Examining La Confrérie Artisans Brasseurs – An Interview With Alex Larrivée

La Confrérie Artisans Brasseurs opened their doors earlier this year. This family run operation is one of several breweries I know of that have had to open during such a challenging time for businesses. Located in the rural landscape of the Eastern townships, La Confrérie is found in Windsor, just north of Sherbrooke. This is the first time I’m trying anything from them, and judging from the line-up before me, I think I’m in for at treat.

I had a chance to chat with Alex Larrivée (co-owner and head brewer) via email about his brewery.

What’s the story behind La Confrérie Artisans Brasseurs? How did you get started?

Oh, that’s a short/long story! In the beginning (like 10 years ago), Confrérie was a few friends brewing in my parent’s garage. A friend of mine was studying Nature Science in Cegep and had a brewing lesson from his chemistry teacher. The week after that, we were building our brewing equipment and writing up our recipes! A few years later, my uncle who owns an orchard on the south shore of Quebec City suggested that we start a small brewing project with him. So I took Michel Gauthier’s brewing course and literally jumped into the adventure even with a full-time job in Sherbrooke! Since 2015, I was the co-founder and brewer for La Confrérie Microbrasserie.

In July 2018, during a rather painful brewing day, my father came to see me and said: ‘’Do you want to expand the project but closer to the Eastern townships?’’ The only possible answer to that was YES! A few months later my parents, my girlfriend and I started creating La Confrérie Artisans Brasseurs. So, it’s basically a family story! Our idea behind it was very simple: offer quality beers made with as many local ingredients as possible. I was already used to working with local fruits and we wanted to create beers for every moment!

La Confrérie opened less than a year ago, right before the start of this awful pandemic. How has that been going for you? Did you have to get clever with how to handle running a business during this unique and challenging time?

It wasn’t the easiest time for a start-up brewery! We received our license from RACJ in February and by mid-March all bars were closed. Our business was focused on a large proportion of on-tap sales. So, we completely changed our direction, we put a stop into the construction of our tasting room and switched production to 16oz cans. The speed of our change paid off. We have produced as many cans in 6 months as we had for our annual projection! The customers were quickly very numerous and we’re very happy with the positive response from them. I think moving to Windsor (15 minutes from Sherbrooke) was an important moment for us. People were looking forward to having their own microbrewery in their city. So far, I think we have responded well to their requests and even if living in a pandemic situation isn’t easy, we’re off to a great start!

Judging from the wide range of styles and adjuncts in your beers, La Confrérie seems to be about pushing boundaries and experimenting with different ingredients. However, instead of being about all things ultra-trendy, you seem to have more eclectic influences with what you are producing. Can you tell me a bit about what you are trying to do with your beers?

I think crafting a recipe is how a brewer expresses his art. I love the fact that I can start from scratch on a blank white paper and make something out of it a bit like I’ve seen my mom and my grandma cook all my life, and found it so beautiful the way they worked using recipes that came from their inspiration. Pushing my limits, trying new things and learning every day, that’s why I love working with different ingredients and techniques so much. I obviously try to improve my recipes as best as I know, but I’m constantly reading up on brewing news so that I can take my beers to another level. Also, working with local products makes me love my job even more. In fact, we bought smaller brewing equipment (5bbl) to allow me to make several different brews, try new fruits, create collaborations with producers, learn new techniques and also ensure good product quality and freshness for customers. I like using more unusual ingredients or less popular combinations. From the start, I have always liked the variety that I can offer to my customers and the possibility in brewing different styles of beers. I have often had comments that my beers fall between two styles (in a good way!), like the best of both worlds. I don’t pretend to reinvent the wheel or be better than anyone else, I just want to brew and have fun with friends because I sincerely believe that the brewing world is a huge brotherhood!

You already have a wide range of products. What should we expect to see in the future? Will we see high ABV beers, perhaps a barrel program? Are you going to jump into the “Haze Game” as well?

Always! We’re currently working on a barrel program (mainly wine and bourbon barrels) for mixed fermentation and also high ABV beers. For now, we have only released a barrel-aged beer on draft: an American porter with sour cherries (mainly Montmonrency from our orchard) matured in a 20-year-old Jamaican Rhum cask. You will see new products in the coming weeks that will be part of our more wintery beer styles. For a long time, I have been working on a collection of certain yeast strains from our orchard as well as from elsewhere. You will definitely see something coming out of this! I see our brewery as a research laboratory where we can play around with small or large tests. About the “haze game,” I already have a product that could fit into this category, it’s our “Cuichette” Nouvelle India Pale Ale. A bit different from the NEIPA trend, Cuichette is a Vermont-inspired beer but with a small twist. Mainly Innomalt 2 row and flaked oats/wheat, we also add unpasteurized apple juice (blend of 6 apple varieties) to make this IPA slightly drier and to help balance out the texture between the NEIPA hop schedule and grain bill. To finish, we decided to use a custom yeast blend ( 2 saccharomyces & 1 brettanomyces) to get all of the juicy-fruity side of things without being too sweet. I don’t think we will brew a lot of beers in this style, but I had a lot of fun building this recipe! If we do, there’s always going to be a twist to be able to integrate fruit to bring something different. Currently, we are also working on a blending program from our barrel-aged beer to integrate new yeasts and new fruits (like cranberry, blueberry, Saskatoon berry, Aronia, pear, etc). In a near future, we will have many new things to present to our customers, that’s for sure!

Well, that certainly has me interested in diving into these cans!

Crema – Stout de Soiree

First up with “Crema”, a coffee and vanilla milk stout. The Nose is rich with coffee and dark chocolate while subtle vanilla sneaks through as well. Lots of dark roasted malts compliment some earthy and nut-forward coffee layers.
A rich and velvety palate comes through upon the first sip, but it also manages to be smooth and easy-drinking at the same time. The lactose creates a thick mouthfeel and adds sweetness while the coffee cuts through any sugars, balancing things out nicely. The vanilla is very subtle and not particularly apparent – a good thing for my tastes. My only gripe would be to improve the head retention, but otherwise, this is pretty great.

Houblonette – Petite IPA

This is “Houblonette”, labelled as a “Petite” IPA containing Mosaic, Simcoe, and El Dorado. Bright aromatics kick off the nose alongside a touch of dankness. Lots of orange and tangerine come through as well with tropical fruits, like pineapple and mango.
The palate is light but it carries a really nice rich mouthfeel. Lots of Mosaic-induced orange tang leads the charge, with tropical fruit coming in as well. Mango and clementines mix with hints of passionfruit. It’s dry and goes down like water (in a good way).
Houblonette is a bit hard to classify. It’s not a turbid hop bomb, but it’s also not extremely “classic” either. There is very little bitterness here and is quite fruit-forward, but if you’re looking for juice, this ain’t that. If you’re looking for balance and accessibility, this one’s for you. Solid stuff here.

Pèse su’ play – Lager de pause

Pèse su’ play is listed as a “Lager de Pause” made with 100% Quebec ingredients. The nose is zesty and herbal. Some fresh apple flesh meets lemon and honey maltiness. Freshly baked bread and a general grain-forward aromatic profile comes through as well.
This is certainly a more robust lager, coming in at 6.3%. The rich malty backbone delivers bready notes of grain and honey, while the hops – although not particularly aggressive – manage to cut through everything, creating a balanced profile. Apple must and some tangy citrus display next, delivering a subtle fruitiness while the herbal hops add more depth. It’s quite round overall, and rather clean – this would be the perfect beer to pair food.

Mlle. Violette

Mlle. Violette is a honey and lavender witbier. Spicy and herbal notes kick off the nose, with clove and crushed cardamom pods meeting fresh lavender. Layers of citrus peel and floral notes enhance the aromatic experience.

The palate is a bit richer than the nose let on. Lots of honey sweetness adds a solid roundness to the beer while imparting a floral character. This is further complemented by the subtle but apparent lavender. The sweetness, however, is cut nicely by a phenolic finish that dries things out and adds a spicy complexity. This was a fun take on a classic. 

Vio Aux Camerises

This is a carmerises (haskap berry) infused lager. The nose is honey forward with some herbal and vinous-like characteristics. Raisins and blueberries roll right alongside some spicy noble hops.
I wasn’t sure what to expect here. This reminds of beers from a decade or so ago when breweries would infuse fruit into a lager-style beer. I honestly always hated them, but to be fair breweries back then weren’t making good beer (at least those that I was trying). This, however, I like. It starts with some herbal hops, followed immediately by a fruity haskap essence which is often hard to describe. I usually find it has a blueberry, cherry and big blackcurrant vibe. There is a sweetness here, but the beer finishes pretty dry despite the rounder profile. I’m not sure this is something I’d get often, but if lightly fruited lagers are your things, this is very nice.

La Confrérie Artisans Brasseurs is creating something different. Their beers are interesting and contemporary, yet take a more eclectic approach to styles and adjuncts. The beers are clean and round, with a playful and well-executed edge. If you’re looking for something distinct and diverse, get your hands on some of their cans.
An article by Noah Forrest
Photography by Noah Forrest