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This cottage country brewery is mastering the craft of underwater-aged beer

Photo by Tom Thomson

Some brewers like to brag that their beer is handled with the finest of care, but the team at Lake of the Woods Brewing Company (in Kenora, Ontario, with additional locations in Winnipeg and Warroad, Minnesota) has learned not to be too precious with their product. In fact, they’re chucking some of their best beer straight into the lake!

That’s not to say that the brewers don’t take exceptional care to use quality ingredients in brews like their Forgotten Lake Blueberry Ale and Nautical Disaster Double IPA. But when it comes to their Deep 6 Imperial Black Lager, they take the old adage of ‘set it and forget it’ to a new level.

And that level is 20 feet under the surface of Lake Of The Woods.

Yes, their Deep 6 beer is aged 20 feet under the lake ice. Rob Dokuchie, a part owner and the brewery’s marketing and brand manager, says the unusual method resulted from a conversation with head brewer Chris Marsh. Dokuchie shares: “Chris is from South Africa and had heard of a brewery there that sank beer to the bottom of the ocean and thought it would be cool to try on Lake of the Woods. We thought… why the heck not! Let’s do this!”

However, just because an experiment worked in South Africa didn’t mean the results could be replicated in a lake by the Ontario-Manitoba border. Among other things, the lake freezes! Dokuchie explains that they started with a test batch in the fall of 2019. The lucky bottles were secured in milk crates and sunk off the end of his dock. Six nerve-wracking months later, the bottles were retrieved, and they had survived the experience just fine. Better than fine, in fact. The wax seals held up, nothing broke, and the bottles were covered in some residue from the lake, giving them a pretty cool look.

Buoyed by this initial success, the brewery sank 1,000 bottles in October 2020 and a yearly tradition was born.

It’s a neat project but aside from the fun of seeing if it could be done, does it really make a difference to the beer? The answer is a resounding yes! Dokuchie says: “We really aren’t sure scientifically what affects the aging process underwater at about 20 feet…but it does change the beer!” He shares that the brewery keeps a few bottles in their cooler while the others are in the lake, and, come spring, they do a blind taste test. The beer from the lake always performs better. He theorizes: “We think it has something to do with the fluctuating temperature of the water that goes from about 10 degrees in October down to 4 degrees in January and back to 10 degrees in May when we resurface the beer… the pressure and the slight rocking motion from the current may also be a factor… It really is magic.”

This month, the brewery will launch the presale of its 2024 batch (which is currently hanging out at the bottom of the lake and will surface in May). Savvy drinkers will want to try both, as the beer style changes yearly. In 2024, they’re offering an Irish Cream Coffee Stout. Mixing things up is a creative and a practical decision. As Dokuchie explains: “For the beer to age well and to prevent it from freeing it needs to be a BIG beer – 8% ABV or more and have certain qualities that will change the chemistry of the beer over time as it ages (such as the malt bill, plums, coffee etc).”