Friday, 14 June 2013

Mondial Review 3: Pure Laine Quebecois Beers Stand Up to the Best

As I typically prioritize trying new beers, one would think I'd spend little time at Mondial de la biére trying local Quebec offerings.  However, many of these delights are either seasonals/one-offs/trials and/or they come from small, excellent breweries who are struggling to meet demand making their products scarce even here.

Shawinigan's Le Trou du Diable is beginning an expansion that is making their highly respected offerings more widely available, as it seems is Hopfenstark from l'Assomption.  Though I have personally experienced and heard great things about each of these breweries, I had been restricted to sporadic (if increasing) bottles and periodic tap offerings at Vices et Versa and Le Saint Bock.  However, a wide selection at the festival, increasing production capacities, and Hopfenstark's pending new Station Ho.St bar at 1494 Ontario in Montreal mean increased recent and future enjoyment of these Quebec marvels.

As great as Le Trou du Diable is, I wish to note the following: the hype around Hopfenstark is legitimate.  I am a huge fan of Dieu du Ciel! and have, on many occasions, called it Canada's best brewery (in both my opinion and the crowd-sourcing of ratebeer).  However, Hopfenstark is challenging that for me and I don't say this lightly.  The more I drink their beer, the more I want to drink their beer, and brewmaster Fred and his friendly crew assured me many tastes of some gems throughout my time at the festival.  So did many other breweries and, for that, they will all get their due, but Hopfenstark gets the extra shout-out not simply for chatting and imbibing, but for the stellar product they are producing.  I, for one, cannot wait for the new establishment to open!

After 15 months living in Quebec, I now feel sufficiently able to say, however, that there is a stellar high end of breweries here, but that the low end is not good at all (with some in the mid range).  Dieu du Ciel!, Hopfenstark, Charlevoix, Les Trois Mousquetaires, and Dunham really are the cream of Quebec's crop, with Le Trou du Diable, Benelux, McAuslan, Unibroue, and Le Cheval Blanc just behind for me, while there are a few other decent ones but also several I have consistently drain-poured and would be loathe to ever buy again... but man, is the high end solid!  Thus, there are many gems to recommend here and this post, hence, promises to be lengthy!

The very broad categories containing Quebec's Personal Best of Fest are: 1) Sours, Saisons, and Such; 2) IPAs, DIPAs, Etc; 3) Belgian Strongs; and 4) Stouts - literally, two Export Stouts and nothing else of extreme noteworthiness.

Again, there are many solid beers that didn't make the best-of-the-best cut, but without further ado...

1) Sours, Saisons, and Such

The personal winner for me here comes from Hopfenstark (let the deserved praises continue!) with their super-sour Berliner Weisse called Berlin Alexanderplatz Epilogue (3.5% ABV) which was actually my 1000th rated beer!  Not only do I love the sessionable nature of this 3.5%er, but its sour lactic notes and drying tart acidity are excellent for a sour-lover like myself.  I understand this to be an amped (soured?) up version of the original Berlin Alexanderplatz with added raspberries, and deliver that punch it does indeed with a cloudy white body and some slight head sending forth just a lightly tart nose with very mild fruity hints, alongside a mouth-puckeringly sour, acidic raspberry-lemonade flavour without any residual sweetness.  Lightly tingly with a light-to-medium body, the feel perfectly complements the intensity in my mouth.  I would easily call this may favourite Berliner Weisse I have as yet had, while acknowledging that it is a style variant that fits my personal tastes, though a few Gueuzes and American Wild Ales have still topped it on the more general 'sour' front for me.  That said, I am, of course, talking about different animals here (literally, if considering the bacteria) and, moreover, I am thinking of beers brewed by Cantillon and beers like Russian River's Supplication, so it remains pretty fucking good, sir!  Grade: A/A+

Insofar as they specialize in Saisons and such, one shouldn't be too surprised that Hopfenstark's rare and unique Saison du Rèpos (7% ABV) comes in just behind their super-sour winner in the category.  Though some lament the differentiation from the style norms here, they aren't so far off as to make this a different beast; that is, this is a saison through and through and a damn good one, if slightly untraditional.  It is in variation that Dieu du Ciel! stands out and so too this is how Hopfenstark makes their mark if you ask me.  Anyway, this beer pours a clear yellow with an excellent funky-sour barnyard nose of the best sort saisons offer.  The taste is unique and complex offering a clear evolution from citrusy sweetness to Bretty funk to a pleasant, delectable dry finish that cleanses the palate in anticipation of more.  Dry-hopped with citra, the linger is pleasant while the strong carbonation balances finely with the balanced complexity of flavours.  My only complaint?  That this is such a rarely available product!  Perhaps my favourite saison I have ever tasted!  Grade: A/A+

Equally impressive was Le Trou du Diable's Dulcis Succubus (7% ABV) which is sometimes called a Wild Ale and sometimes a Saison, as it has characteristics of each such that the brewers call it a "Wild Saison."  Aged in white wine barrels and fermented with wild yeast, as well as the standard Brettanomyces, this clear, lightly reddish brew wafts notes of honey, apricot, and tart cherries while the taste offers hints of vanilla wood up front with a drinkable, yet delectably soured (if not fully sour) finish.  Enjoyably complex with a fair body and prickly carbonation, I could drink this all day.  Sour but not puckering and multi-dimensional as it is, this beer is a gem!  Grade: A/A+

Falling only ever-so-slightly behind those gems comes Boquebière's Hildegard Saison Brux (7.5% ABV) another Wild Saison hybrid, which pours a cloudy amber with some lingering heady lace.  The nose is a decent mix of barnyard funk and acidic tartness, while the taste is Bretty and funky without much in the way of acidity.  In other words, it smells a bit more wild and tastes a bit more Brett-y (like a standard Saison).  A nice full body and strong carbonation complement it well.  Another successful marvel of Quebec's recreation of the French-Belgian styles!  Grade: A 

In order to keep this post manageable, I will simply send my praise to the following runner-ups without adding notes (let me know if you wish a full review and I shall in the comments perhaps).  These are all excellent as well and only fall short of review herein due to the strength of the competition:
Le Cheval Blanc's Ponette Cerise (8% ABV sour mash blend of Brett with wild yeast and cherries);
Benelux's Grisette (a 4.5% ABV Sour Saison);
and Hopfenstark's original Berlin Alexanderplatz (the less sour version of the praised epilogue which clocks in at 3.2% ABV). 

2) IPAs, DIPAs, Etc

Dieu du Ciel! tops the list here with their phenomenal IPA called Moralité (6.9% ABV) brewed in collaboration with The Alchemist (brewers of the famed Heady Topper).  It pours a fairly clear body that is light amber in colour with a creamy white head.  The aroma is of fruity, delightful, and powerful citrus with some malty hints detectable rounding out this inviting aggression of hops.  A complex finish of pine alongside some citrus, grapefruit, and mango fruity flavours dries out the fairly malted base.  Medium-bodied and very tingly with a sharp, prickly carbonation.  This beer is a marvellous delight, if not for the faint of hops!  Grade: A/A+

Hopfenstark again makes my list, coming in second here with a hybrid beer that seems a better fit here: 7 Sisters/La Pléiade Alcyone (8% ABV) is a black IPA fermented with saison yeast.  It pours a deep, dark brown while expressing a toasty-roasty coffee nose nearly reminiscent of an imperial stout, while the flavour offers an earthy/piney drying finish that is mild, but pleasant, tempered no doubt by the malt but its sweetness is likewise mild and checked.  A nice full body and an easier drinker than I imagined.  Not so much the typical extreme beer despite blending these diverse styles, but a pleasant one to drink without question.  Grade: A

A three-way tie just below these brings forth the following brief tasting notes:

Le Trou du Diable's Le Smash IPA (a 5.5% single-hopped Citra IPA) which has a solid citrus nose and a similar dry taste with some lingering resin notes.  Grade: A

Benelux's Anniversaire 2013 (a 9.3% Imperial IPA) has nose and flavour dominated by typical citrus and pine, with a decent backbone.  I often find I (slightly) prefer the nose to the taste on a DIPA and this was the converse (though maybe it just seemed so after smelling Moralité), but this one tasted like gold and could simply use a bit more dry-hop but was another I could drink all day - though at 9.3%, the day would be brief indeed!  Grade: A

Benelux again makes the tie-list here with the Sabotage IPA (7% ABV) which I had had once before I  had fully learned my love of hops!  Now, the excellent citrusy notes of grapefruit and rind are marvels I'd seek again and again!  Grade: A

I'd like to give a special shout-out to the top-runner up just below the review cut to La Succursale's Angus IP "AAA" (7% IPA), which again would make the cut were the competition not so fierce!  ANother solid beer amongst many in this style new to my discovery (and a nod as well to Hopfenstark's Postcolonial IPA for the taste, nose, and name!).

3) Belgian Strong Ales

Tops here for me was Benelux's Heksen (8.8% ABV) which pours a hazy amber appearing somewhere in between a strong pale and strong dark - seeming more like a well-malted pale in aroma and flavour.  Notes of fermenting pear greet the nose, while the taste begins with a fruity sweetness that dries out nicely in that combo mild hops/earthy yeast way one would expect of a Belgian strong pale.  The linger is nice and lightly funky.  A quite enjoyable beer.  Grade: A-/A

Next came La Succursale's Abt (10% Quad) which pours a nice reddish-brown and offers notes of sweet plums and a hint of licorice.  Taste-wise it is fruity and sweet up front with a fair drying finish.  Quite good at first, but the sweetness seems to grow as it gets consumed and begins better than each subsequent sip.  Still, quite good if room to grow.  Grade: A-

The honourary mention here goes to Hopfenstark's 7 Sisters/La Pléiade Maia.

4) Export Stouts

Ironically, both of the standout, new (to me) Quebec stouts and porters at this event were of the Export variety.

Tops was Dieu du Ciel!'s Libre Échange (6.9% ABV) which pours black as midnight with a fine mocha head of solid retention and clingy/sticky lace.  The nose is of enticing chocolate predominantly, while the flavour is roasty and of lightly burnt toast with a full, nearly oat-like mouth.  Just another masterpiece from this wonderful brewery!  Grade: A+

Coming in second behind this marvel is no insult to Hopfenstark's Greg (8% ABV) which offers sweet lace itself and a roasty biscuity nose alongside flavour notes of biscuits with a very dry lingering roasty finish.  Some may not appreciate how dry this finishes, though it was so good this was fine for me, while my token criticism is that the body is a touch lighter than it should be.  Grade: A-

That's all for now, folks!  The Brazilian's and the Mondial wrap-up?  Soon come!

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