Brasserie Harricana Nailed 2017 – An Interview with Head-Brewer Francis Richer
An Article by Noah Forrest
Brasserie Harricana is becoming more and more known for their deliciously tart barrel-aged blends. They just released the forth and fifth bottle from their 7205 series and more are coming very soon. I got my hands on the full line-up, including a sneak peek at number six, which I’ll get to shortly.
This acclaimed bar/brewery/restaurant/bottle-shop has been up to a ton of things this past year, with so much more on the horizon. I was going to start telling you about it all, but then I figured it would be better if it came from the man himself – head brewer Francis Richer. Enjoy!
Francis, a lot has happened in the last year at Brasserie Harricana. You took the helm as head brewer, Brasserie Harricana opened a retail store attached to the bar, you started canning, and it seems that the brewery is dropping more and more bottles every month. How has the experience been for everyone? What will 2018 bring? Are you hoping for a bit of calmness? 😉
2017 was a really big year. A new head-brewer, a new vision, plus we added more nice people to the brewery crew. Pierre Rouccou and Olivier Lemay-Caron are the guys rocking the brewery with me.
First, global production (the restaurant itself, plus kegs for other restaurants and bars, as well as bottles) increased by 75% between 2016 and 2017. We are lookingto take another step in 2018, reaching maximum capacity around 1000hL. Definitely not looking for calmness here. We’ve had almost 20 products being bottled or canned in 2017, after only 3 in 2016 and we are looking for 25 to 30 releases in 2018.
The goal is to continue to release special products from our pink and black labels, along with maybe 5 or 6 new special assemblages from our green label series. We are also looking to bottle a few products from our white label series, which is actually our biggest production annually. But these beers have never really been bottled, making them only known by our local clientele. This series regroups all the classic, traditional, or historical styles of beer, brewed right on style. So you may see a scotch ale, a straight-up imperial stout or some lagers in bottles in the next few months.
Cans were a one-off event for the anniversary. The odds are that it will not happen again in 2018 (but who knows?). That being said, big projects are foreseen for 2019 😉
The barrel program at Brasserie Harricana has become rather extensive, with all sorts of barrel-aged beers being released on the semi-regular. However, your “Série 7205” seems to be the pinnacle of what you are doing. Can you tell me a bit about the series? How has it developed and grown since bottle 001 dropped last year?
We went from a dozen barrels piled up anywhere in the brewery at the beginning of 2017 to a full sized barrel-room filled with 40 barrels today, and there is still room for more. With this expansion, we began to have a lot of barrels and beers to play with, and when we began doing assemblages, we rapidly realized that that was going to be a lot of creative fun. That being said, we also realized it would mean a lot of ephemeral, unique, and maybe non-reproducible blends. That’s when we decided to create a series with generic labels where we add a full description of the blend and its parts.
The barrel aging program is evolving at the same pace as us. At first it was more impulsive and punctual ideas. Now, even if that impulsive creativity is still going on, the program is more organized. We developed some blends, including wild yeasts and lactic bacteria that now inhabit the chai. Half of the barrels are now filled with mixed fermented sour beers of different ages, some with variations or twists, that serve as a base for our assemblages.
We have no schedule for the releases of the 7205 beers. They come to life when they are ready. After we create a blend, by sampling the barrels (often on a Friday afternoon or a Sunday morning) we then do the assemblage in a tank. From there, we let the blend live and stabilize if it needs too, and/or add fruits, and/or add adjusts to the blend, then we bottle it when we find that it’s ready. There is also no limit to this series. Light, strong, dark, pale, fruits or not, smoked, sour or salty? …we don’t stop our creativity with such questions.
There have been countless collaborations between Brasserie Harricana and other breweries around the province. This is clearly an important part of what Brasserie Harricana represents. Why is this so important for you and the brewery itself?
2017 has been a really collaborative year. We made a lot of friends and we created a lot of things with them. Our brewery, our food and our beers always have been inspired by people and special events. So yes, working with people will always be a part of our vision.
Now, let’s get into the beers! 7205.001 was the first to drop last year. It’s a blend of three different beers: 50% strong wheat beer, 25% mix-fermented witbier, and 25% Belgian Double. The blend was then aged in both red and white wine barrels and was re-fermented with blackberries. I know, right?
It pours out a rich dark red colour, with some orange and pink highlights. The nose is fruity and a touch smokey, with lots of blackberry and with subtle chocolate notes. There is dusty bretty funk as well, alongside some serious acidic compounds.
The palate matches. Lots of blackberry and general berry fruitiness comes through, coupled with earthy brett phenols and a tart and tannic dryness. The acidity is apparent, but balanced against the richer malt base. The finish lingers with lots of rich vinous wine notes as well as jammy blackberry components.
The 8.5% is incredibly well hidden, making it very smooth to drink. This beer also transforms as it opens, getting better and better with each sip. At fist it’s a touch sharp, with some astringent elements, but as it opens and oxidizes in the glass, everything mellows and works together brilliantly. What a lovely beer.
Let’s jump ahead to 004, which somewhat recently dropped in stores around town in a smaller 500ml format. This blend is comprised of various beers, most of which is a mix-fermented amber beer aged in tequila barrels (65%) and the rest is a few different barrel-aged brown beers with Brett. The whole thing was then aged in Islay Scotch barrels.
The nose is an interesting mix of dusty brett phenols, tart fruits, vinous wine notes, lots of barrel, and some serious peaty smoke. It’s quite an interesting combination of aromatics, and rather inviting.
It’s less smokey on the palate, and comes off more tart. Like everything Brasserie Harricana, 004 is bone dry, with some aggressive tannins in the finish. Lots of fruity notes come through as well, carrying apple, pear, and light cherry. The smokey Islay layers add a very interesting finish to the whole thing, holding a peaty linger that rests on your palate before the next sip.
You certainly need to like smokey beers to enjoy this. I’m often on the fence with peatiness, but this worked for me – it’s tasty.
7205.005 starts with a blend of Hefeweizen (80%) and Berliner Weisse (20%). It was then aged in Pinot Noir barrels with wild yeast and bacteria. Finally, the beer had strawberry and rhubarb added.
The nose is a jam-bomb, with loads of strawberry and rhubarb fruitiness. Some earthy funk and fresh-cut wheat comes through as well, complimenting the rich juiciness of the whole thing. Light vinous barrel aromas make themselves known as well, adding further complexity.
On the palate the fruit is far more restrained, and instead the barrel is at the front, lending a tannic and dry vinous component that cuts through everything. The strawberry is certainly still there, but is a subtle jammy layer that sneaks by quite quickly.
There is a tartness here, but it’s not particularly sour. Overall, the beer is fruity, floral, and delicate, while also layered and fun to drink.
7205.006 (Un-carbonated Growler)
I was fortunate enough to receive a growler of Brasserie Harricana’s latest barrel-aged blend, 7205.006 in order to give it a try. This beer wasn’t carbonated yet, so it will certainly be a very different experience drinking it once it’s ready. 006’s base is saison, brewed with barley, wheat, rye and oats, fermented 9 months in oak barrels with different strains of Brettanomyces. It was then blended with 30% sour beer of mixed fermentation that was refined in oak barrels as well.
The nose carries ample fresh-cut wheat, mixed with lemon, grapefruit rinds, and lots of general acidity. Some tropical fruits and peppery notes come through as well, but they are subtle.
The palate matches. It’s tart and sour, with the tannins being very present. However, far less than their usual barrel-aged sours – it feels more balanced.
It’s quite fruity as well, carrying pineapple, lemon, and general citrus. Like the nose, there are also lots of fresh wheat and grains. It’s very drinkable and smooth, carrying a tannic and tart finish that lingers on the palate. When this is carbonated, it’s going to be awesome.
Although 2017 was clearly an exceptional year for Brasserie Harricana, I’m very excited to see what the next few years bring. The 7205 series is really something special, and continues to improve and evolve with each new blend. Look out for the sixth in the series, it’s quite fantastic. And remember, Brasserie Harricana has a retail shop now, so you can just stop in whenever you like to pick up these delicious offerings.
An Article by Noah Forrest