What’s so special about brewing with botanicals?
Botanicals in beer are nothing new. In fact, they predate hops as the bittering agent used to tone down the cloying sweetness of medieval ales by many centuries; historians have even found evidence of herb and spice blends in traces of beers that date as far back as primitive times.
Although many traditional beer styles already include botanicals such as orange peel or coriander in the recipe, no one is as passionate about botanicals as we are. For us, it starts and ends with botanicals: the herbs, fruits and spices that we use not only root Lowlander beers in the place where they’re created, they also open up endless possibilities for new and exciting flavour combinations.
Why Lowlander brews with botanicals
The limitless opportunity for imbuing beer with flavour via botanicals is what inspired Lowlander’s founder, Frederik Kampman, to take the plunge and start his own company. ‘I started a job in a commercial brewery straight after uni, where I worked my way up through the ranks,’ he explains. ‘Eventually I jumped ship and started distilling gin. That was a turning point for me: at my new job I started working with the botanicals that give each gin its unique flavour. And I began to wonder what would happen if you started brewing with botanicals, rather than distilling them?’
That curiosity led Frederik to experiment with botanical brewing at home in his kitchen. ‘I started by trialling around 60 botanicals in different beers,’ he says. ‘I was peeling dozens of oranges, cooking spices, extracting bags full of herbs, making teas and tinctures…’ This process is still how every Lowlander beer starts – we believe beer simply tastes better when prepared with natural, botanical ingredients.
Lowlander: a beer with roots
Botanicals also give Lowlander beers a true sense of place, a strong sense of history; in a word, ‘terroir’. The name ‘Lowlander’ is derived from the Netherlands, which literally means ‘country under water’, or ‘low lands’. During our sea-faring Golden Age of trade and exploration, the Lowlanders ended up all over the world. Naturally, the Dutch traders brought loads of herbs and spices back with them to Amsterdam. Once they started brewing with these ingredients, and taking the results on their subsequent travels, their botanical beers became universally admired. These are the botanicals we turn to when searching for inspiration for a new brew.
These botanicals make each beer more than the sum of its parts. Take, for example, Lowlander White Ale. Like most witbiers, it’s spiked with orange peel – ours, from Curaçao, has a really intense flavour that lends the finished beer extra crispness; the addition of elderflower and chamomile bring a unique sweet, floral dimension to the beer’s character. Lowlander Poorter, brewed with Dutch favourite liquorice root and aromatic vanilla, is another good example: the botanicals emphasise the softer side of the beer and draw out its creamy flavours.
Botanicals are the future
We’re convinced that botanicals are the future – and according to market researchers Mintel, the practice of brewing with botanicals is bang on trend. In 2018, people started turning their attention to the power of plants in greater numbers than ever before: healthy eating and plant-based diets went mainstream, and concerns about our environmental impact made growing our own vegetables, eating less meat, and sourcing high-quality, local and seasonal ingredients desirable lifestyle choices. According to the report, the future is plant based.
We have continued to push the envelope with botanicals since Lowlander was founded in 2016. Who would have thought, when we brought out our first three beers, that we would be able to pack so much flavour into a low-alcohol botanically brewed beer, for example? But our yuzu and grapefruit beer, with its crisp, punchy character and 2.5% abv, was a 2018 summer hit, and proved that botanicals can supply layer upon layer of flavour in a wholly natural way. Likewise, who would have predicted that we would be contributing to the conversation around sustainability with our annual Christmas-tree campaign? But the support for our inaugural campaign blew us away, with over a 1000 donated trees creating ten thousands bottles of Winter IPA.
Whichever way you look – back to the origins of brewing, or into the future – botanicals are the thread that link the beers of yesterday with those of tomorrow. ‘The combinations of botanical ingredients are endless, and they produce beers with unique flavour and character,’ says Frederik. ‘That’s what makes Lowlander so special.’ We’ll drink to that.