Ancient horse remains found in the Yukon have inspired a new beer

Published: February 13, 2018

Glacial Gruit from Beau's Brewery bottle and glass Photo courtesy of Beau's Brewery

It’s taken 26,000 years, but the worlds of beer brewing and natural history have finally collided.

A Canadian brewery has teamed up with scientists to create a beer inspired by — wait for it — an ancient horse whose remains were found in the Yukon. Sound like an obscure pairing? It is, but then again, Canadian microbreweries are always looking for new and creative ideas for their beers. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before they turned to the prehistoric.

The horse, who lived in the area that is now the Yukon during the ice age, was found in 1993 by gold miners who were digging in a riverbed near Alaska. It was the largest mummified specimen ever found in the Yukon and gave scientists a better glimpse into what was happening in the area when it roamed the land 26,000 years ago.

The horse also provided the inspiration for Glacial Gruit, a gruit ale created by Beau’s Brewery. The Ottawan Brewery collaborated with members of the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada (ANHMC) for Canada’s 150th anniversary to come up with the idea for the ale, which was one of a series of twelve beers the brewery cooked up for Canada 150.

So where how do you make a beer out of a mummified horse? You look in its stomach. The horse’s gut contained a variety of plants that had been around the Yukon in the ice age and can still be found today. The plants were used to flavour the gruit, which is a type of ale that uses herbs instead of hops.

Drawing of a Yukon horse
An artist’s rendering of a Yukon horse. The herbs and plants that this horse would have consumed thousands of years ago have been used to flavour the Glacial Gruit.

“In the end, we decided to use plants that would taste good and also would have been found in and around the area that’s now the Yukon during the last ice age,” Paul Sokoloff, a botanist with ANHMC, told October Magazine.

The beer had another glacial touch as well. When Sokoloff went on an expedition to Nunavut, he collected some clay from the base of a glacier, which Beau’s then used in the process of fining the ale, a process which helps improve a beer’s clarity.

The gruit was served at a museum party in December, and another keg was tapped on February 1st for International Gruit Day. And so far, people are just as intrigued by the beer as they are by its origin story. “[The tasting] was this interesting moment where people were like, “Hey, I like this beer – oh, there’s something more to it,” Sokoloff said. “Those innovative educational approaches are great, and when they’re combined with beer, it’s even better.”

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