Something interesting is going on in the Eastern Townships of Montreal, and it’s beer related. This area is already home to some great breweries like Brasserie Dunham, Boquébière, and Farnham Ale & Lager, but if you are driving on the 10 east and get off of exit 55, you’ll find something else that’s pretty special. Marché du Village is a pretty unique and hard to classify “store.” It’s a gas station, a full grocery store, an SAQ, it has a car wash, and it also just happens to have an absurdly large Quebec beer selection. Not only that, but they have a meticulously monitored and temperature controlled walk in cellar, where you can buy vintages of previously released beers (the only one of it’s kind that I know of in Quebec). They also have a second, larger cellar, that’s not for the public, where they are holding onto a ton of bottles that will resurface in years to come.
If all that wasn’t enough, they are now brewing beer; and not just any beer, but a giant 11.9% barrel aged Scotch Ale. Co-owner Karl Roy and his manager Frédéric Duclos got together with René Huard (brewmaster for Brasseurs Illimités) to create a sexy monster. Hell bent on creating a higher end product, they spared no expense, with an emphasis on quality. Brewed with ten different malts in order to impart a robust and complex base, the beer was then fermented with two different yeast strains, and then exclusively hopped with loads of Nugget hops to help balance the beer with a hefty bitterness. But it gets better. The beer was then aged in old Jim Beam Bourbon barrels, as well as Brandy barrels for over two months. And what makes this particularly interesting is that the entire batch was barrel aged – often it’s only a portion, which is then blended with a non barrel aged version.
The beer is called “Scotch Ale Impériale,” and it’s part of a new reoccurring series: “La Série Impériale.” Following this beer, there will be three others, each released once a year around the same time, and each having the potential of being aged for years. I chatted with Karl and Fred a few months ago; to say they were excited about this project would be an understatement. As I was mentioning above, their emphasis was on quality. Karl and Fred are clearly fans of craft beer, and unlike other stores who sometimes produce run-of-the-mill offerings, they went all out. He wants to put his store on the map; this project isn’t about profit, it’s about notoriety.
As you can see from the pictures, it’s a pretty sexy looking bottle. So let’s drink it already (and by let’s, I mean me, alone, in the snow). It pours out a extremely dark and sexy chestnut brown, with a perfect little beige head that reduces down to a frothy layer; resting there throughout the whole drinking experience. On the aroma, I certainly get that “Scotch Ale” caramel malty thing happening, but there is this fantastic rich bourbon vanilla aroma that leads the way. There are also lots of dried fruit – like dates and raisins – alongside some very subtle and rich vinous notes. It’s a bit oaky, and slightly earthy, with lots of toasted nuts, and caramel sugars helping it along. This is quite inviting, and the 11.9% isn’t very apparent at all – impressive.
After my first sip, I like this – a lot actually. My fear was that this one was going to be a sugar bomb and, although there is certainly some slight syrupy sweetness, there is an amazingly powerful bitterness that cuts it down beautifully (with the help of a slightly astringent ethanol finish). It’s very fruity as well, more so than the nose let on. Lots of plums and berries mix well with a toasted caramel malt base. There is also just a slight bit of vinous tartness that helps cut the sugars, which I presume comes from the brandy. The bourbon is very much there as well, although not quite as potent as it was on the nose. The finish lingers with hits of vanilla, oak, bourbon and Brandy, alongside a strapping bitterness and some slight tartness. The mouthful is very full bodied, with a nice creamy texture, and minimal carbonation.
I’m not actually a big fan of Scotch Ales. As a style, it’s one of my least favorites – right there next to rauchbiers (smoked beer). I’m not even sure why exactly, there is just something about them that rarely impresses me, and I often don’t like the residual sugars that many scotch ales carry. This one however, works for me. The slight tartness and hefty bitter finish allows the sweetness to exist, while not becoming viscous or cloying. Bourbon barrels are also a magical thing, which in this case compliment the toasted caramel malt base and dried fruit complexities perfectly.
In my opinion, this was a success. It’s always a risk to invest a lot of money into a project, especially when it’s the first time doing something new. I can’t speak to profitability or sales successes, but what I can say is that I think this is a great product, and the team behind it should be proud! I look forward to next year’s edition, and I also look forward to seeing how this bottle ages.
If you are interested, there are still bottles available. They are being exclusively sold at Marché du Village. If you’re in Montreal, it’s worth making the trip. You can find bottles in their cellar that are no longer available in the city.
An Article by Noah Forrest