An article by Noah Forrest
Last year, Brasserie Auval hit the Quebec beer scene in almost covert fashion, launching three amazing but very limited beers. Once people got their hands on them, hype ensued. Now every time Auval puts bottles out, Montreal beer geeks scurry around town trying to find them, like a group of squirrels finding nuts for the winter. The Quebec beer-trading forums light up with “In search of” or “for trade” and whoever lands bottles becomes pretty happy with themselves.
Low bottle counts often create hype, sometimes even when the quality of the product isn’t top notch. There have been many rare beers that were on my bucket list that left me unimpressed when I finally had the chance to try them. That being said, sometimes the hype is warranted, at least to an extent. Heady Topper, for instance, is often regarded as the best Double IPA in the world, which causes it to be extremely sought after. The brewery’s very low production rate amps the hype even further. I don’t think Heady Topper is the best DIPA in the world, but it is one of the best I’ve had. In my opinion, it deserves much of the hype it receives.
Auval beers aren’t subject of Heady Topper-levels of hype, but they are still highly sought after in this town. And, although the intensity over which people fight for them may be slightly out of proportion considering how many other amazing breweries exist in Quebec, Auval beers are still pretty damn fantastic. It’s hard to qualify exactly, but there just seems to be something special about Auval. Perhaps it’s the higher level of quality, combined with innovation, and the uncompromising vision of its brewmaster and owner Ben Couillard.
From the Auval beers I’ve had to date, I’ve quickly realized that Ben’s vision is one that couples complex and intense flavours, with an unusually high drinkability factor. For a young brewery, Auval has already mastered hops and barrel-aged offerings, so I was particularly excited to try all these beers. I got my hands on five bottles to write about today. Some are the recent editions of previously released beers, while other are brand-spanking new. Don’t worry, no beers were harmed in the making of this article — all IPAs were consumed fresh.
Super A – Double IPA
This is the third installment of Super A, Auval’s now famous Double IPA. For me, it’s the new pinnacle of big hoppy beers in Quebec, the standard against which all other Double IPAs in this province should be measured.
It pours out a murky and foggy yellow-orange colour, with a beautiful thick white head. The nose is a fruit explosion, with tropical citrus flying at my senses. Candied lemon peels and marmalade are complemented by stone fruits, like apricots and peaches. There is that cat piss thing happening as well, with a zesty, vanilla sweetness in the finish.
Like the nose, this is an aromatic fruit bomb, holding a cornucopia of fruit complexities. Tropical fruits like mangoes and peaches mix with citrus to create a juicy punch. There is a beautiful, dank, grassy funk as well, which lends balance to the sweeter flavours. It’s very juicy, and the would-be sweetness isn’t perceivable. Instead it is cut down by a crushing bitterness that helps balance things nicely. The booze is well integrated, but still apparent, adding a sharp edge that helps keep any maltiness in check. A finish loaded with grapefruit rinds lingers on your palate far longer than you would think.
Overall this is a fruit bomb with an uncanny freshness that loads your senses with flavours that feel like they were picked off the tree and smashed into your face. This is a brilliant beer, and again my favourite double IPA in Quebec, maybe even in Canada.
Arcane 17 – IPA
Arcane 17 is the first hoppy beer that Auval released and I believe this is the third or fourth batch to hit shelves. It’s an incredible bright and aromatic IPA with a lower than average ABV, making it rather crushable. Let’s see how this batch is drinking.
It pours out a cloudy yellow colour, carrying a frothy and pretty dense head. The nose is comprised of tons of pungent hops, but also carries a slight phenolic spicy component that I don’t recall previous batches having. It’s extremely grassy and dank, with strawberries, citrus fruits and freshly cut grass dominating the aromatics.
It drinks very smoothly, with a light body and a potent bitterness in the finish. The dryness is perfect, and it carries a lovely grassy component that lingers alongside an earthy and fruity finish. Lemons and grapefruits rule the fruit front, and just like the nose, there is a yeast phenolic presence that adds spicy elements to the flavour profile.
There is a great dusty and earthy hop presence as well, with a hefty fruity backdrop and no perceivable sweetness. Grapefruits linger on your palate while the robust body and full flavoured profile tricks you into thinking this is something higher than 5 per cent.
Guerilla SSS – Triple Stout
Guerilla SSS is the first stout released by Auval. Of course, being Auval, it’s not a basic dry stout. Instead it’s a Triple Stout aged in a Jack Daniels barrel with cocoa. Needless to say, I was excited to drink this.
The nose starts off with some serious fruity and zesty hops, which dance alongside a pretty potent whiskey presence. It reeks of dank oak barrels, and has a charred coffee and espresso thing happening. Almond paste and blackberries emerge as well, coupled with the more whiskey soaked oak.
Wow, this is bone dry. To start, it’s completely different than I expected. It certainly has some of those dark roasted imperial stout-like components, but the body is lighter, and there is no sweetness to be found. Like NONE. This removes a lot of the normal chocolate elements of this style, which is somewhat ironic given it’s actually brewed with cocoa. Instead, the spirits and the barrel are the things that shine here, with the malts playing a back seat to oak, whiskey and a lot of hops.
There is certainly a black IPA element happening here, as the hops are an integral and rather aromatic component. Although extremely bitter and carrying a sharp ethanol kick from the spirit, the finish is pretty clean, and doesn’t leave too much of a resinous or general intense linger. As it warms, the dryness doesn’t let up, though the fruity elements begin to explode, with lots of blackberries, raspberries, red grapes and some citrus bitters. A lot of black liquorice mixes with the dank oak and spirits to complement this amazing, rather original flavour profile.
Many people told me that this was extremely boozy given the low-ish ABV of 7.8 per cent, and at first I thought so as well. However, as my palate adjusted, it seems that the booze burn is more of an amped IBU and residual spirit element that gives the beer a sharp edge, without the actual high alcohol content. Given that the beer is attenuated to the point of being bone dry, those sharper components are thrown at you in a much more direct fashion, without any viscosity to back it up.
This is completely unexpected, yet still delicious and brilliant. If you’ve had Isseki Nicho Pinot or Brasserie Dunham’s tequila barrel-aged black IPA, you’ll note some similarities with the Guerilla SSS, though it’s still very much its own thing.
As you might presume, Grisette #3 is the third iteration of Auval’s Grisette. Grisettes are farmhouse table beers that have a rather low alcohol content. This particular beer is an oak-aged blend, and should provide a complex flavour profile coupled with great drinkability.
It pours out a crystal clear yellow-copper colour, with a beautiful effervescence that generates a never ending head. The nose is dusty, throwing all kinds of bretty funk at my senses. Horse blanket and phenolic earthy soil mix with lemon and oak, while fruity saison esters, wood and tangy fruit aromatics blend with the rest of this amazing nose. There is a white wine component to the nose as well.
It’s slightly tart, reminiscent of lemon peel and some grapefruit. There is a bit of honey, making it almost floral, which mixed with an earthy oak component creates a real farmhouse feeling. The body is ample given the 4.5 per cent ABV, but it is most apparent in the finish, which is clean and unassertive.
There is less brett funk than perceived on the nose, but there is certainly still dusty and earthy components that lend a drying phenolic finish. As it warms, a white wine component starts to emerge, with a nice crisp finish; it’s kind of like a Granny Smith apple, but also echoing an oaked Chardonnay without the butteriness. The phenolic finish has a beautiful bretty linger that lends earthy and tangy bitters, reminiscent of lemon rind bitters and dusty funk. This was a tasty and highly drinkable treat.
Upon Aronia’s inception a few months back, it became an instant whale, with everyone and their mother looking to get some. It’s an American wild ale brewed with “Aronia,” also known as chokeberries, which carry an astringent, sour flavour.
It pours out with a foggy pinkish hue and some orange highlights. The nose is an intoxicating and inviting mix of jammy berry goodness, zesty acidic grape skins and earthy and dusty brett funk.
It’s rather tart up front, bordering on sour. The juiciness is brilliant, lending jammy macerated berry flavours to the body, while still remaining bone dry. The tannins are potent but not astringent, instead providing a nice dry finish alongside the phenolics from the microflora. As integral a role that the berries play, their infusion is simple and balanced. It feels almost like a cross between a raspberry and a cherry, pulling the better parts of each. They taste almost candied, but without the sugars. The flora really shines here as well, adding acidic complexity to the beer as a whole.
The body is extremely light, with a clean finish that isn’t watery, but isn’t particularly intense. It’s complex, yet delicate and refreshing at the same time. Instead of the intensity of a lambic, Aronia provides subtlety across the board. The balance is just brilliant, you can drink this like water; it’s smooth, hitting all the right notes without being aggressive or forgettable. Bravo. Brilliant, even.
So there it is: five pretty damn amazing beers from one of Quebec’s newest breweries, who also happens to be one of its most brilliant and exciting. Sadly this article comes at a time when Auval will be taking a break from wider distribution during the summer. This is so they can concentrate on the local Gaspesian market. But don’t fret, once the temperature starts to lower again we can take solace in the fact that Auval will soon be back in Montreal.
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest