that could happen to us!
It solidifies everything we did in the early days. When you’ve got one of the largest companies in the world copy-catting you, you’re probably doing something pretty good.
It’s been this fun thing to watch, company after company copying us.
Tim: We started it!
Later in our oral history, our group will share their stories of the painstaking long hours, headaches, joy, and victories of brewing the first batches of Lug Tread. But first, we’ll discuss what it was like to finance an upstart brewery in a very different marketplace than today’s, and the challenges of selling a hard-to-describe new craft beer in Ontario in the mid-aughts.