An Exclusive Look at this Weekend’s 2016 Brasserie Dunham October Bottle Release

An article by Noah Forrest

Fall is nice. The leaves change colour, apples are plentiful, and you can walk around wearing a hoodie without people thinking you’re just trying to look cool. It’s not so cold that you hate the world, but you are also preparing yourself for the impeding doom that’s on the horizon. But, more importantly, fall means it’s time for Brasserie Dunham‘s October bottle release! Wooooot! If you are not familiar with Dunham’s bi-yearly bottle releases, then you have certainly been missing out; I feel sorry for you. It’s also too bad for you because the release is this Saturday, October 22nd, and they are not taking any more bottle orders. That being said, you likely have a lot more money than us beer aficionados. When these releases occur, we can’t help ourselves, many of us end up purchasing an obscene numbers of beers, resulting in the need for extra mortgages on our houses. 

Dunham Fall 2016 Group Shot

Essentially, these releases act as a vehicle for the great folks at Brasserie Dunham to showcase the amazing barrel aged, wild yeast fermented, hopped to shit, or just plain amazing beers that they have been working on for the last six months (or longer). You buy a ticket online, place your order, and show up to pick up your bottles. You can do this alongside sampling their beers on-tap. All while taking in the beauty of the Eastern Townships in autumn and partying with a shit-ton of people. Although at this point you cannot pre-order anymore, I’d still highly recommend going this weekend, if only to drink the incredible line up of beers, and purchase any leftover bottles on hand.

This year there are several returning classics, like Saison Réserve, Stout Impérial Russe Bourbon, and Assemblage #2. As well, new and exciting blends are arriving, such as the seventh installment of Assemblage, and the fifth version of the more experimental Hors-Série blends. They even have a cider blend made with wild yeasts found on apples. I was extremely fortunate to get my hands on some of the bottles in advance so that I could tell you all about them. Here goes!

Cyclope Thêta

Cyclope Theta

The Cyclope series began in May 2015 and has been going strong for sometime now. Each new addition contains a different hop variety in order to showcase a different hop profile for the same base. They are light and slightly aromatic, but extremely bitter. Honestly? They don’t really do it for me anymore. After chatting with Eloi (head brewer), he informed me that starting with Cyclope Thêta, the series is being redone in the hazy and fruity modern New England tradition. This is exciting. 

Thêta pours out a hazy yellowy orange colour with a nice frothy head. The nose screams East Coast. Huge citrus meets juicy strawberries, dank grassy funk, pears, pineapple, guava, and candied lemon. This is very inviting.

Off the bat, it’s a certainly more bitter than modern NE-style IPAs. However, this bitterness has always been the Dunham signature, especially considering the crushing bitterness of the Cyclope series in general. Lots of fruit comes through, throwing passion fruit, mango, strawberries, and a ton of citrus at my senses. The hazy body lends a nice creamy texture to further complement the juice bomb. Pine and citrus zest are the focal points, alongside the massive fruit bomb, and the whole thing is brought down by a crushing bitterness with echoes of a vanilla essence that sticks with you. 

The bitterness is what separates this from the rest of the Quebec NE IPA herd. It actually works. Normally with this type of IPA, the bitterness is toned down to allow for the delicate nuanced flavours to shine. Dunham managed to uphold their love for aggressive bittering hops while still keeping the integrity of this new-style IPA. Great stuff. 

Porter Coco Chipotle Bourbon BA 2016: Blood Oranges & Cocoa Nibs

Coco Chipotle 2016

Porter Coco Chipotle first made its appearance a few years back and comes out relatively often. It’s a porter brewed with toasted coconut and chipotle peppers. There have been a few variants over the years,  but this one seems to be the most interesting to date. The 2016 special edition spent six months in bourbon barrels with the addition of morita peppers, blood orange peels, and cacao beans.

The nose is all bourbon, with loads of sexy vanilla and oak, mixed with subtle peat, cooked taffy, caramel, and lots of milk chocolate. As it opens, coffee comes out a tad, alongside hints of the toasted coconut. 

But wow, on the tongue this is very different from the nose. First off, it is way spicier than previous batches, carrying a pretty aggressive sharp warmth in the finish. The blood orange, although not exactly apparent, lends an acidic fruitiness to the whole thing, with a lingering juiciness. The bourbon is there, but less than on the nose, only being particularly noticeable in the finish with lingering vanilla and oak. 

Spicy heat is at the front here, and overall this is crazy dry. The body is perfect, with a medium light mouthfeel that still feels slick and robust. The coconut comes alive with time, lending a toasted nuttiness that goes alongside the cocoa, bourbon, and slight acidic elements quite nicely. The marriage of flavours is quite brilliant. Overall this might be my favourite Coco Chipotle to date. Kudos! 

Assemblage #7

Assemblage #7

Dunham’s Assemblage series has been going strong for several years now, and at this point we are are at number seven! I remember drinking the first one on site, and it really doesn’t seem that long ago. These beers are essentially “blends” that usually (if not always) involve wine-barrel aging and the wild yeast strain brettanomyces. However, each time it’s a different mix of base beers, with different ratios and different types of wine barrels, ultimately creating a truly original product each time.  Number seven is a blend of Saison Rustique Drei (brett saison) and No Tahoma (hoppy farmhouse ale). It was then aged in a blend of wine barrels for six months and dry hopped. Yes!

The nose wafts a huge dusty funk, alongside some apple cider-like fruitiness. Hops peak through, lending slight citrus accents to this brett-forward nose. Lots of barrel appears as well, adding oak and some vinous complexity to the mix.

Off the bat, this is nicely dry, with a good bitter finish. The vinous elements really dance well alongside the bretty phenols and fruity, cider-like acidity. Pineapple comes to mind as well, while the finish lingers of apples and subtle citrus fruit. The dusty brett really leads the way here, lending all kinds of beautiful musty and dry components, while still allowing the beer to be fruity and complex. Oranges and grapefruit start to appear as it opens and warms, which alongside the tannic wine remnants, make for a lingering bone-dry and tart finish. 

Overall I think this blend is pretty great, but not my favourite Assemblage to date. I would like to have tasted more of that dry hop, but when you mix two of my favourite Dunham beers and throw them in a barrel, it’s pretty hard for me not to love the outcome. 

Saison Fleurs Sauvages “Été”

Saison Fleurs Sauvage Ete

What we have here is the third bottled version of Saison Fleurs. This edition is brewed to showcase wild summer flowers from Quebec’s Gaspésie, specifically mélilot and épilobe. It’s also made with honey from Trois Acres, a local honey producer in Dunham.

The nose is an interesting mix of saison yeast phenolics, alongside herbal and floral elements. Honey notes come through as well, lending their own brand of floral aromatics. In fact, it’s potently floral, but not off-putting. It actually reminds me of my childhood, wandering through long grassy fields, listening to the insects buzzing all around me. I can hear the high-pitched hum of the cicadas, while I watch moths and grasshoppers leap in all directions around me; the sun beating down on my body. This beer smells special. 

Just as the flowers dominate the nose, they also dominate my palate. At first, my senses are confused and until I’m used to it, the beer almost feels off-putting. However, I quickly adjust and everything starts falling into place. A marriage of floral and wild grassy flavours play against fruity yeast esters quite brilliantly. Spicy phenols lend slight clove, which perfectly complements the honey and summer bouquet. There is a subtle sweetness that ties everything together, but the finish still runs dry, with echoes of wildflower and damp grassy fields.

This beer is not for everyone, in the same way that flower petal salads are not for everyone. However, if you can handle the big floral notes and can teach your palate into realizing that this isn’t soap, you are in for a treat. This beer is summer, more so than any fruited sour or pilsner that I’ve ever had. The difference is that those beers remind you of summer, because you drink them in summer. Saison Fleurs, on the other hand, is simply summer in a bottle.

Oro Zuur – Batch #2 – Amarillo 

Oro Zuur

Oro Zuur hit shelves a few months back. It was Brasserie Dunham’s take on the hoppy sour craze that has recently hit the beer scene with great fervour. Of course, Dunham’s version involved blending an incredible number of beers that spend time in wine barrels. Batch one was complex, tart, hoppy, and fucking delicious. This new edition should be similar, but a bit less sour according to Eloi. Also, it’s dry hopped with amarillo as apposed to mosiac. 

The nose is a huge hoppy citrus bomb with notes of vanilla. Tart lemons meet earthy hop funk, which mixes with some deeper stone-fruit aromatics. Some light oak and vinousness appears, but nothing compared to the hop bomb of a nose. 

It’s tart up front with a beautiful mix of juicy hops and tart (bordering on sour) lemon flavours. The combination of sourness and huge fruity hops makes for a candy-like fruitiness; fuzzy peaches come to mind. So much grapefruit comes out as it warms, lending a certain sourness and bitterness to the bucket. Can a beer have a tangy zip? It sure can, and this does. For a beer with no actual fruit, it tastes like fruit juice. The finish is beautifully dry, without any particular hop bitterness. Instead, the dry character comes from the tartness and lingering wine tannins. Don’t get me wrong though, the barrel and wine are mere afterthoughts compared to the hoppy and sour combination that literally tastes like delicious fruit candy. 

This is certainly far less intense compared to some of the similar offerings I’ve tasted, like Jelly King from Bellwoods Brewery in Toronto. Oro is actually pretty subtle overall, and has a crazy drinkability factor. Some will probably prefer the huge “wow” factor you get from Jelly King, but I really like the nuanced flavours that this beer yields. 

Jane Doe – Hors Serie #5 

Jane Doe #5

Just like the Assemblage beers, Jane Doe Hors Serie is a line of barrel aged beer blends. However, it seems this series is where Dunham really thinks outside the box, creating far more experimental offerings. Jane Doe #5 is a blend of various sour beers, coupled with black IPA and then aged in Brandy barrels for a year and a half. Sounds bizarrely delicious. 

It pours out a darker amber colour with brown highlights. The nose is a wonderful mix of rich malts, acidic fruity components, and yeasty funk. Darker roasts play a role alongside black cherries and some earthiness. Acidic notes come through as well, providing hints of balsamic, reminiscent of a Flander’s style red or brown ale.

That’s certainly how it tastes as well. This is sour and tart up front, with a lingering tang that rests on my palate. The bitterness is more pronounced than a usual Flanders, but this beer certainly has that malty, slight vinegar (ascetic) thing you get in these styles. One of the main differentiators here is the lighter body and very dry finish, which makes it highly drinkable and not sweet in the least.

Just like the nose, there is a great cherry-like fruitiness that ties in the acidic components quite nicely. You get a tiny linger of the black IPA roastiness, lending hints of coffee in the background. Hops also play a subtle role, but are barely perceivable among the rest of the fruity and malty vinaigrette fun. 

Overall this is well balanced and subtle, but not so uneventful that you forget your drinking it. Given the description, I was expecting a bit more of that Dunham “wow” factor, but that’s an issue of perception, not quality. This beer is great.

Tropicale IPA – Batch #3

Tropical IPA landed a year ago at the 2015 Dunham fall bottle release. It’s a brett-fermented IPA with tons of added tropical fruits, like guava, mango and tangerine. It was good, but not great. The next batch, however, was utterly incredible. I hope this third edition is at least as good. 

The nose is a beautiful and complex fruity cornucopia of aromatic pleasure. Dusty brett funk mixes with earthy dank hops, alongside a plethora of fruit juice — literally. It’s incredibly zesty, with hints of vanilla, fruity tannins, and candied peaches. 

It’s tart up front, with the fruit juices adding a nice acidity to the mix. The hops lend their own character, showcasing citrus, grass, and pine. Next is the brett, while being quite subtle, still adds that quintessential phenolic dustiness, as well as its amazing ability to dry out everything perfectly. 

The bitterness is restrained here, allowing for the delicate, multilayered fruity components to shine in all their glory. Fruity esters, fruity hops, and actual fruit make for a trinity of brilliance; a beer that surpasses itself and the ingredients found inside it. I just love it. 

Assemblage #7

Well, there you have it. Brasserie Dunham’s 2016 fall bottle release. This year surprised me. Many of the beers that I wasn’t initially excited about were the ones that most impressed me. I had pretty much given up on the Cyclope series, but now reinvented, it’s fucking delicious! This batch of Porter Coco Chipotle is intense and amazing, something I wasn’t really expecting. Saison Fleurs Sauvage Été transported me back to my childhood with its incredible aromatics. This isn’t to say that the assemblages weren’t good, they certainly were, but it’s just that much more exciting to be blown away by something that you were not expecting. After tasting all these beers, it becomes clear that with every new release, Brasserie Dunham continues to tighten their technique, refine their process, and expand their brewing knowledge. It truly shows. Kudos to you, Eloi, Sebastien, and Simon. 

An article by Noah Forrest

Photos by Noah Forrest