Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Montreal's Festival Season Kicks Off With Beer, Beer Festival Season Kicks Off With Mondial!

Late Spring in Montreal launches the city's crazy festival season, while summer itself promises many epic beer fests!

This Wednesday things kick into high gear at Palais des Congrès, where the 25th Mondial de la Bière launches for 4 days of raucous revelry.  This year's festivities promise 650 different products (beer, cider, spirits, and mead) including 334 products new to Mondial, and many appearing for the first time in Montreal. Fourteen different countries are represented, and the organizers expect 140,000 visitiors over the 4-day event!

Yeah, it gets crazy, loud, booze-fueled... and fun.

The event runs from noon through 11pm from Wednesday through Saturday and, while entry is free, samples can add up so going with a plan is best for both budget and palate. And, if you don't wish to buy a glass, don't forget to bring one and freely use the glass-rinsing stations to clean things up in between tastes.

As always, I am most equipped to comment on sours, saisons, wilds, IPAs, stouts, and barleywine as I rarely drink anything else (aside from the occasional dry-hopped or barrel-aged zwickel).

Thus, for those wondering what to get, I offer my plan to conquer Mondial!

IPA/DIPA/TIPA/ETC

As the most widely selling style of craft beer, it is crucial to consider the IPAs on offer at Mondial, yet here there is good news and bad. The state of antiquated import laws unfortunately means even solid non-Canadian IPA breweries like Three Floyds must submit their beers months ahead of time to the SAQ system where they age them out for us, and this style only suffers from aging.

Thus for IPA fiends, I'd stick to the local, with decent to solid offerings from Shelton, le Cheval Blanc, Vox PopuliLes Trois Mousquataires, and Dieu du Ciel. However, most of their offerings are available locally regularly, and doesn't one go to Mondial to taste from afar?

Thus, my suggestion is to branch away from you hophead tendencies and to seek out some other styles! But, if you insist on the imported IPA, my untested, but optimistic best bet prediction is to hit the Norwegian brewery Haandbryggeriet for their (collaboration with Stone/Brewdog) Triple IPA (at 10% ABV) called Inferno as the backbone may support the hops for longer in the lengthy (and lengthily dated) import process.

But, seriously, expand your palate...

Sours, Saisons, Grisettes

Yeah, yeah... sour isn't a style, saisons aren't all sour, but I'm lumping them together because there are too few of each to latch onto here!

And, well, despite a few interesting looking offerings like Benelux Grisette a l'hibiscus, LTM's new Sour Citra, and DDC's Exorciste aux Mures, I'll just state the obvious: get your Crooked Stave and Jester King pours (but leave me some) and run along!

As a wildcard, I'll add in OverHop.  While people raved about them last year, I find them inconsistent and more OverHyped, but I have seen batch variation as they dial in their contract process, and they bring several sours that could be worth a try... maybe.

Big Stouts and #BIL

Canada's Nickelbrook brings two barrel aged variants of their Bolshevik Bastard: Winey Bastard (wine BA) and Kentucky Bastard (bourbon) that are always a pleasure, while Brewfist offers an interesting sounding stout collaboration with Prairie called Spaghetti Western aged in grappa barrels (!?) with a certifiably sessionable 8.7% ABV (for a session RIS).

Dieu du Ciel brings Peché Mortel variants Latte, Framboise,  and Termopilas (Mmmmmm).

Lack of Barleywine may be death, but at least your lifeline can be jacked with the 14% Xyauyu from Italian brewery Baladin, but I'd like to see a few more big bad BW rocking the taps.

Final Thoughts

In the end, when things start to dwindle, remember the local, remember something new, remember palate fatigue and exhaustion, and remember to drink responsibly!

But if responsibly out of options, Nøgne Ø always hits pretty hard, while DDC also brings a special 25th Mondial surprise beer that is, presumably, not to be missed.

See you there, geeks!

Monday, 12 February 2018

New Benelux BA Bottle Blends! Lapsus and Grande Armada Réserve



Though I know of no Montreal beer geeks who avoid offering their respect and admiration of Benelux Brasserie Artisanale, they are often neglected in broader discussions due perhaps to their infrequent bottlings. However, with their Brasserie du Canal providing greater bottling capacity, we have seen increased assemblages of barrel-aged products (Chroniques de Mars, Mai, Janvier, for instance) hitting the stores in the past few years and a new vintage release has just arrived with another right around the corner.

And, as evidence of Benelux's brewing cred, when these infrequent bottles do appear, they disappear from shelves almost as quickly as they arrive.

The classic Grande Armada Réserve (2017) just hit shelves in the past couple of weeks, while Lapsus (2017) is slated to do so this coming week.

This year, both beers have changed format going from 650ml bombers to 500ml high density bottles. Sometimes such format changes result in similar pricing, yet to Benelux's credit, the price did indeed drop, while the lowered volume is a welcome change in my opinion. I mean, for starters, if you need greater volume for a larger share you can buy two, while this size allows for easier solo drinking. Yet, an even bigger advantage here is that the smaller format makes for more bottle production letting a wider audience enjoy the same output (or allows you extra aging bottles if you're a hoarder like I am!)

Before cracking these bottles, though, I want to express my excitement at this post for multiple reasons: first, I haven't written in a while and I'm happy to be so doing again; second, these beers are exciting; but third, and most prominently, this post marks the first ever true collaboration between maltytasker and my dear friend, Noah, of Beerism. Though we weren't able to get together for all of these tastings, Noah was able to provide some stellar photography allowing us to collaborate after many years of considering doing so before this project-post finally came to fruition.

Now, seeing as I tend to buy and store far too many beers, I figured I'd use this preview opportunity to compare (and dig into the cellar). For the Lapsus, I have chosen to look at last year's release in comparison to this year's. And for that too, I'm stoked.

The Lapsus Showdown: 2016 vs. 2017

I can't unfortunately (and obviously), side by side these at the same age, so it is tough to tell if observed differences are more of batch variation or age effects, but differences are clearly noticeable here despite vast commonalities. While last year's Lapsus promised a blend of Oud Bruin aged three years in Californian Pinot Noir barrels with a Dubbel aged one year with brettanomyces and raspberries and checks in at 7.5% ABV, this year's professes a blend of Californian Pinot-aged Oud Bruins of varied vintages (mostly 1+ year with a bit of 4-year (!!!) ) alongside other sour beers aged on raspberries and Saskatoon berries, and comes in at 6.4%. Despite these differences, though, there is a remarkable consistency to these beers that is evidence of marvelous blending skill. 

Both appear quite similarly pouring a vibrant mahogany with minimal slightly off-white head of some retention (and no real lacing to speak of).

In the new incarnation the raspberries pop more, offering fresher, sharper, brighter aromatics, while the year-old vintage is both a bit more faded with a stronger balsamic backbone. When we let it breathe and warm, while further digging beneath the surface notes, both bring background oak notes and vinous qualities. The vinousness and oak character seem a touch more present on the older bottle, but the fresh notes up front make the newer bottle the clear winner in the nasal challenge.

In the mouth, there is a slight malty sweetness and hint of Saskatoon berry to the newer batch before a light vanilla and balsamic barrel quality in the swallow and finish. Oddly, the raspberries are far less present here than in the bouquet.

The flavour to the older vintage starts sweetly as well, if a touch more pronounced, but ends with a red wine-like complement to the moderate balsamic and vanilla-ish oaky notes. There is a greater dryness to this aged bottle with a slight bit of bolder brett funk discernible.

While neither has great acidity, both have some mild tartness, yet the newer bottle seems a bit thinner. Both have a decent silky feeling with minimal carbonation, but the body and flavour seem to be wins for the aged bottle.

Both have great similarities and this assessment really doesn't make clear how alike they are, yet the differences must (at least somewhat) be due to process as the (apparently and logically) increased Brett character of the older beer should have resulted in a thinner body (though the greater ABV portends a greater backbone supporting greater heft). However, the thinner (not thin, just thinner) body of the newer makes for easier drinking with less balsamic character that can be slightly off-putting to my palate.

Photo (obviously) not by Beerism!
There seems to be a tradeoff here: fresh nose or increased funk that complements the vinousness and oak, with a drier finish. To age or drink fresh? Why not buy two and do both? Or...

The only logical conclusion here is to blend them! In so doing, however, the nose of the more dominant fresher batch spruces up the older one but pales from its original form, while the taste doesn't seem to meet the strengths of the aged bottle either. Don't get me wrong, all "three" are great beers, but I think most would prefer either the fresh bouquet of the latest version or the increased drying funk of an aged bottle, while the blend seems to mute the strengths rather than bring them all to the front.

However you prefer your Lapsus, stay tuned for the new drop to hit shelves this week!


Grande Armada Réserve 2017


Presumably many a beer geek has tasted this delight before. And hw does the new vintage stand up?

Well, the 2017 labelled blend pours a deep dark brown, with a tan head of large soapy bubbles and some streaky lacing.

The aroma on this beer stands up to its reputation from other years, perhaps even with greater barrel presence: yes, this is a barrel-forward beer. Some may lament this for detracting from the mostly indiscernible base brew, but this is, for me, a selling feature!

Aromatically, I am hit with big bourbon notes of toasted oak, vanilla, a bit of maple, and some slight hints of ethanol. There is a mild nuttiness underneath, but this is barrel and bourbon to the nth degree, and that's exactly what I want it to be!

There's a brown sugar and mild dark fruit quality in the mouth up front, before finishing with an initial vanilla quality and a (bourbon-derived) alcoholic dryness to the finish.

This has an excellent, smooth, creamy feel with fairly low carbonation and a medium (or a bit heftier than medium) body, alongside a feeling, but minimal taste, of heat. Though I'd often like a bigger body to support this, the carbonation and creaminess here support it amply. It is only very mildly sticky (for such a sweet base). I'd really love to see this hit a nitro tap someday... in fact, I may have to shoot one through my nitro-charged cream whipper!

Maybe my memory fails, but I find this to be a VERY strong vintage of this always strong barrel-forward blend.


Ya'know... I'm pretty partial to Benelux as their Verdun location is my local pub, but they really are stepping things up with increased barrel blends to take home from your local bottle shop. Though they now offer growlers as well, it's these bottled barrel-blends that need not be best consumed in 7 days that really highlight beer geek life. So, get your asses to your local dealer and snag these while you can!


One final shoutout to Beerism for the stellar photography! Cheers!