An article by Noah Forrest
With every coming year, the Quebec beer scene changes and grows. New breweries continue to pop up and new styles get created, while old ones get tighter and more refined. I love seeing the progress with each coming year.
2018 in particular was an interesting year for beer. Although I can’t think of any memorable macro-brewery acquisitions, Microbrasserie Vox Populi did officially become part of the Glutenberg family, moving away from contract brewing. The boys from The Wild Shack – a tiny pico brewery known for their amazing sour and hoppy elixirs – continued to grow their brand, delivering several new collaborations and an amazing event recently.
It’s not all positive though. Brasseurs du Monde continues to brew 37 brand new beers every day, each just as mediocre as the last. And the real lowest of the low operations still manage to fill shelves with their distracting, terrible tasting nonsense. Luckily for the beer drinkers of Quebec, there are some amazing newcomers to balance all that out.
Milkshake IPAs were a big focus of this year’s beer scene dialogue, polarizing the community into two camps: those that were #TeamLactose and those who were #TeamNoLactose. I am heavily rooting for the latter, but there was certainly one or two that I enjoyed. And speaking of proponents for hoppy lactose-infused beers, Brasserie Du Bas-Canada took 2018 by storm. This relatively new brewery shattered expectations and brought several fun and interesting hoppy innovations to our tables. They crush with regard to their IPAs but also managed to brew a deliciously clean pils and a decadent barleywine.
As well, legend Alex Ganivet-Boileau left the helm as head brewer at Les Trois Mousquetaires in order to start his own brewery this year called Champ Libre. They have a solid line up and have had a few successful bottle releases already. Another homebrewer friend of mine, Michael D’Ornellas, opened Microbrasserie 4 Origines in Pointe-Saint-Charles, an amazing space where you can drink on site or buy cans to go.
Foudres Unis was this past summer – an unparalleled event hosted by Brasserie Dunham out in the Eastern Townships. For a set price, we drank unlimited pours of some of the rarest beers in the words while staring out into the beautiful landscape right by the border. It was amazing.
This year, I brewed a beer! Well, I stood around mostly, but I was there! I worked with Pat from Sutton Brouërie and my friend Dan from Brasserie Une Bière Deux Coups to develop one of Quebec’s first Brut IPAs. However, we of course used Sutton’s quintessential house Brett strain, which gave it a character all its own.
Just like every year, it gets harder to scale down my list of amazing beers – but I did my best, and got it down to 13. As usual, it’s important to know that this list is: (1) 100% Quebec-based beers; (2) includes only bottled or canned beers; (3) only has beers that were bottled for the first time in 2018; (4) only includes one beer per brewery; and (5) is in no particular order. Note that most of the tasting notes for these beers are taken from previous articles that I’ve written. There are countless bottles that I didn’t have a chance to try (like anything from Auval this year), so if you’re thinking “how could he not have included…”, it’s probably because I either didn’t try it, or I only had a sip at a tasting.
Given the number of bottles, this is clearly a long post, so feel free to simply browse if you don’t want to commit to the whole text. Enjoy!
Pit Caribou – Brouerie Sutton – Auval: P.A.B
Brewed at Microbrasserie Pit Caribou, P.A.B is a three-way collaboration Between Pat Roy from Sutton Brouërie, Ben Couillard from Brasserie Auval and Francis Joncas of Pit Caribou. P.A.B. is a wild ale, brewed with honey fermented with wild yeast found on local wildflowers. It was easily one of the best beers i had this year.
The nose is a complex and rich mix of honey, vinous oak, white grapes, and musty yeast. There is a big cider aroma, and some light vanilla.
The palate matches. There is a rich flavourful vinous quality to this that is very much like drinking a glass of white wine. Also, there is virtually no carbonation, which also adds to that quality. Fresh grape flesh and tart green apple couple with sweet pear to make up the fruit profile. The oak is very apparent, but not particularly tannic or abrasive. Instead there is a soft vinous quality that carries lots of vanilla and barrel spiciness. This isn’t sour, but there is a nice balanced acidity that creates a tart, almost crisp apple flavour. I feel like I can taste each brewery in here.
Le Castor: Saison Rayée
Next up is Saison Rayée from Microbrasserie Le Castor. This barrel-aged saison came out earlier this year, but I only had a chance to try it for the first time a few weeks ago. This bottle wasn’t the only new and exceptional offering that this now veteran brewery had to offer, but it was the one that stood out the most for me. I was pretty amazed with it’s complexity and drinkability – it definitely deserves to be on this list.
The nose begins with some dusty brett focused aromatics that provide dusty layers and lots of animal funk. Pressed apple and pear flesh come next, alongside hints of white balsamic and juicy tropical fruits.
The palate has an amazing flora to it, with a perfect acidity, leading into big juicy layers. Again, cider and pear flesh are huge here, while a bright layer of acetic tang lends to the complexity of the beer as a whole. The general brett profile in this is on point, delivering a nice balance of dusty funk, oak spiciness and a light but present acidity – coupled with some drying tannins. Truly an awesome beer.
Brasserie du Bas-Canada – Papillon de Nuit 3 am
Papillon de Nuit 3 am from Brasserie du Bas-Canada is an American Barleywine aged in both bourbon and rye barrels. It was released among several other amazing beers for their fist anniversary a couple of months back. It’s truly something special.
The nose is an amazing balanced blend of rich caramel malts, floral hops and big bourbon vanilla notes. It’s layered and complex, without coming off as either too aggressive or muted. Some earthy oak character delivers tannic aromatics that lead into inviting red fruits. Sugar pie and apple crisp come to mind.
The palate matches, but is on the fruitier side. Upon first sip, it comes off a bit sharp, with an ethanol induced finish coupled with some hop bitterness. However, this subsides as it opens and my palate adjusts.
Lots of stewed stone fruits mix with caramel and fresh figs. The hops add a zesty quality here, livening things up and cutting through the sweetness. The barrel is quite apparent as well, adding a layer of vanilla bourbon sweetness, along with subtle oak tannins – further drying things out.
The finish is actually quite dry despite the flavour profile, ending with a pretty clean bitterness and some lingering booze burn. The body is nice, but not sticky or cloying. Really, another well executed offering, and one very much up my alley.
Avand-Garde – Pilsner Funky
Avant-garde artisans brasseurs had an awesome year, delivering a slew of brand new barrel-aged beers that were rather well recevied. As well, they just announced recently that they purchased their own facility and will be moving away from being a contract brewery in the near future. Congrats!
Pilsner Funky is their Pilsner entitled “Jet Set” aged in Merlot barrels for 6 months with a house yeast culture. The nose begins with a balanced mix of Brett funk and wine barrel fruitiness. Lots of pear and sweet apple are complimented by layers of spicy oak, vanilla, and vinous grapes. I’m not getting any of the herbal German hop notes which have likely faded in the aging process. Some light pineapple and dusty basement peeks through, creating an extremely inviting nose.
The palate matches, but is far more subtle and almost muted. Not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you want to simply pour this into a pint glass and drink it by the pool. But let’s dig deeper.
The Bretty phenols do deliver some funk, but the star here is the barrel, providing some serious oak-forward flavours that stick with you long after each sip. Light notes of pineapple, pear and vanilla lend compliment to green grape flesh and slightly tart apple. The merlot grapes add some tannins to further dry this already highly attenuated little beer. There is a slight tartness in the finish, but it’s subtle, just adding to the fruitiness.
Barrel-aged beers can range from a challenge to get through to extremely drinkable – this however, is downright crushable. I love it.
Microbrasserie 4 Origines – Caffiend
Microbrasserie 4 Origines opened their doors earlier this year, providing us with a slew of classic and modern offerings that held balance and drinkability at the forefront of their brewing practices. Also producing a ton of delicious beers, I was particularly impressed with Caffiend.
Caffiend is a coffee infused stout with lactose. The nose is a blast of coffee, carrying earthy and rich espresso layers. There is some nice chocolate happening as well alongside light caramel in the background
The palate matches, delivering rich and robust coffee layers, but the bitterness is kept in check, making for a round but dry finish.
Cocoa, espresso, dark fruits and lots of fudgy components make out the profile, finishing very dry, yet still round and not resinous in the least. Coffee stouts usually carry an aggressive bitterness, but this is exceptionally balanced and easy to drink. Delicious.
Brasserie Dunham – No Gogosse
No Gogosse is a collaboration between Brasserie Dunham and the highly acclaimed Brasserie Auval. It’s a “no nonsense” blend of mix fermented saisons – and was definitely up my alley. The beer was brewed in Dunham and was part of their fall bottle release for 2018. Honestly, Dunham really reined in their flavours this year, delivering some amazingly balanced beers that were simply exceptional all around. This one however, was particularly delightful.
The nose is an amazing mix of dusty phenols, delivering earthy and musty aromas that are complimented by green apple and pear essence. Light honey notes come through as well, alongside hints of field berries.
The palate matches, carrying lots of dusty Brett layers alongside some lovely crisp white fruit and honey. There is a tart finish that cuts everything nicely, as well as rich tannins that dry the palate after each sip. The subtle tang of it all really brings out lovely fruit notes, while the oak brings in leather, vanilla and those serious tannins. If you’ve had Auval’s Saison Espinay and you’ve had Dunham’s slew of bretted saisons, this is exactly what you’d expect – and I wasn’t disappointed.
Microbrasserie La Memphré – Rhus Typhina
Microbrasserie La Memphré had a fun year. They released a few new offerings at the start of 2018 and then started canning their Double IPA “Double Menton” and a brand new pilsner called “Saaz Pils” out of Oshlag. Then, a couple weeks back they dropped three big guns to finish the year. That said, this unassuming adjunct saison impressed me the most. It was simple, yet complex and very easy to drink.
Rhus Typhina is a saison brewed with sumac. The addition of the fruit imparts a lightly tart and lemony component to the beer.
The nose is a great mix of spicy yeast phenols, carrying light clove and lots of floral honey notes. It’s a touch earthy with rich fruity sumac aromatics also playing a role here.
The palate is subtle. Sweet honey notes mix with a nice light tannic tartness in the finish. This has a great classic saison profile, with the sumac adding some additional complexity to the beer as a whole. It’s wonderfully dry, but still feels full and round. It’s also very clean and goes down super easily (like all of La Memphré’s beers). The sumac adds a hard-to-describe fruitiness to the whole thing, kind of like lemon rinds, but extremely subtle and a bit herbal. This is a delicious, fun beer.
Brasserie Harricana – 7205.005
Brasserie Harricana dropped a ton of beers this year, including a bunch of variants from their 7205 series – a line of beers that are wild blends that often include fruit and other adjuncts. I haven’t had a chance to try all the new ones this year, but from what I did, 7505.005 spoke to me the most.
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 come 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.
Dieu du Ciel! – Péché Latte
Péché Latte from Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! is essentially a Milk Stout or Sweet Stout version of Péché Mortel. This is done by adding lactose which creates a more robust and slicker mouthfeel alongside some extra sweetness. Lactose is all the rage now, so it only makes sense that they created this. I’m not always not a fan, but they nailed this variant so much so that it made the list of one of the best beers I drank this year.
The nose is rich and lovely. It has that very typical Péché coffee excitement, but with a softer and rounder sweetness alongside some mocha and milkshakiness – but subtle.
Okay, I’m converted to lactose from this beer alone. The body (as expected) is through the roof with a brilliant lusciousness. The lactose thickens it up, but the coffee bitterness really helps keep it all in check. It’s certainly sweeter than standard Péché, but again, the dark roast really balances everything, creating that quintessential latte deliciousness. Lots of milk chocolate and cappuccino-like richness rounds the whole beer, turning one of the best beers in the world into something different yet equally brilliant and delicious. Wow, I want more.
Microbrasserie Riverbend – Imperial Stout – Cabernet Sauvignon – Brettanomyces
This imperial stout from Microbrasserie Riverbend is aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels with a secondary fermentation using brettanomyces. Wild stouts often don’t do it for me, so when I tasted this can, I was pretty floored over how much I liked it. Riverbend has honestly never really been on my radar, but this can – along with a couple others from the same release – really sparked my interest in the brewery. I’m curious to see what they have in store for 2019.
It pours out like beautiful motor oil. The aromas are rich, beginning with dark-roasted espresso beans, followed by black cherry and some dark chocolate. Vinous notes come through as well, lending a tannic character to the aromatic experience.
Up front the palate matches. Lots of black cherry and serious espresso-like bitterness attack my palate. Ample dark fruits appear as well, carrying huge cherry and blackberry flavours. The finish is quite tannic and vinous, with a lingering bitterness that rests on your palate after each sip.
The body on this is luscious and thick, with some intense dark chocolate layers. The brett phenols are subtle, only adding light dustiness and loads of fruity esters – but also keeping things dry and drinkable. The balance here is on point and all the right notes are hit. I’m really impressed with this one.
Boreale – IPA du Nord-Est (100% Galaxy)
This 100% Galaxy hopped edition of IPA du Nord-Est from Boreale first dropped earlier this year in brewery-only growlers. I had the chance to try it at the time – it was fantastic. I actually found this surprising given that mono-hopped IPA’s are often kind of one dimensional. This however, was not, and the canned version was so damn good that it was definitely one of the best things I consumed this year.
The nose is a massive dank blast of fruity hops, with huge citrus, passion fruit and all kind of tropical goodness. Tangy and zesty aromatics attack my nostrils before I dive in.
The palate matches with equal veracity. Loads of sharp and tangy hop fruitiness blasts my senses in all directions – Passion fruit, papaya, and grapefruit rind dominate. A rich silky body follows, carrying a fluffiness to help enrich the citrus bomb that preceded it. This iteration is a bit sharper and more bitter than the standard edition, but it’s still nicely rounded and “balanced” overall.
Microbrasserie Vox Populi – Anna Assemblage 2018
Back in May, Microbrasserie Vox Populi dropped their first barrel-aged offering from the new “Vox Dei” series. This is Anna Assemblage 2018, and it’s pretty spectacular. Basically it’s Anna (their dry-hopped Tripel), aged 13 months in Chardonnay barrels with a “farmhouse” yeast and it’s then blended with Vox Pop IPA.
The nose is a blend of vinous wine-soaked oak and rich fruity hops, delivering vanilla accents alongside stone fruits, like plums and apricot. Some light phenolic funk compliments the fruitiness, adding more layers to this already rather complex nose.
The palate matches, carrying some serious dense fruitiness. Marmalade and baked peaches are at the front, with mango and light citrus following in the finish. There is certainly a sweetness here, but the oak tannins and subtle Chardonnay tartness really keeps everything in check, while the balanced but apparent bitterness cleans everything in the finish. There is layer upon layer here, and as it opens the hops coming through that much more on the nose.
Overall, Anna Assemblage 2018 is rich, sweet, and even a bit sticky. That said, everything works in balance, with just enough bitterness and vinous complexity to balance the sugars, providing a tangy ruby-red grapefruit finish that is simply delicious. You can enjoy this fresh to get the brighter citrusy hop layers, but I think it will also age gracefully, perhaps creating a beer that is bursting with rich stone fruits and light sherry notes.
Champ Libre – Éloge Des Vignes
Right here is “Éloge Des Vignes” from brasserie distillerie champ libre, a beer brewed entirely with a yeast strain gathered from the skins of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grapes, then aged in Bordeaux Demi-Muids. It was sold exclusively at their bottle release last month, and the beer was delish.
The nose is bright and fruity, with loads and loads of vinous layers, delivering aromatics of oak and candied fruit. On the mouth there is a real winey red grape thing going on, carrying an abundance of tasty oak spiciness. It’s round, but quite dry – and less tannic than I expected from the nose. A subtle tartness balances well against the malt base, while the yeast characteristics are surprisingly subtle and not particularly phenolic. It’s very soft, carrying a creamy carbonation that doesn’t come off flat, but also isn’t spritzy in the least.
This is exceptionally original and quite a refreshing concept. It’s not the typical wine barrel-aged saison by any means, and I’m not complaining. Very solid stuff.
Sutton Brouerie (collab Beerism) – Brett Never Sleeps
Okay, so I couldn’t exactly throw my own collaboration into my top 13, but I had to include it as a bonus given it was definitely one of the best beers I drank this year. I’m extremely proud to have been a part of its creation – Pat from Sutton Brouërie nailed this one.
Brett Never Sleeps pours out a muted yellow-orange colour with some orange highlights.The yeast-forward nose is composed of light Brett phenols that add a lovely herbal and dusty profile, as well as some pear and apple esters. Tangy and vinous hops lend a touch of white grape juiciness to round out this very inviting aromatic nose.
The palate matches, delivering lots of fruit from the hops, coupled with the various Brett layers. White grape, clementine, melon and grapefruit make up the juicy profile. It’s slightly dusty, with herbal saison-like pepperiness in the finish. The Hallertau Blanc hops add that vinous component, while the tropical orange and tangerine Mosaic influence juices things up in the background.
A light and dry ethanol burn draws more white wine-like comparisons alongside the tangy German hops. That said, there is an impressive crushability despite the almost 7% ABV. The Brett is very apparent given the subtle malt base, however the yeasty characteristics work well with the overall hop profile, providing a lovely compliment.
Well there you have it, my top beers of 2018. I won’t bore you any longer with a massive conclusion. I’ll just say that the scene in Quebec is getting more and more exciting each coming year, with veteran breweries honing their skills and new arrivals providing a contemporary vision. I’m always excited and happy to celebrate Quebec’s amazing breweries. Cheers!
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest