I’m getting a little tired of everyone going on and on about just how fantastic a year 2020 has been. Look I get it, it’s been awesome – everyone is healthy, we reversed global warming, we fixed the racial divide, we finally proved the earth is flat, and everyone is now on the same page from a political perspective, but we don’t want to jinx it, so let’s stop gloating already.
Joking aside, despite all the unimaginable challenges faced by almost every industry, 2020 was still an impressive year for beer in Quebec. We had several brand new breweries open (and thrive) during this global pandemic – which is just incredible. Archaic Quebec laws surrounding the ability for breweries to ship beer gave us a huge disadvantage compared to our Ontario neighbors, but we still pulled through. In general, the entire industry had to become innovative overnight, trying to work through the ever-changing set of rules placed on the industry. In many cases, owners had to make extremely difficult decisions between what’s good for business and what’s good for the heath and safety of their staff and customers. Congratulations to everyone for surviving and moving forward during this time.
There have been some very interesting changes to the beer landscape in 2020, with Quebec arguably holding on to our existing throne for producing the best beer in the country. A couple of years ago we lead the charge in everything mix-fermented, with pioneers like Brasserie Dunham getting recognized worldwide with their contemporary approach to everything wild, while legendary breweries like Dieu du Ciel absolutely nailed barrel-aged sours with beers like Excorciste and Symbiose. However, some would argue that we were lacking in the hop game. Well, insert Brasserie du Bas-Canada and Messorem Bracitorium, who swooped in over the last couple of years and filled that “gap” with the best haze in the country. And this year, they just got better and better.
The Quebec beer scene is so rich and round these days that you could call it a holiday cheese ball, and in 2020, I slammed face-first right into it – just ask my bathroom scale.
Every December I break down my favorite beers of the year. However I decided to go a different route in 2020. Instead, I’ve teamed up with Craig of BAOS Podcast and Matt of Vox & Hops to create our communal top 10 breweries of 2020. So this means that we are delivering a trinity of content, with Beerism handling the written piece, BAOS providing the video, and Vox & Hops delivering the podcast audio.
Some important caveats before proceeding. This list is (1) 100% Quebec-based; (2) includes only beers that are bottled or canned; (3) only includes one beer per brewery; and (4) is in no particular order. (5) I should also note that there were several breweries that I wanted to include on this list, but could not, and the same goes for Matt and Craig – however, we are all happy with the end result. (6) As well, although we chose the breweries as a group, the actual beers on this list were my specific favorites from these breweries this year. Lastly, (7) this list is centered around breweries that impressed us with something new this year. There are several spectacular breweries that you won’t see below, and that could be simply because we did not have a chance to try anything (Auval, etc) or because they didn’t bring anything particularly new to the scene in 2020.
Let’s get into it…
1 – Brasserie Generale – Calculon
Brasserie Générale has had one hell of a year. This 7 year old establishment recently opened their own pub and brought on a new co-owner and brewer. They started experimenting more, and took their image in a more contemporary direction with not only the beers they make, but the branding as well. With a slew of great NEIPA’s as well as big stouts and even a few smoothies, these guys hit the ground running in 2020, pretty much nailing everything. However, “Calculon” was so special that I needed to call this one out.
This is Calculon, cleverly named after the amazing Futurama character. It’s a blend of several beers, including a gin barrel-aged Berliner Weisse. The nose is zesty and floral, carrying lots of herbal notes alongside some solid barrel funk. The juniper comes through, lending that wonderful piney complexity, but it’s subtle. Some acidic notes come trough as well.
The palate is bright and aggressive, but carries a lovely finesse. A hefty acidity hits you first, carrying a fruity tang with it – sour citrus meets tart green apple and grapefruit pith. However, a huge tannic dryness envelopes your palate next, sucking all the moisture from your mouth. Herbal juniper notes lend a complimentary complexity without screaming holy Gin! The barrel integrates quite well overall, while the flora induced dusty funk gives you some light Lambic vibes. This is one of the best Quebec beers I’ve had this year.
2 – 5e Baron – Hopism
5e Baron opened their doors at the start of the pandemic, which is no easy feat. Their line-up has been an amazing mix of contemporary IPAs alongside a large number of lagers as well as some sours and stouts. They came out swinging, nailing almost everything with precision and balance. I had the honor of creating a collaborative beer with them called Hopism, and honestly, I would normally have chosen another beer from them to showcase, however they nailed this beer so much that I had to choose it as my favorite.
Given this is my beer, I asked Beerism collaborator Mike Dave of BeerBritMTL to review this one for me:
“As you’d expect from a beer Noah has signed off on, this brew is a masterclass in balance. It’s dry-hopped with two of my all-time favourites— Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin. A touch of Galaxy was added to the boil too, which is quite a rarity in NEIPAs. All this leads to both of the hops really showcasing their potential, as the beer opens with all the dank, grassy and tropical notes of Galaxy, accented by the vinous, berry character of the Nelson. This continues throughout as a sweet tropical melange is complimented by some grassy bitterness that isn’t overly aggressive but does a good job of cutting through the juiciness. The mouthfeel is absolutely on point too, with a surprisingly round, creamy profile for a single IPA while staying light and very drinkable. It was also refreshing to have an IPA that was ready straight off the shelf, especially with the tendency of many other breweries to go a little too green. Overall, I honestly adored this beer, even if I am a little biased!”
3 – Messorem Bracitorium – Sous une Autre Forme
Messorem Bracitorium opened in mid-2019 unabashedly flooding the Quebec market with a much desired onslaught of hazy IPAs. Pioneering a new model in Quebec, which borrowed from our neighbors to the south, Messorem was hit with criticism and extreme praise over their endless stream of new beers on a weekly basis. It was obvious quickly that they were here to stay and would become the most “hyped” brewery in the province, whether everyone liked it or not. I had chance to try many beers from them in 2020, but “Sous une Autre Forme” stood out to me as the best of the bunch.
“Sous une Autre Forme” is a DDH IPA with Galaxy, Amarillo, and Centennial. The nose here is crazy bright and dank, with zesty citrus fruit and loads of passion fruit coming through. It’s a touch catty and dank all around, followed by lemon candy, under-ripe pineapple, and again just so much dank.
It’s pretty sharp up front on the palate, with a dry hop burn in the finish. That said, it’s balanced nicely against that deep and bright fruitiness. Layers of passion fruit and papaya mix with pithy grapefruit rinds and some turbid bitterness. This is Messorem at their best – one of my favorite IPAs of the year.
4 – Pub BreWskey – Brew Juice – Mango, Blackcurrant, Mint
Smoothie beers (or slushie beers) have taken off in 2020, and I don’t think anyone would argue that Brewskey Pub & Brasserie Artisanale have pioneered the style in Quebec, and arguably produce the most and perhaps the best iterations of this often polarizing style. Is this beer? Is it a beer cocktail? Does it matter? I honestly don’t know, and I don’t really care. All I do know is that when done right they taste amazing and BreWskey are absolutely nailing this style. For those who worry these types of styles are ruining beer, just take a moment to think about Bud Light Lime-A-Rita and ask yourself if you’d rather have that? 100% beer or not, smoothies are craft and made from high quality ingredients, so bring it on!
This here is Brew Juice Mango, Blackcurrant, and Mint.The nose begins as expected, bursting with blackcurrant and some underlining mint. The mango is there, but the currents take over quite a bit.
The palate is rich and luscious as you’d expect from this series, and just like the nose, currant dominates, alongside hints of its pepperyness, while I assume the smooth mouthfeel comes from the mango. The mint is present, but not over the top, lending a complimentary freshness to that hard to describe blackcurrant spiciness. There is also a sort of mojito vibe to this – it’s so damn good.
5 – Champ Libre – Simplicité Volontaire – Special Edition
Champ Libre Brasserie & Distillerie absolutely killed it in 2020. Their farmhouse approach to brewing has yielding several saisons and other interesting concoctions, but they have also proved that they can dish out a hazy that stands up there with the best of them. That said, what absolutely blew my mind this year has been their line up of lagers, and in particular their Simplicité Volontaire Special Addition.
As I mentioned above, I was particularly excited about this one. I’ve been drinking Simplicité Volontaire since it’s inception a few years ago. It was one of the four beers that Champ Libre originally launched and has evolved into being one of the best lagers in the province. Well, they took it and lagered it for 6 months on oak, creating the special edition.
The nose is full of zesty hops, honey, and some inviting herbal notes. Light spicy oak aromatics come through as well, creating a very inviting experience. The palate starts with lots of honey and cracked grains. A light and balanced sweetness is cut by a crisp finish that carries some light oak tannins. It’s round, balanced and so much fun to drink. It’s truly wonderful.
6 – Brasserie Sir John Brewing co. – Cantuccini
Honestly, Brasserie Sir John Brewing co. has been on my radar since they opened. My interest strenghthened when my buddy Gabriel (Head brewer at Boreale) mentioned that he thought they were brewing the best haze in the province. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to have much from them, although my local dep, the amazing Le Gobelet is now starting to stock their stuff, so I was able to snag this big pastry stout.
This is Cantuccini, an espresso, vanilla, cacao and lactose infused imperial sweet stout. The nose is huge on the coffee front, delivering earthy and chocolatey aromatics. Lots of vanilla sweetness comes through as well alongside hints of maple.
Up front on the palate you get all that vanilla sweetness, which is further amplified into dessert territory with a thick and viscous lactose-induced body. That said, the espresso provides a nice bitterness to cut through the sugars and helps balance everything out nicely. The maple syrup and toasted almonds are more of an afterthought that I don’t think I could pick out blind, however there are certainly hints of nutty layers mixed in with a slight maple presence. The cacao and espresso deliver a really nice and intense chocolate profile that again makes a real solid dessert profile. I really like what coffee can do to a pastry stout by creating a more balanced and dryer profile – and I think this is a Great example of this. 2021 needs to be the year I dive into more Sir John.
7 – Overhop – Vox & Overhops
This sexy beer from Overhop Canada is is a special one because Matt from Vox & Hops teamed up with them to create it! This is “Vox and Overhops”, a big and bright 7% NEIPA. I’ve been watching Overhop for years, as they contract brewed out of Ontario and Quebec simultaneously – which is pretty amazing. However, this year they opened their very own brewery in the greater Montreal region, and the quality has snowballed. I haven’t had a chance to dive into much since they broke away from contract brewing, however this beer was legitimately fantastic.
The nose is dank and bright, delivering a myriad of tropical delights. Intense passion fruit and mango mix with some papaya, tangerine, and grapefruit. The aromas are spectacular. The palate is bright and juicy, but there is a huge dank hop funk going on here, with layers of intense citrus and tropical everything. Some damp grass meets passion fruit and grapefruit, while the finish is a touch more bitter than your average NEIPA. That said, it works here, helping to clean up any sweetness that lingers.
8 – Ras L’Bock – Café Corsé
Ras L’Bock has always been a fun and pretty innovative brewery. This year they did some cool rebranding and pumped out a huge number of beers, from big barrel-aged stuff to IPAs and some sexy sours. Of everything I tried, Café Corsé (a bourbon barrel coffee infused Imperial stout) had a lovely edge to it that just spoke to me.
The nose is a rich mix of luscious dark chocolate alongside espresso beans and black cherries. Layers of vanilla-forward bourbon notes come through quite intensely, further complimenting the already delicious smelling aromatics.
The palate is less intense than the nose let on. It begins quite fruity, with lots of black cherry and some underlying berry complexity. The coffee lends nice roasty layers, but it’s on the fruity side for sure. Dark chocolate and roasted grains deliver a lovely richness, while the barrel provides a solid vanilla accent and apparent spirit quality – bourbon sharpness and some light tannins from the oak. The body is light and the whole thing is surprisingly drinkable for a beer like this. It’s a really nice take on the style. Delicious.
9 – Avant-Garde – Moineau – Bourbon Barrel-Aged
Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs moved away from contract brewing in 2019, and although I was a huge fan before, their beers have become even better. This year, they continued with their impressive barrel-program, delivering some spectacular fruited sours (including some awesome fully-fermented barrel-aged smoothies). However, the beer that impressed me the most was Moineau, a collaborative barrel-aged Belgian quad created in collaboration with Matera Brasseurs . There are two editions, one aged in German Foudres, and the other aged in bourbon barrels. This is the bourbon edition.
The nose is straight bourbon. Crazy amounts of vanilla and oak come through. Next is milk chocolate and fresh pumpernickel bread, alongside dates and raisins. There are hints of phenolic spiciness, but the barrel dominates the nose here. I could easily mistake this for a Barleywine instead of a quad.
The palate matches, carrying luscious layers of bourbon everything. It’s sweet, as expected, but the barrel cuts through everything, leaving the finish dry and slightly tannic. Caramel and raisins meet cooked plums and fresh fig, while vanilla and toasted wood dominates, with hints of Belgian yeast peaking through. So good.
10 – Brasserie du Bas-Canada – Nathan
2020 brought on an onslaught of pastry stouts in Quebec, however, Brasserie du Bas-Canada are still the OG and the best by far. In 2019, they dropped “Guerre et Paix”, which was followed shortly by “Substance”, which basically broke the Quebec beer internet. The luscious richness and absolute desert-like profile that it managed to harness was just spectacular, and continues to be unparalleled in Quebec, in my opinion. Stout after stout, they continued to impress, with the market going absolutely crazy for these luscious monsters. Most are quite similar, carrying various adjuncts and an emphasis on nuts. However, Nathan was just a step above for me, an imperial sweet stout with almond, coconut, and two types of vanilla. Also, look at that #properglassware – I mean, come on.
The nose begins with toasted almond cake and rich coconut. The chocolate is massive here, with that lava cake thing you get in all their beers. It’s dessert personified – very milkshake-like.
As usual, each sip is a luscious and slick experience that coats your mouth in loveliness. Rich chocolate and cake batter come through up front, alongside layers of high quality vanilla. The coconut and almond are very present, but don’t take over entirely, instead complimenting and making the whole thing a balanced dessert in a glass.
As well, despite the sweetness here – which is very real – the beer somehow doesn’t come off overtly cloying. The finish has a dryness to it, with a hint of lingering ethanol, although you’d never pick up the 10.5%.
I’m not out traveling the states, trying all the big pasty stouts out there. However, I have had a few, and man, these stouts from BBC are truly spectacular. They manage to give you something over the top, but still accessible and downright drinkable. Somehow it really doesn’t come off too sweet, even though it certainly is.
Well that’s our list! I really suggest you you listen and/or watch our awesome podcast. We had a blast drinking some amazing beers from the above breweries. Special thanks to Champ Libre Brasserie & Distillerie, Brasserie Générale, 5e Baron and Overhop Canada for shipping us beers to specifically drink live during the podcast.
2020 has obviously been a challenging year, and clearly beer isn’t really on the list of important things to talk about. That said, for me personally, being able to taste, write and shoot beer has kept my mind busy and away from the depression and anxiety that the world is throwing my way. So I want to thank all the breweries and friends who have sent me beer this year despite the financial challenges – I hope I represented you well! Keep doing what you’re doing, you are killing it!