An article by Noah Forrest
Breweries in 2019 have the challenge of trying to balance consistency with innovation. The insatiable craft beer nerd wants a new beer every week, so the pressure to pump out products in a conveyor belt-like fashion is all too real for the contemporary brewer. As well, not only do we want these beers fast, we also want them to be perfect. This is quite the challenge – largely because it can take time and several batches before a beer ends up being where the brewer wants it to be.
Some breweries have almost dropped having a core lineup entirely. For instance, Brasserie Dunham has many beers on rotation, but generally speaking they cook up new beers all the time (or adaptations of beers that they’ve previously made). Dunham is one of the few that seriously nails this strategy. And given that so many (if not most) of their beers are produced through mixed fermentation, this is particularly impressive. On the other end of the spectrum, you have places like Microbrasserie Charlevoix who has a core line-up of particularly well made beers that hasn’t changed in years – with very few new additions (until recently). I’m sure both have their advantages and disadvantages.
The brewery that I wanted to talk about today falls somewhere in the middle, and to me, hits that perfect balance of innovation and solid consistency. Of course, I’m speaking of Microbrasserie Le Castor, a highly respected and now seasoned brewery based out of Rigaud (a town about 40 minutes west of Montreal). Le Castor has created a lineup of flagship beers that has been steady for years. Yakima was one of the first well made west coast IPA’s created in this province, and to this day it sells well (and now it’s in cans!).
That said, Le Castor also releases a constant flow of innovative mix-fermented (and mostly barrel-aged) wild ales that are as impressive as they are delicious. They have been on this steady run of brett fermented funk for a couple of years now and they keep going strong. It’s surprising how many of these offerings hit shelves consistently and just how well executed they generally are. It always sounds a bit cliché to say this, but Dan and his team do not compromise on quality, I’ve regularly seen pictures or beer being dumped for being sub-par. Also, I’ve had a chance to try some of the bottles that didn’t make the cut, and honestly, they were still quite decent. All this to say, if you crack one open, you know that the beer you’re consuming is up to the standards of the brewer.
Today I’d like to dive some of these wild offering, and tell you a bit more about them.
The first on my list is Ol’ Keeper; an old ale, initially fermented with English ale yeast and then re-fermented with Brettanomyces inside Brandy Barrels.
The nose delivers a whole slew of layered aromatics. Dusty Brett funk combines with a slight balsamic note, providing rich cherry sweetness. Lots of brandy and oak come through as well, alongside deep caramel, raisins, and fresh figs.
Up front on the palate comes caramel richness, mixed with a subtle tartness, and lots of tannic oak. The Brandy adds layers of rich fortified wine-like vibes, carrying vinous notes, dried fruits, and lots of cherry.
The Brett dries everything, and there is a nice tannic layer that helps cut any sweetness that much more. Sometimes these malty wild beers can be such a mess, but this is complex, layered and just damn delicious. I enjoyed this far more than I anticipated.
Next up is Saison Rayée. This barrel-aged saison came out in earlier 2018, but I only had a chance to try it for the first time a few months ago.
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. More people should be talking about it.
Saison Macérée (Marc De Raisin)
A few months ago Le Castor dropped two variants of a beer called Saison Macérée. Both were wine barrel-aged saisons. The first is “Marc de Raisin”, which had Chardonnay pomace added, while the second had Vin Orange pomace. Let’s start with the prior.
The nose is a bright mix of fruity esters, delivering pear and apple, but mainly green grapes. A Bretty funk comes next, carrying dusty notes, but there is a bit of earthiness here as well that must be from the pomace. Inviting nose though.
On the mouth, an earthy and almost peppery note is quite apparent, adding a sort of spicy mustiness next to that tangy and fruity backdrop. It’s largely apple cider meets white wine, with hints of balsamic. The beer is not sour, but there is a tartness here alongside oak tannins. The whole thing finishes quite dry and the beer is pretty drinkable as a whole.
Next up is Islay, a Scotch barrel-aged Belgian Dark strong ale, fermented with Brettanomyces.
The nose hits you with a blast of peaty smokiness, followed by prunes, dates, and lots of freshly pressed apples. Light caramel and cooked sugars come through next, alongside that Islay Scotch solvent-like thing.
Up front on the palate it’s far dryer than expected and comes off quite different than the nose let on. That said, it’s still intensely smokey, with that quintessential Islay peatiness.
Any typical Belgian phenols have been eaten away by the Brett, leaving more fruity and earthy flavours from the yeast profile. The Brett is pretty clean here though, without any big horsy or funky layers. Hints of raisin, dark cherry and figs start to come through more as it opens more, coupled with some caramel sweetness (again, still very dry though). This is really something – deliciously complex and surprisingly drinkable.
Fermented with a mix of Belgian and wild yeasts alongside acidifying bacteria, Fructus is composed of 75% barrel-aged beer and 25% fresh beer. It was then matured with a cocktail of guava, mango and passion fruit (alongside Brettanomyces).
The nose is a bright mix of tropical delights. All three fruits are present, but the guava and passion fruit are really at the front, throwing some zesty aromatics at my senses.
The palate is subtle, with some light acidity and subtle fruitiness. Again, all three fruits are actually present, without one overpowering too much (although the passion fruit is certainly the most aggressive). It’s tart and zesty, but not overtly sour, carrying just enough acidity to balance the fruits. Hints of acetic notes provide a touch more complexity, but they are barely perceivable. Some nice tannins come through, helping further dry the beer. The yeast profile is quite clean, without much in the way of Brett phenolic funk, or general Belgian yeast flavours.
Saison Macérée (Marc De Vin Orange)
Lastly we have the Orange Wine pomace version of Saison Macerée. The nose delivers tangy stone fruits, light white balsamic, sour candy, and lots of earthy Brett funk. There is a richness to the aromatics, with some nice vinous notes in the finish.
The palate matches, beginning with an ample but balanced acidity, leading into big stone fruit flavours. Tangy peach meets ground cherries and subtle honeydew melon. White balsamic notes lend a balanced acetic complexity, while the oak tannins help dry out the whole thing.
Overall I prefer this to the Marc de Raisin. The fruits are amped up and the beer functions better as a whole. Both have an almost briny profile to them, but it works in this one that much more.
Le Castor continues doing what it does best, which is to provide solid, well balanced offerings that range from classic styles to experimental and more innovative offerings. 2018 was a great year, giving us a ton of new and amazing bottles to try, so I’m extremely excited with what 2019 will bring. I often hear about breweries being over hyped, but LeCastor needs more hype in my opinion. Saison Rayée was one of the best beers I had last year, and I can still grab it off the shelf at my local IGA. Wait, maybe I don’t want them to get more hype…
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest