In a world where bacon can be found in cupcakes and massage oil, and where brewers use any kind of fruit or spice you can name to flavour their beer, it was, perhaps, only a matter of time until the two trends collided.
This week, one of the odder combinations to hit your pint glass lands on LCBO shelves with the arrival of limited-edition Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale from Oregon craft brewery Rogue Ales and Spirits.
Let those words sink in for a minute: Donut. Maple. Bacon. Ale.
To the simple question “why?,” Rogue founder Brett Joyce has a simple answer.
“Everybody loves bacon,” said Joyce.
Yes, but in a beer, Brett?
Why not, he argues.
“It’s like breakfast in a glass,” says Joyce of the light brown, slightly cloudy ale, which has a smoky, sweet aroma. Take a sip, and the maple flavour is there in droves, along with a hefty hit of smoke. For any skeptics out there, it’s not bacon essence, or bacon flavouring in the brew, Joyce insists.
“We actually use some real bacon to brew this,” said Joyce. (Rogue brewmaster John Maier also uses plenty of traditional German beechwood-smoked malt in the brew).
At the LCBO and The Beer Store, you can find brews using everything from heather flowers, Scotch pine and chocolate to even mint.
It is, admits Joyce, something even most open-minded beer drinkers and passionate bacon lovers have trouble wrapping their heads around. When he mentions the beer to bar owners, beer drinkers and even die-hard Rogue fans, it’s not exactly a universally positive reaction.
“They’re intrigued. But let’s face it, a bacon beer in a pink bottle isn’t ever going to be a mass market product,” said Joyce.
Two years ago, Brooklyn Brewery made a bacon beer, but it was a one-off brew for a dinner at a New York restaurant.
“What could be more Canadian than bacon and maple syrup?” said James Hume, who oversees thebeer and cider selection at the LCBO. The LCBO is bringing in 1,500 bottles of the unusual brew, and will sell it for $9.65 per bottle at just 15 stores around the Greater Toronto Area.
The shifting tastes of consumers make ordering tiny batches of rare brews viable for the LCBO. Even a few years ago, that wouldn’t necessarily have been the case, Hume admits.
“Import agents are buying into the specialty program, consumers are trying new things. And with things like this beer, we’re able to give them something they might not have even imagined existed,” said Hume. For the last two years, the LCBO has also ordered in small batches of Samuel Adams Utopias, a strong beer aged in cognac, whiskey and port barrels that sold for $114.95 a bottle.
Fittingly for a product that sounds like it just might be the perfect hangover brunch offering, this beer was conceived under the influence of some of Rogue’s own fine beverages, during a meeting with the founders of Voodoo Doughnuts, an Oregon-based bakery.
In addition to a maple bacon variety, Voodoo offers Captain my Captain doughnuts (coated with Cap’n Crunch cereal), Mango Tango (filled with mango jam and topped with Tang), and a few risqué ones whose names can’t be mentioned in a family newspaper.
“I basically cold-called the Voodoo Doughnut guys, and they were very receptive. There were definitely a few beers and some whiskey involved,” chuckled Joyce.
Voodoo co-founder Ken Pogson was skeptical about a beer based on his company’s best-selling doughnut.
“I thought they might want to make something like our Portland Cream, because I’m a cream ale kind of guy. I really wasn’t sure how the Bacon Maple Ale was going to taste, but it’s pretty good,” said Pogson.
Despite making a brew with bacon, there are some frontiers even Joyce thinks shouldn’t be crossed.
“We made a garlic beer once, and it was absolutely terrible. Sometimes you try things, and they work out, like this one. Sometimes, they’re like the garlic. There’s no limit to the creativity brewers can use,” said Joyce.
And as for the flavoured brews from the big brewing conglomerates now at market (Bud Light Lime Mojito, anyone? How about Coors Light Iced Tea?), Joyce hasn’t been terribly impressed.
“You can’t fake authenticity,” Joyce said.
Field guide to flavoured beer
Long before they settled on the standard brewing canon of barley, water, hops and yeast, brewers used all sorts of things to flavour their beer. Spice, herbs, fruit, sugar —name it, and it’s probably been tossed into a brewing kettle at some point in history.
Those traditions all but vanished for a few centuries everywhere but Belgium, where quirky, spiced brews are de rigueur. Thanks to the creativity of craft brewers, though, they’ve been making a comeback. Big brewing conglomerates have been getting in on the act, partly to stem the tide of drinkers flocking to wine, cocktails and craft beer.
Herewith, a field guide to the flavoured brews on the shelves in Ontario, both at the LCBO and The Beer Store.
Historic Ales of Scotland (LCBO) This pack includes four different beers made with heather flowers, spruce tips, gooseberries and elderberries. Ranging from delicate and floral (the heather ale Fraoch) to the powerfully smokey and piney (the Alba pine ale), they’re all compelling.
brewingMuskoka Spring Oddity (LCBO, TBS) This Belgian-style strong ale from Muskoka Brewery is flavoured with heather tips, orange peel and juniper berries and candied sugar.
Unibroue Blanche de Chambly (LCBO, TBS) A Belgian-style wheat beer by Quebec brewer Unibroue, flavoured with coriander seeds and bitter orange peel.
Young’s Double Chocolate Stout (LCBO) A rich, dark, decadent brew from England, flavoured with real chocolate.
Mort Subite Framboise (LCBO) Try this slightly-tart, fruity raspberry ale from Belgium and you’ll never be tempted by a Kir Royale again.
Coors Light Iced Tea: Slight citrus notes, but the tea’s hard to detect. Not as sweet as I thought it would be.
Mill Street Lemon Tea: A lot more going on than the Coors Light Iced Tea. You can actually taste the tea, and the lemon flavour is much more present. A more fulfilling brew.
Bud Light Lime: (TBS, LCBO): I’ll probably lose my beer geek street cred for saying this, but I don’t mind Bud Light Lime. It’s not unlike dropping a shot of lime cordial into a standard light lager. Not complex, doesn’t taste like real lime, but when ice cold on a patio, it’s not woeful.
Bud Light Lime Mojito (TBS): Resembles a watered-down Bud Light Lime, with a hint of toothpaste. One of the most unpalatable brews I’ve had in a while. It’s not even sweet enough for the alco-pop crowd.