An article by Noah Forrest
Not only is it time to rejoice simply because the month of May is upon us – which means the summer heat is imminent – but also because Brasserie Dunham‘s 5th anniversary spring bottle release party is landing this Saturday! Brasserie Dunham is already 5 years old! Happy birthday!
For those unaware, every May in the Eastern Townships, Brasserie Dunham throws a party at their brewery. It’s the time when all the beers that have been quietly resting in barrels throughout the year come to fruition and get sold to eager and drooling beer geeks. You can sample on site, or take bottles to go (with a pre-order).
I’ve written about the Brasserie Dunham bottle release several times now, so I don’t want to bore you with redundancies each time. In short, it’s a great event, which becomes more fluid each year (pun intended). If you can make it out there, I highly recommend it.
Brasserie Dunham May Bottle Release 2016
- When: May 21st 2016
- Time: 11:00-18:00 EST
- Where: 3809, rue Principale, Dunham, Qc
- Further details here
I do, however, still want to talk about all the wonderful beer that will be available! I was fortunate enough to procure some samples in order to provide my thoughts and recommendations on this year’s offerings. But before getting to my tasting notes, I want to talk about – and talk to – the newest official partner at Brasserie Dunham: Simon Gaudreault!
Simon is a sommelier and writer who has worked in the wine business for fifteen years. He met Brasserie Dunham’s brewmaster Eloi about five years back, where he asked to tag along during the brewing process after having taken a course on the subject. This connected him with Sebastien, Dunham’s other partner and founder, who wanted to expand their barrel program. Simon began sourcing barrels for them and assisting with the release parties. Their shared interested in beer, wine, and food, coupled with their desire to try new things and their general willingness to listen to others, made this eventual partnership a no-brainer. Together they want to think outside the box, try new things, and build something incredible – all the while holding a customer-focused position. “We all believe that the beer in the bottle should be awesome, but the whole experience around it should also be great, no matter if you are in your living room, in a bottle shop, in a tap room, or at the brewery. “
I touched base with Simon over e-mail to ask him some questions:
Specific to this year’s bottle release, what changes has Brasserie Dunham made to better improve upon the already well-organized event?
“I think Sebastien, Eloi and I are all genuine beer enthusiasts. We’ve had our fair share of waiting in line to get some special beers that we really want to try, be it in Quebec, Vermont, Ontario, etc. In the end, we feel that no one is really gaining anything by waiting in line while parched. We’ve been working pretty hard to make things better and better, and I think there’s still a lot of room for improvement! The interest for these release parties has been growing sometimes faster than our ability to fine tune the logistics behind them, so we’re now working really hard before the event to try to make it as smooth as possible on the event day. This time, people can pre-order and pre-pay online for about a month, until May 18th. We know we release a lot of new beers at a time and that it can mean a huge amount of money for people, so giving some time for everyone to order can make it a little easier. This way, we’ll be working on everyone’s order for 3 days prior to the event, reducing the delay on the release day. That being said, the remaining bottles (for what isn’t sold out already) will be available on a first come first served basis. We want everyone to have a shot at our beers with the pre-ordering system, but we also want hardcore fans to be able to get more of what they like. We just want it to be as fair as possible.
Also, we’re trying to make it a fun experience for everyone (including us, as we’d rather drink beer and chat with everyone), so we’ve added a couple of cool things. Great food by our awesome new chef, Luc Pinard, a screening of the “Brasseurs: Le film” on Saturday evening, and some barrel tastings during the afternoon so people can taste the base beers we’re working with.”
I see several beers aged in Tokaji barrels, you have a collaboration with Cambridge Brewing, and have brewed a barrel aged, fruited, blended sour. Can you tell us a bit about some of the amazing bottles being released this year, perhaps ones that you are particularly excited about as an experienced taster?
“How much time do you have? 😉 Well, it would be crazy to talk about everything, as we’re releasing 21 different beers. We also worked hard to produce decent technical sheets about every single product, and those are available on the release page, so it’s easier to make an informed choice. But here are some of my favorites…
Ping Pong Wizard: A collaboration with Cambridge Brewery. My first taste of this brewery was in Sherbrooke’s Siboire, where the Coureurs des boires always do the “Soirée des grands crus”. I was really impressed by their Cerise Cassée, a solera system sour beer with cherries. Kevin Dwyer visited us last winter to brew this grisette with 100% Québec ingredients, including a QC hop variety named “Luskville”. The beer is great, delicate, elegant and floral, highly drinkable (well, that’s my opinion ; ) ). And the name? After a night of pretty solid R&D (read beer and wine drinking) we decided to play ping pong…
Berliner Mango Weisse: I tend to think that fruited sours are often hit or miss, but this one is simply amazing in my opinion, as the mango comes out nicely without overpowering the beer, and also brings a delicate drying character that confers a balance to the beer reminding me of some great white wines.
Assemblage Numéro 6: A wild and original blend of barrel-aged raspberry saison and barrel-aged Kekriek with some berliner weisse co-fermented with sour cherries.
Coffee RIS and Tokaji barrel-aged RIS: I’m really excited about this, as I’m also a coffee enthusiast. I love Detour, a Toronto roaster working in the third wave mindset, a trend consisting of paler roasting, so the original characters of the bean are more apparent. They sent us two coffees from two distinct origins, and split a single batch of our RIS to make 2 different beers, with the only variant being the origin of the coffee used. The Tokaji barrel-aged version was aged in Hungarian dessert wine Tokaji aszù barrels, adding an exotic dried fruit and honey character to the base beer. Those 3 beers are available in a mixed 6-pack with 6 variants of the RIS, so this should make for an exciting tasting! (Use some friends, but not too many…)
Assemblage #1 Cru Paysan: Two Sauternes (dessert wine from Bordeaux region) barrels were really coming out nicely in the lot, so they were blended with a single red wine barrel to create this unique version. It’s way more aromatic, showing an exotic character, a richer texture, yet it’s bone dry. Quite impressive…”
What can we expect from Brasserie Dunham in 2016?
“We have another collaboration coming up in fall with another coffee roaster I really like in Vancouver, named 49th Parallel. The barrel aging program is in full swing, and should be growing in the upcoming months. We’re waiting on a new bottling line, and new fermenters that should allow us to produce some beers on a more regular basis. We’re always working on some collabs, since we feel it’s a great opportunity to learn new stuff and meet great people (and drink a lot of beer, but solely for R&D purposes). We’re opening a restaurant by the brewery, and we’ve been really impressed by what Luc is doing up to now. We also have some fun ideas for the fall release. Long story short, you’ll be hearing about us!”
This is all extremely exciting! I can’t wait to start cracking open these lovely specimens. Given the fact that they have 21 new beers, I decided to write about the six beers that I’m the most excited to try (with the exception of Assemblage #6, which was not ready in time for this post).
Leo’s Early Breakfast IPA – Red Wine Barrel Aged with Brett
Leo’s Early Breakfast IPA is a somewhat regular Dunham beer that hits shelves here and there throughout the year. It’s brewed with Earl Grey tea and guava fruit. They have aged Leo’s in barrels before, having used it in a blend to create the amazing Saison Réserve, and have also thrown it in white wine and red wine barrels. This time, however, they aged it in Red wine barrels and did a secondary fermentation with brettanomyces. I’m excited.
It pours out bright orange and opaque, with a nice frothy little head. The nose wafts lots of wine-soaked oak, with some earthy bretty phenolics. This is followed by a huge punch of juicy brilliance, showcasing loads of tropical fruits, like guava, mango, pear, and so on. I’m also getting slight candied lemon, mixed with honey notes and some floral aromatics.
This is so incredibly fruity and dry at the same time. It has a slick mouthfeel, that helps make it very drinkable. The carbonation is light, but still present. Like the nose, there are loads of tropical fruits, throwing guava and pineapple at your senses, alongside some apricots and orange essence. Citrus components also play a role, with big grapefruit aromatics. The brett is present here, lending some earthy elements and has clearly attenuated the beer towards a very dry state. The wine barrels adds nice oak and vinous complexities with tannic bitters and fruity berry components.
Overall this is solid, but I think I actually preferred the non-bretted wine barrel aged version that came out a few years back. I can’t believe I’m saying that though, as I’m a brett fiend.
Assemblage #1: Cru Paysan – Sauternes Barrel Aged
Assemblage #1 was a beer that helped pave the way for Dunham’s barrel program. For me, it’s their staple blend, and probably their best. It’s a blend of their American Pale Ale and their multigrain saison “Propolis,” which is then aged in Zinfandel barrels with brettanomyces. It’s complex, but highly drinkable. As Simon mentions above, this “Cru Paysan” edition incorporates two additional Sauternes barrels into the blend. I can’t begin to explain my arousal.
It pours out a beautiful sexy amber-orange colour, tossing musty brett phenols and damp basement at my senses. Some apple cider comes through as well, with Granny Smith tartness. A wee bit of tropical fruits peek through the head, adding a slight hop component. Pears and peaches start emerging as well, alongside Sauternes and oak, which lends a subtle spice and some tart aromatics. This is indeed a brilliantly balanced nose.
It’s dry and delicate up front. At first, the hop bitterness mixes with the tannic brett phenols and wine remnants, drying everything to the point where the fruitiness is almost completely subdued. However, this doesn’t last long before a huge rush of tropical delights burst forth, ejecting stone fruit juiciness all over the place. Pears, peaches, and nectarines meet some light citrus peel and grapefruit. Having had Assemblage #1 many times before, the Sauternes plays a big role here, adding a richness and so much peach and pear flavours.
The body is creamy and rather robust, which lends a perfect framework for those Sauternes flavours to shine. Unlike Double Dose Sauternes (Sauternes barrel aged IPA), this has a more exquisite balance, with the bitterness being present, but not resinous or overpowering.
This beer is truly the epitome of balance; the brett, the hops, the red wine, and the Sauternes play off each other brilliantly, with the Sauternes in the leading role, yet not taking over, and never overshadowing the rest of the cast of flavours. This is remarkable and should be purchased!
Ping Pong Wizard – Grisette
This 100% Quebec ingredient based collaborative Grissette pours out a light orange colour, with a nice white head. It carries a rather musty nose, with loads of bretty funk – like dust, earth, and damp basement. Some green apples peek through as well, alongside herbal hops and slight honey notes.
This is easy drinking for sure, with a fruity apple essence and a rather peppery finish. The body is robust, but highly drinkable and not watery in the least. The phenolics are potent but balanced, drying out every portion of the beer, while still allowing for big fruity pears and apples to delight your palate. The finish contains light flavours of yellow apple flesh, pears, and honey, with lingering tannic phenols and subtle bitters.
This is a great beer to crush all summer long, and the fact that it’s made from all Quebec ingredients is that much more impressive.
Berliner Mango Weisse
This is Dunham’s second take on a Berliner Weisse. Previously they brewed “Berliner Melon Weisse,” which although not containing actual melon, still carried some melon-esque flavours from the types of hops used. This mango version, however, does contain mango, but no hops at all!
It pours out a beautiful foggy glowing yellow colour, with a tiny head that dissipates immediately, never to return. There are huge spicy black pepper aromatics, with a slight acidity and some fruity mango. There are also lots of hay and wheat aromas, alongside zesty lemon juice.
It’s rather sour up front, with loads of acidic components that help dry everything out. The mango is subtle, adding fruity essences to compliment the acidic profile. It also contributes to that black pepper flavour perceived on the nose, which is still rather prevalent, adding a spicy, almost savory component to the overall flavour profile. Wheat flavours of freshly cut oats and hay come in as well, adding an almost earthy element. The finish is long and clean, with a big acid finish and residual wheaty linger.
This is far more acidic and clean if compared to the Melon Weisse, and a better beer overall in my opinion. It’s sharp and balanced, with nuances from the fruit, but is certainly not a mango bomb by any means.
Petite Mort – Tokai Barrel Aged
Petite Mort was brewed for the first time a year ago. It’s a rich, decadent barrel aged Imperial stout that finishes bone dry. They remade it again this year, but alongside, they also made a Tokaji barrel aged edition, which I’m about to crack. Tokaji is a Hungarian dessert wine that undergoes a noble rot process in a similar way to Sauternes. Needless to say, I’m pretty stoked to try this.
The nose throws loads of dark chocolate and coffee nuances at me, with an interesting fruitiness that’s not typical of barrel aged stouts. The oak is rather present, lending spiciness from the wood. It smells rich and complex, with a slight acidic vinous tang hiding in the backdrop.
Up front this drinks like a usual barrel aged Imperial stout, but contains an amazing fruitiness in the finish that carries a tangy linger. Lots of milk chocolate and coffee come through, alongside caramel and some stone fruits, like pears and peaches. The wine gives a great tannic finish, further drying the beer wonderfully. The alcohol is really well integrated and the layers are pretty brilliant, beginning with a big mocha presence, which works perfectly with the abundance of stone fruit and lightly smoked malts. It finishes with a long bitter linger that echoes vinous tannic complexities.
(I should note that, unfortunately, because I received this bottle early for the purposes of this article, I cracked it prematurely, and it was flat. It was still delicious, but will be even better when properly carbonated)
Deze Monnik Is Drunken 2016
Just like Petite Mort, “Deze Monnik is Drunken” came into fruition last year. It’s a Chianti barrel aged Belgian Quadrupel, and although Quads aren’t on the top of the list of beers I’m particularly interested in these days, I absolutely adored the first iteration of this beer. I’m pretty excited to see how similar or different this one is as compared to the 2015 edition.
Make sure to keep this one cold because unlike Petite Mort, this is one heavily carbonated monster, causing a bit of a mess inside my photo box. It pours out dark brown with a lot of burgundy highlights. The nose is a mix of yeasty phenols and esters, that kick up dust and fruity blackberry aromatics. Some red wine and oak come through as well, with lots of ripe red apples, sweet figs and cooked caramel. Some vanilla comes in as well, alongside almonds and dates.
Off the bat it’s very oak forward, with a sweetness that is nicely cut down by lots of phenolic bitters. The mouthfeel is very effervescent, producing loads of tongue-tantalizing fizziness. The oak is massive on this, with plenty of spicy woody notes and a ton of vinous fruity and tannic properties. This quality balances nicely against the cooked caramel and sweet figs.
The alcohol is very well integrated against the complexity of flavours: candy apples, cooked caramel, dried fruits, and vinous grapes dance beautifully with the yeast spiciness and explosive oak bomb. Although having ample sweetness on my palate, the finish she is bone dry, carrying a bitter phenolic linger that echoes hints of dried fruits and vinous tannins.
As usual, the beers from a Brasserie Dunham anniversary party do not disappoint. Sadly I won’t personally be able to attend, but I’m sure you will all have plenty of fun without me. Now that Simon has joined the team, I’m excited to see how the three of them transform this company into something even more incredible. I’m already excited for the October bottle release!
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest