Dieu du Ciel Réserve! – Seven Days, Barrel Aged
I’ve written several articles about Dieu du Ciel! at this point, but none quite as epic as this. I’ve managed, over the course of about a year, to get my hands on all seven barrel aged (355ml) bottles that Dieu du Ciel has released to date (as far as I know), and I’m pretty excited to get my thoughts on them down on paper – or rather, electronic ink. I can’t help but wonder if I may be alienating myself from a lot of readers, as these beers are hardly easy to come by. However, from my perspective, I read articles on difficult to procure bottles far before having the will and connections to get any. And I enjoyed them at the time. So I hope this article, and my other articles (past and future), don’t not come off as me “showing off,” because that’s certainly not my intent. Plus, I’m really just doing this for you anyway, it’s not like I actually enjoy drinking these beers.
Everything DDC produces is exceptional, and from what I’ve tasted so far, their barrel aged bottles are on another level of magnificence. The seven different barrel aged beers I’ll be writting about today have been aged for different periods of time in barrels previously containing Bourbon, Pinot Noir, or Rum. Because there are quite a few beers to look at, this is going to be a bit of a long one, so strap on your beer goggles and get ready (I’m well aware of how lame that joke was, you’ll have to just deal with it).
Aging beer can completely change it’s flavor profile, and aging it on oak (especially oak previously containing something else), can bring it to completely new and exciting places. Throughout the years I’ve tasted a few oak aged beers that didn’t seem to take on much of anything, and in the opposite direction, I’ve also had barrel aged beers that were transformed into a completely different monster as compared their original counterparts. So what’s the deal with the variance? It’s hard to say really, but I think it’s largely to do with the brewers experience, the types of barrels, how many times those barrels have been used before, and the style of beer being aged. However, given the unpredictability involved with barrel aging, a lot of it is just left to chance. In my experience, when having a really boozy Bourbon barrel aged Imperial stout, it will certainly take on woody vanilla notes, bourbon flavors, and various other complexities. However, I feel like the transition from the original to the end product isn’t so drastic to the point of non-recognition. Rather, it simply makes the beer more interesting and complex (most of the time). On the other hand, I often find that certain styles of barrel aged beers are transformed into something completely different, to the point where if you would taste them side by side, you wouldn’t think they were the same beer at all anymore. In my experience this is generally the case with beers that have a lower alcohol content and a lighter roast, ESPECIALLY if they have an above average hoppy profile (because that will fade over time). Also, if the beer is infected with wild yeast strains (intentionally or not), these little rowdy buggers impart a plethora of new and exciting flavors, which can transform the once simpler beer into a completely new funky creation.
As breweries experiment with this relatively “modern” process, we are seeing new creations come about every day. As a beer drinker and enthusiast, you may have an idea of what’s in store for you when cracking open a barrel aged brew, but in my experience, you can often be surprised with the results (good or bad). Sometimes you can get tons of oak, sometimes you only get the booze the barrels were aged in, and sometimes you get both; others can be tart and sour, while sometimes you get nothing at all, and sometimes (hopefully rarely) they can be just plain bad. So why do it at all? Well, because when it’s done right, it’s a whole new amazing beer drinking experience that you really need to try in order to understand.
What’s particularly interesting for me about examining these beers is the fact that I’ve had all the non-barrel aged versions several times as well (they are either always available or come out once a year). Most breweries these days release a barrel aged beer here and there, but a lot of them are just one offs, and don’t actually have an “original” version (something you could compare it to). I would have loved to do a side-by-side tasting of the original and the barrel aged versions for all of these beers in order to see how they have changed, but I can’t be drunk every night (however much I may want to be).
6ème Soir – Aged 15 Months in Pinot Noir Barrels
6ème Soir is normally a part of DDC’s momentum series, however they didn’t make it last year, and being an end of summer offering means that it’s almost been 2 years since I’ve had a fresh one. Because Imperial pilsner’s are such hoppy bastards, you don’t see them aged very often. I’m supper excited to try this sexy monster, largely because I just don’t know what the results will be after aging a beer of this style. It pours out a beautiful glowing orange color with red amber highlights. The aromas exude some pretty potent tart and woody oak complexities, with lots of sour cherries in the back drop. The oak is really apparent! There are lots of fruits in general, but certainly cherries and strawberries are the most predominant. I’m getting a bit of wild yeast (or barrel funk) in there, with some sweetness, and vinous characteristics as well. Smells wonderful. This ain’t no Imperial Pilnser, I don’t know what this is anymore!
After the first sip, my senses are hit by a potently tart and bitter combination; and it is important to clarify that it’s tart, not sour (likely a result of some wild yeast, but nothing like the sourness that lactobacillus imparts). There are a lot fruity elements going on, especially cherries. There is oak for sure and some wine remnants as well. I’ve had this fresh and it’s one hoppy bastard; this is a completely different monster. There are zero aromatic hops, however the bitterness still remains in the finish, which adds an interesting and unexpected element to the vinous complexities. A little bit of sweetness starts creeping up as my palate adjusts, which gives way for a sweet & tart mixture to emerge; it really makes for a beautiful combination. There are some cider-like elements as well, but only subtle, as well as some vanilla in the finish. There is certainly some alcohol here – it is 9% after all – but the aging has smoothed it out wonderfully. This beer started as a beautifully hoppy and sweet imperial Pilsner, and was then transformed into a tart, oaky, fruity, and vinous wonder-beer that deserves high praise in my opinion.
Isseki Nicho – Aged 13 Months in Pinot Noir Barrels
When I first tried Isseki Nicho back in January 2013, I was in love. This hybrid beer has the malt base of an Imperial Stout, but contains saison yeast, which provides a spicy and slightly tart characteristic to the beer. It comes out once a year at this point, and I’ve been stocking up ever since. When I heard they were releasing a Pinot Noir Barrel aged edition, I was more than excited; lucky for me, some friends were able to get me some. It pours out jet black with a modest but lively beige head. The aromas begin with sweet and tart cherries, complimented by some barrel oak. There is quite a bit of chocolate, with a lot star anise as well. It’s incredibly fruity, with lots of strawberries, and the barrel’s vinous wine aroma provides a delicate sweetness, echoed by vanilla and mocha. I may be biased because Isseki Nicho is one of my all time favorite beers, but the nose on this might be the most inviting thing I’ve ever had the pleasure of smelling.
The first sip is impressively smooth for 9.5% – clearly 15 months in the barrel smoothed out any kinks. It comes off slightly dry after the first sip, with an earthy backdrop (perhaps from the wood?). There is less of that mocha chocolate milkshake thing that was happening on the nose; rather, the barrel aging is at the forefront here, with a dry fruit forward start, and a tart (bordering on sour) finish. As it warms, the sweetness starts to emerge, with some Chocolate and coffee making a stronger appearance. The barrel really plays a strong role in this beer’s flavor profile, far more then the nose initially let on. From start to finish I’d say this one goes: tart fruit, oak, earth, a little bit of barrel funk, coco, coffee, licorice, rubber, and a bitter sour finish. Or in other words, Supercalifragilisticexpiali-deliciousness! This one hasn’t changed as much as 6ème Soir, which is to be expected considering Isseki Nicho is much like an Imperial Stout (a beer that does very well over time). However, the 13 months in the barrel has smoothed out any and all sharp edges, and the Pinot’s vinous characteristics helped dry out the big malt base, and lend amazing tart fruitiness to the flavor profile. This beer is heaven in a bottle.
Équinoxe Du Printemps – Aged 12 Months in Bourbon Barrels
I should preface this one with the fact that Scotch ales are among my least favorite beer styles. That’s not to say that I dislike them, but I don’t lose my mind over them either. That being said, Équinoxe Du Printemps is one of my all time favorite Scotch ales, so I’m still really excited to try the bourbon barrel aged version. This beer was aged for twelve months in the barrel, then sat in the bottle for another two years before being popped open today. Three years is a long time, but Équinoxe Du Printemps is suppose to age beautifully from what I’ve read. It pours out a very dark brown colour with some orange highlights. It is very murky looking, like swamp water, but in the best possible way of course! On the aroma front, I’m getting loads of cooked caramel and maple syrup (tire d’érable!) with some subtle oak funk, spices, and a shit ton of bourbon. This extremely malty bad boy smells like sweet wonderfulness. Imagine walking into a sugar shack and smashing bottles of bourbon all over everything – that’s essentially what’s going on in this glass.
It has a lighter body than I expected, with a pretty sharp bitter finish. Also, it is surprisingly dry, especially considering how sweet and potentially viscous the nose foretold. Although being aged for three years, there is still a bit of a boozy punch to it; but not a bad thing, and still very very drinkable. Like the nose, there is bourbon, cooked caramel, and maple syrup. As my palate adjusts, it becomes a little less dry, the sugars start making an appearance, and the bourbon really comes alive. The finish carries a zesty quality to it, with a hint of tart fruit; but mostly it ends with maple bourbon remnants, and a solid bitterness. Having had the original several times, I can say that the bourbon (and the aging) really helped transform this beer into something really special. I have a few bottles of the regular version, so I think I’ll keep sitting on them a few more years to see what happens.
Péché Mortel – Aged 12 Months in Bourbon Barrels
Péché Mortel is an iconic Imperial Stout. It is one of the few Quebec beers known throughout the US and the rest of the world. The Bourbon Barrel aged version is incredibly sought after; I’ve heard several beer geeks tell me that they stock up on the stuff whenever they can in order to make trades with Americans. That is, if they can hold themselves back from drinking it themselves. I tried it for the first time last year, and it was incredible. I heard they are using the same bourbon barrels again this year as well, so it’s possible the bourbon flavors might be less predominant. It pours out black as night, with some miniscule brown highlights. After sticking my nose in the glass, I’m getting lots of coffee, some breadiness, marzipan, oatmeal, bourbon, and fruity dark cherries. I’m surprised with how much coffee I get on this, I’ve heard many times that coffee flavors fade over time. There is certainly far far less bourbon on the nose as compared to last year.
The taste mimics the nose, with coffee, bourbon, and breadiness, but with some dark chocolate as well, and an oaky vanilla aftertaste. It’s rather dry, and the finish has a lingering bitterness that is mixed with a nice warming alcohol presence. Again, far more coffee forward than I expected, and the bourbon is less present in this batch. The dryness here really brings it to a new lever of drinkability. Not that the original is all that sweet, but I’ve been noticing with some of these barrel aged versions that there is a lingering dryness that the original doesn’t have. Could it be a byproduct of the yeast continuing to eat the residual sugars while in the barrel? I’m not sure exactly, but it works for me!
Aphrodisiaque – Aged 6 months in Rhum Barrels
Like its very fitting name, I’ve often used Aphrodisiaque as an elixir to lure people into falling in love with craft beer. A highly rated beer, Aphrodisiaque is brewed with chocolate and vanilla, which compliments the dark roasted wonderfullness of this American style stout. It is not sweet in the least, but rather provides the essence of these ingredients, creating a perfect balance. Although I do love this beer, I’m a bit weary of this Rum barrel version. For one, I’m not a huge fan of Rum barrel aged beer, and two, I wasn’t sure how a 6.5% beer would hold up at being aged. But let’s see!
After the first sniff of this sexy bastard, I realize that I need to just trust in the brilliance of Dieu du Ciel! A whirlwind of chocolate, vanilla and oak hit my senses, alongside a beautifully intoxicating rum-cake sweetness. There are some zesty yeast esters as well, with lots of earthy wood characteristics. It’s such a beautiful nose, there is so much vanilla oak complexity mixed with Chocolate and rum. Like most of the other brews, it is dryer than I expected, with a nice bitter finish. There is lots of chocolate at the front with loads of warming rum. It actually tastes boozier than I would expect for 6.5%; not a bad thing at all, but rather compliments the rum complexity. There is this creamy mouth feel that plays a wonderful role in the whole coco rum thing, and there is this boozy rum finish that cuts everything down abruptly. Much like it’s rum-less predecessor, this beer touches you in all the right places, luring you in even further; you have to watch out, or you might just end up making out with the bottle.
Dernière Volonté – Aged 8 Months in Pinot Noir Barrels
Dernière Volonté is a Belgian IPA, which is a style of beer that breweries usually don’t attempt to age. As I mentioned earlier, aromatic hop flavors fade over time, so you want to drink your IPA’s as fresh as possible. However, Dieu du Ciel knows what they are doing, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to be great none the less – especially given how amazing 6ème Soir was, which is also a hop forward beer.
It pours out a beautiful glowing orange colour, with a bright frothy white head that puffs up and sticks to the sides of the glass; and it never really goes away. There are a lot of earthy and zesty (almost bubblegum like) yeast esters, mixed with some tart fruit, cherries, and apples. It is quite zesty all around, with some lemon-lime citrus aromatics, mixed with an oak forward presence that carries some vanilla with it. I’m also getting what I can only presume is a bit of wild yeast funk, and some white pepper as well.
Although far less in the hop flavor department as compared to the original, the bitterness still remains, and there is lots of oak and Belgian yeast. A slight woody rubber flavor from the oak emerges, which is a flavor that I’ve come to adore in barrel aged beer and wine. It is very fruity, with some tropical fruits like papaya and pineapple, and some tart cherries as well. It is very dry; everything is cut down at the end by a bitter/tart combo, leaving some oaky vanilla in the finish. This tartness lends well to the amazing fruit forward flavors. It’s a pretty near perfect beer. What’s interesting is that although this was one of the beers that excited me the least in this experiment, I think it may be my favorite of the bunch so far. It is delicately subtle, with a complex array of fruity vinous characteristics that work perfectly against an aggressive bitterness. This beer is no longer what it once was, it has been transformed from something great into something amazing.
Solstice D’hiver – Aged 12 Months in Bourbon Barrels
Solstice D’hiver is an American Barleywine. I remember trying it for the first time several years ago, and I think it might have been my very first of the style. It was rich, spicy, bitter, and sweet without being cloying; I was in love. To me, this beer screams “age me in Bourbon Barrels!” So let’s see how it went.
It pours out a murky and dark cherrywood brown colour, with a nice beige head that sticks around throughout the whole drinking process. The nose is sweet, with candy corn, barley malt, bourbon, cooked caramel, and maple syrup leading the way. These aromas are quickly followed by an oak forward vanilla essence, with some toasted bread, and zesty yeast esters close behind it. Smells like heaven.
The mouthfeel is smooth but very warming, with lots of malty caramel sweetness. It’s a Bourbon bomb, with some oak forward vanilla heat resting on your tongue after each sip. There is a lot of dried fruit, like raisins and figs. I’m also getting some toasted grains, bread, nougat, and a bit of nuttiness as well. Basically, this reminds me of plum pudding with Bourbon poured over top. It is perfectly balanced, with a nice boozy and bitter finish mixed with some residual sugars. The age and the barrel really helps with the perceived sweetness. That’s not to say that the original is cloying, but there is a certain syrupy viscosity when fresh (like most barleywines) that doesn’t exist here. The beer is well rounded, complex, and at no point seems like too much. I love the original, but this one is on another level. The age and the bourbon really help turn this beer into something brilliant.
So there it is, seven barrel aged beers from one of the best breweries in the world! This was a great learning experience for me as I got to see how time, oak, and the influence of wine and spirits altered these beers; and in some cases, transformed them into completely new entities all together. That being said, barrel aging has become a trend, and like most trends, they can sometimes be overdone, and can sometimes become unnecessary. However, this is certainly not the case across the board, and If you haven’t tried barrel aged beer already, I encourage you to try some – it can be a game changer.
An Article by Noah Forrest