An article by Noah Forrest
I’m excited to write this post. Tooth and Nail Brewing Company is a gem of a brewery that I always recommend to people when they are visiting Ottawa. There is something special about the quality, consistency, drinkability, and care behind their products that elevates them to another level. I’ve been following their progress since shortly after opening, and I’m always happy to talk about what they are doing.
From my perspective, Matt Tweedy (brewer and co-owner) approaches his creations from a classic brewing standpoint while still experimenting heavily with more modern techniques. He certainly brews beer styles that are trending – like a slew of hop-forward offerings – but he also celebrates classic styles that are perhaps less exciting to contemporary beer-geeks (like quads, dopplebocks, etc.).
In a sea of New England and Milkshake IPA debauchery, I value what he is doing that much more. There is nothing wrong with focusing on juicy IPAs and experimenting with fruit and lactose, but when these styles start dominating the market share, it’s that much more important to have places like the Tooth and Nail Brewing Company to ground us.
The two beers I want to talk about today have gone through an evolution throughout the three years since Tooth and Nail opened its doors. They are two beers that were aged in particular barrels and produced in small numbers. I’m a little late to the party as both were released and sold earlier this year, but I still needed to talk about them. They are the first (and hopefully not the last) from Tooth and Nail’s Barrel Reserve Series.
fff – Fortississimo
One of the first beers I’d tasted from Tooth and Nail was Fortitude, their standard stout. It’s a brilliantly dry, easy drinking stout that still carries a nice body and richness. A little later, I was beyond excited to see the creation of Fortified, a stronger, imperial oatmeal stout with added coffee and chocolate. This amped-up stout was rich and luscious, carrying bold coffee aromatics and an aggressive but balanced bitterness. I loved it. Then Matt up and creates Fortissimo, a bourbon barrel-aged version that was also spectacular and might be my favourite of their beers to date. Just when I thought this series was done, I see Fortississimo show up! This time, he dropped the coffee and chocolate and instead aged the imperial oatmeal stout base in both bourbon and Madeira barrels. What? Let’s get to it!
The nose is a mix of rich vanilla bourbon notes alongside a tangy vinous quality that lends spicy and fruity layers to the aromatics. Cherry, chocolate, blackberry and oak come though as well, alongside deep red grapes.
The flavour profile is rich but extremely drinkable. It begins with the bitter roastiness of an imperial stout (delivering all kinds of dark chocolate and coffee), however the barrels steals the show, providing layer upon layer of amazing complexity.
Just like in the nose, the bourbon barrel puts forth vanilla and spicy oak richness, while the Madeira lends a tart, tannic and very fruity flavour that completely transforms things, delivering cherry, blackberry, figs, and general red fruits to the equation.
It’s luscious on the mouthfeel, but the tannic vinous elements (coupled with the general dryness of the beer) cut through any richness, leaving the beer drinkable and pleasantly clean in the finish. The 10.9% is virtually undetectable, making for a smooth and somehow pretty easy drinking experience.
Fortississimo’s brilliance is in its ability to blend a classic bourbon infused imperial stout profile with rich and bold fortified wine flavours, creating something new and different, while still grounded and accessible. Just wow.
Truce (Cognac Barrel Aged)
The second bottle to examine today is is Truce, a Trappist style Belgian strong dark ale brewed with dried figs, raisins, and star anise. It was brewed for the first time as a special 750ml bottle during the holidays of 2015 and has returned the following years in can form and then returning to 500ml bottles. The long list of adjuncts can be daunting to read, possibly instilling the fear of it being a muddled mess. However, I assure you it’s not. Matt may throw a lot of things in his beers sometimes, but it’s always with subtlety and grace, as drinkability and balance always seem to be at the forefront of his beers. Anyway, in 2017, Truce was placed in some Cognac barrels to age and now we have this sexy bottle of deliciousness to dive into!
The nose delivers light phenolic spices alongside lots of raisins, figs and dates. The cognac layers are subtle but complementary, providing rich fortified wine sweetness, which carries layers of cherry and cooked fruits. The nose here is pretty divine.
The palate matches, but with particular components shining more than others. It begins sweet, with all kinds of rich cognac vinous layers. This is very much complimented by malty sugars and notes of fresh figs, dried dates and a plethora of macerated raisins. All this sweetness is beautifully cut down in the finish by phenolic dryness alongside tannic tartness from the oak barrels, and the grapes that once resided in them.
As it opens, more sweet complexities arise, carrying maple, brown sugar and light caramel. There is a decadent smoothness to the mouthfeel, and although it is certainly slick and even a bit sticky, it goes down quite easily, and isn’t laborious to drink. The 11.8% ABV is incredibly well hidden amongst the malty layers, with virtually no ethanol burn to be found. This one is also a gem.
A lot of beer bottles look fancy and prestigious. It allows the brewery to charge a bit more and perhaps elevate a special product release. Some of the time it works and some of the time the beer in the bottle doesn’t actually live up to what the brewery is trying to sell. This is not the case here. These two Barrel Reserve bottles from Tooth and Nail were incredibly complex, and innovative while still feeling grounded in the familiar. They were some of the best I’ve had from a brewery that I always enjoy, and they certainly deserve to be housed in the sexiest looking bottles around. Congratulations Matt, I can’t wait to see – and taste – what’s next!
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest