Beerism does Brasserie Auval – An Interview with Brewmaster Ben Couillard
Every year, more and more breweries are popping up all over the world, and Quebec is no different. Usually, when a new brewery decides to open its doors and starts bottling (or canning), the line up is somewhat limited – generally offering about 2 to 4 varieties of styles. These styles tend to be pretty standard, often consisting of a combination of a pale ale/blond ale, a stout, a wheat beer (hefeweizen or witbier), and a Rousse (whatever that means – an Irish red ale I guess). There are certainly exceptions, however this is the formula I tend to see over and over. Now, there is nothing wrong with this, people wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. However, for me personally, it’s a bit boring. Paying five dollars for a 500ml bottle of a some new breweries standard offering doesn’t really interest me that much anymore. Without trying to sound pretentious, I’ve had so many different versions of these styles that I just don’t think you’re going to blow me away that much with your slightly augmented version of a “blond ale” or “Rousse.” But, you know, sometimes I’m proven wrong.
As I said, there is nothing wrong with this formula, but I think the modern beer community wants more. This leads us to the topic at hand, Brasserie Auval. They arrived like a breath of fresh air, busting into the scene this past September with three tantalizing bottles: a barrel aged raspberry wild ale, a barrel aged Saison, and a north east coast style American IPA. It’s somewhat unheard of to launch with such an aggressive and downright impressive line up, but clearly brewmaster Ben Couillard knows what he’s doing and wanted to kick things off with a bang. It was truly exciting to see such an groundbreaking start. I had to taste them, and I had to know more about his operation.
I caught up with Ben (over email) in order to discuss Auval and find out what this truly intriguing brewery was all about.
Ben, given the beers that you are launching your brewery with, it’s clear that you have some experience. Can you tell me a bit about your background in the brewing world?
I started homebrewing in Montreal when my friend Pascal got into La Chope à Barrock (homebrewers store on St-Dominique street) and we met Stéphane the owner. After a few years, one of Pascal’s friends was planning to open a small brewery in Gaspésie. This is how I came to the Gaspe coast in order to open la microbrasserie Pit Caribou with Francis Joncas and Gilles Blanchet. It was in 2006. I found myself really enjoying brewing on this scale and at that point it really became a true passion. Most of my readings, travels and free time are dedicated to beer making (ask my girlfriend…).
Your choice to come right into the scene with two barrel aged beers is quite a bold (and perhaps even risky) endeavour. What made you decide to start off so aggressively? Any challenges as a result?
I wanted a really small scale, one man show brewery for this new project. We are located on a organic farm, where I wanted to have a sense of locality and terroir – a real farmhouse brewery. I’m now at the very beginning, so it’s a kind of large, unfocused project. I bought a bunch of barrels and two fouders so I could start growing all kinds of bugs, yeasts, and bacteria in them. I will slowly scrap the barrels I don’t like and keep the ones I like the most so I can try to “encourage” the bugs I prefer. To a certain degree, I want it to be very simple with a unique signature of in-house mixed fermentation. I really like working with barrel aged beer because in my normal brewing process (making the wort and pitching yeast and bacteria), there is not a lot of things left to chance. However, after it’s in the barrel, I don’t have a lot of control besides temperature and humidity. This is what I like, being surprise[d] or repulsed by all the flavours that can occur in the barrels. After all, it’s sensory, I work to blend products I want to drink and package interesting flavours.
Specifically, what made you decide on these three styles as your launching platform?
I’m planting a small fruit orchard beside the brewery. In Gaspesie, it’s hard to grow apples, pears, grapes, etc.. It’s easier to grow rasberries and all sorts of small berries. Framboëse will come back for sure once a year. Saison is a style I really like. For this one I did not want a hard rustic character, I wanted a more classic (Dupont-like) version but with a American twist (or should i say Gaspesian twist). With regard to Arcane 17, I’m a real hophead and I think I will always be. I needed a more fast-to-produce style to launch the brewery. For this one a I wanted a moderate bitterness and low range alcohol, all day IPA. In the future you might see hoppy wild ales.
Besides the Grisette that came out recently, what else can we expect from Auval in 2016?
I’m an enthusiast over low ABV beer, so there are going to be a few takes on Grisette. In 2016, my barrels and blending will become more precise. My signature will become a little more clear (I think it will take 3-4 years to get where I want). I’m going to also make other fruit beers (I have a few good ideas). Waiting for that, I have more classic styles coming (that I still enjoy to drink), like a DIPA and a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout on cacao nibs. Winter beers.
Well if that doesn’t get you excited, nothing will. That being said, let’s taste these first three offerings and see what they are all about.
Arcane IPA pours out a cloudy yellow orange colour, with a nice clingy white head. The nose begins with a huge citrus punch, mixed with lots of resinous and grassy complexities. There is some subtle malt sweetness, and a touch of honey. It’s divinely fruity, with oranges and grapefruit at the front, followed by a piney edge. This is a stellar nose, the hop aromatics are incredible and remind me of the Vermont scene.
Off the bat, it’s exceptionally earthy and rather bitter as well, packing an incredible punch for a 5.2% beer. The bitterness is resinous and lingers, but never overshadows its base. It’s a tad watery, but man this is pretty unbelievably tasty. There is less citrus than on the nose, instead more pine components come about. However, the finish is a huge grapefruit bitter bomb that is resinous and clings to your palate. It’s exceptionally dry and the overall balance is brilliant, which is impressive given the low ABV. This is now up there in the top IPA’s from Quebec.
Framboëse pours out a beautiful cherry red colour, with a small head that dissipates rather quickly. The nose is dank, with fermenting raspberries and lots of acidic properties. The aromatics are full of life, penetrating my senses with loads of fresh raspberries, mixed with that awesome Jam-like fun you find in fruited Lambic. This is coupled with oak, lots of vinous wine qualities, and some dusty brett phenols.
It’s exceptionally dry, with a lingering sour tang that rests on your palate. There are lots of tart raspberries up front, and a vinous wine barrel quality that compliments the tartness nicely. The pithy fruit tannins lend a drying character that is perfectly integrated alongside the other flavours. Some of that jammy fruit thing comes through as well, although less than on the nose. This is extremely easy to drink, and would be ideal in the summer months. At 5% ABV, you can crush this. This is exceptional.
It pours out a beautiful golden yellow colour with a nice bright white head. The aroma is fruity, with lots of citrus and stone fruit to start. It’s dusty, alongside some dank earthy funk and some acidic edges, followed by those quintessential peppery saison phenols. Farmageddon (Bellwoods) and Saison Rustique (Dunham) come to mind.
After the first sip I notice lots of vinous qualities; more so than the nose lets on. There are some seriously fruity components as well, like apricots and lemon zest, followed by some dusty funk and a minimal oak presence. The bitterness is on point, cutting any sweetness. It’s extremely earthy, with a lingering phenolic character that dries out the finish quite well, leaving a subtle sweetness. The only thing that lacks here is that there is a slight wateriness, but otherwise I’m a big fan.
I’m really digging the balance to these beers. Nothing pushes you too far, but instead provides just enough intensity to get you excited, and yet still restrained enough to never overshadow what is going on. In my experience, this type of harnessed balance is a quality found in some of the best breweries around. I’m not saying that Auval is there yet, but certainly on it’s way considering how fantastic these first three offerings really are. Great work, Ben!
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Jasen Pierre-Claude Gaouette