Hopfenstark is a brew pub located in L’assomption, Quebec. It’s about 30 kilometers outside of Montreal. They bottle and distribute an impressive line up of beers, but their availability is not as widespread as most of the other Quebec based craft beers. For those imbedded in the Quebec beer scene, Hopfenstark is certainly a household name, however for those that just dabble in beer, I’d be surprised if they knew who they were. This would be due to the fact that you can only buy their bottles in select shops around Montreal. Hopfenstark, unlike a lot of other breweries, are really not pigeonholed to certain brewing traditions. Their line up covers German, Belgian, and North American beer styles.
Farmhouse ale or “Saison,” is a style of beer that I’ve certainly spoke of before. Although I enjoy pretty much every style out there (presuming it’s done well), Saisons carry a special place in my heart. I’m not sure why exactly, but I think it’s partially because they are extremely drinkable while also being quite complex. They have that “Belgian” flavor that beer people know and love, but they are also extremely fruity, with a tart, sour character that compliments all the other flavors. Given the drinkability factor, and the slight sour element, Saisons make for amazing summer beers. They also compliment a wide range of foods, from light meat dishes, to fois gras. The style actually originates in Belgium farmhouses, where they were brewed to provide sustenance and refreshment to the workers during the hot months of the year. As you might imagine, they were brewed with a lower alcohol content in order to keep the workers hydrated, and not hammered. Although I can only presume, at times, it was both. These days Saisons are produced in an array of alcohol levels, ranging from low to extremely high.
Hopfenstark makes four farmhouse ales that are all part of their “Saison Station” series. I managed to get my hands on three of the four, but sadly I’m missing one. They are labelled numerically, however, I’m not sure what each number refers to. Saison 55 is described as “bitter beer,” and is considered an IPA/Saison hybrid. Saison 7 is described as being brewed with herbs, and Saison 16 is made with a partial rye grain bill. Lets take a look at each one.
Saison 55 pours out a foggy amber orange color with lots of carbonation. It has a nice, big and frothy head that sticks around through out the whole drinking process. There is some incredible lacing here, as the foamy goodness sticks to the sides of the glass.
The nose is very inviting with a fantastic fruitiness – peaches, pears, and strawberries in particular. All this mixed with quite an apparent funky, and earthy barnyard aroma. It carries that usual Saison smell; acidic, funky, fruity and sweet, but with an above average presence of hops. Very nice indeed. At first sip, the flavors hit my palate with some slight sourness, followed by a hefty bitterness, which I guess was somewhat expected given the bottle saying “bitter beer.” Like the nose, this one is quite fruity, but also carries a pronounced dry character.
I’m getting some heavy alcohol in here as well, but it balances, and works nicely with the strong flavor of the saison yeast. There are certainly hops at play here, lending some aroma, taste, and bitterness. however, the real star of the beer is the big yeast profile that encompasses everything. Peaches and apricots are by far the most discernible fruits here; they release such a wondrous fruity perfume, that tickles my nose before each sip. And I very much realize that the last statement was rather fruity.
I’ve had this one on tap several times, and it always makes me happy to drink it. It’s one of the best Saisons in Quebec, and I think it could be a great starter for those first experimenting with Belgian flavors.
Saison 7 pours out a yellow orange color with no discernible carbonation. Hmmm, this worries me a bit because even with some forceful glass spinning, I’m getting virtually no carbonation, just some sad little bubbles. The aroma us quite nice, with lots of fruit and spices. Plums, pears, and lots of peppercorns. There are certainly some yeast components to the aroma, but is subdued as compaired to the 55.
Wow, lots of pepper here on the taste front. I believe it’s white pepper to be exact. It’s pretty much flat, which makes this hard to properly rate. It’s fruity, but not sweet – quite dry really. It has a subtle bitter finish with a lingering pepper flavored ending. A tittle bit on the tart side, but not heavily. There is a nice fruity sourness here, especially in the last few sips with all the residual yeast left over on the bottom of the glass.
It was too bad about this one. I really quite enjoyed the flavors and aromas, however the lack of any carbonation made for an almost apple juice like experience that wasn’t so great. This could very well have been my fault given that I held on ton the bottle too long, but in my experience that should not make a difference.
On the nose I’m getting lots of tart aromas, with a particular emphasis on cider and fresh apple juice. There is a certain yeasty funk that dominates nicely, mixed in with all the tart, almost sour candy-like aromas. I presume it’s because of the acids. I’m also getting some very familiar white wine elements coming through on the nose.
The taste mimics the nose quite literally. It is very dry, almost white wine like, with some heavy funky yeast components that linger nicely. Of course, an acidic sourness is very apparent, carrying strong similarities to cider. When you take a sip, you’re carried from an earthy, yeasty dry funk, to an apple tart cider-like taste. It finished off with a good amount of bitterness that mixed well with the lingering sourness, making for an interesting bitter/sour tongue experience.
So there you have it; three beers, all the same style, from the same brewer. But each prepared slightly different from the other. It’s one thing to compare the same style from varying breweries, but It’s a very interesting experiment to compare the same style of beer, from the same place. All three of the beers had their ups and downs, but they were certainly all delicious. The 55 was the most up my alley, carrying a hoppyness that was just amazing. If you are ever in L’assomption, Quebec, you should certainly stop by the brew pub, I certainly will.