Sunday, 17 November 2013

Now For Something Barrel-Aged: Hopfenstark's 7th Anniversary

Yesterday I managed to get to Station Ho.St for the first couple hours of Hopfenstark's 7th Anniversary party.

By the time they opened (around 2:20 pm), the lineup had grown enough to fill all of the seating in the establishment with a happy mood of delighted beer geeks, and by the time I departed (around 4:20 pm) most of the standing room was taken as well.  A nice turnout, but nowhere near the insanity of some other anniversary parties.

I was hoping for sample flights, while 8oz glasses were the minimum.  That, coupled with tap rotation and the need to remain functional for the evening meant I got through five delicious beers (and tasted another from a friend) and some thoughts follow.  If the kegs aren't all emptied, I encourage you to swing by and clear them out!

While I have often called Dieu du Ciel Canada's top brewery (and placed Hopfenstark close behind), brewmaster Fred and company at Hopfenstark truly are the barrel-agers extraordinaire of the bunch and the reviews below should make that clear.

I began with the Saison Station 16 variant that had been aged in white wine barrels (8% ABV).  This rye-brewed saison, from Quebec's master saison brewery, is a regular favourite, and the added complexity from this aging process is marvellous.  It expresses a delectably enticing tart fruity vinous nose with substantial wood notes. There is no head to speak of as the carbonation is slight, while the flavour is of grape-like wine with some of the rye evident on the finish that lingers with some profound woody complexity and some dusty funk.  The peppery and bubble-gum notes of the original remain, but are muted by the woody complexity.  This is a VERY fine beer, while my only real, and very slight, beef is with the dearth of carbonation though the body is nice if a touch oily without any noteworthy effervescence.  Grade: A

Next, I turned to the rarely brewed and highly hyped saison/lambic blend they call White Chalk (5% ABV).  A chalky and lace-like white carpety soft film of head capped a cloudy dark yellow base.  The nose was nicely tart but tempered with substantial citrus notes of lemon and zest, alongside some barnyard dust.  Similarly, it presented flavour notes that were fairly if not excessively sour with some decent chewy leather funk.  It began  fairly tart as the carbonation spread the notes throughout the mouth, but dries more funky with some wheaty citrus qualities leaving a nicely dry lingering finish.  It was very good, if slightly less complex than I'd imagined (though it was assuredly still fairly complex nonetheless). This had the moderate and stronger carbonation I'd have hoped for in the former, and both were highly drinkable to fans of the funk!  To characterize it with a bit of an oversimplification, it had more lambic on the nose and up front, and more wild saison in finish.  Grade: A-

My third delight was a 6-year old, oak-aged, soured variant of their Baltic Porter de l'Ancrier (8% ABV).  I love me some soured stouts/porters!  This one presented that ever-so-slightly reddish-tinged slight head reminiscent of barrel aged stouts and porters.  It wafted a brilliant nose that was mostly tart and lightly acidic with some sour cherries and hints of dark roasted chocolate. Taste-wise, it showed some toasty sweetness up front that dried out with a uniform tart and lingering finish, but one that lacked the depth of expression that the complexity of the nose had portended.  On the mouth, it remained fairly creamy with sufficient, if light carbonation.  Quite good and drinkable, if not as fantastic as I had been hoping after the early delights. Grade: B+

I then enjoyed a sip of the Bourbon-Barrel Aged Variant of Ma Chaumière (10% Strong Ale).  This oddity smelled strongly of a bourbon-aged imperial stout with some raisins and vanilla-forward bourbon alongside the chocolate roasty notes of enticement!  The taste, however, is entirely different resembling something like a cross between a barleywine and an imperial dark saison that has been barrel-aged!  It begins with some raisins, vanilla and bourbon but ends with a solid herbal hops finish of substantial bitterness, depth, and linger.  A nice full body and more carbonation (if slight, prickly, and fine) than the others tasted thus far, this is a unique and well-brewed oddity.  Grade: A-

My final review herein will consider the white-wine barrel-aged variant of 7 Sisters / La Pleïade: Maïa (9% ABV Belgian Strong Pale Ale).  This cloudy orange-ish, almost reddish-tinged brew expresses a magnificent nose of sour grapes and sweet wood.  It is slightly funky, but in a complex and thorough manner something like slightly fermenting fruit with just enough remaining sweetness to invite a sip.  This easily has one of the best noses I have ever experienced, and the taste... wait for it... was just as good, with similar 'lightly-off' (in a good way) faintly sweet fruity flavours but a perfectly dry floral and herbal hops finish alongside some complex grape must.  It was not sweet in a sweet-tooth way, but just had sweet enough fruit complexity to bring in the finish in a perfect balance.  The mouth was a touch oily with moderate carbonation allowing the expression of its many strengths.  This beer was simply fantastic!  Unlike the non-barrel aged versions, it offered no distinct yeast presence but remained amazing on its own terms!  Easily one of the top 5 beers I have ever tasted and, depending on my mood, perhaps the best!  Grade: A+

Though I also had a 14-month Bourbon Barrel Aged Kamarad Friedrich Imperial Stout, I have reviewed this delight before, and though I wish I could have stayed to try the Red Wine Maia variant (after the success of the white wine one) and perhaps Framboise Forte, I - alas - had to depart.

But, if you needed any reminder of the strengths of this brewery and of the need to watch for their Monday Rare Beer Night kegs or their Tuesday Barrel-Aged Beer events, consider yourself forewarned.  I may call off work if/whenever Maia White Wine appears and drink it all.  I'll fight you!

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