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!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Making for a Marvelous Mondial: Tips and Tricks to Tasters' Delights

This year's 23rd Annual Mondial de la Bière, beginning this Wednesday (June 8) coincides with both Grand Prix weekend and other smaller events, like the Fringe Festival, which together guarantees that absolute insanity and chaos will reign supreme in Montreal this weekend. Yet, the party vibe threatens to be immense!

Thus, my first tip is to arrive early, to plan ahead, to avoid (likely price-jacked) Uber fares, and to ensure that you accept slower ways home that DO NOT involve drinking and driving! I always enjoy a delightful, early Summer sobering walk home from Mondial, and I hope you also travel responsibly to and from the event.

The event itself (hosted at Palais des Congrès) is free, though you must buy tasting tickets at $1 each with samples costing between 2 and 8 tickets per. Remember to either bring a tasting glass, or be prepared to buy one, and rinse it often!

As always, though, while there, the question of what to do and drink become paramount. Here are some highlights and suggestions beginning, of course, with the beers!

Beers to Wrap Your Lips Around:

On the Overseas front, there are many returning delights, but also first-appearance treats that should not be missed. For 2016, Spain joins Brazil and Italy in the realm of countries with broad representation at this festival. It strikes me as odd that Germany and Belgium are less present than these smaller craft-beer countries, but some strong offerings from these countries share stylistic traits with many of the popular beers originating in these locations.

Amongst the Spanish contingent, Dougall's and La Quince probably rate the highest, though several of the best beers on offer (from them and from other Spanish craft breweries) are of the well-hopped APA/IPA/DIPA varieties. Though more the fault of the import system and both Canadian and Quebec laws, and the SAQ, than Mondial, these beers are unlikely to be optimally fresh. When trying such styles at Mondial, I'd ask to see the bottle or can for dates, and if some later brews have slipped through, these could impress.

Amongst those Spanish beers that may hold up better are Laugar's Aupa Tovarisch imperial stout and La Quince's American Barlywine, Sweet Dreams.

Italy's Birra del Borgo may have been purchased by AB-InBev, but they still bring a strong spread. However, I am most excited for the massive 14 beer lineup from Norway's highly praised Nøgne-Ø.  There are many styles from which to choose and I can personally attest that half of the beers being presented by them are great indeed, while attesting that the other half all rate strongly and you really can't err in buying a treat from these folks.

The Americas List reserves its best for Captain Lawrence, Weyerbacher, and Two Roads  for American options, while Brazilian breweries Bodebrown and 3Cariocas also bring their A-game, though age warnings for hop-forward products remain in effect!

Famed Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson, used to say that the best beer is always the freshest one, however, and I am accordingly most excited for the local Quebec offerings.  Not only is Dieu du Ciel! hauling delights such as Isseki Nicho Pinot Noir BA, but Les Trois Mousquetaires bring their IPA and DIPA (and BA Baltic Porter, and regular Gose and Berliner Weisse) to fulfill hophead needs for fresher IPAs amidst imported heavies.

Likewise, Brasserie Dunham's selection runs the gamut of styles, barrel-aged, well-hopped, and bretted marvels, and Brasserie Benelux represents themselves with a likewise impressive array of many of their staples and special releases.

Finally, like many others in the Quebec beer scene, I am looking forward to Vox Populi's exciting new Double Fruit Punch IPA.

On Thursday, Benelux once again hosts a cask event, for which one must register in advance on the Mondial page. As always, these are guaranteed to be the freshest beers on hand.

As you can see, there is really only one thing to fret in all of this: the hangover.

Special On-Site Events:


For the first time, Mondial will host a gastronomy area where invited chefs will assemble food and beer pairings to tantalize the palate. This event runs for the first two days (Wednesday, June 8 and Thursday, June 9 only) from 16:00-21:00.

Moreover, guided beer tours and beer/cheese pairing events about. Both sound great and offer vast learning opportuinities, and are free to join while samples must be purchased in tickets.

Meet the Brewers:

Brewers and owners will partake in meet-and-greets on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. This is a great opportunity to pick their brains about their beers, processes, and get brewing tips for those homebrewers out there!


Every year, I promise to get to more of the wonderful off-site events, but never seem to make it, what with the commitment that is this festival! Not only are there countless restaurants participating in offering pairings and beer-cooked meals, but several notable events occur throughout the city this week.  Highlights amongst these, for me, are:

On Wednesday, June 8, Dieu du Ciel! hosts A "Funky Off-Mondial Evening" that promises not only DDC's best sours, but Cantillon bottles as well!

Thursday, June 9 sees both a Le Trou du Diable tap takeover at Vices et Versa and the VIII Anniversary party at Broue Pub Brouhaha.

Friday brings the Third Annual Sour Beer Evening at Station Ho.St, and the launch of Le Saint Bock's Mikkeller vs. Evil Twin week-long event.

Something, probably involving casks will also likely happen at Benelux rue Sherbrooke, as they have a TBA event.

For more information on these events, click the "Special Events" link on the Mondial web page.

As always folks, recognize that there will be some rowdy revellers, but remember to drink responsibly, travel safely, and (as the folks at The Alchemist always like to remind us) don't be a douchebag!

Have fun!

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Bellwoods' Jelly King and I Have an Announcement to Make: We're in Love

Sometimes lately beer bores me. I mean, not exactly, but my consumption has changed.  You see, when I first started this blog, I didn't really know a good brewery from a bad, a good American Wild from a Berliner, and I was just trying things. And there were often seeming masterpieces which shone alongside massive failures. But they'd no longer shine.

See, now I basically only drink good beer. What I mean by noting this is not some snobby claim of superiority (just experience), but rather that when most things one tastes are of a comparable standard, the differences between them actually get subtler. I often think, "This is good," and it seems I am much less frequently saying "WOW!"

But Jelly King... WOW! Thanks for exciting me again! This is easily - EASILY - the best new beer of 2016 I have had and with Motley Cru and Double Barrel Peche Mortel, that is a bold claim!

Take two

Let me start this again, in the other way I'd pondered. I really enjoy Bellwoods beers: their regular offerings are all solid and exemplary of their styles, while their barrel-aged and experimental products are world-class.

But, as much as they are all great, if Bellwoods announced they were discontinuing all production of their regular products except Jelly King (and Lost River), I wouldn't mind. I mean I know they would. I am not proposing that they do this! I am just saying... imagine, Oct 1 through Mar 31: all you can handle Lost River, April 1 through Sept 30, drowning in Jelly! My personal nirvana.

And I hear this very well priced (at $6.50 per 500ml) beer is set to be a semi-regular product. That makes me happy, well... giddy or ecstatic even!

For those who don't know Jelly King is a dry-hopped sour, massively dry-hopped with Citra for bold fruit aromatics, with a lower ABV (at 5.6%) than the earlier untitled "Dry-Hopped Sour" experiments. It is sold out at the moment, but remains on draught on site I believe.

At the pub, they told me some find it too sour and others not sour enough. I have heard some lament that it's too thin. Others simply assume sour and hops can't/shouldn't mix. What can I say... haters. They're entitled to hate and all, and I'm entitled to drink their shares.

Appearance: It pours a fairly clear yellowish to light amber with a much longer lasting, substantial, small-bubbled white foamy head than is typical for the style.

Smell: This smells so overwhelmingly fruity that it reminds me of (what I imagine it would be like to be) stuffing your face into a mixed pile of powdered tangerine and lemon-lime gatorade pre-mix. In fact, it smells almost like Gator-GUM from the 1980s. They say aroma is strongly linked to memory in the brain, and this reminds me of this delightful, long discontinued gum (that smelled great and tasted equally good, until losing it's flavour rapidly). That might not sound great to you, but it is, OH IT IS! I have heard it said, several times, that Four Winds' Nectarous is the fruitiest sour beer that isn't fruited. Nope. This is twice as fruity as Nectarous (which is also awesome, btw!) I could smell this and nothing else, eternally. It's luxurious. It is dominated, for me, by a tangerine and lemon-lime gatorade quality, but there are also some fuzzy peaches lurking in there somewhere. This beer smells like fruity candy! AMAZING!

Taste: Heavenly. It begins with a tangy tangerine quality, before drying and souring up to a quenching peach dominance. It is quite dry, and fairly sour, but for those who find this too sour: don't drink sour beer. For those who find this not sour enough: sure, it won't strip the enamel from your teeth and require either 36 Tums or a trip to the ER if you drink seven of them, but dammit... YOU CAN DRINK SEVEN OF THEM! This is totally crushable, entirely juicy, perfect for the hot summer day!

Mouthfeel: Sure, it's a touch thin, but that's one of its nice perks. It also may seem that way thanks to the spritzy effervescence that dries the palate and spreads the fruity notes. And it isn't that thin. Again, with an overused cliche: it's crushable. Ideally, perfectly, as if from some beertopia: crushable.

Overall: I don't think you'd like this beer. The eight I had have disappeared far too quickly. So if you're carrying... I'm buying. Let's talk. I'll save you from this "thin" beer that's "too sour" or "not sour enough."


Monday, 16 May 2016

Traders, Tickers, and Shit-Flickers

I tick - somewhat. That is, I seek out new things to imbibe and review. When I first got into beer, ticking was life: the requirement to drink was only newness. Now, knowing more about what to expect, I am as likely to drink a beer I have had before, though ticks still come but usually only from known breweries, known styles, and trusted sources of hype.

I also trade beer. Rarely by mail (just a handful of times in a few years), but fairly regularly in person in Montreal and Toronto. Like most, these things tend to go down $4$, which is beer trader slang for "dollar-for-dollar," or of equal purchase price exchange (with an occasional bump for rarity).

But I've got this pet peeve, usually but not always with rare beer ticker-traders.

Part of this comes from a few discussions over the past few months.

In one, an American* visiting here told me of bringing back Bellwoods bottles to share with Southern/Mid-Western American beer geeks. Despite assuring me that they loved them, he informed me that nobody would trade for them though because their bottle counts are too high. "Bellwoods," he insisted, "actually hurts themselves by having high bottle counts." This sounds illogical, until one realizes that what he means is, 'Bellwoods hinders my capacity to trade them for equal quality and/or price beer.' I mean, it's clearly illogical to think this brewery suffers by selling out of a higher quantity of pretty high quality product.

But, I'd maintain, it's equally illogical to lament a beer this guy admits to appreciating for its availability such that he - and distant friends - and many others get bottles of high quality beer to enjoy. I know, he means rather that it won't trade as highly as a rarer, say, 400 bottle count release and he'd appreciate the returns from such a bottle.

Yet, if Bellwoods (for instance) had smaller bottle counts increasing their trade value, he (and so many others) would be less likely to get them, AND would then require trading other equally rare bottles (that he'd be equally less likely to procure), all the while necessitating the purchase of extras of such rare bottles (perhaps with 'mules'**), thereby further consolidating the numbers of people who get either bottle to begin with!

It strikes me that such logic is counter-intuitive to everyone's capacity to acquire and drink special beers - which is the goal, is it not? Moreover, scarcity makes the beer taste NO BETTER, but simply drives up the praise to numerous implications. One of these is to somehow diminish the appreciation of great beer that is accessible to us such that even those who love a Bellwoods product find its value not in its consumption but its after-market marketability.

As I write this, Bellwoods still has half of their entire bottle release of this year's Motley Cru, which has previously sold out in hours with a massive lineup and smaller limits per person. Sure, this year it will be tougher to trade any of my extra Motley, but that's a better 'problem' to have than the one where I procure none of a sold out beer I really want to drink! Props to Bellwoods for doing this right!  Breweries that ensure regular accessibility of excellent products (with another requisite nod to Dieu du Ciel! and Le Castor) deserve our praise, not our scorn.

In another conversation, a person I met on the daily Vermont tourist beer circuit lamented the expansion of The Alchemist, saying, "It sucks because it will dilute their trade value."

I get it. I trade too and trading does level things out in that people without access to Vermont, for instance, can get their paws on cans of Heady and SoS for more local products. But if, as this guy does, you love Heady Topper, would you not also appreciate the need not to stand in line once a week at prescribed times for an allocation of it? Would it not be better for the beer afficionado to be able to drink it than to calculate their virtual bond growth?

I imagine these folks giving their favourite regular beer a lower rating for wider availability and saving a 5 out of 5 for an exaggeratedly low 2 bottle count beer of irrelevant quality, considering it the best they've ever had and wishing they could have another, but needing to trade their second bottle at an exorbitant markup.

I am not against trading beer. I am not against rarity factoring into trade values, though I am against gouging.

Bellwoods and Alchemist should be praised for these decisions, not begrudged for allowing their beer to meet wider palates. When we start making after market beer a bigger commodity than the pleasures of its consumption, I feel like we start to lose out on that which makes beer great: the beer itself.

If you disagree, get into whiskey or wine futures, but stop fucking it up for the rest of us.

*Note: I mention his citizenship here only to note that he travels to Toronto from afar and brings Bellwoods bottles back quite a distance, not that this idea belongs to people in any given country.

**"Mule" is beer geek slang for someone who joins the buyer in line, not wanting any bottles for themselves, allowing their friend to purchase double allocation when sales are set at a maximum number of bottles per person.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Brasserie Dunham: Anniversary Bottle Release Sneak Preview!

As has become an annual tradition, Quebec's highly esteemed Brasserie Dunham promises an exciting bottle release and party at their gorgeous brewery on May 21st, in celebration of their 5th Anniversary.  In just five short years, this brewery has stepped up Quebec saison, blending, and barrel-aging standards by pumping out countless delights.

With special thanks to their founder, Sébastien Gagnon, their brewmaster, Éloi Deit, and their sommelier, Simon Gaudreault, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a pre-tasting event hosted at Vices et Versa yesterday.  I thank them all not only for the opportunity to taste these at such a well-orchestrated event, but for essentially saying things twice so as to accommodate my franco-challenged limitations (though I did catch some of it as my ear gradually improves!)

Not only were media guests well fed and plied with ample tastings of their forthcoming treats, we were further treated to illuminating discussions of the beers, their process and aims, and further ideas of what to expect as Dunham keeps pushing things forward.

In this vein, Simon Gaudreault reminded us of Dunham's commitment to keeping beer events fun, such that their pre-order ticket and payment system seeks to eliminate lineups "so that people don't have to stand around in a parking lot for hours."  Even with all of Dunham's brewing success, this commitment is an idea that truly must catch on in the beer world!  Not only does it ensure the enjoyment of the day for attendees, but it further allows a model distribution where the number of purchasers can be maximized avoiding catastrophes where those who line up earliest get the highest returns.

In other exciting news, Dunham plans (in the near future) to have downloadable pdf spec-sheets of all of their beers, which will list things like grains, hops, yeasts, and processes as well as technical specs like gravity readings and more.  For a beer geek and home brewer, this is also welcome news.

Anyway, you all care more about the beer and what you should order (through your pre-order link here).  The lineup for us consisted of Saison Fleurs Sauvage, Ping Pong Wizard, Assemblage #1, Assemblage #1 Cru Paysan, Leo's Vin Rouge Brett, Tropicale IPA, Berliner Mango Weisse, Deze Monnik is Dronken (Chianti BA), and Stout Imperiale Russe Classique (Tokaji BA).

While chatting and listening, full notes were difficult to take, but there is one final thing worth noting before I provide a brief assessment of most: they stressed to us not to simply call everything 'good' but to critique and provide feedback where relevant, so I will do so as I see fit!

This delightful grisette (brewed in collaboration with Kevin Dwyer and Will Meyers (of Cambridge Brewing) pours a hazy dark yellow to very light amber with a slight head (at least in taster glass pours), though a top layer of thin-bubbled carbonation lasts throughout its consumption.  It wafts some lemon rind, fermenting grape-skins, and mild pear qualities and can best be characterized as offering a fruit-dominant bouquet complemented by mild tannic, musty, and lightly tart aromatics.

In the mouth, it reminds me of a mildly tart unsweetened apple quality complemented by low peppery phenols.  Though fairly light-bodied to make for easy drinking, it was a tad fuller than expected for the ABV, though I found it a bit under-carbonated for the style which may have given the illusion of greater substance.  Don't get me wrong it isn't flat, and the carbonation has been confirmed for me as being by design, but I personally feel it could be strengthened by a more bubbly effervescence that spreads the notes across the palate and dries it alongside the body-lightening illusion that would provide.

Still, I am nitpicking here: this is a solid beer and one I look forward to drinking on my patio on a hot summer day!  Grade: B+

I am strictly reviewing the Cru Paysan variant of this, assuming that most of you have tasted the original.  This extremely small-batch variant is aged in Red Wine AND Sauternes barrels, and is one of the highlights of the day for me.  They allowed us to side-by-side this with the original, and some of my notes come from that comparison.

This sexy beast pours out a very slightly darker colour than the original, with a very mildly hazy amber body, capped by a decent white head not unlike its twin.  Aromas are perhaps a bit less oaky, though are much stronger overall.  There is a deep vinous quality complemented by must, apricots, and a faint hint of tangerines.  This nose is big, bold, and AMAZING.

Tastes begin with a touch of honey-covered fruit up front, perhaps of the aforementioned apricot, before a switch to a more musty Brett/wine combo quality (that I suspect you'll know from other wine-barrel, bretted beers), and finishes with a dank and very dry swallow and linger.  This is medium bodied and carbed, and seems to work well with the vinous nature and funky components.  Though I slightly prefer the nose to the taste, this is a fine beer and one I wish the limits allowed multiple purchases of!  However, it is always better one per person and many taste it, than 4pp and hoarded by the few.  Grade: A- to A

The red-wine BA and bretted variant of this Dunham staple brought out the most varied feelings amongst those at my table, though was universally the least appreciated by all present.  I have, at times, had red wine beers that overwhelmed me amidst other tastings beforehand, which managed to shine when later imbibed on their own.  This could be one of those beers that, for some reason, seemed not to fly in the order in which it was presented.

The body presents a moderate amber, while a fair white head tops the base.  I found the nose must dominant, with a hint of booziness not present in the base beer - like that winey alcohol heat.  I rather liked the nose, but the other four at my table all hated the nose.

The taste was equally divisive, as I found it to be characterized by a stale cardboard quality reminiscent of both aged hops and stale tea, though that was complemented by a decent grape must component.  Personally, I loved the nose and was not too impressed by the taste, while the other four at my table found it tasty, but unpleasant to smell.

As noted in our small sample, this beer seems driven by excess - unless it was in bottle variance - but in its boldness brought out the boldest of opinions.  Having already placed my Dunham order, mind you, I have another coming and will report back if this stands up better when not following Cru Paysan (which very few Quebec beers are well suited to follow!) Tentative Grade: C+ to B-

As is typical in a Berliner, this pours a cloudy golden with a scant head, though it may be perhaps cloudier still for the pureed mango that makes its way into this beer.  My nose detects the fruit, but it is overpowered by that acidic lemony berliner quality coupled with a trace of floral esters.  The taste, again, brings a lemony lactic sourness complemented by moderately high mango flavours.  It is quite sour, though cleanly so, with a decently drying finish.  It has the light body and sharp effervescence that bring the style to life in your mouth.  This will be one tasty hot summer day treat, indeed! Grade: A-

This year's Deze Monnik differs in its barrel-aging (this time in Chianti barrels) and as only 1/4 of the figs were added during fermentation, with the additional 3/4 added (for the first time) in the barrels themselves.

It makes for a different beer, but I think a better one!

A decent thin-bubbled white head rests atop a medium brown base.  From this head wafts a moderate amount of sweetened figs, as if the fruits were topped by substantial amount of brown sugar, perhaps even lightly charred brown sugar or burnt caramel.  There is just a scant trace of the Chianti.

In the mouth, it starts sweetly, as with the previous incarnation, with a middle characterized by the fruit (though a touch less present than before), and ends with a drier finish than in the past, with a touch of the wine and oak at this point making for what I would call a more complex, rounded, and balanced product.  When quads are done right, the feel offers a creaminess despite (in apparent contradiction) sharp carbonation.  This nails that!  It is heavily effervescent, but not sharply so as the creamy texture rounds it out in ways that blend rhythmically with the flavours. Grade: A- to A

As with the Sauternes barrels used for Cru Paysan, this variant of their classic Stout Imperiale Russe comes aged from a barrel containing a noble-rot infected wine.  Tokaji, a Hungarian dessert wine, however seems much sweeter than Sauternes - from descriptions, as I am no sommelier.  I am, however, a big fan of Sauternes-aged beers, so the options here excite me!

As expected, this pours a deep, dark brown with a scant white head (again, at least in these tasting pours).  The bouquet is brilliant!  I am blasted by something resembling a booze filled chocolate, where the booze is out of my price-range and the cacao is like 85%.  There is a fruity vinous quality, but it is mild and complements rather than overwhelming the stellar scents, and there is, underneath of course, a roasty quality but again, it takes a backseat to the booze-filled chocolate.

It starts in the mouth with sweeter chocolate notes, before a mildly astringent roastiness, and completes with a dry finish of greater complexity than in the base beer.  Don't get me wrong: I love the base beer.  Here, however, rather than a hopped-dryness, there is one complemented by oak and a style of wine I have never tasted but can now slightly imagine.

Perhaps moreso than in other variants of this stout, there is some heat in the linger, but the body remains nicely chewy and full-bodied, with fairly low carbonation discernible.  Grade: A- to A

Saison Fleurs Sauvage and Tropicale IPA have both hit stores recently and are not listed on the pre-order sheet, so I will avoid an in-depth review here, except to add that both are solid.  I am most impressed by the mild funk qualities of Saison Fleurs Sauvage being achieved without Brettanomyces, while Tropicale IPA has more (both quantity and types) of fruit than batch one and is a far better product!  Both are worth your pursuit and hard-earned dollars.

In closing, I'll simply add that there are many more excellent sounding beers than these at this release, so I encourage you to get your order in!  And if, for some sick reason, you don't want your allotted Cru Paysan (or RIS 6-pack), well... you know where to find me!

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Brasserie Harricana: Damning Styles, Changing Trends

This past November, Alexandre (from the great beer blog Le Malte Incarne) and I had the opportunity to sample the selection at Brasserie Harricana while kicking back with and picking the brains of head brewer, Mathieu Garceau-Tremblay. Harricana made some waves upon their opening for their multi-temperature draught system (which has 4 degree, 8 degree, and 12 degree Celsius settings as the norm).  It took me nearly a year after opening to get there - being a family man and all - but the first experience ensures it won't be my last visit!

The first thing that impressed me about Mathieu, aside from his much appreciated willingness to communicate in English for my linguistically-challenged shortcomings, was his resistance to style norms. Beer styles serve their purposes and there is something to be said for building from a solid base, but being bound by them likewise curtails ingenuity. In that vein, the best beer of my nine-sample tasting was the biggest transgressor of these guidelines and was a resounding success! More on that shortly.
Perhaps unfortunately, however, one of my largest critiques would also be the divergence from expectations: I had a weisse that tasted like a Berliner weisse, a Berliner weisse that tasted like a hefeweizen, a gruit "saison," and a "Red Hop Bomb" that the brewmaster himself calls a "session barley wine." Now, that doesn't mean these were terrible - in fact some were great and all were decent - but they did stretch the bounds of expectation.

Another apparent strength - though I was dumb enough to have eaten before arrival - were the exquisite aromas wafting from the plates of other patrons. I was drooling on several occasions; whenever any dish arrived at tables even some distance from ours, the aromas were dominant and intoxicating. I WILL be back to eat... maybe until I explode. ("It's just wafer thin!")

Aside from food and beer, the menu also includes hop soda derived from freshly derived hop serum. The specific hops used changes every week or so and allows you to experience their nuances in a sweet soda delight.

For a final (pre-beer-review) accolade, I'd also like to note not only the cleanliness of the establishment, but moreso that of the brewery, cold rooms, and barrel-area. The organization was impeccable and this, coming from our pre-tasting brewery tour, gave a strong first-impression of a well-organized operation.

I find it an odd choice that their beers are only available in (reasonably priced) five ounce sample formats or eight ounce glasses mind you.  Though I often appreciate the sample format, a few glasses to equal that pint just seems odd, but hey... I know a few things about beer and nothing about being a brew-pub restauranteur, so who am I to say whether this works better or not!

Alright, without further ado, some beer thoughts below the barrel pic that follows.

Though I won't exhaust your readership by reviewing all nine beers in depth, I'll share some brief notes on a few and offer a final overall assessment afterwards.

Aprikotenweisse (3.4% ABV, served at 4 degrees Celsius) is a weisse brewed with Galaxy hops, and kettle-soured with house bacteria and lactobacillus (breaking from expectations).  It isn't at all as expected, but it works expressing a thin head atop a cloudy yellow base. The nose is a bit dusty and mildly sweaty which was not what I was anticipating, but it was inviting to one who loves the funk! A bolder dry-hop could only have added to it, mind you, but the taste was likewise delectable with moderate apricot fruitiness up front (that was absent on the nose) before mildly tart finish. The spritzy-sharp effervescence and light body made this a quenching summer day dream-like and crushable beer.

Dry Stout (4% ABV, served at 12 degrees) is normally served on nitro, but they had run out of nitro and we had to try the regular CO2 keg. This brew wafts brilliant coffee aromas, with mild biscuits and roasted qualities, while the taste was more biscuity with a touch of earthy hops and mild cacao. Though I rather enjoyed this, I did find it a bit thin and watery, but not so much as to stray from the standards.

Red Hop Bomb (7.5% ABV, served at 8 degrees) is, as aforementioned, lovingly considered to be a session barley wine (!). Well-hopped with Galaxy, Topaz, and Dr. Rudi, this beer had evolved since having been brewed seven months before my trial, and few hops remained. Yet, despite the 'lower' ABV, this beer had held up presenting a bouquet dominated by caramel complemented by raisins and plums. It smelled like a standard English barley wine. In the mouth, tea-like flavours blended with a low fruitiness and an earthy dry finish supported by a decently full body. It was a bit sticky to the lips and a touch oily, but was intriguing enough despite its age clearly demonstrating some brewing prowess.

Saison des Allergies (5.4% ABV, served at 12 degrees) is an oddity indeed! Technically, I am not sure how this can be called a saison: it isn't brewed with any standard saison yeast, it is a gruit (a beer without hops), it has carrots steeped in the mash, it is brewed with golden-rod, and is barrel-aged in Chardonnay barrels. And yet... this was the treat of the night! It pours a hazy yellow with an immediately dissipating thin white head. The nose is musty in both senses of the word: both stale (in that Brett-y kind of inviting way!) and of grape must. Completing the nose are aromas of faint wood and dust. On the tongue, I note an initial fruity Brett quality, reminiscent of peaches, with a transition to a substantial tartness, with a dusty, dank, and equally dry finish. My only real criticisms here are on the feel, where it is a bit oily and under-carbed (though many BA beers are). This drinks like a fairly complex sour and is easily the best beer I have had at this rising establishment.

In conclusion, this is worth checking out! With the best beer, by far, being a BA one, and a growing barrel-program, coupled with playful experimentation and a food menu that smells like heaven (and presumably tastes just as good), I will return and I hope you do too!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Benelux Chronique de Mars: Delicious!

Benelux Brasserie Artisanale boasts two excellent brewpubs - in Verdun and downtown - alongside another brewing/kegging/rarely bottling facility called Brasserie du Canal.  They make some solid beers, but rarely release bottles for distribution.

As far as I know, they have only ever released different vintages of their Grande Armada barrel-aged imperial brown ale, but news broke this week that they'd be dropping Chronique de Mars: a barrel-aged blend of a sour saison and a pale ale with Brettanomyces, and dry-hopped with Galaxy.  Note that while the bottle advertises this, I am told by one of the brewers from Benelux that it is a blend of three saisons: a standard/classic saison, one with secondary Brettanomyces Bruxellensis, and one sour saison (that comprised only 8% of the total blend).  The Bretted version apparently spent 10 months in barrels.

If you know me, you know words like "sour saison," and "blend" peak my interest, and they flat out excite me when coupled with "Galaxy hops" and "Barrel-aged."

So, I immediately swung by Maltéhops where my dealer superhero, Patrick, informed me that it would arrive on shelves today.   Being a committed beer geek, I returned again today... twice.

The first time brought the trial, the second for the stash.  And you want a stash.  Trust me.

The cap pops loudly with bold carbonation pushing forth a quick, if not explosive, rising head necessitating a fast pour.  The glass fills with a hazy light copper capped by a thick, foamy white head of solid retention with minimal lacing.

At first, fairly cold, the funk is massive!  The nose wafts a dank dustiness that brings reminiscent thoughts of Brasserie Dunham's delightful Saison Réserve.  Though some wood notes are present, they are buried underneath the bold Brett-dominated aromatics.  As it opens up, the Galaxy qualities of pineapple and mango come through a bit more complementing the Bretty cobwebs, but this smells marvelous indeed!  It is obvious that this is massively Bretted, and that can either turn you off or on.  Me?  I've got more than a semi.

Tastewise, this is complex and highly drinkable.  It is ever so faintly sour, with just a notch below standard saison ph levels.  It begins with a bit of that tartness and some mild fruitiness, mixed with a grape must and highly funky, slightly leathery finish.  The carbonation is quite aggressive, which works well with the style in general and with the notes of this beer specifically.  The sharp and spritzy effervescence spreads the flavours, cleans them off the palate, and allows the dryness to complete each sip, thereby inviting the next.

This may be my favourite Benelux beer to date, and with Grande Armada, several solid IPAs, Black Beatty, Troy Spèciale, and other such treats, that is high praise indeed!

In fact, the blending, the Brett, the hops, and the carbonation are so well executed that it reminds me of the strengths of Crooked Stave beers (perhaps blended with the aforementioned Dunham Saison Réserve).  And, for all of this, it is well-priced at a mere $10 (plus tax and deposit) for a 650ml, barrel aged blend.  My only, and it is mild, criticism would be that the Galaxy hopping (and dry-hopping?) could be amped up a little to better complement the massive funk.

I lied.  I have two further criticisms: it won't always be available and I can't afford to buy several cases.  So get yours now, before I get a mortgage to buy the rest.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Spilling Secrets: Marché du Village and the New Série Impériale Barley Wine

No matter your hobby, you periodically discover a surprise supplier and try to keep it secret.  For beer geeks, whether that's your 'loon link or whatever, we somehow feel as if we need to keep things hushed so that more remains for us when we need it.  Sure, some know about it, but maybe not everyone...

And yet, here I am telling you all about the not-so-well-kept-secret (since it opened in 1967 and all!) that is Marché du Village in Ange-Gardien.

What's to love about this place?  Man, the list is extensive...
  1. Being situated off-island, they often have rare bottles last longer than the requisite 9 minutes
  2. They are basically halfway to my in-laws cottage and make for a crucial stop beforehand, making the visit more tolerable
  3. They are located about 1/4 of the way from Montreal to Hill Farmstead - a regular stop for any dedicated Montreal beer geek (but remember to stop on your way back!)
  4. Due to friendships and proximity, they get full stock of special Dunham releases... Mmmmmm, Dunham
  5. They have an excellent selection of Quebec beers including the majority of breweries and special releases, and...
  6. ... as a special SAQ authorized retailer, they also stock other nice brews as well.
  7. They are located in a 24-hour high-end supermarket/cafe/gas station perfect for your travelling needs
  8. They have two temperature, light, and humidity controlled cellars; one for long-term aging and one that brings out the latest from the former for sales at varied intervals.
  9. To see the sale cellar, you must ask the incredibly friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, bilingual staff for assistance, but never has a request for assistance felt so invited
  10. They periodically brew/contract brew/have brewed special release beers that are barrel-aged and intended to be suitable for long term aging!
It is the second of these beers that prompts this post.  The first in the series, Série Impériale Scotch Ale Impériale, was brewed at Brasseurs Illimités and aged in several diverse barrels.  It was a treat: not too sweet with an excellent barrel character making for a delightful winter sipper.

This winter, Marché du Village and Brasseurs Illimités have combined forces again and released the second in the series: Série Impériale Barley Wine.  This English Barley Wine is well hopped with Nugget and Fuggles, before being barrel-aged in Whiskey, Brandy, and Rum barrels. It retails for $19.99 for a 750ml bottle, and when you consider the quality, the size, the 11.9% ABV, and the aging potential, this is a fair price indeed.

It pours out a reddish copper with a thick tan head.  Large bubbles make up the cap, which has fair retention for the high ABV, and even a circle remains throughout, while lacing is fairly thick and uneven.

It is quite aromatically enticing.  The bouquet is rich with a well-blended complexity of diverse notes with none overpowering.  The most dominant notes are wet wood, mild sherry-like qualities, low ethanol, some earthy and mildly tea-like hops, moderate caramel, and a hint of baking bread.  There is a mild peaty quality with a touch of fruity plum-like esters, but no overwhelming barrel component of either whiskey, rhum, or brandy.  This isn't a limitation, rather it attests to the nuance added that blends so wonderfully.  There's a hint of what smells almost like spiced whiskey and rum very faintly.  This is a very complex and balanced nose.

The flavour begins with a bready/caramel/doughy quality that quickly transitions to tea and bits of barrel, before a quite dry and fairly hot finish with an earthy and resinous bitterness.  Though nicely bitter, there is a fair bit of residual sugar on the palate.  It has a medium length bitter linger.  There is a bit of ethanol here as well, but what do you want - it's 11.9%!  As it warms, it becomes a bit less bitter, with greater raisin notes and caramel notes in the finish.

It is fairly full-bodied with moderate carbonation.  The tongue picks up a slight oiliness, and it is a touch sharper than I'd like, but not at all sticky (and for the residual sugar and ABV that is a big plus!) There is, as expected, a moderate warming as it downs.

Overall, this is a very nice second coming, and one I will seek out another bottle of for aging.  Yes, it's a touch sweet, but also nicely bitter and dry, and it is, after all, an ENGLISH barley wine; though one well complemented by well-blended barrel-aging.

Moreover, Marché du Village has some of their own glasses and had one made for this Series.  The glass is a gold-rimmed teku, seen in the pictures.  It is a nice hefty teku, much like the Dunham/Jester King release from the Autumn, with the same height, shape, and weight with the odd extra bulbous base beyond the standard teku. It is thick but not as excessively so as the weight implies.  Overall, the printed design is nice, but not fantastic as it is a bit simplistic, but it is a fine teku for a Quebec beer scene that is overloaded with tulips but under-represented by this trendy tulip-esque alternate design.

In a nutshell, I'd stop by this place.  Get their new beer, get some aged ones, get some standards, grab a branded spiegelau IPA glass, and a teku, and move on the Eastern Townships prepared to survive the tribulations of your in-laws... or maybe that's just me.