An article by Noah Forrest
I’ve been a busy boy these last few weeks. It seems like every couple of days yet another brewery is releasing amazing beers right before the holidays. I’ve been fortunate enough to drink them, and even more fortunate to have been given the opportunity to write about most of them. Sure, my liver hurts a bit, but what has he ever done for me? Nothing, that’s what. So, when Francis Richer of Brasserie Harricana asked me to write an article about their 2nd anniversary and bottle release, I graciously accepted.
Brasserie Harricana’s 2nd anniversary party & 1st bottle release. Thursday, December 22nd. Details right here.
Given the fact that I’m a father of two young ones, I don’t get to bars or restaurants very often. In fact, I’ve never actually been to Brasserie Harricana (although I intend to change that). However, at Mondial this year, I met up with Francis Richer where he had me try several of their offerings. At first glance, several of them seemed like slightly odd concoctions that could be a total mess if not executed correctly. However, after having several samples, I was rather impressed. The various adjuncts used worked very well, lending fun character and balance to the overall beer.
I’ve known Francis for several years now, connecting here and there on the Quebec social media beer-scene. He’s a trained chemist, one of the founders of LABAQ (L’Annuel des Brasseurs Amateurs du Québec), and has brewed for several Quebec breweries before finding a home as “directeur des operations brassicoles” at Brasserie Harricana. He was also kind enough to answer several of my questions about their beers!
Francis, you’ve been with Brasserie Harricana for some time now. From what I’ve seen and tasted, you and the team brew a lot of experimental adjunct infused beers, often barrel aged, while still holding onto balance. What do you think is the main focus of Brasserie Harricana as a brewery?
We brew a lot of experimental and funky stuff, that is true, but also many classic and historic styles. Our main focus is to stay accessible, honest, and make people love beer. We want everybody that enters the pub to find a beer he or she likes, whether it is a Blonde ale, a Schwarzbier, an Apricot Berliner Weisse or a Rauchbier aged in Tequila barrels with brett.
Even when a beer presents a complex or weird list of ingredients, the goal is often towards balance and drinkability, rarely towards exaggeration or extremes.
Brasserie Harricana has been open for two years now, congratulations! Until this week, the beers have solely been brewed to be served in-house. What motivated the team to take the next step and start bottling for customers to bring home. After this bottle release, will we see Brasserie Harricana beers on the shelves of local dépanneurs?
Moving towards distribution was included in the business plan from the beginning. We did it in two step to ease the process. Also, serving only on-site for almost 2 years helped us to learn a lot about our clientele and also to create, develop, refine and tweak our recipes. Now, we will arrive on shelves and in bars with a solid identity.
Speaking of that, I wanted to bring to your attention our range of products: the white label, the pink label and the black label. The three beers we are now releasing fall into the black label category, but we’ll have others from the white and pink labels coming soon.
The white label (étiquette blanche) will be all the classic, traditionnal, or historic styles.
The black label will be those that are enhanced by a gastronomic or special ingredient, an uncommon technique, off-style, or non-style.
The pink label are those that are barrel aged and funky.
You have three bottles being sold on Thursday. Can you tell me a bit about all of them and your motivation for their creation?
4 – Champagne 2016 : Just like the 25, the 4 is brewed once a year, to be released on new year’s eve. It’s a kind-of Belgian tripel but fermented entirely with champagne yeast and brewed with a good amount of Muscato grape must. Since we don’t have any wine on the menu, the idea was to create a beer that will serve as Champagne on new year’s eve.
138 – Gewürztraminer : This beer was created by me and Mathieu to celebrate our new brewer’s licence (BR-138). We wanted to create something that represents Brasserie Harricana, so we were looking for something sessionnable, that is way off-style, with uncommon ingredients, but is balanced and easy-drinking overall. We started with gewürtraminer grape must, and played around it, adding a touch of coriander, ginger and rose buds to enhance the Gewurz complex aromas. We did a sour wort to accentuate the mouthfeel of the grapes, but choose a non-attenuative wine yeast strain that would leave a residual sugar to wrap everything together.
25 – Stout festif 2016: this is an Imperial Rye Stout to which we added rhum and vanilla. It is a really thick and intense beer that ages for over two months on stainless steel before being released in order to smooth the flavors and textures. It is one of Mathieu’s (head brewer) recipes that is brewed once a year to be released on Christmas time.
As Francis mentioned, Champagne is a Belgian Tripel, brewed with Muscado grapes and fermented with Champagne yeast. The nose is a beautiful mixture of inviting spicy yeast phenols, coupled with lots of acidic vinous decadence. Vanilla and cloves meet white grapes and cherry skins, creating a wonderful aromatic experience.
Up front, this drinks a lot like a Belgian Tripel, with a plentitude of spicy phenolics, like clove and cardomon alongside fruity esters that toss a little banana and pear. However, this more traditional yeast forward profile is transformed by the tannic grape must, lending a rather different fruit complexity. The tannins also help compliment the phenols to further dry out the beer, assisting in cutting through the natural sweetness of the style.
As it opens more, apricots, peaches and general stone fruits emerge, and when this is coupled with the tangy tartness of the grape must, it lends a great fruit juice-like profile. Everything integrates nicely here, without any particular component taking control. Instead, the flavours feed off of each other, melting into one well rounded, robust, and flavourful beer. My only issue with this one is that it comes off a tad sweet. However, that is a personal taste; Belgian Tripels should carry a certain sweetness to them, I’ve just been inundated with brett these days.
This beer marries a traditional Trappist style tripel with champagne yeast and grape must, delivering a modern twist, which helps bring this classic into a more contemporary atmosphere. Great stuff.
Gewürztraminer is a sour beer brewed with gewürtraminer grape must, ginger, coriander and rose buds. The nose is very spicy, with lots of white pepper and coriander. There are acidic aromatics mixed with light musty phenols, finishing with some ginger and lemon. It is very inviting.
Up front, just like the nose, I get peppery notes and coriander, alongside lemon/lime acidic components. It’s tart, bordering on sour, with just enough acid to balance a light gentle sweetness. The adjuncts are all subtle and only lend to the beer as a whole – none taking the reins to overpower it. The grapes add a touch of fruitiness, like you’d find in a dry white wine, while the ginger, coriander and rose hips lend elements of background complexity. In many ways this drinks a lot like a tart modern Gose, and in other ways, it’s its own thing.
The finish carries this wonderful grapefruit and lime linger that is crazy refreshing. It’s incredibly light, leaving your palate clean, with some remnants of earthy yeast and citrus. This beer is gorgeous to look at, with an amazing puffy head, while the body is fluffy and fat, adding a silkiness to the whole drinking a experience. I loved this one.
Stout Festif 2016
Stout Festif is an imperial rye stout with added rum and vanilla. It pours out thick and sexy, with a nice little foam cap on top. Big aromas of coffee and dark chocolate mix with sweet rum spirits. Some vanilla comes through as well, but doesn’t overpower the nose.
Up front you get a lot of what the nose foretold, with the vanilla and rum providing a pretty hefty punch, followed by cacao nibs and espresso undertones. The rye helps make the body nice and luscious, with a smooth, silky density that is beautifully decadent.
The 10.7% is very well integrated. There is a subtle fruitiness as well, with some black cherry and raspberry hinting their way in there. The finish is bitter from the hops, but also carries a certain astringency from the rum, which dries things out nicely. That being said, this is still quite sweet, with the vanilla adding to that perception.
Overall I think this is a tasty, well executed beer. The body and carbonation are a delight, making for an amazing mouthfeel. It’s a tad sweet, bordering on being cloying, but the bitterness keeps it in check. For me though, I’d prefer less vanilla and less rum. The adjuncts work, but overpower slightly, making me pine for more of the base beer. That being said, this would be epic alongside a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
So, this coming Thursday (Dec 22nd), Brasserie Harricana will be throwing their 2nd anniversary party and having a bottle release. The details again are right here. Overall I really enjoyed these three offerings. Champagne is a modern take on a classic Belgian Tripel. It’s well executed, with the grape must adding a nice complexity. Stout Festif is tasty, and for those who like big and sweet (while still being balanced), this one is for you. For me though, Gewürztraminer stole the show. This beer hits all the right notes, being balanced to perfection. The low ABV and tart acidic profile make it sessionable, while it still manages to carry a big silky body, and the adjuncts add layers of complexity. Great stuff.
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest