Robin – Bière Naturelle: Another Eastern Townships Treasure

An article by Noah Forrest

Robin – Bière Naturelle opened their doors in February this year. Located in Waterloo, about an hour and a half east of Montreal, this townships-based establishment isn’t your typical brewery. In fact, they don’t actually brew at all.

Instead, Robin purchases un-fermented wort from a fellow townships brewery called Brasserie Vrooden. Robin then takes the wort, pitches their yeast and then ages it at their facility in various oak barrels with a cocktail of wild yeasts and bacteria; later blending and bottling the resulting product. We have seen this model before, with one example being the highly acclaimed Backacre Beermakers out of Vermont.

I met with co-owner Mathieu Boucher to ask some questions about their operation:

So, how did Robin get started? What enticed you to start your own establishment?

“Robin was born from passion. Like many brewers, my brother and I started at home some 10 years ago. We started using our father’s wine making equipment for our first brews. It wasn’t very good!”

I understand that the beer isn’t actually being brewed on-sight, and instead you are purchasing your base beers and barrel-aging them with a slew of wild yeasts and bacteria. What made you take this direction as apposed to having your own facility?

“We got into barrel aged beers 3-4 years ago, right at the time that we started working on a business plan. We were struggling with the financing part. At the scale we wanted to operate and with the loans we could get, it wasn’t easy to start a viable business. We also attended a conference from Pierre Tilquin at Pit Caribou’s Pub in Montreal around that time. That’s when it clicked in our heads that we could open up a relatively small brewery, have just enough space for a given number of barrels, rent/buy a space somewhere outside the city (because it’s cheaper and allows for spontaneous fermentation in the future) and avoid the very expensive brewing equipment. We currently have one tank to ferment, one blending tank, and a couple of transport tanks for the beer must.

So it’s really our limited cash supply that made us go this direction at first. But then we realized it was a very viable and interesting way to create unique beers. It connects us with the breweries of our region. It forces us to have more control over the variables that we can change (source of ingredients, yeasts, bacteria and blending of course).”

Will you be exclusively brewing mix-fermented farmhouse/wild ales and sours, or will Robin be producing other styles as well?

“Robin will produce exclusively mix-fermentation oriented beers, aged in barrels. Our primary tools are time and barrels. We will play around a bit with clean-ish beers to test new recipes, but those will only be sold at our taproom.”

What’s the future look like for Robin – Bière Naturelle?

“For the future, we definitely want to try our hands at spontaneous fermentation. Also, get a Foeder or two and otherwise just ramp up the number of barrels in the chai (is there an english word for chai?)”

Robin began with two flagship beers, “Léa” and “Achillée”. They have since released several versions of these beers as well as a Grisette and a cherry infused version of Léa. Today I’m going to examine the 3rd iteration of Léa and the second iteration of Achillée.

Léa – Saison de Blé

Léa is a wheat saison, fermented with a mix of lactobacillus and wild yeasts, then aged on French oak. The nose delivers bright and zesty phenolic funk, alongside flora-induced citrusy layers of lemon peel, grapefruit, and hints of tart apple. Light tropical notes come through as well, carrying some pear-like aromatics in the finish.

Like the nose, the beer is extremely citrus forward, delivering all kinds of lemony fun. It’s tart, bordering on sour, and showcases an acidic bacteria-induced tang that really helps cut through everything. There is a subtle cider-thing happening as well. Layers of oak provide a tannic dryness to the whole thing, making the finish pretty clean, leaving me with lingering flavours of pressed apple and grapefruit bitterness.

There is a vinous quality to Léa, and when coupled with dusty, brett-forward farmhouse funk, it really creates that perfect contemporary tart saison profile that we’ve all come to love. Seek this out. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Achillée – Saison de Seigle

Achillée is a rye saison, fermented with their house culture, brewed with larch, spruce, and tried flowers. It’s aged then refined in barrels.

The nose begins with lots of vinous notes, giving off green grapes and some dank wine-soaked oak. Spruce comes next, delivering woody notes that provide ample spiciness – like hints of cinnamon. It has a slight acidic base, alongside dusty brett funk. There is a bit of a mulled wine thing happening.

Off the bat, this is truly unique and not like anything I’ve had. It starts with hints of sweetness that are balanced against a slightly tart edge that rounds it out nicely. The piney spruce components are certainly the focus here, but they aren’t over the top, working well with the rich vinous tang and spicy oak.

The flora is more subtle here if compared to Léa, adding some light acidity and bretty characteristics, while still being soft and quite palatable as a whole. Unique and perhaps not for everyone, but it’s certainly for me – love it.

At this point, the eastern townships are filled with unique breweries to visit. Whether to tour various spots or you simply want to head out to Robin, I highly recommend checking them out. Or, if you stumble upon some at your local shop, definitely pick up a bottle.

An article by Noah Forrest

Photography by Noah Forrest