An article by Noah Forrest
Summer has officially come to a close. This makes me sad. To be honest though, I’ve never actually been a big fan of the heat, but as I’ve grown older and crustier each year, I’ve begun to despise winter more and more – perhaps loving summer by default. I’d like to find comfort in the fact that we have “Fall” as a buffer, but for some reason it feels like the Autumn days only last about two weeks, before the crushing, unmanageable, seemingly 18 month long Montreal winter swoops in to make us all contemplate suicide once more. Hooray!
So, as an homage to the impending doom that awaits us, I took this opportunity to write an article about a beer that is often considered not only the best beer in Canada, but one of the best imperial stouts in the world. And it’s brewed in our backyard! Of course, I’m referring to Péché Mortel, a coffee infused imperial stout that will not only keep you warm, but also keep you wide awake as you angrily shovel snow, muttering profanities under your breath.
Not only that, but I wanted to write the third and latest installment in a series of posts that I’m calling “Verticals & Variants,” which focuses on how beer ages over time as well as how breweries often brew different versions of the same beer.
This infamous coffee infused imperial stout has been around for decades and has had a few variants over the years. I’ll be examining three vintages of the original (including a 2007!), two vintages of their bourbon barrel aged edition, and a Cognac & Brandy barrel aged variant. Although having tasted them before, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into these luscious beers; you know, for science! Péché Mortel, six ways!
About five or six years ago, when I didn’t know the difference between an ale and a lager, I stumbled upon bottles of Dieu du Ciel! at a local depanneur. I was just starting to get interested in beer, and after spotting DDC’s art covered cases in the fridge, I picked some up. From that day forward, my interest in craft beer started escalating, more and more with each coming year. Sometimes I wonder if Dieu du Ciel!, or maybe Péché in particular, were responsible for my ever-snowballing obsession with this medium.
To a young newby palate, Péché blasts the senses with an overpowering bitterness, intense espresso-like roastiness, and a huge motor-oil body. The first time I had it, I remember barely finishing the bottle, being left confused and slightly violated. However, I wanted to do it again, and again, and again… My palate took a beating, but I needed more. It eventually adjusted and, like many others, I was hooked.
As I said, Péché Mortel is often regarded as the best beer in Canada, and according to most beer rating sites, it is. However, that aside, I would argue that it also may be the most important. Over the years Péché has developed a sort of cult following around the world, unlike any other Quebec or Canadian based beer that I know of. It’s special, and I for one am quite grateful to have it. What is also exceptional is the fact that it’s pretty much available year round. That’s right, you can buy Péché in July if you feel like it. And, I do. However, July is sadly gone and September is here to remind us that there will be snow arriving shortly. So with that said, first I’m going to cry, then I’m going to send an email to old man winter, letting him know that he’s a fucking ass-clown, and then I’m going to bury my face in some imperial stouts.
Péché Mortel – Fresh!
Although Péché Mortel does very well with some years on it, the coffee and aromatic hops will fade over time. So, if you want to utilize the agressive coffee bomb that encompasses this beer, drinking it fresh is the way to go. The aroma begins with an intense rush of coffee, alongside big chocolatey aromatics and some earthy and slightly zesty hops. There is some subtle sweetness to the nose as well, with caramel-like sweetness adding complexity.
It begins with a creamy body that feels like a tall espresso. The roasty bitterness catches you off-guard, and when mixed with the hop forward elements, it lends a beautifully dry finish. Like the nose there are loads of chocolate layers, however they are far darker, lending more of a bakers chocolate presence. I’ve forgotten how hoppy this beer can be when fresh. Certainly not “hoppy” in an aromatic IPA perspective, but there is a slight fruity element that adds a zesty and almost tart side to things.
Overall, Péché carries a wonderful fruitiness that mixes with the potent coffee components and subtle sweet malt base, creating a trinity of balanced deliciousness. Péché Mortel for president.
Péché Mortel – 1 year old
Next up is a year old bottle, which should be a bit more refined, however with some coffee and hop loss. The nose is rather similar to the fresh version, with notes of mainly coffee and chocolate layers that dance alongside the sweet malts. That being said, the extra year provides a doughy, almost cake-like aroma that makes the nose seem more “deserty,” if only subtle.
The bitterness, although still aggressive, seems to come from the coffee more than the hops, which have now faded a bit. There are slight sherry flavours that have come out, but with barely any signs of oxidation – certainly none that are off putting. The body is still robust, and the finish, although slightly thinner than when fresh, is still packed with flavour, throwing a beautiful coffee bomb at my senses. It’s a far more linear flavour profile, without any of the fruity hops I found in the fresh version.
Péché with a year on it is still amazing, and fun to sit on to see what happens. However, it is still better when very fresh in my opinion. I’m excited (and nervous) for the 9 year old version to come!
Péché Mortel 2007
A couple of years back at one of the winter release parties, Dieu du Ciel! pulled out bottles of Péché Mortel from 2007 to sell. I know Péché does well with time, but how will it hold up after nine years of aging!? That was the question that I needed to answer. So, let’s have at it.
The nose is rather coffee forward, surprisingly, with an earthy mustiness in the background. It’s a bit muted overall if compared to the other versions. There is a slight metallic compoment, but it’s subtle and not off putting. Minimal chocolate notes emerge, but again subtle and muted. The beer is actually quite inviting. No soy!
Wow, this is actually quite drinkable. There are coffee rinds to start, mixed with some chocolate, earthy components, and lingering espresso bitterness. The body and finish are understandably thin, but far less than I would expect given the nine fucking years (!) this thing has on it.
The finish is slightly sweet, with some nice light toffee, alongside a slight sherry component. However, this beer is surprisingly unscathed by intense oxidation. That being said, it’s by far my least favourite of the bunch given the thin body, watery finish and kinda weird earthy thing. But man, this is still pretty good! As it warms, the caramel, leather, maraschino cherry, and sherry elements come out more, lending some interesting complexity to the mix. I’ve had two year old imperial stouts that went to shit. I’m impressed, Péché, I’m impressed.
Péché Mortel – Bourbon BA 2013
Péché Mortel Bourbon of any vintage is highly sought after. In Quebec based trading forums it has almost become a currency, with other bottles being measured against its value. This 2013 release obviously has some years on it, but I suspect it is likely still drinking very well.
The nose is still pretty damn spectacular. There are loads of bourbon notes – more than I recall – throwing vanilla and oak into my nostrils. It’s cakey, with some marzipan and sweet milk chocolate. The coffee is still there, but not with the intensity in the fresher versions.
Just like the nose, the bourbon is at the front, lending a sharp ethanol forward spirit presence to the thick and robust body. The almond cake-like thing mixes with some earthy coffee remnants in order to create a rich, desert component to the beer. That being said, this is bone dry, without an inkling of sugar (even with the loss of bitterness over the years). It’s also incredibly smooth, and goes down very easily. Any sharpness that comes through is from the spirits, which helps keep a strong dry finish given that the hops have faded away.
Often with beers of this age, off flavours start to emerge and there is a risk of it becoming muted; not to mention that a certain wateriness can appear when the bitterness fades and the body breaks down. None of this has occurred in this bottle. All the flavours are working in harmony, each balancing off of each other, essentially creating the perfect Péché Mortel. #love
Péché Mortel – Bourbon BA 2015
After a two year hiatus and rumors that Péché Boubon might never return, our beer-geek prayers were answered last winter when PMB made a triumphant return at DDC’s winter bottle release (minus some pretty serious logistical issues). I was one of the few fortunate folks to get some, but luckily there was a another batch released at their summer party that hit more people.
After placing my nose inside the glass, my senses are hit first by a rush of big vanilla aromatics, followed by some delicious oaked complexities. In comes the coffee and dark chocolate, alongside a doughey cake thing, and chocolate chip cookies.
Like the nose, the bourbon leads the way at first with its huge vanilla and dank oak presence. The barrel also adds a tannic finish that, when placed alongside the bittering hops, makes for an exceptionally dry finish. The coffee is still very present, despite the age, lending a sharp bitter espresso component next to some chocolatey fun.
This iteration is far more barrel forward when fresh if compared to the last bourbon Péché from 2013; and delicious, of course.
Péché Mortel – Cognac & Brandy BA
If beer-geeks weren’t excited enough about the re-release of Péché bourbon at the winter bottle release, DDC announced that a Cognac and Brandy barrel aged variant was also dropping. Our heads exploded.
The nose carries huge notes of coffee and cocoa, mixed with subtle oak and cognac notes. It’s very chocolatey, the most of the bunch so far. There is a nice fruitiness as well, with some black cherries that compliment the dark roasted grains.
Off the bat, double barrel Péché is very smooth and quite subtle. There are lots of vanilla and woodsy oak flavours that are further complimented by a lingering cognac booziness that rests nicely on your palate. It almost seems a tad thin given how easily it drinks with its extremely smooth body and finish. The brandy and cognac add a subtle fruitiness which the original and the bourbon editions don’t have. This also also brings forth some subtle sweetness, carrying a rich port-like essence. Black cherries also arrive, as if they were dipped in extremely dark chocolate with freshly roasted ground coffee beans sprinkled on top.
The finish is warming, echoing oak, red fruit, and dark chocolate, all with a nice brandy booze burn that lingers. The dryness seems to come from the tannins and spirits, as apposed to the hop bitterness and coffee. This is heavenly.
Well, there you have it, Péché Mortel six different ways, all carrying their own interesting and varying levels of deliciousness. If you’re from Quebec and you’re reading this, having never tried Péché, then you really need to go get some. The best part is that you can actually go buy it, like right now. Go! It’s a thing of beauty that many of us beer geeks take for granted, but I for one will always keep some in the cellar going forward. It’s just too good not to drink it all the time.
An article by Noah Forrest
photography by Noah Forrest