Thursday, 24 May 2012

Visiting Benelux Brasserie Artisinale et Cafe

Having finally attended the Sherbrooke location of Benelux, I remain anxious for their (apparently delayed) opening of a second location near my home in Verdun.

Though not unquestionably fantastic, there are enough good things about this craft brewpub to keep me intrigued and returning for more, even if there is some room for improvement.


Benelux offers an excellent evening atmosphere with a fine trendy/art deco/loft-like interior, nice furniture, very clean bathrooms, and sells flights to a decent-sized crowd (even on a weekday evening).  The service was good and, though the flights may be a bit pricey (at $10 for 5 four-ounce samples), you do get 20 ounces for your money and two flights lets you taste ten of their rotating twelve beer selection.

This diversity and quantity are assuredly pluses, though for a craft beer bar, perhaps a cask would be a nice addition.  Nonetheless, I tried the following and offer my brief thoughts on each and then collectively afterwards in the most important part of the review:

Eponyme (a saison at 6.5% ABV) which was very pleasant and a bit peaty alongside its yeasty breadiness.  I would gladly drink this again and (if consuming less without company) will offer more detailed notes then!

Armada (American Brown Ale at 6% ABV) is also quite nice, though a touch experimental insofar as it brings a substantial pine-like hoppiness to the style that is bolder than most (even American) browns.  Still, quite enjoyable and a successful experiment/intensification of the style descriptors and this could almost be called a dark IPA (though without the prevalent cascade signature of most such ales, even if piney on its own terms).

Yakima (American Pale Ale at 5.5% ABV) was quite pleasingly citrusy and crisp to the tongue.  A very fine pale ale and probably my favourite of the three listed so far!

Anniversaire 2012 (double IPA at 8% ABV) was nice, if paler than expected, though cascade hops to a fair degree met with style expectations.  Good and as expected, if not exceptional.

Cigogne (Pilsner at 5.2% ABV) was quite nice with just enough bitterness to nuance the style.  Best pale lager I have had in a while - though I don't have many.  Easy drinking and will probably do well on a hot summer day!

Croc-en-Jambe (American IPA at 6.3%) walked a fine line between drying to a nice extreme and astringency.  I quite enjoyed it, but found it to be longer lasting in its citrusy dryness than even the double IPA which is not bad per se, but perhaps odd and noteworthy.  That said, I enjoyed it, though I was neck-deep in hops at this point and wouldn't recommend it for the faint of hops heart.

Cuda (IPA at 6.5%) was quite nice and offered a late forming dryness and aftertaste.  Not as bitter as some of those above, but more like a cross between a good English IPA and a decent US pale.  Though after the quantity I had consumed, I should try this again!

Finally, we come to Lux Rousse, the sole, but substantial disappointment of the night.  I'd presume it was personal or simply quantity consumed, but as this was my first of the night and as my fellow beer geek attendee felt the same, it seems fair to say that this is a drastic failure.  It is sweet, but not in any discernible malty fashion - more like an artificial sweetener like aspartame - while offering a skunky aftertaste without redemption.  Since I have never really tasted these characteristics, it made me wonder if it was off, but if it were draft lines there should be acetyl (which was absent) and for a brew pub with rotating kegs, it should be fresh, so I am left with my initial impression, that this was just dreadful on its own terms.

It is a good thing my experiences of the other beers were favourable since the Rousse was the token regret of the evening!  That said, I would give at least a grade of B to all of the others, though I don't think any hit the A range for me.  Admittedly, other than the saison, I never tried their Belgian styles and I did enjoy their seasonal Maple Smoked Porter at another event much more, but this is tempered praise (though praise nonetheless).  By this I mean that Benelux seems consistently good - and that assures my continued patronage - but it won't top my list for those 'must-taste-and-attend' places barring a pleasant surprise in the near future.

I have to add that for a brewpub with rotating taps, it seems odd that the rotation included four (or arguably, with the brown, 5) pale ales and 4 untasted Tripels and/or Belgian blondes (which I wasn't in the mood to try) and yet had not a single porter or stout, nor any other lager styles beyond the pilsner on the eve of my visit.  I did enjoy the pales, I understand that this changes often, and I look forward to the rotations (which are, to me, a big selling feature), but perhaps this diversity could be planned a bit better.

That all said, the service and atmosphere FAR top some other establishments that, despite also having the odd miss, have hit so hard on so many excellent beers.  I'd average the beer grade as a B to B+, but the establishment gets an A, so though I'd call some other places greater 'musts' for the beer geek, I'd much rather go here with the average friend over not only other craft bars, but over basically all bars!

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