Ceci n’est pas une Gueuze! An Interview with LTM’s Brewmaster Alex about his new Gueuze and his Barrel Program

Something wild has been stirring in the dark recesses of Les Trois Mousquetaires brewery. It’s dank, musty, & sour, and it’s been living inside three sets of oak barrels for about 2 to 4 years. They have been keeping this a secret for quite sometime now in anticipation of next week’s release. That’s right, you guessed it, Les Trois Mousquetaires are blending a Gueuze, and I had a chance to snag a sample bottle straight from the cask. Read on to hear my thoughts on this new, funky and sour masterpiece.

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I’m particularly excited not only about writing this article because I get to be the one to announce this amazing achievement, but also because Les Trois Mousquetaires (or LTM) is one of the Quebec breweries that got me into beer in the first place. A few years ago, in a sea of Belgian influenced Quebec creations, LTM offered us a line-up of German styled beers that no one else was producing (not to mention probably the best APA and Baltic Porter at the time). However, as the rest of the big Quebec players eventually started expanding to include hoppy, barrel aged, wild yeast fermented, and resident microflora inspired creations, so did Les Trois Mousquetaires – yet they’re doing it in their own unique and interesting way. These new and more “experimental” LTM beers are the ones that I’m particularly interested in talking about (and tasting) today.

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Lucky for me, I was able to catch up with LTM’s brewmaster, Alex Ganivet-Boileau. He was willing to let me pick his brain a bit about his amazing work; we discussed his barrel aging program at length, and he provided me details on all of his oaked creations. And as I mentioned above, he handed me some experimental samples that haven’t been released yet, like his “Brett Wine” and the LTM “Ceci n’est pas une Gueuze” scheduled to be released any day now.

*The following interview was conducted via e-mail between myself (Noah Forrest) and LTM’s brewmaster, Alex Ganivet-Boileau.

Barrel Aged Beginnings

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If I’m not mistaken, you started barrel aging back in 2011 with your Baltic Porter (aged in brandy and bourbon barrels). However, until this year, it was your only offering that spent time in a barrel. Recently, we’ve seen three new barrel aged beers added to your line up: Dixième, Oud Bruin, and Saison Brett, and you just gave me samples of your soon to be bottled “Ceci n’est pas une Gueuze” and your “Brett Wine.” How did it all start, and what sparked this new, more aggressive barrel aging program?

“I always smile when I think about the beginning of our barrel aging program. I had the idea to do a barrel aged version of a Baltic porter since I tried one in Sweden back in 2007, but the brewery was not sure about how exactly we could sell this since we already had a Baltic porter in our products. I insisted and insisted again and finally the brewery decided to let me give it a try. We started only with 3 bourbon barrels as a test and it came out amazing, but we were moving to the new address at the time and we decided to bottle it, move the empty barrels to the new place, and fill them again just to learn what would happen. Of course, the second one was less bourbon, and even developed some light acidic notes, kinda like a 19th century Porter. Not exactly what I was after, but good enough to release it. We wanted to launch our new branding with those two beers and since we completely designed the new labels in-house, all this process took stupid long. So that’s why both the 2010 and 2011 were released together in 2012. 

IMG_20141104_101612The market went crazy-batshit-insane for this beer and if I step back and think about it, I guess we can say it really marks the beginning of the ”renewal” of LTM, with the new labeling plus this new focus on special releases and barrel aging. The next year, we ordered a lot more barrels, and since I had more knowledge about how to work with wood barrels, I wanted to try to make a blend. So the 2013 Baltique Spéciale was the first to be a bourbon-brandy blend, and the recipe was fine-tuned in order to have a little bit less residual sugars to let the barrel character shine more. The market went insane again. The 2014 version was also a bourbon-brandy blend, but this time we put our hands on very old barrels, continuously filled with bourbon since 1989. Those barrels gave more depth and complexity to the blend and I’m very happy to say that we received freshly-emptied 25 year old barrels again this year for the next Baltique Spéciale. There is also something very special about one of the barrels we received this year, but I’m not sure yet I want to ”sacrifice” the uniqueness of this barrel and ”dilute” it in the blend or if we’ll do something else with it. I’m pretty sure we’ll keep this one alone and sell it at the brewery.”

The 2013 was an amazing barrel forward achievement, whereas the 2014 carried a better overall balance. Both were fantastic. Here are my thoughts on the 2014 version from a previous article: It pours out dark black with some red highlights; its body seems lighter than I recall. The nose is zesty and filled with chocolate, bourbon and brandy. The aromas are quite intoxicating, with pronounced aromatics from the spirits, and not so much from the ethanol. It smells a tad nutty, with some coffee and dried fruits, like raisins and prunes.

The body is more robust than it initially appeared, with lots of bourbon and oak, mixed with tons of dark stone fruit. Last year’s edition – as well as the non-barrel aged version – is quite sweet, yet this has a nice dry and bitter finish that cuts through the maltiness, leaving a warming bourbon finish on the back of your tongue. It’s quite creamy, with a bigger head, and more carbonation than last year – a very different beer. All is all this is certainly something to sip by the fire; it’s reminiscent of chocolate dipped strawberries with brandy poured over top (not that I’ve ever had that before, but you get it!)

Dixième

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“In 2013, with the 10th anniversary of the brewery about a year away, I began to think about something really special for an anniversary brew, something like a blend. I was getting more and more into brewing sours as we had just released the Gose and we felt that the market was ready for a big barrel-aged sour beer. I was also very interested in working with fruits directly in the barrels. And I had those lambic-style barrels happily aging in a corner of the brewery. This is basically how the idea of Dixième was born. I brewed another lambic-style, but this time with black malts, and it aged in the barrels emptied by the 2013 Baltique Spéciale with several strains of bretts, acidifying bacterias and whole tart cherries. That was almost a year before the release. I also wanted to add a ”young” beer in the blend, so 3 months before the release I brewed another batch, this time in freshly emptied Cabernet-Sauvignon barrels from California, again with all the brett and cherries.

I’m very happy with how good this blend ended up in the bottle. I wanted this beer to symbolize some kind of ”coming of age” for the brewery and something to incarnate all the passion I have for beer. And also something to announce what the future holds for LTM.”

…And the future is bright indeed, Alex. Dixième was such an interesting and aggressive endeavor, which drank beautifully when fresh, and I can only presume also drinks amazing with a year on it. I love the combination of red fruit and chocolate, so the idea of an imperial black sour cherry beer really spoke to me. So, let’s see how this magic in a bottle evolved in the last 12 or so months.

It pours our a sexy black colour with some cherry-wood highlights. The nose consists of sweet cherry aromatics mixed with lots of bretty must, charred malts, and lots of chocolatey goodness. It’s only slightly acidic, with a sweet but balanced maraschino cherry forward finish that gets cut nicely by the drying brett phenols. There is a lot of milk chocolate fun, coupled with just a tiny bit of dark roasted coffee. Although not overtly sour, it is very tangy, and the booze is incredibly well integrated. It’s basically chocolate cherry punch (in the best possible way). I find the cherry more prominent after some age, which is surprising, as fruit usually fades over time. It’s doing quite well, and this will age nicely for years to come.

Brett-Wine

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“The empty Dixième barrels all had an amazing flora, so I knew I had to keep using them. I brewed some more pale lambic-style to continue to practice at making this very hard style to master and just to see what would come out of it. I filled the remaining barrels with some of our Barleywine, because I had the feeling that a big malty hoppy beer could become something very interesting after several months with brettanomyces, and I was right! But we still don’t know what we’ll do with this ”brett wine”. Maybe it will be a part of a future blend, or maybe we’re gonna brew and age some more to release it straight. “

The bottle that Alex gave me was pulled directly from the barrel and is uncarbonated. The purpose was to get an idea of what the end product would taste like – I’m super excited. It pours out a nice copper colour with red highlights. What an amazingly interesting nose! It’s got some caramel sweetness, mixed lots of cherry essence. There is some well integrated alcohol, mixed with dank oak, vanilla, and fruity American hops. It’s so incredibly original and inviting. The leftover cherries from the Dixième really shine.

There is a lot of oak on the flavour front, combined with a big fruit forward presence, especially cherries. However there are some hoppy tropical fruits as well, followed by vanilla. There are tannic properties, which when coupled with the brett, lend some serious drying characteristics. The finish is crushing, destroying everything in its path with a potent hop bitterness and a serious alcohol burn. I’m really surprised how much of the cherries came through on this one, and what’s amazing is that however forward these flavours are, they are still just an afterthought, letting the bold malt base shine. That being said, the brett has dried this out so much, leaving a less viscous and overall completely transformed beer. Depending on what Alex decides to blend with this one will ultimately decide its outcome. There are endless possibilities here. I vote he blends it with an IPA to shift the focus back to the hops again, while still allowing these other amazing complexities to shine. Or go the other way and blend it with a fruited Berliner Weisse to give it an acidic and even more fruity edge. But hey, what the hell do I know, I don’t brew beer!

Oud Bruin

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“With the success of Dixième, we wanted to continue exploring a sour barrel-aged dark Belgian style, and Oud Bruin was a style that I was interested in brewing for quite a long time. The base beer was a modified version of our Doppelbock, fermented with a different yeast, then aged in the barrels with a flora. In Belgium, typical Oud Bruin are often aged for 18 months before being blended with a young beer. Our version was not aged for that long but I wanted it to not be so strong in terms of acetic acid and more on lactic acid notes. It’s a little bit out of style but our goal is not to clone foreign beers but to brew things we want to drink! I am not 100% satisfied with this one (in fact I’m never 100% satisfied) but I already know what to do to improve the next version and to add a bit more complexity.”

I honestly haven’t had many Oud Bruins, but instead I’ve have had far more Flander’s Reds, which carry similarities. Everyone and their mother is brewing a Flander’s Red at this point. It would actually be a challenge finding a Quebec brewery who hasn’t dabbled in the style. That’s what I love about LTM, they always go in a slightly different direction – not concerned what others are doing, but instead doing what others aren’t.

It foams over right after popping the cork, and once poured, it carries a massive and frothy head atop a foggy dense dark brown beer. The nose has lots of dank and dusty funk, with lots of musty basement and oak. There are some minimal balsamic notes amongst the lactic acid forward aromatics. This, coupled with some caramel and dark fruit  (like raisins and figs), make for a very inviting and powering nose.

It starts very acidic and dry, leading to a tangy, citrus rind-like finish. It’s different than the nose let on, with more of a sour edge, as apposed to a yeast forward presence. However, this makes sense for the style (although the number of oud bruins I’ve had are minimal). The balance is quite nice, as the sweetness is completely cut by the sourness and tannins, making for a dry, easy drinking beer. The aggressive carbonation also lightens the mouth feel, which could make this one a summer contender, even considering the rich malt base and high-ish ABV. As my palate adjusts, I can start picking out the yeast phenol complexities, as well as a nice oak component. The alcohol is also incredibly well integrated and works with all the other flavours, instead of against it, which is key to a high ABV beer in my opinion. This is a remarkable product; I wish I had purchased more than one!

Saison Brett

Saison Brett“With the market demand being so strong for sour beers and barrel-aging, we knew we needed something for summer that would fit this category. I was very obsessed with the idea of brewing a farmhouse saison for 2-3 years now and the time had finally come. The empty barrels from Oud Bruin had this sour flora going on and I wanted the saison to be really true to Belgian farmhouses so the beer was entirely fermented in the wood barrels with a saison yeast, and then with multiple brettanomyces strains. This beer only stayed for 3 months or so in the barrels because I didn’t want the brett to take all the place. After the blend, the beer is dry-hopped with Chinook hops to add even more floral and citrus notes. I’m very happy with this beer and the market seems to like it a lot also. This was supposed to be a once-a-year release, but I’m happy to confirm that a second batch will hit the shelves this summer. “

The first time I had Saison Brett was on cask about two years ago at La Cuvee (local winter beer festival). It was an awesome, funky spectacle, and when I heard bottles were going to finally hit shelves, I was a very happy boy.

It pours out a sexy yellow orange colour, with a nice frothy head that sticks around. The aromas are dank, floral and musty, mixed with some oak and wine remnants. It smells dusty, with citrus and acidic highlights – mainly lemon zest, with hints of grapefruit.

It’s mouth puckeringly dry, with some sharp but restrained lactic acid properties. It’s got a light mouthfeel, with wheat flavoured malts, and a slight bitter finish, that lingers alongside a big acid grapefruit tongue hug. The dusty Barnyard Brett properties are much more apparent on the nose. Instead the flavours lean more towards the acidic edge, with an extremely dry mouth feel, coupled with big fruity brett esters. It finished with some dank oakey elements, coupled with a nice drying and bitter tannic finish.

Before trying this one, my friend Remi from Beer Related said it was the closest thing he has had in Quebec to a Hill Farmstead saison. Now, that’s a pretty big compliment, especially from Remi given that he basically lives at Hill Farmstead at this point. After trying it, I agreed. This sexy beer has the dusty and sour microflora complexities that so many of us have grown to crave. Although I’d personally like to see it have a tad more body, this is truly a remarkable beer, one that’s paving the way for a new era of farmhouse ales in Quebec. Also, one extremely important thing to note is that this beer is around 8.99$ for a 750ml, which is unheard of for a barrel aged brett beer in this province. Kudos!

Ceci n’est pas une Gueuze

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“But let’s come back to the lambic-style (Gueuze). The first one I brewed was in 2012. I brewed some again in 2013. And again some more in 2014… See where this is going? The idea of blending a Gueuze was some kind of fool’s dream for me since my visit at Cantillon in 2007. When I started this project, at first it was just to learn, just for fun. We jokingly said that we could always drink it all by ourselves if the result was not so good. After 3 years, and sampling several barrels, I now know that I have something amazing in hand to make a blend that will hopefully live up to expectations. It will not be a traditional gueuze, it will not be a Cantillon clone. It’s not a spontaneous fermentation and it will not be bottle-refermented for a year… but who cares? All I want is a flavor profile inspired by a Gueuze and I feel that this blend will respect the idea of a Gueuze. A good Gueuze doesn’t have a high level of acetic acid and the tartness comes mostly from lactic acid and this is what I will focus on when making this blend. I think it’s gonna be stellar. “

FullSizeRender…and it is stellar, Alex. Well, at least the sample I’ve tried, anyway. Again, this bottle is uncarbonated and then directly from the cask. It’s the 2014 batch, aged one year at this point.

It pours out a deep copper colour, with brilliant clarity. Oh my god, I want to bathe in the aromatics of this nose. There are loads of tart cherries, mixed with a massive barrel character that lend spicy and woody cinnamon-like qualities. It’s super vinous, carrying loads of wine-like aromatics and tons of acidic components, coupled with some slight sweet caramel essences. There is just so much oak, which blasts my nostrils with all these beautiful vanilla undertones, mixed with a tingling acidic edge.

Just like the nose, there is so much oak, with these spicy wood-like flavours leading the way. It’s quite fruit forward as well, with loads of sour cherries and some orange and grapefruit rinds mixed in with lemon juice. That being said, it’s very dry, and finishes with a pretty potent, mouth-puckering sourness. The fruitiness is perfectly balanced against the bitter tannins, and provides a direct compliment to the general tart and sour components. There are slight ascetic acids mixed in as well, but it’s certainly not the show-runner here.

The oak, the fruitiness, the acidity, and the plethora of complex microflora based aromatics work to make this beer something truly special and amazing. I’m anxious to try the blended, carbonated version, as I can only see these attributes improving this already brilliant and inspired creation. I’m also extremely excited for Alex, seeing how long he’s been working on this project, and how much passion and care went into its creation. This beer is going to turn heads… towards Quebec.

The Future of LTM

Now that you seem to be going full force with barrel aging, Brett, and acidifying bacteria, what other concoctions can we expect from LTM in the next few years?

“I have plenty of ideas to try and so many things to learn. I want to work with fruit again. I want to push the limits of mixed fermentation and create mind-blowing beers that will be the experience of a lifetime. The craft beer scene is amazing. I’m so happy to be a part of it. The next years will be awesome. “

The craft beer scene in Quebec is amazing, and this is largely due to the dedicated brewers and owners who are pushing the limits of what beer can be. This industry can be profitable, but for many, it’s about passion. By not constantly expanding your beer line up to include new trends and innovative brews, your brewery could fall by the wayside, but doing so can also be a big risk. LTM does a great job with this, as they still have their regular line up, but also produce more interesting and harder to create products. I commend brewers like Alex for not patronizing the consumer by selling only what’s safe. To move forward we need to “drink” outside the box, and LTM is certainly doing that.

An Article by Noah Forrest

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