An article by Noah Forrest
The world’s beer scene is in a state of hyperdrive. Quebec is no different. New breweries are popping up all the time, while the existing ones are expanding, fine-tuning their skills, and becoming far more experimental. Over the last few years, Les Trois Mousquetaires, Brasserie Dunham, and Le Castor have developed killer barrel programs, with sour, funky, and big and bold beers being released on the regular. Things are good here. Very good.
However, among these somewhat newer endeavours, there is one extremely important brewery that we shan’t forget: Microbrasserie Le Trou du diable. TDD has had a consistent barrel program for longer than I’ve been a beer geek. They are one of the few Quebec pioneers in this regard, with La Buteuse Brassin Spécial’s first bottle release dating back to 2009.
Before venturing into the world of Lambic and wild ales from the US, one of my earlier barrel aged bretted beer memories was the illustrious Dulcis Succubus. It was an eye-opening flavour experience, and to this day I think it’s one of the best beers brewed in the province. It never gets tired or old.
Since the release of La Butuese Brassin Spécial and Dulcis Succubus, Trou du diable have recreated several other barrel aged wonders. They are consistently delicious, with very few that aren’t simply stellar. It’s an amazing accomplishment that continues to impress, which is why I’m particularly thrilled to talk about their anniversary beer, simply called “X.”
X was brewed to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Microbrasserie Trou du diable. It’s a blend of three different beers: (1) Buteuse Brassin Spécial, an apple brandy barrel aged Belgian Tripel, (2) Dulcis Succubus, a botrytrized wine barrel aged wild saison, and (3) Le Hérisson, a Banyuls and red wine barrel aged sour saison blend. Pffff, pretty boring, right?
Beer blending isn’t a new technique, but it is somewhat new outside of the Lambic-producing region of Belgium. Basically, when a Lambic brewery or Gueuzerie makes a Gueuze, they blend different vintages of unblended Lambic in order to create a more balanced overall beer. Each component on its own might be too harsh, or too young, but when combined, they form something amazing. What’s interesting about what Trou du diable did here is that each piece is an exceptional product on its own; blending them is more of an attempt to create something new and interesting, as opposed to balancing unblended beers.
This gave me the idea and the unique opportunity to examine (or re-examine) each individual component first, before actually trying the finished blend. So, I rolled up my sleeves, popped the caps, and once again took one for the team.
La Buteuse Brassin Spécial
As mentioned earlier, La Buteuse Brassin Spécial is an apple Brandy barrel-aged version of their Belgian Tripel. The beer is bretted, so the usual Belgian yeast phenolics are largely eaten away, leaving the delicious bretty elements to shine alongside the rich flavour profile.
It pours out a darker copper orange colour with some red highlights. The nose wafts huge dusty notes, that add musty funk and lots of earthiness. Apple cider-like components mix in with some barrel and rich caramel malt aromatics. The phenols are all brett, without any lingering clove from the primary fermentation.
Although sweet up front, the brett and sharp ethanol burn cuts through any stickiness, drying out the finish completely. Again, like the nose, the apple Brandy is bold and lends cider-like flavours which complement this Belgian Tripel flavour profile quite nicely. However, the barrel and wild yeasts completely transform the beer, stripping away most of the spicy Belgian yeast flavours, and instead creates a dry dusty funk that leaves behind a rich malt base, echoing cooked caramel and crème brûlée.
The Belgian yeast esters do start to emerge as it warms, adding nice layers of plum and apricot, with just a slight hint of banana. This couples nicely with the big barrel component and huge apple bomb.
This beer is rich – carrying a big 10% ABV – yet it drinks rather easily, with lovely effervescent carbonation and a well-attenuated dry flavour profile that makes the the whole thing much more palatable. It’s brilliant.
This past year, Sauternes barrels hit the Quebec beer scene, resulting in the creation of all kinds of mouldy-grape, wine-barrel-aged goodness. However, we often forget about the original Quebec example of botrytized wine barrel-aged beer. Of course I’m talking about Dulcis Succubus. I mentioned earlier that it was a breakthrough beer for me, and likely for many others in this province. It’s certainly one of those first drinking experiences where you stop and say “Oh, beer can taste like this?” Yes, it’s that good. At this point in time we are pretty inundated with experimental barrel aged beers, but Dulcis… It will always have a special place in my heart.
It pours out a glowing orange colour with an ample frothy head. The nose wafts beautiful floral and fruity aromatics. Earthy yeast funk and fruity brett esters mix with a big vinous complexity, adding oak and spiciness to the mix. Loads of stone fruits lend a juiciness to the aromatics, which seems to come from the noble rot of the wine, providing a richness to the whole experience. Vanilla beans and floral notes come into play as well, adding a freshness to the rest of the deliciousness.
Like the nose, Dulcis is fruity and very wine forward. There is a beautiful zesty quality, carrying citrus notes alongside the richer fruit flavours. The oak is massive, lending spiced accents of vanilla and general woody layers.
The Sauternes shines bright, adding big fruity stone fruit flavours, like peaches, apricots and plums. The botrytized grapes provide a sweet essence, without the actual sugars. There is a hoppy element that lends some mild tropical fruit, but moreover provides a bitter finish, drying everything out alongside the vinous tannins and brett phenolics.
Much like Sauternes, Dulcis starts off robust and rich, carrying a big fruitiness; however, it is instantly dried out in the finish, leaving you with a clean ending and echoes of the flavours that preceded it. #love
Although not explicitly stated, it seems that Le Hérisson is Trou du diable’s take on a Gueuze. It’s a blend of different barrel aged sours, and for me, it’s my first time trying it.
It pours out golden yellow with orange highlights. The head dissipates quickly, leaving a frothy ring around the glass. The nose begins with rich fruity aromatics, but the vinousness and oak are the most prevalent components here. Dank woody notes mix with funky brett phenolics in order to create a beautifully spicy and earthy aromatic experience. Grapefruit, citrus, and grape tannins throw up loads of intense fruitiness, alongside a huge sourness. It’s very “Gueuzey”.
The flavours match the nose, but are perhaps a bit more muted. It’s not as sour as the aromas foretold, but by far the most tart of the bunch (so far). Bitter wine tannins mix with a phenolic brett presence to create the perfect level of mouth puckering dryness. It’s rather fruity in different way. First off you get that awesome Gueuze-like grapefruit thing, mixed with other acidic citrus layers, while white grapes come through as well, coupled with hints of under-ripe tangerine.
In some ways this drinks like Lambic, in other ways like an exceptionally dry white wine. The bretty funk adds a nice earthiness, but the wine barrel components outweigh the dusty cobwebs, adding loads of vinous and a tangy acidic bite. Overall this drinks like a crushable Gueuze, and, well, that’s not a bad thing.
Here we go, the blend! Now having consumed each piece, I get to try how they all work when mashed together inside one bottle. I’m very curious which elements from each beer come through in the end product. So, here we go!
X pours out a beautiful glowing orange colour, with a perfect little head that never fully dissipates. The nose wafts huge bretty phenolics, with earthy funk, cobwebs, and dank dusty basement. It’s fruity as well, with lots of apricot and nectarine. The aromatics are also quite vinous, with a white grape tannic component that lends a certain tartness to the nose.
Wow, there is a lot going on here. The body is robust, but still goes down easy, with a lively carbonation that tickles your tongue as you sip it. Up front, it’s more tart than I anticipated, even given the Hérisson addition. There is a white wine acidic profile that helps cut through the abundant fruit complexities. Like the nose, there are peaches and apricots, but there is a big lingering vanilla oak presence that sits on your palate in between sips. Tangerines, grapefruits, and general citrus also come alive as it warms, complimenting that acidic bite and contrasting some of the richer Buteuse elements.
The earthy and brett-forward aromatics are slightly less apparent than foretold on the nose. That being said, they are still there, and add nice drying components alongside the oak tannins and bacterial sourness. For 9%, it’s crazy dry and carries virtually no booze burn.
It’s certainly an original flavour profile, with components being taken from each of its parts. Le Hérrison lends that acidic profile, with grapefruits and slight Gueuze-like funk, while La Buteuse provides robust body, vanilla oaky richness, and some slight Belgian yeast phenolic spiciness. Dulcis throws in just a little stone fruit complexity from the Sauternes, adding a nice rich depth, pulling the other two beers together in order to round everything out.
This was a fun experiment. I wanted to be able to examine and perceive each component of the beer separately, hoping to find their essence in the resulting blend. And I think I did. So, if you’re wondering if the sums of these parts was better than the parts themselves, I’m not totally sure. I certainly thought X was fantastic, but Dulcis is still my favourite of the bunch. There is just something brilliant about that beer.
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest