An Article by Noah Forrest
It seems that the gap between wine and beer is starting to get smaller. Certainly, one will never become the other, nor should it. However, with the rising popularity of wine barrel aged beer – both in the classic sense and with this new era of vinous experimentation – there is a merging of sorts.
It’s happening in different ways. For one, the flavour profile behind wine barrel aged beers generally consists of fruity, tannic, and acidic components that transform the beer into something vinous and quite different. The use of particular hops, wild yeasts, and/or acidifying bacteria can further work with the wine-barrel profile, creating something exquisite and simply delicious (when done right). Whether it’s Lambic or something more modern and experimental, the process still lends a vinous complexity that, at the very least, subtly effects the beer, making it”wine-like” in one way or another.
These similarities don’t just apply to the beer itself, but also to the way we approach high caliber barrel-aged beers in general. These beers (and craft beers in general) are being perceived as a higher tier of beverage, worthy of in-depth analysis and praise, much like wine. They are most often found in 750ml bottles and their prices can rival wine prices, especially given the cost involved in creating them. They are usually more limited as well, so a lot of the time they are hoarded and traded for other, equally rare offerings.
I’ve written a few posts now about Le Trou du Diable, and one specifically about their fantastic barrel program. They’ve been at this for a very long time, always creating beautifully balanced oaked masterpieces. This is why I was ecstatic to see that the below three beers were going to be released (especially so close together). Unfortunately, due to their low production, these beers were only available at their brewery in Shawinigan and sold out pretty much immediately. However, I fortunately managed to get my hands on all three bottles so that I could tell you all about them! Although all three are very different beers, they each spent time in various wine barrels, and as I’ll explain shortly, these bottles were some of the most interestingly vinous beers that I’ve even tasted. Wine tannins on crack!
Lord Barlow – Brassin Spécial
“Lord Barlow is a 100% British amber ale that was aged for 4 months in red wine barrels followed by an 8-month-long bottle maturation process. It features a complex nose of candied cherries, plums and red wine. Its palate reveals a harmonious blend of Flanders Red Ale and Old English Ale resulting in a smooth, slightly acidic and vinous finish.” – Le Trou du Diable
Lord Barlow pours out a beautiful dark amber colour with brown highlights and some great clarity. The nose begins with a lot of bretty funk that tosses earthy and dusty aromatics at my senses. There are some acidic elements as well, that give off sour cherries, tart apples and cranberries. The oak lends more complexity, showcasing red grapes and lots of vinous tannic components.
Wow, this is something. It’s rather different, and unlike most beers I’ve had; drinking almost like red wine. To start, it is bone dry, like exceptionally so. The body is robust, and almost chewy, but the lack of any sweetness makes it rather drinkable. Instead of being sour, it is extremely tart, with wine tannins leading the flavour profile, leaving a dry and very apparent grape skin bitterness on my palate.
As my taste buds adjusts to the tannic bomb, I can start picking out some fruitiness – although not in your face by any means. Some plum, blackberry, and light cherry comes through, lending balance to the dry finish. The alcohol is not perceivable in the least, which is extremely impressive given the 9.5% ABV.
Brettanomyces based phenolics mix with the potent wine tannins, adding a plethora of beautiful tartness that wonderfully cuts any and all lingering maltiness. The fruity components come through, resting on your palate after each sip, as if you chewed on pithy fruit rinds. Essentially, this tastes like bretted red wine, which to me, is a little piece of heaven in a glass.
“Le Coq is a blend of sour rye beer that is aged up to two years in Banyuls barrels and to which we add, for a period or one month, 450 pounds of sour cherries. As a result of this process, this proud and robust amber coloured beast presents lambic aromas with undertones of sour cherry and barley candy. As soon as dawn breaks, its light body starts singing sharp but generously fruity notes, a gripping combination that awakens the senses. All these flavours stretch out to a slightly oxidative vinous finish. This beer will keep you coming back for more.” – Le Trou du Diable
Of the three beers, Le Coq is the only one that has been released before. I had a bottle from their first batch, but I’m excited to see how the recipe has developed over time. It pours out a beautiful pinkish red colour with mauve highlights. The nose starts with loads of tart cherries, which reminds me so much of fresh cherry pie. Some dusty yeast funk peeks through as well, adding an earthy balance to the aromatic profile. It smells tart, holding tannic bitters and juicy berries.
Like the nose, there is a lot of cherry-fuled goodness, however it’s far more restrained than the aromas fortold. Instead, tart and bitter tannins lead the way, drying everything in their path, leaving a clean but lingering finish that merely echoes that fresh cherry pie thing.
Overall it’s not particularly sour, but it does have some acidic qualities. The fruit is the star, but also somewhat restrained, lending character to this tart, tangy and extremely dry profile. There isn’t much in the way of a phenolic yeast funk; instead it’s far cleaner. Again, like Barlow, this is so dry that it puckers the palate, leaving grape-skin or cherry-pit bitterness on your tastebuds for a long time. It’s much like the finish in a red wine, but refreshing, complex and quite linear. From what I recall, this is quite different from the first batch I tried years back. That’s not a bad thing.
Aldred – Brassin Spécial
“Aldred BS consists of our original American Season recipe, to which we added 10% of Vergers de la Colline apple juice and 6% of grape juice from the Rivière du Chêne Winery. The blend was then mixed with generous amounts of brettanomyces and aged for 4 months in red wine barrels. As a result, this opalescent blond displays an explosive nose of white flesh fruits and American hops. Its dry, bitter palate surprises the taste buds with its crisp and refreshing character.” – Le Trou du Diable
Aldred BS pours out a foggy yellow orange colour, carrying a soapy head that completely dissipates seconds after hitting the glass. The nose begins with some zesty and rather fruity hops, lending mango and citrus to the aromatic profile. Next comes some fruity yeast esters that further compliment the hops, adding even more tropical delights. Bretty phenols peek through, giving us a bit of earthiness to balance the fruit complexity. White grapes emerge as well, but I don’t get any of the cider on the nose.
Unfortunately the carbonation here is exceptionally low, bordering on flat. Just like the nose, I get lots of tropical fruits, but they are far less apparent than expected. Instead, just like the other two beers in this series, Aldred is exceptionally tannic and dry, but in this case there is also a huge hop bitterness to further dry things out even more.
As it warms, more of the fruitiness starts to emerge, lending a big grapefruit punch that blends rather nicely with the saison yeast and bretty elements. It’s all rather vinous, with some sharp grape-skin pithiness that provides a complimenting winey complexity.
Overall, although enjoyable, I’m not in love with this beer. The lack of carbonation, coupled with the bitterness makes it imbalanced for my tastes. However, the fruity hops and general flavour profile makes up for it, but still doesn’t knock it out of the park.
That being said, Le Trou du Diable has really surprised me with these offerings. At various times while drinking them, I was a bit taken back. The bitter tannins are on a whole other level, making your mouth pucker as though all the moisture was being sucked out of it. It’s not something you normally get in beer, and instead it’s an experience that I encounter more often in boldly dry red wines. It seems the times are a changin’. Perhaps we are entering a new era in TDD barrel aged beers, or perhaps beers in general. I guess we will have to wait and see.
An Article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest