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!

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