Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Les Trois Mousquetaires drops Déjeuner Impérial 2.0 and it's still Bangin'!

Sometime around designated imperial stout season I always seem to emerge from blog-hibernation when an epic imperial stout hits my palate.

And, just today, Les Trois Mousquetaires dropped the second version of their stellar Déjeuner Impérial, a bourbon-barrel aged imperial stout with coffee and maple staves.  Version one came in 375ml bottles and was brewery only, at 1 bottle per person (if memory serves) and launched at last year's Double IPA Day.

This time, however, it comes in a 750 (because nothing says winter like an 11.5% 750) and drops at 2pp at the brewery with store drops pending.

This delightful brew pours a black base with a medium tan head. The head is audible and dissipates quickly portending a sharper carbonation than I usually appreciate in the style.

Aromatically, I am enticed by maple coffee, with traces of wet wood and bourbon vanilla underneath.

In the mouth, all of the different aspects get their moment to shine. It starts with a sweet maple forward introduction before transitioning, first, to a warming bourbon heat and finishing with a drier coffee bitterness (when the warmth transitions from tongue to chest). Though sweet overall, this beer brings a balance of flavours that provide a complementarity rarely rivaled.

As expected, it is a bit more boldly carbonated than I usually appreciate, yet something about that works extremely well here. Though the sharp carbonation lifts the weight some giving a more apparent thinness, it also seems to work with the bourbon heat making for a lively mouthfeel that seems to help round out the noted flavour balance.

Wait, the 11.5% must have gotten to me, what am I saying?! I mean... uh... you won't like this. Send me your allocation for proper disposal. I promise it will be adequately handled.

Grade: A

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Montreal's Festival Season Kicks Off With Beer, Beer Festival Season Kicks Off With Mondial!

Late Spring in Montreal launches the city's crazy festival season, while summer itself promises many epic beer fests!

This Wednesday things kick into high gear at Palais des Congrès, where the 25th Mondial de la Bière launches for 4 days of raucous revelry.  This year's festivities promise 650 different products (beer, cider, spirits, and mead) including 334 products new to Mondial, and many appearing for the first time in Montreal. Fourteen different countries are represented, and the organizers expect 140,000 visitiors over the 4-day event!

Yeah, it gets crazy, loud, booze-fueled... and fun.

The event runs from noon through 11pm from Wednesday through Saturday and, while entry is free, samples can add up so going with a plan is best for both budget and palate. And, if you don't wish to buy a glass, don't forget to bring one and freely use the glass-rinsing stations to clean things up in between tastes.

As always, I am most equipped to comment on sours, saisons, wilds, IPAs, stouts, and barleywine as I rarely drink anything else (aside from the occasional dry-hopped or barrel-aged zwickel).

Thus, for those wondering what to get, I offer my plan to conquer Mondial!


As the most widely selling style of craft beer, it is crucial to consider the IPAs on offer at Mondial, yet here there is good news and bad. The state of antiquated import laws unfortunately means even solid non-Canadian IPA breweries like Three Floyds must submit their beers months ahead of time to the SAQ system where they age them out for us, and this style only suffers from aging.

Thus for IPA fiends, I'd stick to the local, with decent to solid offerings from Shelton, le Cheval Blanc, Vox PopuliLes Trois Mousquataires, and Dieu du Ciel. However, most of their offerings are available locally regularly, and doesn't one go to Mondial to taste from afar?

Thus, my suggestion is to branch away from you hophead tendencies and to seek out some other styles! But, if you insist on the imported IPA, my untested, but optimistic best bet prediction is to hit the Norwegian brewery Haandbryggeriet for their (collaboration with Stone/Brewdog) Triple IPA (at 10% ABV) called Inferno as the backbone may support the hops for longer in the lengthy (and lengthily dated) import process.

But, seriously, expand your palate...

Sours, Saisons, Grisettes

Yeah, yeah... sour isn't a style, saisons aren't all sour, but I'm lumping them together because there are too few of each to latch onto here!

And, well, despite a few interesting looking offerings like Benelux Grisette a l'hibiscus, LTM's new Sour Citra, and DDC's Exorciste aux Mures, I'll just state the obvious: get your Crooked Stave and Jester King pours (but leave me some) and run along!

As a wildcard, I'll add in OverHop.  While people raved about them last year, I find them inconsistent and more OverHyped, but I have seen batch variation as they dial in their contract process, and they bring several sours that could be worth a try... maybe.

Big Stouts and #BIL

Canada's Nickelbrook brings two barrel aged variants of their Bolshevik Bastard: Winey Bastard (wine BA) and Kentucky Bastard (bourbon) that are always a pleasure, while Brewfist offers an interesting sounding stout collaboration with Prairie called Spaghetti Western aged in grappa barrels (!?) with a certifiably sessionable 8.7% ABV (for a session RIS).

Dieu du Ciel brings Peché Mortel variants Latte, Framboise,  and Termopilas (Mmmmmm).

Lack of Barleywine may be death, but at least your lifeline can be jacked with the 14% Xyauyu from Italian brewery Baladin, but I'd like to see a few more big bad BW rocking the taps.

Final Thoughts

In the end, when things start to dwindle, remember the local, remember something new, remember palate fatigue and exhaustion, and remember to drink responsibly!

But if responsibly out of options, Nøgne Ø always hits pretty hard, while DDC also brings a special 25th Mondial surprise beer that is, presumably, not to be missed.

See you there, geeks!

Monday, 12 February 2018

New Benelux BA Bottle Blends! Lapsus and Grande Armada Réserve

Though I know of no Montreal beer geeks who avoid offering their respect and admiration of Benelux Brasserie Artisanale, they are often neglected in broader discussions due perhaps to their infrequent bottlings. However, with their Brasserie du Canal providing greater bottling capacity, we have seen increased assemblages of barrel-aged products (Chroniques de Mars, Mai, Janvier, for instance) hitting the stores in the past few years and a new vintage release has just arrived with another right around the corner.

And, as evidence of Benelux's brewing cred, when these infrequent bottles do appear, they disappear from shelves almost as quickly as they arrive.

The classic Grande Armada Réserve (2017) just hit shelves in the past couple of weeks, while Lapsus (2017) is slated to do so this coming week.

This year, both beers have changed format going from 650ml bombers to 500ml high density bottles. Sometimes such format changes result in similar pricing, yet to Benelux's credit, the price did indeed drop, while the lowered volume is a welcome change in my opinion. I mean, for starters, if you need greater volume for a larger share you can buy two, while this size allows for easier solo drinking. Yet, an even bigger advantage here is that the smaller format makes for more bottle production letting a wider audience enjoy the same output (or allows you extra aging bottles if you're a hoarder like I am!)

Before cracking these bottles, though, I want to express my excitement at this post for multiple reasons: first, I haven't written in a while and I'm happy to be so doing again; second, these beers are exciting; but third, and most prominently, this post marks the first ever true collaboration between maltytasker and my dear friend, Noah, of Beerism. Though we weren't able to get together for all of these tastings, Noah was able to provide some stellar photography allowing us to collaborate after many years of considering doing so before this project-post finally came to fruition.

Now, seeing as I tend to buy and store far too many beers, I figured I'd use this preview opportunity to compare (and dig into the cellar). For the Lapsus, I have chosen to look at last year's release in comparison to this year's. And for that too, I'm stoked.

The Lapsus Showdown: 2016 vs. 2017

I can't unfortunately (and obviously), side by side these at the same age, so it is tough to tell if observed differences are more of batch variation or age effects, but differences are clearly noticeable here despite vast commonalities. While last year's Lapsus promised a blend of Oud Bruin aged three years in Californian Pinot Noir barrels with a Dubbel aged one year with brettanomyces and raspberries and checks in at 7.5% ABV, this year's professes a blend of Californian Pinot-aged Oud Bruins of varied vintages (mostly 1+ year with a bit of 4-year (!!!) ) alongside other sour beers aged on raspberries and Saskatoon berries, and comes in at 6.4%. Despite these differences, though, there is a remarkable consistency to these beers that is evidence of marvelous blending skill. 

Both appear quite similarly pouring a vibrant mahogany with minimal slightly off-white head of some retention (and no real lacing to speak of).

In the new incarnation the raspberries pop more, offering fresher, sharper, brighter aromatics, while the year-old vintage is both a bit more faded with a stronger balsamic backbone. When we let it breathe and warm, while further digging beneath the surface notes, both bring background oak notes and vinous qualities. The vinousness and oak character seem a touch more present on the older bottle, but the fresh notes up front make the newer bottle the clear winner in the nasal challenge.

In the mouth, there is a slight malty sweetness and hint of Saskatoon berry to the newer batch before a light vanilla and balsamic barrel quality in the swallow and finish. Oddly, the raspberries are far less present here than in the bouquet.

The flavour to the older vintage starts sweetly as well, if a touch more pronounced, but ends with a red wine-like complement to the moderate balsamic and vanilla-ish oaky notes. There is a greater dryness to this aged bottle with a slight bit of bolder brett funk discernible.

While neither has great acidity, both have some mild tartness, yet the newer bottle seems a bit thinner. Both have a decent silky feeling with minimal carbonation, but the body and flavour seem to be wins for the aged bottle.

Both have great similarities and this assessment really doesn't make clear how alike they are, yet the differences must (at least somewhat) be due to process as the (apparently and logically) increased Brett character of the older beer should have resulted in a thinner body (though the greater ABV portends a greater backbone supporting greater heft). However, the thinner (not thin, just thinner) body of the newer makes for easier drinking with less balsamic character that can be slightly off-putting to my palate.

Photo (obviously) not by Beerism!
There seems to be a tradeoff here: fresh nose or increased funk that complements the vinousness and oak, with a drier finish. To age or drink fresh? Why not buy two and do both? Or...

The only logical conclusion here is to blend them! In so doing, however, the nose of the more dominant fresher batch spruces up the older one but pales from its original form, while the taste doesn't seem to meet the strengths of the aged bottle either. Don't get me wrong, all "three" are great beers, but I think most would prefer either the fresh bouquet of the latest version or the increased drying funk of an aged bottle, while the blend seems to mute the strengths rather than bring them all to the front.

However you prefer your Lapsus, stay tuned for the new drop to hit shelves this week!

Grande Armada Réserve 2017

Presumably many a beer geek has tasted this delight before. And hw does the new vintage stand up?

Well, the 2017 labelled blend pours a deep dark brown, with a tan head of large soapy bubbles and some streaky lacing.

The aroma on this beer stands up to its reputation from other years, perhaps even with greater barrel presence: yes, this is a barrel-forward beer. Some may lament this for detracting from the mostly indiscernible base brew, but this is, for me, a selling feature!

Aromatically, I am hit with big bourbon notes of toasted oak, vanilla, a bit of maple, and some slight hints of ethanol. There is a mild nuttiness underneath, but this is barrel and bourbon to the nth degree, and that's exactly what I want it to be!

There's a brown sugar and mild dark fruit quality in the mouth up front, before finishing with an initial vanilla quality and a (bourbon-derived) alcoholic dryness to the finish.

This has an excellent, smooth, creamy feel with fairly low carbonation and a medium (or a bit heftier than medium) body, alongside a feeling, but minimal taste, of heat. Though I'd often like a bigger body to support this, the carbonation and creaminess here support it amply. It is only very mildly sticky (for such a sweet base). I'd really love to see this hit a nitro tap someday... in fact, I may have to shoot one through my nitro-charged cream whipper!

Maybe my memory fails, but I find this to be a VERY strong vintage of this always strong barrel-forward blend.

Ya'know... I'm pretty partial to Benelux as their Verdun location is my local pub, but they really are stepping things up with increased barrel blends to take home from your local bottle shop. Though they now offer growlers as well, it's these bottled barrel-blends that need not be best consumed in 7 days that really highlight beer geek life. So, get your asses to your local dealer and snag these while you can!

One final shoutout to Beerism for the stellar photography! Cheers!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Godspeed! You Mad Brewmaster!

I just happened to be in Toronto when the first can-release preceded the anxiously awaited opening of Godspeed brewpub in Toronto's East End (slated to officially open as a brewpub sometime this week!) When the brewmaster and genius behind the project is Luc "Bim" LaFontaine (originally of Dieu du Ciel fame followed by Japanese brewing experience), the hype is real and the lineup of 100+ people when I arrived about 20 minutes into a 12-hour first-launch can-release foretold the thirst of the city's residents.

With the release announcement neglecting to mention the beers on offer, speculation ran amok, while early Untappd check-ins of cans of Stout and Dortmunder gave away two initial offerings, while the third (discovered only on site) was an IPA.

Though I expected a lineup, I wasn't sure a 4.7% ABV Stout and a Dortmunder would draw the crowds, but while I wasn't alone in this assessment (as many in line described the styles as "boring"), Bim's reputation brought the Canada Day crowds nonetheless. That said, I too came for his past resume, even if relatively uninspired by the styles but optimistic due to brewmaster pedigree. Though I expect them to be on-point, this may have been the only beer geek lineup for Dortmunder in history and may well be the last! But, such is Bim's legend! Yet, we nonetheless anxiously await Godspeed's step into the trendier styles of sour beers, wild ales, barrel-aged delights, NEIPAs, saisons, and more.

Cans were offered at about the moderately high end of the going rate at $3.75 (tax included) per 355 ml.

Even with construction remaining, the visit prompted excitement for open with a gorgeous interior layout (if a touch less seating than space may demand) and the promise of stellar on-site Japanese food created by a team specially selected and brought over by Bim to join in the project. He promises us that "The food will be amazing! You cannot go wrong when you put so much passion and love in what you do."

I can hardly wait, for either food or beer, so let's turn to them!

India Pale Ale (6.0% ABV from the "Pitch & Pray Series") wafts a fairly mild nose with a honey-ish malt base coupled with a blend between earthy hops and mild citrus and cantaloupe. It smells as it looks, fairly malt forward, slightly English and less American.The taste is similar with an earthyness coupled with a grainy slight nuttiness up front before a moderately bitter finish, but one once again more reminiscent of a blend between an English and a West Coast style than of the East Coast claimed in the brewery description.  The body has a decent heft alongside low-side carbonation (for the style), with a pleasant oilyness to its mouthfeel. This is a type of IPA somewhat neglected in these parts, and it may impress for some, but for the trendy beer geek posse, it will likely underwhelm. Though the description above proclaims it an Eastern IPA, it is much more English in tradition, with but mild hints of the New World character. It is fine, and I respect it for what it is, but I look forward to more thoroughly American takes on the style when Godspeed gets around to them.

Dortmunder (4.8% ABV from the "Pitch & Pray Series") presents a gorgeous copper colour with a soapy white head, of minimal retention. Aromas are of sweet, malt-dominant pilsner grains, with a faint grassy noble hops character. The taste is quite sweet up front, but quite clean with a fairly dry finish and a substantial, mildly bitter linger. This beer is very well balanced, and likewise offers a moderate body with moderately low carbonation and mouthfeel. It may not be my preferred style, but it is highly quenching, and almost entirely on point to style parameters. One could argue that releasing such a stylistically sound beer as an initial offering is the safe route, though another perspective holds it as a bold one to offer it in such a lager-loathing craft beer market. Yet, despite the reservations of the geeks, brew-pubs need the locals alongside the dedicated beer-traveller, and styles such as this are the virtual basis for local orders at my local craft brew pub (in an area not unlike Godspeed's). Though I may not buy many such beers, I am happy to note the stylistic expertise I'd expect from a brewer of Bim's pedigree.

Stout (4.7% ABV from the "Pitch & Pray Series") may be the hidden gem of the bunch. Pouring out a deep dark brown to opaque black with a thick, foamy beige head of stellar retention and thick lacing, this beer presents a bold roasty coffee dominant and very mildly ashy bouquet. Though there is some cacao underneath, it is coffee that is highlighted by these malts. There's a mild biscuity quality up front in the mouth before a quite sharp, dry, and lingering coffee roast dominant finish. In the end, there is a trace of earthy hops alongside the intense roast that almost expresses in the linger as a slight ashyness, but not beyond acceptable levels. This seems to fall somewhere between what would be defined as Dry Irish Stout and American Stout by style, and it holds a medium body with the low carbonation I appreciate in the style lending a heftier feel on the tongue than the 4.7% ABV likely supports in reality (but aren't mouthfeels all about perceptions anyway?). This is a solid, solid base stout and I regret not having purchased more!

I love the name of the "Pitch & Pray Series", since as the adage goes, brewer's only make wort and yeast make beer, such that even Mad Geniuses like Bim, still must "Pitch & Pray." Bim tells me this is the series name for the early release beers, only some of which will be brewed later after others arrive. Thus, different lines will become evident once the product starts flowing regularly. In the meantime, however, this launch plays it fairly safe but demonstrates base mastery (as if there was any doubt) with nailed styles and reliable staples.

Now, time for the madness!  Bring it, Bim!  We're ready!

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Reviewing the World of Beer: Mondial 2017 in a Province of Booming Craft

For the sixth straight year, I put in a full day at Mondial de la Biere, arriving at noon and departing around 10 pm.  Yes, I had a long time to drink, but I tried to pace myself, to drink water, and to get to some fairly reliable assessments.

My first assessment concerns the lack of GlobeTrotter food (and the insects they usually bring).  I even mentioned them in the preview as they are always present it had seemed - even another year when they weren't mentioned in the program.  But alas, I had to eat "normal" food with my beers and I, sadly, cannot tell you which would pair best with crickets.

I arrived early to try Three Floyds' infamous Dark Lord 2016 (having previously had a 2014 and wanting to see if it was any better), but alas it smelled identically of soy sauce and tasted of sweetened, high quality, soy sauce once again.  I'd love to try the BA versions, but I just cannot get behind this beer.  While there, and with limited offerings, I also hit all of the Three Floyds IPAs and DIPAs, but they were all too oxidized from the lengthy importation process for optimal assessment (as expected).

However, another extremely limited bottle on my must-try-list was available at open and this one did not disappoint: Central City's Sour No. II (Sour Kriek) was boldly assertive with a bright oaky nose not unlike the Flanders style sours, and drank delightfully with a decent body and complex interactions between the balsamic qualities alongside the oak, the funk, and the fruit.  This was a standout beer, for sure and I would gladly seek it, or any other sours in that line, out again.

On the international front, I found a few more deserved of mention.  Of limited Lost Abbey products available, there was oddly the widest availability for what I felt was the best beer: Carnevale, a funky American saison of stellar depth and quality, of which I returned for a second pour.  Also, the Brazilian beers served onsite by OverHop were noteworthy (in particular, I enjoyed their HopGoddess IPA the most, with honourable mentions to OverLab Nelson Sauvin and Hazy).

On return to the Quebec front, like others, I was disappointed by the absence of some of Quebec's strongest breweries (*cough* Dunham *cough*, not to mention Benelux, Hopfenstark, Pit Caribou) and smaller strong newcomers like Maltstrom and Auval, but there were some solid local delights.

Though I was surprised by the strengths of Les Trois Brasseurs' Milkshake IPA, I was excited to try the newly praised Shelton NEIPA brewed at Oshlag.  Though the Shelton wafted a great nose, I found it a bit thin and not quite of the complexity early reviews had me hoping for, if nonetheless solid.

Yet, in closing, I was wowed by the evolution of the beers at Brasserie Harricana.  New(ish) brewmaster Francis Richer has been killing it!  Though their Saison des Allergies is still fantastic and not of his original making, several strong new offerings (17 Brune Celeste, 14 Double Gose, and 720 Strong Ale) were all noteworthy, unique, and delightful.  Yet, the highlight there, and perhaps of the festival for me was the creamy, smooth, nitro-served bourbon-barrel aged B52 imperial porter with coffee, vanilla, and lactose. Man, is that beer a remarkable treat.  Sweet, but complex, coffee-forward, yet not one-dimensional.  I'll line up for bottles of this!

With another year down, I am reminded again of the need to revise the SAQ system, at least for American IPAs.  I mean, they are all tested and approved within the USA - they are not going to kill us!  We buy them anyway on every vacation down South!

I am also reminded of the many varied and growing strengths of our local beer scene.  With each passing year of Mondial, it seems Quebec stands up taller against the trends and imports on offer and this year managed to do so with a diminished number of the high end of Quebec craft breweries.  This only bodes well for our local consumption down the road - now for Mondial to entice the newer brewers and the old ones back!

Until next year, cheers!

Monday, 12 June 2017

Another Year of Mondial de la Biere! (Another Year It Must Cope With Paternalistic Prohibition-Inspired Legal Limitations!)

As another year has passed, we once again find ourselves on the verge of the forthcoming Mondial de la Bière which runs from this Wednesday, June 14 through Sunday June 18 at Montreal's Palais des Congrès.

In year's past, I have given advice on arriving early if you wish to try rarities or to avoid the weekend party atmosphere (or late if you seek the party atmosphere!), on which specific beers to seek out, and on strategies for finding your specific beers of interest.

This year, I will be briefer, but will - in a somewhat different vein - push a bit of a political agenda (or two).

For example, one of the most sought-after beers on the list: Three Floyds nearly-IPA level APA "Zombie Dust" is on offer, but once again promises to be far too old for optimal enjoyment.  Oh, us geeks will still buy samples, "tap it," and lament the stale aged hops, but why don't we instead (or in addition) contact our local MNA and demand a change to regulations, or engage in a discussion over these sub-optimal beers as to how best to lobby for progressively amending outdated alcohol laws?  It isn't Mondial's fault that these beers must spend many months being 'tested' by the SAQ (despite the fact that no known pathogens can exist in a fermented beer below 4.5% ph or above 2% ABV), and I applaud Mondial for bringing in these diverse offerings  These regressive laws don't only baby us, they cost taxpayers needlessly and ensure that we are shielded from many great products in the global market.

Sure, some beer styles withstand this trip (and for those, I encourage you to check out Belgium's Brasserie de Bastogne, Brasserie de la Senne, Brussels Beer Project, Vliegende Paard Brouwers, Brazil's Cervejaria Colorado, America's The Lost Abbey, Three Floyds, and Weyerbacher, Norway's Haandbryggeriet and Nøgne Ø), but many are either not at their best or hindered by this delay.  (Typically IPA, APA, and other well-hopped styles are most adversely affected, while Scotch Ales, Imperial Stouts, Barleywines, sour beers, and saisons - mostly saved by higher ABVs - are better respresented after the wait).  Alternatively, stick to the many excellent local brewers (at least for the IPA/APA style).

I, alone, will not boycott the international booth, but perhaps this is a strategy discussion the beer community may want to have for future years, or at least to plan for as it may bring Mondial around to join us in pushing for change.  Their lobbying weight cannot be underestimated and it is surely in their interests to provide the best and freshest beer as well as the diversity for which we applaud them.

In an unrelated, but likewise politically motivated suggestion, consider that as starvation both threatens the stability of many and as climate change alongside a growing population means diminished access to food in the future, many have argued that insects should provide a more sustainable and healthy alternative to other protein sources.  Thus, my penultimate Mondial tip is to seek out Globe Trotter and to begin adjusting your palates to this delicious and nutritious food oddity.

Finally, remember the most important things: step outside of your comfort zone, try new beers and styles that you may never get to otherwise, but don't bud in line, don't be a jerk, and do not, under any circumstances drive drunk.  Having fun in such a way ensures that we all can.  Cheers and see you at Mondial!

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!