Gatineau’s Brasserie du Bas-Canada is changing the Quebec IPA scene.
An article by Noah Forrest
Back in January of this year I barely knew who Brasserie du Bas-Canada was. Their unlabeled bottles with simple tags hanging from the neck were starting to show up on social media, but I wasn’t quite paying attention yet. As far as I knew, they were just another one of the many new breweries starting to surface.
That was, until last April when a friend showed up at my house holding a massive crowler wrapped in some amazing can art. It was Bas-Canada’s Los Tabarnacos – their Milkshake IPA. Now, as you might know, I’m not a fan of lactose in my IPAs. However, after taking a sip, I was instantly interested in what this up and coming brewery was doing. The beer was exceptionally bright, round, and nutty – easily the best of the style that I’ve tasted. From then on, as this Gatineau-based brewery’s distribution broadened, and so did my desire to pick up their beers as they dropped every week.
Almost every time I cracked open a can, I was impressed with what this young brewery was creating. As much as I like hazy New England IPAs, the intense turbid hop burn and lack of balance can sometimes turn me off of it’s it’s not executed perfectly. That’s one thing that I appreciate about Bas-Canada – their IPAs are as soft as they are juicy and intense. What they are doing is simply impressive.
In order to really dive into what this brewery is about, I got in contact with Bas-Canada’s co-owner and brewer Gabriel Girard Bernier to ask him some questions.
Can you tell me a bit about how Brasserie du Bas-Canada got started? Has business changed substantially after your caning distribution began and widened?
We both have a homebrewing background. We started to work seriously on the brewery project at the end of 2015 and we opened last November – so we are still a very young brewery. We started distribution with 950ml cans in January and we moved to 473ml cans in May-June. Our business model changed a bit since we started canning, and we brewed a lot more beer than we initially planned. We are currently brewing the amount of beer that we had planned for our 3rd year.
A lot of breweries in Quebec are catching up to the US with regard to hops, but Bas-Canada seems to be one of the only places in Quebec at the cutting edge of the hop game (or at least doing it very well). Is staying ahead of the trends part of your vision, or have things just played out that way?
It’s a tough question. Brewing IPA’s was part of our plan and our vision because we love IPA’s. However, for the first year, I was thinking of brewing more classic Belgian styles and developing a small barrel aging program. Honestly, we never thought we would have this type of demand for our hoppy beers. Our plans were to be flexible and experiment with different things in the first year. So, we changed our production strategy to focus more on hoppy beers. We are still doing a lot of experimentation though. For example, we haven’t put any Double IPAs in 473ml cans. We are canning just a part of our production. Experimentation is something easier with a tasting room.
Winter will be upon us soon enough. Can you give us a sneak peak into what you’ll be producing during the colder months? Should we expect some big imperial stouts and barleywines, or will you still be concentrating on more hoppy sessionble offerings like usual?
We will release a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout and a rye and bourbon barrel-aged Barleywine in a couple weeks in very small quantities. We are also planning to brew a couple of Imperial Stouts with different adjuncts in the new months. Part of it will go into barrels. We will continue to brew our series of IPA’s called HYPA, and are planning to add at least a Double IPA. We are also planning to do a special can release for our first anniversary with 3 or 4 new beers.
What’s the future looking like for Brasserie du Bas-Canada. I noticed that you have some oak barrels, are there any plans for wild barrel-aged sours? What’s going to be the main focus of your barrel program?
We are planning to do some barrel-aged beers in wine barrels, but it will be on a very small scale. We have to work with a very small space. We will be working to constantly improve our hoppy beers, trying new techniques, new processes and new ingredients. We are also in the planning stages of training with other breweries to improve our knowledge and techniques. We are also adding some equipment to increase our production volume.
Alright then, let’s dive into some of these amazing cans!
As I was mentioning, Los Tabarnacos was the first beer I had from Bas-Canada, and although being a self-proclaimed Milkshake IPA hater, I love this damn beer.
The nose is a bright and juicy mix of citrus and tropical fruits, showcasing clementines, sweet grapefruits and some papaya. Instead of vanilla, they use coconut, so there is a subtle nutty sweetness here as well.
The palate matches, delivering lots of big juicy hop layers, which are balanced by a subtle sweetness. Citrus and melon dominate, followed by some tingling hop burn and light chalkiness. The lactose is there, but barely detectable. One of the reasons I’m not a fan of lactose is that it adds an almost stale candy or icing sugar component that I just don’t like. Here, it’s simply providing a bit more viscosity in the body and a sweetness that is balanced perfectly with the hop profile. That said, it’s still extremely dry, with minimal bitterness. I hate myself for loving this beer so much.
Los Tabarnacos – Guava and vanilla
The second beer on our list is a Los Tabarnacos variant containing Guava and vanilla. The nose is bright and fruity, carrying rich guava and other tropical aromatics – like pineapple and papaya. Vanilla accents come through as well, mixed in with the fruit and hops.
The profile matches, but is more subtle than expected – while still delivering. I’m getting lots of guava, but not so much so that it ends up being fruit juice. The hop profile is still noticeable, but no where near their standard Milkshake. Just like the original, it’s dry enough, but the vanilla and the fruit addition creates a sweeter overall profile that isn’t as inviting as the OG. That said, this is still solid and enjoyable, I just don’t know if I’d go out out of my way to buy it again.
HYPA is a series of New England styled IPAs whose hops change based on the number. This is HYPA V, brewed with Mocaic and Simcoe. The nose is a passion-fruit tropical bonanza, mixed with fresh mango, ripe tangerine and general candied fruit. There are some unbelievable aromatics going on here.
The palate matches, delivering serious hop juiciness, with some orange and grapefruit being attacked by tropical pineapple, mango and passion-fruit. The body is rich, but not through the roof, and given the hazy intensity, there isn’t any accompanying hop burn, which at times can be a bit much.
HYPA is one of, if not my favourite NEIPA in Quebec. Truly amazing stuff. Each addition has subtle differences due to the changes of hops, but the overall profile is always similar and generally on point.
When I saw that Bas-Canada was releasing a Pilsner, I was super excited. As much as I can enjoy contemporary hazy New England IPAs, the rise of the lager is here, and I’m at the front of the line waving my hands. Here we have L’aspiration.
The nose is soft but aromatic, displaying beautiful floral and herbal hops, alongside grainy malts that showcase honey and oats. It’s earthy, and a touch musty with some subtle citrus in the background.
The palate matches. A lot of honey and fresh grains meet big herbal hop layers. The finish is bitter and lingers with a certain resinous tang, but it is all very balanced and on the more traditional side of things. Overall this is a crushable and balanced beer – I love it.
Pertinax is a double IPA that seems to have dropped several times now, each with different hop profiles. This one is Mosaic, Amarillo and Simcoe. The nose is a rich and dank mix of tropical and citrusy hops. Loads of tangerine-forward Mosaic goodness hits my senses followed by a swift and shart zestiness. Overripe mango and bright clementine peels mix with hints of grassy funk.
Up front on the palate it’s beautifully tangy, holding a sweet to bitter ratio that works well. Just like the nose, the big orange notes come through the most, delivering all kinds of citrusy layers. As well, light tropical fruits come through, with ripe mango and some papaya. The 8% is a touch too pronounced, carrying a sharp ethanol finish. That said, it’s still balanced, and quite drinkable.
Matière is a sour IPA brewed with blackberries and lactose. The nose is a bright mix of tropical citrusy hops and some blackberry tartness, followed by sweet smelling lactose sugar in the backdrop. Ripe strawberries and light grassiness peak through as well.
The palate starts off with some tart blackberry juiciness, followed by layers of juicy hops that add strawberry, under-ripe tangerine and some grapefruit to the mix. Given the addition of lactose, it’s far dryer than expected, and that powdered sugar flavour isn’t particularly perceivable on the palate (thankfully). The finish is on the bitter side, which clashes a touch with the tartness of the beer (although it’s barely tart to begin with).
The body is round and relatively luscious due to the lactose, and the lack of sourness is made up for by a nice lingering tang from the fruit. The beer is growing on me as I drink it, but I’d like more sourness and less bitterness. An augmented dry hop and perhaps more fruit might also lift this to another level.
Well there you have it, a plethora of Bas-Canada cans. It seems like every week a new brewery is opening its doors and starting distribution. However, often it takes years for them to start producing excellent beer, and a lot of the time they never surpass mediocre offerings. Brasserie du Bas-Canada are making some of the best IPAs the province has ever seen, and I feel like yesterday they didn’t even exist. If you have a chance, look for their cans, or take a trip to Gatineau and visit them in person.
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest