Deer River BBQ and Brewfest

Don’t forget that the annual Deer River BBQ and Brewfest is coming up Saturday July 17th.  Setup begins around noon, and the public can enter at 3:00 PM.  Because a decision on beer judging had to be made a few months ago before COVID restrictions were listed, there will not be a homebrew competition in 2021.  The question was whether it was safe or to pack a couple dozen beer judges into a room for a couple of hours. Homebrewers are encouraged to serve beer (you must have some overstock piled up from brewing during COVID!).

There’s more info at the Deer River event site.

Earlier email

Boreal Brewers Brew Club Turns 30!

Hey, folks, it’s a birthday year!  The Boreal Brewers Brew Club was formed in the summer of 1991, which puts us at 30 years old this summer.  We’re going to celebrate this occasion at the Deer River BBQ and Brewfest Saturday July 17.

Did you know that the Boreal Brewers came into existence as a result of the live “Brewpot Show” on KAXE radio?

The day before the Brewfest, KAXE will interview the two club founders, Steve Benson and Jerry Bourbonnais.  That interview will be at 08:45 Friday morning July 16th.   We’ll cover some of the tastings, events, accomplishments and humor of the history of the club.  Then we’ll be at Deer River Saturday, giving away beer.  Normal beers and … different beers, like Birch Syrup Ale, and Chocolate Cherry Imperial Stout, ciders, meads and wines.

We’ll publish a written history of the club’s activities here in a few days.  The more we think back, the more we realize how wildly varied and fun our activities have been!  Small tastings, huge tastings, collaborative brewing, community events, live radio, education, brewing advocacy and legislative activities.  And yet somehow beer and people are at the common thread through everything we’ve done.

Birch Wine Discussion

I’ve been researching a lot of birch information this year, and birch wine is an interesting topic.  The 2021 birch sap season is three weeks past, but we’re trying to get together a group of people who have made birch wine or are interested in doing so next year.  If you’re interested, please call Karen at Wine Creations in Grand Rapids, (218) 326-9490 and get on her list so we can set up a meeting and a tasting.

Birch sap is interesting to work with, and the syrup has a unique taste.  There’s a post on the home page of this site covering some of the uses and methods.

But wine has a fairly high alcohol content, and birch sap is extremely low in sugar, with a gravity of about 1.003.  Even if you boil it down at a ratio of 50:1, you still can only get to a few percentage points of alcohol by volume, and it caramelizes the sugar, producing a darker-than-clear product. There are a couple of commercial varieties, over 11% alcohol that are colorless. I made two 5 gallon batches this spring, boiling and concentrating the sap to a “golden” level of color, and an “amber” level of color.  The first tastes a bit like candy and honey, the second a bit more like brown sugar / very light molasses.

So how do people make clear birch wine?  What’s the source of fermentables to get the alcohol levels up?  If you’ve made any or are interested in a discussion, give Karen a call and we’ll try to set up a meeting this summer and discuss methods, materials and other additions that people use.  I’ve got birch mead and birch beer to share.

Boiling birch sap.


Birch Beer Tasting

You are invited to a Birch Beer tasting at Klockow Brewing, 5 – 8 PM Thursday April 29th.  We will be serving examples of homebrewed Birch Ale and Braggot.  There are six ales and a Birch Braggot (part beer, part honey mead).  Three of the ales are aged, three are new.  We’ll also have a keg of fresh birch sap just so you can see what it tastes like.  Hint: have you tasted water?

We ask that you vote on the three new Birch Ales, with the goal of choosing a recipe for a full sized collaboration brew at Klockow later this year, when the birch sap season is over.

What does this stuff taste like?  If you search “birch beer,” you’re going to find a lot of examples of sweet birch soda, and descriptions of wintergreen flavor.  These are real Birch Ales, made by boiling birch sap down to the flavor intensity of birch syrup, then brewing beer around that flavor.  Birch syrup is difficult to describe – it’s very complex, with intense notes of caramel, molasses, dark fruit and horehound candy.  Try describing the flavor of maple syrup without using the word maple!

The three aged ales are the same beer recipe, but they have varying amounts of sap in them – 25, 35 and 45 gallons of sap boiled down to make 5 gallon batches of homebrew.

The three new ales each have the same amount of condensed birch sap, but the malt & hops recipes vary from light to dark, with hops kept low to bring malt and birch flavors to the front.  Come in, give them a try and cast a vote.  These homebrews are donated and are free, and will be served as ~2 oz. samples.  To read more about using birch sap, see the next post below.


Birch sap flows pretty fast from productive trees.