An article by Noah Forrest
So, 2016 was pretty much a giant pile of shit. Luckily though, the Quebec beer scene wasn’t a part of all this shittiness, and has instead continued to thrive and improve, exploding with new and amazing beers almost every week. Now, not all the beers were fantastic, that’s for sure, but certainly we are getting better and better at what we do as time goes on.
It was seriously an incredible year for us Québecer beer fiends though, and maybe the best ever in my humble opinion. Breweries like Brasserie Dunham, Les Trois Mousquetaires and Dieu du Ciel not only expanded their barrel programs, but also improved them tremendously. The almighty American IPA saw an impressive contemporary transition, with several breweries (successfully) harnessing that much sought-after, hazy New England styled adaptation of the American classic.
The wild and sour beer craze continued its (welcomed) dominance on the Quebec beer landscape, with several new kettle sour adaptations. Fruited sours, dry-hopped sours and a few Gose’s happily made their ways into our bellies. Brettanomyces was the star in at least one beer from almost every single brewery this year. Auberge Sutton Brouerie has dedicated its entire production to this wild yeast strain, while Le Castor put out almost ten brand new brett fermented creations.
I’m not much into “top 10” anything, in fact I feel like this need to rate things and create lists is essentially ruining our ability to actually read. Locally speaking, Mtlblog is the worst for this; reading one of their posts is more unsatisfying than trying to scrape off your car after an ice storm using your bare hands. That being said, I’m going to be a hypocrite for the second year in a row and do a top 10 beer list. However, mine is going to be incredibly different because instead of top ten, I’m doing a top 12! I figured there are 12 months in a year, so why not? I know, right? Not even close to the same thing.
A few very important things to keep in mind before going forward: this list ONLY includes beers from Quebec, and it ONLY includes beers that I’ve already written about on the blog this year. So, that means all reviews below are excerpts from other posts, and it also means that it’s very possible that a few gems didn’t make the list, because (1) I wasn’t able to taste them, or (2) because I wasn’t able to write about them.
With this in mind, in no particular order, here are Beerism’s top 12 beers from 2016!
1 – Les Trois Mousquetaires – Barils D’Exception – Speyside
“Barils D’Exception Speyside was a reminder of how the quality of a barrel can transform a beer, in this case to a tasting experience that is was of this world.
It pours out that typical black hue, with brown highlights. There is an ample head that dissipates pretty quickly. The aromas begin with beautiful notes of fresh dough, alongside vanilla and oak. It smells rich and inviting, with the barrel lending complexity, but not taking it too far from the base beer. Charred barrel and subtle peat smoke come through as well, but only add nuanced components that give the nose just a hint of meatiness. Chocolate and dark roasted coffee beans also chime in, adding more depth and dessert-like elements that complement everything nicely.
The flavour front is where this really shines. Baril Unique was rather barrel forward, whereas I find Baril D’Exception more subtle. Off the bat, there is more heat, but I like how that layers everything else, lending a sharpness that assists in drying the finish further. You have that Baltic porter base, with its dark roasted coffee, toffee-like sugars and high-percentage cocoa chocolate, but then this refined barrel and spirit presence arrives, providing layer upon layer of depth and complexity.
Just like the nose let on, the scotch launches a slew of flavours at your senses: vanilla sweetness, oak earthiness and a nice layer of heat. The smoked spirit malts provide the perfect amount of peaty layers, which only complement the beer as a whole. In spite of generally not really liking smoked beers, I find it works perfectly here.
The body has an ideal level of robustness, while still being very drinkable. The chocolate and coffee flavours dance alongside the barrel, while the nose and oak tannins dry it all out. As it warms, I get just a bit of black cherry and berry fruitiness, with a tiny nuance of crisp green apple. The finish is one of the best parts of the whole thing. It is perfectly dry, with a long, lingering scotch whiskey finish that rests on your palate alongside a slight ethanol burn. It’s reminiscent of sitting next to the fire, sipping on a beautiful glass of your favourite whiskey. Notes of vanilla, smoke and espresso rest on your palate, begging you to dive in for the next sip.”
2 – Les Trois Mousquetaires – IPA
“Les Trois Mousquetaires announced the release of this epic new beer at Mondial. I say epic not because it’s some new-fangled, barrel-aged and wild yeast fermented superbeer. Rather, because brewing an amazing IPA that will (more or less) be available year-round is something that is in short supply in this province. We currently have Dieu du Ciel!’s Moralité and Le Castor’s Yakima, but few other options. Alex (brewmaster) and the whole team at LTM have been working on this beer for a long time. I know he’s excited about it, as I was to try it.
LTM’s IPA pours out a foggy, light-orange colour, with a nice little head that sticks around. The nose is a wonderfully zesty explosion of citrus fruit, as if lemon peels were being zested in front of your face. Oranges and grapefruits come through as well, with remnants of passion fruit and lime. It’s only a tad earthy and green, providing hints of grassiness that add extra layers to this hop explosion.
The flavours match the nose, and are on-point. There is lots of citrus — tangerine and clementine in particular — mixed with tangy and bitter grapefruit rinds. Hints of vanilla and light malt starts to come out as the beer warms and my palate adjusts. It has just the right amount of grassy funk, which is subtle but still adds a certain freshness that’s hard to put into words.
Fruity esters mix perfectly with the zesty and aggressively fruit-forward hop profile, to the point where it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. That, to me, is what makes this style of IPA so ingenious. It marries two components in order to achieve the same thing; fruit-bomb deliciousness.
The beer is perfectly dry, and doesn’t rely on an over-the-top hop bitterness to achieve that. In fact, the bitterness here is subtle and just helps finish it off clean. It leaves you with a big lingering citrus presence, resting on your palate, awaiting your next sip. The sensation is similar to that much-needed thirst-quenching glass of orange juice in the morning after a late night spent, perhaps, drinking too many IPAs…”
3 – Dieu du Ciel! – L’Exorciste – Sauternes Barrel Aged
“In case you aren’t familiar with L’Exorciste, it’s a barrel aged sour wheat beer which undergoes mixed fermentation, and it’s amazing. When I heard that they were doing a Sauternes barrel aged version of L’Exorciste, I was beyond intrigued. How would a sweet, Nobel rotted desert wine compliment this dusty, acidic wild beer? There was only one way to find out.
It pours out a beautiful golden yellow, with a perfect head that froths up into a tiny cloud, resting atop the gorgeous nectar below it. In many ways this actually looks like Sauternes.
The nose carries a huge blast of Sauternes vinousness, lending nuanced, but rich overripe fruit aromas. Apricots and peaches meet zesty citrus and orange, while the acidic components lend echoes of sour and bitter grapefruit rinds, and the bretts throw dusty funk at my senses. It has that wonderful Gueuze microflora thing, carrying a complex mix of brett phenolics and acidifying bacteria, alongside big oak and wine remnants.
The mouthfeel is dry yet robust, finishing with a tart, bordering on sour finish. It starts with lemon, peaches, and apricot, alongside some lime and a tangy, almost kiwi-like tartness. The finish is long and lingering, with mainly grapefruit bitterness. The wine tannins also rest on your palate, and cut any sweetness from the wine. It has a Gueuze-esque profile, but carries a richness that varies from the usual L’Exorciste.
Although the body is pretty big – almost silky and creamy – the finish is light, echoing tart lemon rinds and yeasty funk phenolics. The Sauternes plays a big role here, giving that big candied stone fruit complexity, alongside fresh peaches and plums. However, there is no sweetness here. Instead, it finds itself dry and crisp, perfect for warm weather, but rich enough to carry itself on colder days. It could simply be the mental association, but it feels like that earthy noble rot flavour found in Sauternes actually helps cut through the the rich body and any lingering sweetness.
Overall, this highly original creation has such similarities to lambic, but obviously not at the same time. It’s vinous components and the abundance of rich fruitiness take the front seat, with less bretty funk and barnyard than you’d find in a Gueuze, but still enough to lend a phenolic presence. #love”
4 – Dieu du Ciel! – Double Barrel Péché Mortel – Cognac & Brandy
“If beer-geeks weren’t excited enough about the re-release of Péché bourbon at the winter bottle release in early 2016, DDC announced that a Cognac and Brandy barrel aged variant was also dropping. Our heads exploded, then beer trading forums lit up like a fucking Christmas tree.
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. Heavenly.”
5 – BRASSERIE DUNHAM – ASSEMBLAGE #1: CRU PAYSAN – SAUTERNES BARREL AGED
“Assemblage #1 was a beer that helped pave the way for Dunham’s barrel program. For me, it’s their staple blend, and probably their best. It’s a blend of their American Pale Ale and their multigrain saison “Propolis,” which is then aged in Zinfandel barrels with brettanomyces. It’s complex, but highly drinkable. This “Cru Paysan” edition incorporated two additional Sauternes barrels into the blend.
It pours out a beautiful sexy amber-orange colour, tossing musty brett phenols and damp basement at my senses. Some apple cider comes through as well, with Granny Smith tartness. A wee bit of tropical fruits peek through the head, adding a slight hop component. Pears and peaches start emerging as well, alongside Sauternes and oak, which lends a subtle spice and some tart aromatics. This is indeed a brilliantly balanced nose.
It’s dry and delicate up front. At first, the hop bitterness mixes with the tannic brett phenols and wine remnants, drying everything to the point where the fruitiness is almost completely subdued. However, this doesn’t last long before a huge rush of tropical delights burst forth, ejecting stone fruit juiciness all over the place. Pears, peaches, and nectarines meet some light citrus peel and grapefruit. Having had Assemblage #1 many times before, the Sauternes plays a big role here, adding a richness and so much peach and pear flavours.
The body is creamy and rather robust, which lends a perfect framework for those Sauternes flavours to shine. Unlike Double Dose Sauternes (Sauternes barrel aged IPA), this has a more exquisite balance, with the bitterness being present, but not resinous or overpowering.
This beer is truly the epitome of balance; the brett, the hops, the red wine, and the Sauternes play off each other brilliantly, with the Sauternes in the leading role, yet not taking over, and never overshadowing the rest of the cast of flavours. This is remarkable and should be purchased! “
6 – Brasserie Auval – Nordet IPA
Excerpt from: “Brasserie Auval Continues to Wow the Canadian Beer Scene!“
“Nordet is the latest IPA released by Auval, this one particularly showcasing the North-East IPA brewing style. It pours out beautifully foggy and hazy, with yellow-orange colours swirling around.
The nose is a giant citrus bomb, throwing gigantic grapefruit and clementine aromatics at me with crazy fervor. Some freshly mowed lawn / wet dank grass blasts my senses and is accompanied by a fruity bonanza of wonderfulness.
The flavours match the nose, with a huge fruit presence that just screams freshness. It’s juicy and tangy, with fruity esters all around resulting in perfect balance. It’s bone dry, but still carries enough body and sweetness so that it’s not watery in the least.
Everything is plentiful and intense all around, while all in balance. Citrus leads the way, with giant grapefruit and orange notes; stone fruits come through as well, adding peaches and plums to the mix. It finishes with a lingering bitterness that makes itself known while not cutting though all the juiciness. The finish leaves my palate clean enough, while still echoing the fruit salad that preceeded it. This might just be the best bottled IPA to ever come out in Quebec. “
7 – Brasserie Auval – Aronia
“Upon Aronia’s inception, it became an instant whale, with everyone and their mother looking to get some. It’s an American wild ale brewed with “Aronia,” also known as chokeberries, which carry an astringent, sour flavour.
It pours out with a foggy pinkish hue and some orange highlights. The nose is an intoxicating and inviting mix of jammy berry goodness, zesty acidic grape skins and earthy and dusty brett funk.
It’s rather tart up front, bordering on sour. The juiciness is brilliant, lending jammy macerated berry flavours to the body, while still remaining bone dry. The tannins are potent but not astringent, instead providing a nice dry finish alongside the phenolics from the microflora. As integral a role that the berries play, their infusion is simple and balanced. It feels almost like a cross between a raspberry and a cherry, pulling the better parts of each. They taste almost candied, but without the sugars. The flora really shines here as well, adding acidic complexity to the beer as a whole.
The body is extremely light, with a clean finish that isn’t watery, but isn’t particularly intense. It’s complex, yet delicate and refreshing at the same time. Instead of the intensity of a lambic, Aronia provides subtlety across the board. The balance is just brilliant, you can drink this like water; it’s smooth, hitting all the right notes without being aggressive or forgettable. Bravo. Brilliant, even.”
8 – Microbrasserie Le Castor – Brett Zeste Saison
“Brett Zeste Saison is a wild farmhouse saison, brewed with the zest and juice of grapefruits. It pours out a foggy yellow colour with some orange highlights. The nose carries a wonderful bretty funk, tossing dusty funk at my senses alongside lots of grapefruit juiciness. This had an amazingly bright and inviting nose.
Upon first sip, this saison is refreshing, light, and beautifully dry. The grapefruit is certainly perceived, but not in your face or overpowering. Instead, the fruit lends new complexity to the fruity saison and bretty yeast eaters. Furthermore, it helps dry the finish with bitter tannins and pithy grapefruit rinds.
All the flavours play off each other brilliantly, with each component complementing the other. Having had all of the Castor brett beers in a short time, this is actually be my favourite of the bunch. It’s straightforward drinkability, alongside the complex funky brett profile and citrus backing, make it a pure pleasure to drink. “
9 – Auberge Brouerie Sutton – Iroquois
Excerpt from: “Auberge Brouerie Sutton – Go Already, What Are You Waiting For?”
“Auberge Brouerie Sutton is an auberge, a restaurant and a brew-pub, but they also bottle and distribute beer in Quebec (they sell bottles to go at the auberge, in case you were wondering). After touring Pat’s sexy brewery, I picked up some samples to bring home and write about. I figured I’d give them the usual Beerism analysis.
Bretted Porters are not particularly common, but I tend to love them when I get a chance to shove one into my face. So let’s let’s try this one! It pours out black, with a frothy tanned head that sticks around. The nose throws all kinds of fruity blackberries at my senses, alongside deep dark chocolate and espresso. The brett is apparent, but not dusty or particularly phenolic. Instead, it’s the fruity esters that take hold of aromatics. There is a chocolate vanilla milkshake thing happening. Wonderful.
It drinks with a brilliant velvety smooth body, that’s creamy but light on your palate. There are loads of deep chocolatey delights that echo dark roasted coffee. The finish is bone dry, carrying ample hop bitterness, but without being particularly resinous. Subtle hops do play a role though, lending some nice fruity elements, which alongside the bretty blackberry flavours, make for a lot of fun fruit complexities. There isn’t a particularly bitter finish here, instead the dryness comes from the brett, which tears down any sweetness that the body held. I LOVED this beer. ”
10 – Microbrasserie Le Castor – Santuaires Brett
“This bretted version of Sanctuaire was released about a year after the regular version. However, the interesting thing is that both this one and the standard edition are exactly the same age. Le Castor was not 100% satisfied with how it was drinking at the time, so they decided to sit on the bottles for an entire year until it was ready. These kinds of decisions really showcase how much integrity and love they have for their products, and beer itself. It’s impressive and a refreshing reminder that the people behind craft beer aren’t generally only about the bottom line.
Sanctuaire Brett pours out a robust orange colour with yellow highlights, and carries a dense frothy white head. The nose begins with beautiful brett components. Dusty phenols meet berry-like esters, and when combined with the tangy red wine layers, this makes for an aromatic masterpiece. There are peaches and apricots as well, with a nice zesty apple cider thing.
The flavours mimic the nose, throwing a bunch of fruitiness at my palate. There are apricots, plums and peaches dancing around a nice tannic wine presence. This helps clean away any sweetness, leaving a dry finish. The brett plays a major role, adding loads of dry dusty funk and some damp basement. As well, it lends a earthy phenolic finish, further drying the beer and making it more palatable. There is a vanilla oak component, and when coupled with the fruit and subtle sweetness, adds such an amazing new layer to the whole thing.
There is an amazing overall rounded balance to this beer; it has a big bold body, with just a slight booze burn and some intense flavours that dance on your palate. Despite its robust and potent character, it drinks incredibly well, with a complexity that takes all these components, adds them together, and creates a product that is so much more than the sum of its parts.”
11 – Microbrasserie Le Memphré – Ralph Merry
Excerpt from: “Microbrasserie la Memphré – Balance & Drinkability Above All“
“Ralph Merry from Microbrasserie la Memphré carries an incredible bourbon soaked aroma, tossing copious amounts of vanilla and oak at my senses. Light caramel comes through as well, with some cooked taffy in the backdrop. Subtle earthy hops and light estery yeasts lend further complexity. This nose is unbelievable. Seriously.
The flavours match perfectly. The bourbon notes are very apparent, but integrate brilliantly with the big malty Scotch Ale base. Both work with each other, creating an incredible balance of rich complexity. Vanilla, brown sugar, maple syrup and cooked caramel meet a dry lingering finish, with subtle and effective bitterness. The body is huge, holding a robust viscosity that isn’t too sweet, but instead functions flawlessly with the other flavour components.
Instead of any big burning components, this beer is soft; caressing my tongue with every sip. It has an incredibly rich body, coupled with robust sweet undertones, and huge bourbon complexity. Somehow though, it’s still wonderfully dry and has stupid drinkability for a 10.5% beer. I’ve drank half of the bottle in like 10 minutes.
Honestly I’m not huge on scotch ales, but this is really quite fantastic and one of the better barrel aged renditions I’ve had. “
12 – Microbrasserie Le Trou du Diable – Lord Barlow
“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.”
If you made it through this long post, you can now certainly see that 2016 was a killer year for Quebec beer. From Sauternes and Scotch barrel-aged deliciousness, to fruited and brett fermented wonders, this year really kicked ass in the innovation and quality spectrum. I’m extremely proud of all those in the industry that continue to impress us every single day. Kudos to you!
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest