Rating → 89 points
Stats: Gruit. 5.7% ABV. 11 IBUs. Vankleek Hill, Ontario.
Size: 600mL bottle
Colour: Light copper – dark gold
Mouth Feel: Medium-low but tight carbonation, that fades quickly. Refreshing and creamy finish.
Price: $24 (for Mix Pack)
One of my favourite herbs and smells in life is rosemary. It’s the only herb I grow year-round and it’s the only herb I keep indoors. One of the principle reasons I do this, beyond the fact that it is a hardy herb which can withstand and adjust to the vagaries of the Canadian seasons and light, is because one of my culinary specialties is a light and airy focaccia that is bedazzled with sea salt and impregnated with rosemary. Mmm … focaccia.
So with that preamble, let me introduce you to the second beer (the first was “Winter Brewed“) in the Best of Beau’s 2014 Mix Pack, “St Luke’s Verse” which is rosemary focaccia in a glass. While that might not be what Beau’s would choose as their tagline, it’s the one I’m going to give the beer.
St. Luke’s Verse is what is called a “gruit.” What is a “gruit,” you ask? I had to ask the same thing. The answer is that it’s derived from a Dutch word — ‘grut’ in German — used to denote ‘herb’ beers. Now before you spit out your soup or think this a daft idea, consider two very important facts. First, I’m not making this stuff up: gruits are among the first brewing styles and they date back more than a millennia or two. Second, and here’s the kicker, all modern beers are “herb” beers. Ok, now you can spit out your soup. What could I possibly mean when I say that — you ask as you look at the back of your bottles and cans of beer? Ok — take a look then. Now, if I quizzed you on the ingredients in most beers, you’d list water, wheat/barley malt, yeast, and hops. Simple, you say. No herbs there, you say. But there you’d be wrong: hops are herbs. And back in “the day,” hops were not the exclusive herb used in the beer making (and flavouring and preserving processes), but other herbs were also used, and usually in combination. These included the whole Scarborough-Fair of usual suspects plus a few others. In total lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, myrtle … and hops … all used to be used. There are a variety of historical factors that influenced the change in brewing practices that narrowed it down from a broad spice cupboard to just hops and the odd spice used in “spiced” winter beers and those famous Belgian wheat ales, but I’ll leave that for your own research and edification and let you draw your own conclusions. It’s an interesting read, for sure.
Speaking of interesting reads, what does St Luke have to do with any of this? The answer is provided on Beau’s own website:
Legend has it that young maidens who wanted to know who their true love might be would sip upon a lavender brew and chant St. Luke’s Verse, imploring the saint to reveal their identity in her dreams that night. “St. Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me. In my dreams, let me my true love see.”
Seems like a pretty good bet as drink with the approach of Valentine’s Day, don’t you think?
All to say, the gruit was once a much more common and mainstream product. Today, it is a bit of an anachronism that gives us reason to pause and go, hmm, rosemary and lavender, huh? Interesting. But does it work? That’s likely the question, right?
The answer is yes, it works and works very well.
The body and aroma of the beer are immediately evident. Indeed, I’ll give this a perfect 10 out of 10 for its aroma. I smell a tonne of rosemary but, as I say, I’m sensitive to that fragrance; however, the lavender, which is relatively similar and has ‘piney’ smell, is strong as well. The thyme is definitely under the surface of both give this beer a slightly floral and herbaceous aroma if there ever was one. And as much as I’m a fan of the subtlety of À l’abri de la Tempête Microbrasserie on the Magdalen Islands, this is overt and just as pleasant (read about my review of Belle Saison for example).
Upfront, there is a fair amount of sugar consonant with the focaccia I smell: sweet white, fluffy bread. In the middle, the carbonation has a bit of a bite and truly a bit more than I’d like, but I think it is highlighted by the light malts and the fact that there isn’t a lot else going on in the middle. However, with the carbonation, the midtaste is actually quite short and really only serves to set up the long ending and aftertaste which is where the herbs rush to the centre.
This is not an easy beer to review, however, because it’s both my first true gruit and there aren’t that many examples out there that use these flavouring agents to produce anything remotely the same. The real question, then, is do you want to taste something that will raise your eyebrows and set your palate in motion? Do you want different? Do you like the taste of rosemary and lavender … period? If you answered no to any of these, you probably aren’t going to like this beer which means it likely has a relatively small potential market. So it’s a bit like judging the likes a Hank Williams or Shania Twain song if you don’t like country music. (Did I get that right?) To not like these artists (I would presume) would mean you judge them on their abilities to produce country music, but rather on the fact that they deliver a product you don’t like.
I’m sure Beau’s knows and knew well that the vast majority of beer drinkers wouldn’t finish a glass of St Luke’s … but that’s taste and you can’t really judge, let alone legislate, taste (though the Bavarian beer purity law did exactly that which is why hops became king). But if you asked me, which if you’ve read this far you have, I’d say get a bottle, explore the world, and discover something uniquely and well crafted. Want to have a lot of fun one night? Buy a few bottles, invite some friends over, and make raclette and enjoy them all together.
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