An article by Noah Forrest
Surprise! That’s right, Brasserie Dunham up and decided to have a small bottle release at the end of February. I usually like to tell you about these things ahead of time, but in this case, the release actually happened last Saturday. If you’re lucky enough though, they probably still have bottles left if you want to get your hands on some. And, any excuse to drive out to the beautiful eastern townships, right? If that’s too far for you, several beer shops around Montreal have and will be receiving bottles of some of the release.
Several bottles in this release were return favourites, like Assemblage #1, Saison du Pinacle Réserve, and Imperial Black IPA. However, something is happening at this release that has never occurred before. Brasserie Dunham is retiring two of their regularly available beers; Lapatt porter and Rye ESB. I presume that for the people who were in love with these beers, this is sad occasion. However, I view this as a needed progression. As the times change and palates evolve, I think it’s sometimes necessary to retire certain beers in order to move on to different things (But not Saison Rustique, DO NOT EVER retire Saison Rustique!). Many breweries have phased out beers, it’s a sign that the brewery is staying modern and is listening to their client base. Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed these two beers, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy what they replace them with even more.
This release wasn’t all bad news, far from it. There’s a new beer in Brasserie Dunham’s arsenal. It’s an imperial stout called Sirkawa, brewed with coffee from Detour Coffee Roasters, which just happens to be my favourite coffee producer. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited.
As I was mentioning above, Sirkawa is an imperial stout brewed with coffee. However, not just any coffee, but beans produced by Detour Coffee Roasters, a third wave coffee roaster from Toronto. Their Punch Buggy Espresso beans have gotten me through the toughest of mornings.
This isn’t the first time Dunham has experimented with Detour Coffee. Last year, they released two imperial stouts that contained their coffee. While chatting with Eloi (head brewer and co-owner), he explained that they consider those beers to be test batches, and that Sirkawa is truly the final product they were aiming for.
So, let’s do this! Sirkawa pours out a thick black colour, with a frothy brown head. The nose wafts big coffee aromatics, lending a rich espresso essence alongside lots of dark chocolate. Floral and piney hops peek through as well, followed by some light earthy yeast and lots of red fruits.
After the first sip, the thing that hits me off the bat is the incredible balance. The body is robust, but not motor oil, and it’s dry, but still carries weight. The bitterness from the hops and the coffee are there (and linger), but are much more restrained if compared to the traditional Dunham portfolio.
The coffee is the star of this beer. It attacks my palate with roasted voracity, providing a rich and intense espresso-like base. Given the quality of the beans used, this aggressive, overarching coffee presence makes it that much better. There is an eloquent fruitiness that the coffee provides, which is complimented by a fruity hop backing as well – black cherries come to mind in particular. Once my palate adjusts to the coffee, the malt base comes through more, lending a nice roundness to the beer, and again creating this balanced overall profile. The finish is very fruity and long, with a lingering coffee bitterness. The 9% is perfectly integrated. I feel like every time I sip this, I get a different experience. Sometimes it’s a fruit bomb, with berries galore, while other times it’s espresso everything, with dry roasty goodness enveloping my palate.
Péché Mortel has long been the best coffee beer around these parts, and maybe even the best coffee beer in Canada – maybe even the world. Sirkawa gives it a run for its money, but more importantly, it’s different enough that you don’t need to compare it to Péché. It’s really it’s own thing, and it’s spectacular.
Saison du Pinacle Réserve (Batch 7)
To me, Pinacle Réserve is one of, if not the best barred aged beer that Dunham makes. They take their standard Saison du Pinacle (a hoppy saison), age it in Cabernet-Sauvignon demi-muids (giant barrels) and also in Pinot Noir oak barrels. Then they re-ferment it with Brettanomyces. It’s amazing.
The nose on batch 7 is intensely fruity, tossing pears, peaches, mangos, and apples at my senses like a monstrous fruit salad. Musty brett phenols tame the fruitiness just a tad, adding layers of depth and complexity. Wine soaked oak sneaks in as well, providing spicy vinous layers.
As always, this beer is special when it hits your mouth. Like the nose, there are loads of fruits, but they feel more restrained in comparison to the aromatics. The bretty phenols dry things perfectly, lending to a nice earthy finish that lingers on my palate. The hop profile is juicy and tropical, while the wild yeast esters lend more of a cider-like fruitiness, blending seamlessly. The wine barrels puts forth nice a tannic vinous component, coupled with white wine and oak elements.
Overall, this latest batch of Pinnacle Réserve is excellent. The balance of fruity hops, wine barrel, and bretty funk are on point as usual, however they seem to work even better this time. I could drink this for days.
Zonder Goblins 2017
Zonder Goblins came out for the first time several years back. It’s a Belgian imperial stout, brewed with spices and cocoa nibs. Shortly after, they released a bourbon barrel aged variant. Although enjoyable, I found the spices too intense for my tastes, as the beer had a very gruit-like quality. That being said, I’m excited to see how they’ve done it this time around!
The nose is a subtle mix of spicy Belgian yeast phenols and dark roasted malts. Light clove and cardamom lend complexity to the coffee and chocolate notes. Herbal notes come through, but not intensely. It’s simple, but interesting and inviting.
When drinking, we begin with an herbal backdrop hitting my palate, lending a juniper berry and bog myrtle-type thing. This is quickly balanced against the deep cocoa flavours. Fruitiness emerges as well, carrying a slight juicy red fruit component. The finish is bitter and long, but not intense, while the carbonation is lively, lightening the mouthfeel, despite the ample body.
The adjuncts come through more than on the nose, but are far more balanced compared to previous batches. There are lots of herbal notes, which I’m not a huge fan of, but unlike a gruit, I don’t find it overpowering. This is an imperial stout more than anything else, and I think that’s what works for me here.
Adjuncts are a tricky thing, and although I invite the use of things like fruit or coffee in beers with open arms, I’m often more critical of beers with added spices, as I’m generally not a fan. This however, works, as the spices are way more subtle and add a nice complexity to the existing flavours. Delicious!
Assemblage #1 2017
Assemblage #1 has been a returning favourite since it’s inception many years back. Composed of a blend of Saison Propolis and their American pale ale, this beer is then aged in Zinfandel barrels with brettanomyces. It’s delicate, but flavourful and delicious.
The nose is a big tangy fruit bomb, with loads of ground cherries, guava and mango. White wine comes though, following lots of spicy oak. A generous bretty funk makes itself known as well, providing ample zestiness.
Up front, the carbonation is a bit off, being on the lower end of the spectrum. Everything else is on point, carrying a huge vinous quality and loads of fruity hops. The finish is bitter and tangy, with echoes of tannic dryness.
As usual, assemblage #1 dances between brett funk, a zesty Saison yeast character and lot of hoppy goodness. This particular batch is more vinous, making for a big white wine influence. However, the down side is the carbonation, which is too low for my tastes. I’m hoping this was just my bottle, as a fully carbonated version of this could be one of the better batches I’ve had.
Well, this was a fun surprise for an otherwise pretty shitty time of year. February’s tough weather is always a downer, so cracking open some luscious imperial stouts and bretted classics certainly made my month more enjoyable. Try and seek these out, cheers!
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest