An article by Noah Forrest
Another year in beer has gone by, which means that I’m somehow compelled to put together a list of my top new Quebec beers from the last 12 months. The first time I wrote a top 10 list-type post was largely to pick fun at all the awful articles floating around social media at the time – but mostly I just wanted to cash in on the sweet, sweet click-bait action. And although these lists shouldn’t be taken too seriously, I do have to admit that it’s a lot of fun putting one together each year.
Every year the Quebec beer scene changes. New breweries are constantly popping up, adding to the pool of products to choose from. Most notable this year might be Messorem Bracitorium, who opened their doors in South-Ouest Montreal mid-summer, instantly making waves across the province with their contemporary approach to pretty much exclusively brewing hazy IPAs. As well, from an almost opposite angle, Robin – Bière Naturelle came onto the scene this year, delivering exceptional blended barrel aged wild ales. Brasserie du Bas-Canada continued to drive hype throughout the country with their impressive haze-cans, but the true kicker this year is when they starting dropping pastry stouts, which were so good and so sought after that people starting trading their Lambics for a bottle.
Earlier in 2019, Francis Joncas decided to sell his very successful brewery Microbrasserie Pit Caribou to some independent buyers. This was largely to open a new brewery called Nano-brasserie Brett & Sauvage, a new endeavour that will concentrate on producing beer (and wine) fermented solely with yeast sourced locally in Gaspé. The fabulous boys from Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs left their home as contract brewers at Oshlag in order to open their very own beautiful brewery and tasting room in Hochelaga Maisonneuve. Microbrasserie Nouvelle France really stepped up their game this year with a solid rebranding and some seriously good NEIPAs. Lagabière started a fun project back in May called “Balade en Radeau”, where they began releasing a new beer every month for twelve consecutive months, each a different style and each can being one section of a larger piece of artwork.
I don’t hit a lot of festivals, but I did stop in at Mondial de la bière, which is just getting worse every year at this point – more and more breweries are pulling out every time I go. However, another festival that I managed to attend was Brasserie Champ Libre’s Farmhouse Beer Festival, a small but amazing event, celebrating local Farmhouse ales (or at least the closest we have to them). I was actually fortunate to speak on a panel that day with several others, including the infamous traveler and writer Martin Thibeault from Les Coureurs des Boires, who also delivered a presentation on these often misunderstood beers.
Just like every year, it gets harder to scale down my list of fabulous beers – but I did my best, and got it down to 13. As usual, it’s important to note that this list is: (1) 100% Quebec-based beers; (2) includes only beers that are bottled, canned, or in one case, a growler; (3) only has beers that were bottled for the first time in 2019; (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, 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.
Strap yourself in, this is a long one…
1. Brasserie Auval Brewing co. – Hors Limite
Let’s begin with probably the most iconic and sought after breweries in the province; Brasserie Auval Brewing co. Because of the scarcity and almost unmatched quality of Auval’s products, their bottles are extremely hard to come by. I was fortunate to land several bottles this year, and although the “Pomace Orange” seems to be the holy grail of Auval beers this year, I was even more impressed with “Hors Limite”.
Hors Limite started as a braggot (honey beer) and was then re-fermented with Pinot Noir Pommace, which are the solid remains of grapes after pressing for juice (It contains the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems of the fruit). Pommace used was for Les Entêtés 2018 from Domaine du Nival.
The nose is a subtle and soft mix of vinous tartness and dusty layers of Brettanomyces. Lots of juicy Pinot notes lend compliment to the wild character, while spicy oak delivers tannic aromatics all around. Hints of berries come through, with raspberry in particular.
The palate matches, combining lots of wild flora and big Pinot layers. The beer is quite dry, placing a rich tannic profile on each sip. Grape skins marry an extremely subtle malt backing, alongside layers of dusty Brett funk. The Pinot is really the star here, delivering some subtle berry notes and tannic grape skins, with rich oak flavours of the barrel. This is lovely and exceptional.
2. Brasserie du Bas-Canada – Guerre et Paix (Bourbon Barrel-Aged)
As I was mentioning earlier, Brasserie du Bas-Canada has had an exceptional year. If my list wasn’t one beer per brewery, there would be several of their other products landing on here. Bank Hotel and #gatineauistrending were exceptional IPA’s that deserve huge praise. However, where Bas-Canada really broke the mold this year was with a series of unbelievable pastry stouts that drove the province crazy. The first of the bunch was Guerre et Paix, an imperial stout brewed with coffee, vanilla, and cacao. It dropped for the first time back in February, but then last month they dropped a bourbon barrel-aged version that really just brought things to another level.
Just like the original, the nose blasts you with rich chocolate cake batter alongside hints of espresso beans. However, here there is a mix of the actual vanilla as well as bourbon vanilla essence, which delivers some real sweet aromatics. Spirt-soaked oak lends sharper layers, balancing the nose perfectly. It’s really something.
The palate really gives us something different from the original. The essence of all those rich “pastry” stout layers are still here – like cake batter and vanilla richness – but they are second to some serious oak tannins and bourbon sharpness. All the sweet layers are quickly cut down.
Vanilla and chocolate run the show here, with the bourbon richness sneaking right up behind it, finishing with espresso-like bitterness form the coffee; although I will say that the coffee has faded out substantially in compared to the original. The beer changes as it warms, with new layers of bourbon-induced vanilla really taking over. This is something to truly sip and explore over some time. I’m so glad I was fortunate enough to drink this sexy monster.
3. Messorem Bracitorium – 7 Pieds Sous Terre
Messorem Bracitorium opened their doors this year with a bang, releasing hazy IPA after hazy IPA almost every week. I had a chance to try enough of them, but overall, 7 Pieds Sous Terre had a little something extra special for me.
7 Pieds Sous Terre is a 7% double dry hopped IPA, brewed with Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe. The nose is straight tropical juice, carting loads of mango, tangerine and papaya. A light grassiness gives off a bit of dank funk, but this is mostly just an intoxicating fruit-focused aromatic experience.
The palate matches, delivering a bright and zesty start. Again, big tropical notes give mango and lots of citrus – especially grapefruit and tangerine. The body is on the bolder side, while any malt presence is kinda of lost against all the pungent hops. Now, that’s not a bad thing, and is essentially what you’re going for with this style of IPA, however I wouldn’t mind just a bit more sweetness to balance some of the sharp edges (especially that aggressively acidic hop burn). That said, this is great and one of their best to date.
4. Brasserie Dunham – EON
Brasserie Dunham are wild beer veterans at this point, wielding Brettanomyces in the best possible way. I’ve had cider/beer hybrids before, and some have been fine, but EON was just spectacular.
EON is “a collaboration with Revel Ciders located in Guelph, Ontario. We co-fermented apple must and pommace that they brought with them (Hyslop and Cortes Jersey) and a Saison with the native yeasts present, then aged the resulting beer in barrels during 1 year.”
The nose wafts perfect funk, delivering dusty layers of barnyard and old books alongside grapefruit pith and some pressed apples. Light acidic layers come through as well and there is a Gueuze meets cider quality happening here. The nose is exceptional.
The palate matches, but is more soft and subtle. The apple must and pommace is the star, delivering layers of cider-induced acidity and sweetness. This is coupled with a slew of wild funk and oak tannins. The beer is dry and complex but incredibly easy to drink. Notes of pear and tart grape skins com through as well, and are complimented by the spicy barrel funk through all the apple layers. The body is perfection; slick and soft, carrying a fluffy head that never dissipates, making each sip almost creamy. This is impressive.
5. Robin – Bière Naturelle – Léa
Robin – Bière Naturelle opened their doors earlier this year in the Eastern Townships. They have a unique setup. They purchase 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. This is Léa.
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.
6. Microbrasserie Le Castor Brewing Co. – Saison Macérée (Vin Orange)
Last winter, 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. The latter was particularly amazing.
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.
7. Champ Libre – DÉJEUNER EN PAIX – ÉDITION ALMOÇO DO BRASIL
Brasserie Champ Libre continued to produce beer after beer this year, further honing their skills as well as using homegrown ingredients to solidify themselves as a farmhouse brewery. This is the fourth version of Déjeuner en Paix, Champ Libre’s imperial breakfast stout. This time, it’s aged four months in barrels with amburana wood and cold brewed Brazilian coffee.
The nose is all coffee, delivering perfectly sweet mocha aromatics that just beg to be drank. Chocolate, vanilla, coconut, and oak, are all blasting my senses with delicious wonder. What a nose!
The palate matches, delivering an amazing mocha presence. Rich espresso meets fruity dark chocolate and cacao. It’s dry, but still carries a nice sweetness that works quite well with all the chocolate layers. Lots of coconut (from the amburana) and hints of barrel add further complexity
The carbonation seems off unfortunately, but it’s only because it needed a few more days to carb up. However, this is my favourite variant to date. There is a great balance of wood, sweetness and coffee, with some perfect tannins.
8. Brasserie Harricana – 7205-011
Brasserie Harricana has been consistently releasing new versions of their one-off series of mix fermented sours, called 7205. I had several this year that was pretty amazing, but the 11th iteration was particularly fabulous.
7205-011 is 100% Brett fermented. It was first aged in specially selected barrels for 8 months, then matured for 2 more months with apricots. The nose is dominated by bright and juicy apricots, followed by some dusty Brett funk, and lots of barrel.
The palate matches, but comes off dryer than the nose led on. There is an approachable tannic layer that cuts through the juiciness of the fruit. It’s big apricot up front, followed by vinous-infused oak, and a lingering tannic finish. The acidity isn’t that intense, but certainly apparent, and lends a flora-rich profile to the whole thing along with the dusty phenols.
Overall 011 is juicy, very dry and quite drinkable. Another brilliant one. Reminiscent of nectar drinks from my childhood, which always bring me back.
9. Microbrasserie 4 Origines – Cacao Cosmos
Earlier this year I was able to leave the house and attend a Microbrasserie 4 Origines can release. They were launching a collaborative cacao infused porter called ”Cacao Cosmos” brewed in conjunction with the folks from Cacao 70 Factory. As well, they had a hop-infused milk chocolate bar aptly entitled “Milkshake IPA” to go alongside – I devoured it as I sipped away. This beer was as crushable as it was luscious – and a great addition to this list.
The nose bursts forth with rich cocoa layers, followed by a light smokiness and some toasted grain. Light espresso notes come next. The cocoa adds a fruitiness as well – black cherry and blackberries in particular.
The mouth delivers a prompt velvety richness, while still being light and easy drinking overall. Notes of dark chocolate fill my palate, carrying layers of dark fruits and general cacao goodness. There is a great balance sugar that manages to still come off very dry, making for a chocolate-forward experience that isn’t cloying. A light smokiness comes through as well, which I think comes from the cocoa, further layering the chocolate amongst the dark roasted malts.
The chocolate bar itself itself is creamy and velvety up front, holding that quintessential milk chocolate creamy subtlety. The sweetness is in check, but is further cut by a potent hop bitterness that keeps the whole thing palatable, delivering a more dark chocolate-like finish to it. It’s buttery and rich, but when sipping the beer next to it, the effervescence cuts the fat, and the bitterness of the beer further cleans my palate, leaving echoes of this cocoa-rich beverage and silky milk chocolate creaminess. Together, they blend well and are quite harmonious, despite the different profiles. They got plenty more sitting in the fridge, I’d recommend grabbing some cans for sure.
10. Microbrasserie Vox Populi – Double Hazel
Double Hazel is from Microbrasserie Vox Populi was one of their many creations to hit shelves this year. It is a “double” version of their brown ale entitled “Hazel”, which I’m in love with. I didn’t think it could impress me as much as the original, but it certainly did.
The nose matches the OG perfectly. It begins with rich mocha aromatics, alongside loads of nuttiness. Pumpernickel bread and some light spiciness come through in the finish. It smells amazing.
The palate is quite different, but still carries the same vibe as the original. Rich darks malt deliver toasted grain notes, and lots of bready flavours. The body is luscious and creamy, but not overly viscous – and the bitter finish cuts through everything. The booze is perfectly hidden though all the layers of richness, but it’s still surprisingly dry throughout. And at 10%, that’s impressive.
11. Microbrasserie À la Fût – Fugitive au Sureau
Microbrasserie À la Fût is a Quebec veteran in the sour spectrum, being one of the first in the province to attack these now popular barrel-aged mouth-puckering styles. I feel like they have particularly been on a roll as of late, releasing countless impressive offerings on the regular. I don’t usually like saying breweries are “overrated” or “underrated”, as I find it somewhat of a meaningless statement. However, I will say that although they certainly have a following and are respected, I feel like they are undervalued and that their beers are not as sought after as they should be – at least in my opinion. Anyway, Fugitive “Sureau” (elderberry) was easily one of the best barrel-aged fruits sours I had this year. If you see it, buy it!
The nose delivers some seriously sour aromatics, making my mouth salivate simply by inhaling. There is an amazing flora-induced phenolic funk happening here, with dusty and earthy notes mixed with subtle barnyard. The fruit is apparent as well, lending a blackcurrant-like thing mixed with some blueberries and raspberries; elderberries are pretty unique.
The palate delivers that aforementioned acidity, alongside a tannic and tart dryness that also envelopes the flavour profile. It’s fruity, but not jammy, delivering juiciness with some serious barrel character – kind of like you find in fruited Lambic. The fruit is hard to describe, but reminds me of a blackcurrant meeting a cherry with hints of cranberry. The whole thing is sharply acidic, while still balanced and incredibly well executed. My favourite À la Fût to date. Amazing beer.
12. Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs – Rose Glorieux
Avant-Garde had an amazing year, moving away from being a contract brewery and opening their own space to brew in. About a month back they released their first barrel-aged beers since the expansion, and Rose Glorieux rocked my world.
Rose Glorieux is their Pilsner “Jetset” aged in American Cabernet barrels with wild yeast, lactic bacteria, and cherry juice. The nose delivers big Bretty funk up front, carrying dusty phenols and general barnyard notes. There is a lovely vinous quality here, with the Cabernet adding rich depth alongside juicy cherries that carry a big cherry pie presence.
Wow, up front it’s a blast of fruit, providing slight jammy layers of cherry pie and a pronounced Brett character. It’s dusty and funky, with oak tannins drying out the finish perfectly. There is a sourness here, which also cuts through everything, but the PH is truly in balance, adding just enough bite without being laborious to drink.
It’s tart, tannic, funky, and juicy. It checks off all the right boxes for me. I love this beer.
13. Kahnawake Brewing Co. – Minotaur
Finally, what we have here is Minotaur from Kahnawake Brewing Co. – an NEIPA. Although being open for a couple of years now, I tried Kahanwake Brewing beers for the first time a few weeks ago, when they released some delicious barrel-aged bottles. And although they were good, it was really this growler that truly knocked my socks off.
The nose is crazy bright, with huge tropical notes. Zesty grapefruit pith and intense tangerine meet mango and general hoppy dank fun.
On the palate it bright and sharp, carrying just enough hop burn to cut through everything while still being fun and palatable. It’s juicy to the max, carrying intense citrus and tropical delights all around. The body is big, but not particularly luscious (although this doesn’t bother me). Rich layers of mango, papaya and grapefruit blast my palate, yet it’s still balanced and easy to drink. What an exceptional NEIPA! One of the best I’ve had in Quebec.
As each year goes by, the scene here in Quebec grows and becomes more impressive. There is now more than ever several approaches going on, with breweries like Messorem and Bas-Canada going full force on trends, while others taking a more traditional or diverse method to beer or brewing styles. It continues to be fun and challenging to write about what’s going on in this province. I want to thank everyone who supports what I do, from the readers who take the time to read my posts, or the breweries who help promote and keep me with plenty to sample. Thank you!
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest