Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Brasserie Dunham: Previewing their Latest Innovative Concoctions

Every once in a while, I get sucked into these debates about the best brewery in the province, or the country, or the world, but really, it comes down to individual products and personal tastes. It's tough to put a brewery above all others when so many make delicious beers, but I can easily compare two IPAs or two dry-hopped kettle sours, or two business models.

I've heard Brasserie Dunham ranked in the tops of the province or the country many times, but that all depends on the criteria we use to assess them. They, deservedly and once again, made ratebeer's list of the world's top 100 breweries for 2016. But where they rank specifically is so subjective. Regardless, that success is certainly merited!

One thing is for certain to me though: Dunham leads the (Canadian) charge in thoughtful experimentation driving forward the beer scene for all of us, bringing up those influenced by them rather than simply competing against them. The innovations brought by founder Sébastien Gagnon, brewmaster Eloi Deit, and sommelier Simon Gaudreault don't always result in success (though they usually do), but they always inspire, advance, and propel the ideas of what beer is and can be!

How you may ask? Well, it starts with their forward-thinking blogger/beer media scene invite to taste their products ahead of their pending May 13 Bottle Release Party (details here and here), and it continues with their ticketed, lineup-reduced, well planned release events, but it carries forward mostly into their beers, often weaving mixed fermentations, barrel-aging, fruit, blends, and funk. What's not to like?

I'll leave you to read through the specifics of the beers on the order page, aside from what I add below, but we were able to grab a sneak peak of 7 beers (6 from the release and one other) and I offer some preview thoughts below. Note that despite the invite, I will critique where I feel criticism is needed and, indeed, Simon asks me to do so as he insists their invite is partially for such reflection and not simply to demand unwarranted praise.

What I loved:

Most of them! I also enjoyed the latest incarnation of Cyclope Dzeta (pictured above) and Ask For Paul (brewed for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival), but these beers are not a part of the release and so won't be thoroughly reviewed here.

Viti Vini Vici: Cuvée of Coussergues

This 5.6% ABV Saison is the first in a series of local (semi-)collaborations in which Brasserie Dunham will showcase local wine grapes, through a process of cold fermentation with the must before a lengthy (in this case 5.5 month) barrel-aging process before brett re-fermentation (in this case with four different brett strains plus whatever existed on the grape skins to begin with). Though the plan is to showcase grapes and barrels from the same wineries, it was impossible this time, though the grapes here are of the Vidal variety (often used for ice wines) from L'Orpailleur (one of Quebec's earliest wineries).

The base beer here is Dunham's classic Saison Rustique, but that won't be obvious to any but the most seasoned imbiber as this beer has transformed majestically. The nose is boldly aromatic wafting an exhilarating complement of vinous notes, wood, and that funky bretted white wine character that is unique and difficult to describe but which simply shines when wild yeast, barrels, and white wine are allowed to coalesce in a funky beer. There is a fermenting fruit quality to it, though it also has more than a passing resemblance to the nose of Assemblage 1: Sauternes. Perhaps there is something about these sweeter grapes providing a specific sugar for the brett, but whatever it is, it smells seductively enticing! Perhaps, to be even more precise, it presents what I am starting to understand to be Dunham's classic signature funk, and the development of such a complex signature is a sign of maturity from this relatively young brewery.

Up front the taste brings a moderately tannic but quite musty and fruity white wine character. Though inviting up front, I find it gets fairly muted and non-descript with a lightly watery finish that is a slight let-down after the nose. There is a faint linger. It is supported by a medium body, but feels lighter due to fairly low carbonation and the mild flavour-finish. Don't get me wrong, this isn't problematically low carbonated or entirely bland, however, Simon assures me it should both funk up and continue to carbonate as our bottles were extremely fresh.

Minor critiques aside, this beer is unique, innovative, aromatic, and tasty, while delicate and nuanced, not to mention that it embodies a spirit of collaboration in showcasing local wineries. It is precisely the model of Dunham innovation that I adore, even if I think the execution here is merely good and not yet perfected. I remain as excited for the evolution of this specific beer, as I do to the evolution of this line.

Grisettonosaure à l'argousier


Despite being called a grisette, with a saison base and at nearly 6% (5.8) ABV, this might better be called a saison. It does, however, drink easily as if lighter. Based on a grisette/saison brewed in collaboration with Le Cheval Blanc for their 30th Anniversary, this beer evolves with weizen yeast pitched after two days of primary fermentation, with the addition of Sea Buckthorn, and with aging in white wine barrels.

And, WOW, is it wonderfully aromatic! The nose presents an enticing bouquet that dominates the first flight (Ask For Paul, Viti Vini Vici, and this were presented first). It expresses notes of funky wet wood, with some floral esters, and a tannin-forward vinousness. Oddly, though the nose here is the boldest of the three at the pour, it becomes the most muted after 15 minutes on the table as the aromatics express rapidly, but seem to diminish just as quickly. It, likewise, brings a characteristic Dunham funk quality that I find both appealing and evidence of a brewing maturity.

In the mouth, I get a slightly tannic quality with a low level of spicy phenols complemented by what I imagine are the fruity elements of sea buckthorn - not that I have ever tasted it outside of a beer - before a nicely dry finish with a moderate (and I'd say perfect) level of tartness. Oddly, though I wouldn't call the tannins high, they stand out despite this beer following my tasting of VVV above. Carbonation is moderate, but should still be picking up a bit, and though it smells bolder than it tastes, it is delectably dry, tart, and crushable now with the promise of increasing funk over time.

Oro Zuur - Batch 3 (Mosaic)


 This batch of Dunham's barrel-aged dry-hopped sour is a treat once again! Unlike the original Oro Zuur (with Mosaic), this is less sour overall, but perhaps more funky on the nose. The nose here has a deep level of the noted characteristic funk complemented minimally by some berry and tropical fruit-forward hops. Unlike some dry-hopped sours that are full of (clean) fruit without funk, this is more funk with a hint of fruit. There is a trace of wood underneath, but it is aromatically dominated by something like musty sour fruity candies.

Tastewise, it is much more muted up front than past versions but ends with a musty, mildly tart, quenching signature that is evident in many of these beers, and it is very, very enjoyable. The beginning here is a bit fruitier than in other elements, where mild strawberries and shades of lemon zest come to mind.

The carbonation and feel are both moderate, to moderately full, but somehow the dryness and finish (not to mention delightful flavours) still invite drinking over sipping!

I don't find the differences between batches of Oro Zuur to be too large, but I do believe I slightly prefer this more funky version to the more sour versions that preceded it. Regardless, I can't see anyone who enjoyed the others being turned off here as the strengths all remain, if in slightly different proportions.

Berliner Dragon Weisse

Dunham's Berliners just keep getting better and better! This latest incarnation presents a gorgeous pink hue, with a head that lingers and laces despite the bolder carbonation of the style.

Aromatically, it is milder than expected, but still offers a pleasing nose characterized by the dragon fruit. It doesn't smell very sour, as a kind of floral and fruity quality takes over. Though I am unfamiliar with dragon fruit, I would say it comes a bit close to kiwi in my assessment of the nose. Again, being unfamiliar with the base fruit, I'll also add that I get something on the nose that smells almost artificial, but not in a bad way. Though it doesn't smell at all like cherries, I mean artificial in the way that maraschino cherries smell a bit different than unaltered fruit. This isn't off-putting in the least, rather it is simply descriptive of something I lack the language precision to otherwise explain.

Tastewise, this offers a massive fruity character up front before evolving with a decent acidity and dryness that spreads across the palate. The carbonation is bold, as it should be, but somehow there is an oilyness to the feel that works excellently as it seems to stick the beer against my entire mouth forcing a linger of fruit and moderate acidity as I swallow. Somehow, this just works perfectly with this beer!

Oddly, despite an actual final pH of 2.86, this beer doesn't feel that sour in perceived acidity, and it remains super crushable and refreshing! This may have been my favourite sample of the evening!

Saison Cassis Reserve Brandy - Single Barrel

This gorgeous beer (pictured above beside its Tokai barrel counterpart) is super fruit-forward, with the nose offering that bitter-sweet currant aroma alongside a fair bit of alcoholic heat. As it warms, there is a very, very faint trace of what I identify as fusels, though I am told it is likely the fruit (but I am sceptical - see the Tokai review below).

Though it smells quite hot, you cannot taste the booze at all, as the currants dominate in the mouth. Less tart and less acidic than past versions, but the fruitiness complements this moderately low sourness with a full body that creates an excellent sipping treat. I would imagine this too shall still carb up some, but even if it doesn't, the body is truly juicy making for an excellent refreshment nonetheless!

What I hated:

Saison Cassis Reserve Tokai

Okay, hate is a strong word, but this had off-putting qualities to me. WARNING: do not read below if you don't want to have this and a few others beer ruined for you by the power of aroma suggestion!

This has a fairly bold chemical smell underneath the fruit. There is some of that in the Brandy version, but it falls deeply behind the fruit whereas here I get it immediately. It has two characteristics that are equally off-putting to me:

First, it has fusel components. Again, I am told it isn't fusels, but I taste them as well and I have come to be accustomed to these in a few failed homebrews that got too hot in primary. Representatives from the brewery insist it may have been a by-product of the fermented fruit, but I do not get this from any other version of this product and there were even more heavily fruited versions in the past.

Second, there is an expression - perhaps from the fruit as from the flowers in Cantillon's Mamouche - that comes across as insect repellent to me. Once, at a Cantillon tasting, someone pointed this out and everyone else present wound up able to smell nothing else after, and now I am unable to not notice it whenever I smell Mamouche. I am sorry if my description does this for you, but despite my general love of tokai barrels and of other variants of this beer I cannot help but be disappointed in whatever happened to this product. Do let me know if you agree once you smell and taste it.

That said, the yeast and bacteria in this beer could continue to transform it, and I'd be excited if they did so, but as it stands, this beer wasn't for me.

Regardless, as noted, Dunham continues to innovate and their experiments are almost entirely successful, this time no less than always! Despite my dislike of one beer, I remain enthralled by the others such that you know where to find me on May 13!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Pow Pow Kapow! Trillium and Lawson's Combine Forces to Blast Your Palate

Six months. Yes, I realize it has been six months without a post, but in that time I have taken up brewing (at my own home) and become a parent for the second time, so hopefully you'll forgive my lengthy absence.

If those reasons don't cut it for you, perhaps the inspiration for my return will: a double IPA collaboration project (that dropped and promptly sold out last week) between Trillium and Lawson's Finest Liquids.

If that doesn't excite you, you must not really dig craft beer at all; in which case, I must ask what brought you here to begin with?

And yet, there's even more excitement: this beer is brewed with Lupulin powder.  Basically, like your ganja-grinder builds up copious high quantities of THC-rich powder, so too this is like the "chemo" (or whatever the kids are calling "da bomb shit" these days) version of hops - not extract, not pellet, not leaf, but money, son!  And, since these plants are related, it is literally like the lupulin version of THC buildup in resinous powder, but herein one captures the essences of... wait for it... Citra, Simcoe, and Mosaic in concentrated form (supplemented by regular Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin).  I KNOW, RIGHT!?!?  Just mentioning this beats Viagra for beer geeks everywhere!  I had to seriously overpay to trade for a can of this, but while it's fresh on the market, how could I not write about it?

Pow Pow pours a turbid pale OJ colour with a frothy white head.  It recedes fairly quickly, but still offers opportunities to waft the bouquet.  Here I am greeted with citrus (both tangerines and grapefruit), lemon rind,  melon, some pineapple, and a fair dankness.  The nose is fruity and exotic, with an underlying hint of the resins comprising much of its aromatics.  And it is fantastic!

On the tongue this beer starts with the tangerine sweetness one expects, before quickly transitioning to grapefruit and drying with a substantially bitter finish (bolder and with a lengthier linger than most Trilliums or Lawson's).  There is a slight mineral earthiness to the finish that I would have attributed to the lupulin (thinking the powder is less removed in the unfiltered finished product), except I have gotten the same on my own (non-powder) IPAs sometimes, and I wonder if it is unsettled yeast as are often present in turbid IPAs (and of specifically non-flocculant strains).  This detracts slightly for me from its otherwise remarkable drinkability, but it remains magnificent.

The body absolutely nails the NE silky softness characterizing the style.

In the end, I'd say this beer is closer to your average Trillium than your average Lawson's, though elements of the influences of both Sean Lawson and JC Tetreault are both discernible (I say this and am reminded of my amazement that my father-in-law can pick out jazz musicians on different instruments by their style, yet here I am doing so for brewers!)

Though I still prefer (DDH) Melcher, (DDH) Congress, and (Galaxy) Fort Point, saying that is no slight!  If it pales to those, the difference is slight and fans of the style must recognize that this may never return, so trade for it now while the powder is fresh!

Grade: A

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Goose Island Migration Week 2016

There is some debate about whether or not craft breweries purchased by larger conglomerates can maintain their 'craft' capacity and quality.

I, for one, though preferring to support smaller breweries more often, am firmly in the camp of: it remains craft if it is otherwise craft.  To me, the craft label comes from the lack of additions of adjuncts and non-fermentables unless used to enhance the beer and not detract from its body or flavours, or to hide or mute its sharper (or off-flavour) notes.

Thus, Goose Island remains a craft brewery and, moreover, the continued quality of Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS), amongst others, demonstrates that things have remained largely the same even within the AB-InBev camp.

Yes, our access to Goose Island beers is accordingly increasing in Quebec.  This is a blessing to have regular access to great brews like Sofie, yet regular access also makes us take things for granted.  Yet some of their rarer treats typically still remain beyond our reach in most of Canada.  That's why GI's Migration Week events inspire our palates and prompt our quest for their harder to procure products.

Though the Montreal Migration Week website still lacks details, I have your early scoop!  This visit will be in Montreal from July 4 to 9 - that's right, next week (and in Toronto from August 8-12)!  And the key event will be a tap takeover at Huis Clos (7659 Saint-Denis) Wednesday, July 6 beginning at 7pm.

The event promises confirmed draughts of Illinois Imperial IPA, Madame Rose (a Flanders Oud Bruin aged in French oak Cabernet Sauvignon barrels with Michigan cherries and Brettanomyces), and Four Star Pils. I'd suspect there will also be the usual fares as well (Honker's, IPA, Sofie, Matilda, etc) and probably some surprises as well, and I have received strong hints of some BCBS being on hand also (at least at some events next week).  In fact, I'd be greatly surprised if there was no BCBS, though I won't go on record as the source of any assurance here.  Even if that doesn't pan out, great beer will be available!

Regardless, this event promises to have an excellent draught lineup and to demonstrate that corporate takeovers need not degrade craft quality!


Friday, 17 June 2016

Quebec and/at the World: Mondial Let's the Locals Shine

Mondial de la Bière, which wrapped up this past weekend, offered countless beers of worldwide origins alongside the best of the local scene.  The differences have slimmed and, overall, the local has blossomed to become my go-to at this world festival.

This was my fifth Mondial, and each time the increasing strengths of the local scene seem to shine brighter.  In ways, this too is a testament to Mondial and more, as this festival's contribution to our broadened local exposure to global trends and historical styles has pushed the brewing envelope of the province as the number of breweries, quality of product, and level of innovation continue to soar.  This isn't to say that all local beers were great or that all imports were bad - in fact they broadly evened out - but rather is stated to claim that the local has improved regularly over the years I have lived here, and here's to that!  I mean, the tops, DDC/TDD/etc were always great, but many of the rest have made huge strides, and that is a great thing for Quebec beer lovers.

However, in that First World Problem sort of way, aside from the cask event, many local brewers brought less in the way of previously unavailable offerings.  For instance, Dunham's spread was truly excellent, but made up almost entirely of great offerings available at the last bottle release.  Dieu du Ciel! brought AMAZING treats such as Péché Mortel Bourbon and Isseki Nicho Pinot Noir, and I imbibed even if several bottles of each rest in my cellar.  Le Trou du Diable poured the always amazing Dulcis Succubus (and many more), and yet this also abounds in my home, while Les Trois Mousquetaires offered their excellent Tenth Anniversary Imperial Dark Kriek Dixieme (and others).  But, such are the woes of committed beer geekery: I had tried most of these delightful treats beforehand!  I know... it's a tough life when great beer is widely available!  And, to that, this post sends its praise despite this tempered lamentation!  In fact, broadening exposure to such time-tested products is the very purpose of this event for many breweries and, geek-problems aside, this also serves only to enhance the local palate and scene, which can only result in a stronger local industry.  Thus, despite wanting to try more new things, the superb quality of barrel-aged and uniquely strong offerings is actually a bigger blessing than a curse.

Yet, in the way of the new delights I seek out, Les Trois Mousquetaires' new IPA came with a sneak preview and dominated.  Let me reiterate: it DOMINATED.  Every year there seems to be one beer I have a few times - this was that beer.  In fact, I had two samples of draught and one from the cask at the Thursday Benelux on-site cask event.  It was quite floral and citrusy in bold aromatics, while flavourful if not aggressively bitter according to the newer (North-East USA) trend of late addition hopping, and it captures the essence of this sub-style.  I am glad this has started to hit shelves and that a few bottles line my fridge.  If you see some, buy some... or at least let me know where it remains.

L'Espace Public and Vox Populi brought their first releases to some anticipation.

Vox's Double Fruit Punch IPA was tasty, but paled in both nose and flavour to the LTM I had just tasted.  It holds promise though and I maintain the faith that this will improve as VP smooths out the kinks, as these local "gypsy" brewers have substance behind their popular acclaim.

L'Espace brought three sours: Bière de Coin d'Rue (Sour Blond), Bière de Balcon (Raspberry sour), and Bière de Ruelle (Dry-hopped Sour).  While all were nice, and all canned and sessionable (at 4.5, 3, and 6.5% ABVs respectively), they seemed a bit restrained.  That is, I felt like all could use a bit more: fruit and sour in the Balcon (to compete with the delightful Solstice d'été), tartness for the Coin d'Rue, and hops for the Ruelle.  In a way though, their delight was their moderate subtlety.  They were all on point, all refreshing and crushable, but somewhat targeting the beginning sour drinker, while offering styles that often attract the more committed beer geek.  This is probably a good strategy, to offer such crushable versions, but I hope this portends the pursuit of bolder offerings in the future.  Nonetheless, canned and solid sessionable sours are a very welcome addition to the Quebec beer scene.

Rounding out the local, with some interesting options, were Kruhnen's (collab with the Atman Brothers) New-World Hops variant on their popular King Cogne, and Brasserie Harricana's 77 (barrel-aged sour porter).  I may personally enjoy the original King Cogne more, and slightly found an odd clash between the sour and the roast as sometimes occurs in beers of the sour porter style, but both were still quite enjoyable and pushed the envelope in ways that inspire a growing scene.

Once 'leaving the province,' Nøgne Ø was the shining light in a sea awash with a variety of global options, ranging in quality with a few hidden gems scattered therein.

The Norwegian's of Nøgne brought a marvellous spread including Kriek of Telemark, Imperial Rye Porter (collab with Terrapin), Imperial Stout, Porter, God Paske, Sunturnbrew, Horizon Tokyo Black, Aurora Australis II (collab with Bridge Road), Imperial Aquavit Rye Porter, Dragonwort Stout, Saison Reserve, and more!

Of these, I offer a special nod to the Bretted Saison Reserve which offered decent funk in both bouquet and flavour, the Imperial Aquavit Porter (despite never having tasted Aquavit for reference) which offered fruity, woody, and chocolatey notes, Kriek of Telemark (showing a solid example of a fruited sour all around), and the Horizon Black Tokyo which proves a 16% beer need not be a boozy mess!

New Italian AB-InBev acquisition, Birra del Borgo, has always had strong products and, macro-owned or not, this acquisition hasn't changed that.  Duchessic (their saison blended with Cantillon Gueuze) offers a marvellous mix of funk and tartness, alongside a brilliantly dry finish.  Likewise, in their sour area of strength, their Prunus likewise holds its own, though the fruit is very tempered (compared to Nøgne's) but the tartness and drinkability were bang on.

New York State brewery, Captain Lawrence regularly impresses, and their strong sour red/brown Rosso e Marrone probably stole the show for me (aside from LTM's excellent new IPA).  This 10% twist on Flanders style beers smelled maltier than it tasted, with decent oak and fruit aspects, while the taste finished with a remarkable dryness beyond what you get in the classic Belgian examples, proving the perks of a unique American take on the style.

Once again, some of the stronger Brazilian breweries also brought tasty offerings, with Bodebrown offering the same Imperial Stout in different barrels (Cacau Wood Aged and Cherry Wood Aged Atomga), while 3Cariocas' Saison de Leblon (with mango, vanilla, and pepper) offered easy drinking  with a nice blend of adjuncts, despite a fairly sweet finish for what should be a fairly dry style.

Beyond the beer, it seems to me that local food vendors had improved as well, as food diversity had increased, and there were far more makers of great local sausage who were more than willing to hand out a sample to entice purchase.

My biggest gripe was really only with the weather.  This was easily the coldest and wettest Mondial of the five I have attended.  Obviously, this cannot be controlled, but that warm patio drinking will have to wait for another year (at least at the fest!)

Overall, Mondial was once again a resounding success and a great time!  I cannot wait for 2017!