I think we were all hoping that 2021 was going to be a fantastic year compared to the cluster-fuck of 2020. Well, in some ways perhaps it was, but in others not so much. For me personally, 2021 has been the hardest year of my life, with some drastic personal changes that left me in not the best place from a mental health perspective. These changes didn’t really curb the number of beers I tried, but it certainly put a damper on my motivation to write, photo edit, and do beer-media things in general.
That said, I’m trying to work on this and I couldn’t let a year go by without calling out my favourite breweries of 2021. Like last year, I’m taking a different approach from previous year-end articles I’ve written. Instead of creating a list of my favorite beers, I’ve teamed up once again 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.
We each created a list of our top 10 breweries of 2021, then compared to see which overlapped, and deliberated on those that did not. This year we were more aligned than usual, with very few conversations around who should or shouldn’t be included. Below is our final communal list.
If you would like to watch Craig, Matt, and I talk through this year in beer, click the BAOS YouTube link below.
You can also download the entire podcast from Vox&Hops right here.
So what did 2021 mean for the Quebec beer scene? Well, what I found interesting is how much breweries and customers really went full throttle on both experimental wacky beers as well as classic, more clean styles. Lagers, West Coast IPAs, and simple Saisons really started to re-gain popularity, with breweries like 5e Baron, L’Amère à Boire, and Mellön (along with many others) putting a real emphasis on crispies and “older” IPAs. Whereas Sir John and Toltèk have been pumping out insane concoctions including a beer made with candy and chips. Beer is fun, and it’s especially great to see popularity on both sides of the spectrum.
Just like every year, there are new breweries that open their doors, or start a new brand, or move from contract brewing into getting their own facilities. There is actually a pretty solid list of newcomers, but to call out a couple, I was particularly impressed with Lagerbräu, a lager-only inspired brand from some of my favorite folks in the industry. As well, Mellön opened their doors this year, but more on them later on.
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 choices from these breweries this year. They are not necessarily my favourites from each brewery, but are definitely up there and certainly showcase how awesome they are. 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, Robin, etc) or although being amazing as always, they didn’t deliver anything particularly new to the scene in 2021 (Dieu du Ciel!, etc).
Kahnawake – Wendigo – Double NEIPA
This past year I’ve been fortunate enough to really dive into what Drew and team have been delivering. From their very solid IPA’s all the way to their fantastic lagers, Kahnawake Brewing Company has released some amazing stuff.
This is a Double NEIPA called “Wendigo”, named after a mythological creature that comes from the folklore of Algonquin First Nations tribes around the East Coast forests of Canada. The aromatics begin zesty and full of citrus, but there is this killer macerated strawberry aroma happening here as well, alongside dank grassy funk, some pineapple, and ripe mango.
The palate is juicy yet dry, with a finish that cuts through the 8% richness while not coming off green or sharp. Lots of passionfruit and tangy pineapple meet grapefruit pith and more of that strawberry. There is an impressive balance here, without being too sharp and yet not sweet in the least. Killer DIPA!
Brasserie du Bas Canada – Monument – Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
2022 is going to be an exciting year for Brasserie du Bas-Canada as they are currently in the process of opening a huge facility and will be pumping out a ton more beer very soon. Bas-Canada’s stouts are basically the GOAT and Monument is no exception.
Monument is an 11% Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout and that’s it! No lactose, no coconut, no coffee. It’s kind of an exciting shift for me as BBC’s pastry stouts are (in my opinion) the best in the country, so seeing how they pulled this one off was fun! The nose comes in with dark chocolate and light licorice accents alongside ample bourbon vanilla notes, deep oak spiciness, and hints of black cherry.
The palate is incredibly luscious up front, delivering that exact same body and density you’ve come to love in the BBC lineup of Imperial Sweet Stouts. However, where this differs is that instead of coconut or vanilla, we are provided with rich oak and bourbon, which carries a very different vanilla-like experience. Instead of that lava cake chocolatey thing, it’s more of a dark chocolate and spirit character. There is a sweetness here for sure, and it’s even a touch sticky, but the 11% and barrel tannins keep everything perfectly balanced. This beer was a game changer. It’s beautifully nuanced while being bold and in your face. They have managed to take what they do best and morph it into something more classic. Amazing stuff here.
BG Brasserie Urbaine – Lazy Mary (Bourbon Barrel-aged Edition)
The folks at BG Brasserie Urbaine have been in the process of transforming their operation into possibly (at least in my opinion) one of the most exciting breweries in the province. It’s only a matter of time until people truly catch on to the genius that’s going down inside this Quebec City brewery. They have really jumped onto the trendy train, delivering lots of New England haze, big sweet stouts, and even smoothies – and they do them very well. However, they are also absolutely nailing barrel-aged offerings, delivering some of the best BA sours this province has ever seen, not to mention their stouts, which I’m about to talk about.
This here is a bourbon barrel-aged edition of Lazy Mary, an imperial sweet stout with cacao Criollo, ”La Sève” coffee from Nektar Coffee Roaster and Madagascar vanilla. The nose is perfection. Loads of milk chocolate and cake frosting mix with earthy coffee beans and vanilla. Rich oak-forward bourbon layers come through as well, lending compliment to this beautiful dessert in a glass.
The palate is rich and luscious, delivering loads of sweet milk chocolate and cakey vibes that work super well. The body is crazy and although the sweetness is present, there is enough barrel sharpness to cut through things nicely – while also lending oak and vanilla accents. The coffee helps keep the sugars at bay by adding some bitterness. It’s balanced, rich, and pure decadence. This is something special. If you’re not already paying attention to these guys, you need to now.
Brewskey – Les dés sont jetés – Double NEIPA
Throughout 2021 BreWskey continued to create innovative and sometimes even silly creations that really emphasized how fun beer can be. And what makes it extra special is how head brewer and co-owner Derrick diligently puts together these creations in a well thought out and thorough fashion. Although throwing cream cheese and graham cracker into a beer can seems like a lackluster and mostly gimmicky endeavor, I can assure you that this is far from the truth. So much time and dedication goes into these creations. Making a great lager is an art form because you don’t have anything to hide behind, but making a beer that has the kitchen sink in it while also being drinkable, balanced and interesting is also a very difficult task, and I think BreWskey deserves a ton of credit for that because they do it a lot better than most.
My good friend Paul-André Mailhot from the now infamous iPA Podcast teamed up with BreWskey and Toltèk Brasseur Artisan for the podcast’s first anniversary and created “Les dés sont jetés”, a bright and epic double IPA.
The nose is zesty and bright with a tangy and herbal backdrop that lends some pungent green layers of tropical everything. The aromas here are extremely inviting. The palate is dry, but not too sharp or boozy for the ABV. Fresh pineapple meets a slightly astringent zip alongside layers of tangerine and citrus, while mango and fresh grassy notes come though in the finish. Beautiful stuff from some beautiful folks.
Overhop – Reddish
In 2020, Overhop Canada left their contract brewing roots and opened their very own facility south of Montreal. Immediately after transitioning to their new spot, the beers improved dramatically.
I actually haven’t had too many beers from them this year, however everything I had was solid. Unfortunately I realize now that I didn’t actually do any in-depth reviews, however I took this sexy photo of Reddish, their imperial red. I’m excited to see what 2022 means for them!
Messorem Bracitorium – RAISING HELL WITH THE FLAVOR- DDH Triple IPA
I feel like one could write an entire book about Messorem Bracitorium and what they have done for the Quebec beer scene – whether you like it or not. From their spectacular branding, to their emphasis on hops and their cult-like following, not to mention their gorgeous brewery and tasting room, Messorem is not only a household name for beer-geeks, but these days also for those who just dabble in beer.
In 2021 Messorem continued to do what they always do, but amped it up. Their anniversary release was epic to put it lightly, with folks waiting hours in line to get what they wanted – something you don’t see much of anymore. I have recently moved close to their location which means that I’ve pretty much tasted everything they’ve made over the last few months. I liked some more than others, but everything I had was great and if you are looking for hops, they are the place to go without question.
Right here is “Raising Hell With The Flavor”, a 10% Triple IPA with Citra, Ella, El Dorado, and Idaho 7 Cryo. I chose to showcase this one as it’s the best triple I’ve had from them – a style that rides the lines of being just too much, but they nailed it this time. The nose is crazy bright, tossing massive mango and passionfruit alongside some grassy layers and sweet candied fruits. The palate delivers a nice balance of sweet ripe fruits alongside a sharp, hop astringency and some booze. Honeydew melon meets mango, passionfruit and lots of sweet citrus. Just great stuff here.
Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs – Octobre en Avril – Bourbon BA Barleywine
Avant-Garde Artisans Brasseurs, like Overhop that I mentioned above, moved from contract brewing into their own amazing facility a couple of years ago. They have a beautiful tasting room in Hochelaga Maisonneuve with an incredible pizza oven that allows them to serve great food. Avant-Garde brew a massive range of styles, including countless barrel-aged offerings. From blended sours to huge stouts, to crispy lagers and West Coast IPAs, everything these guys do are amazing and worth seeking out.
“Octobre en Avril?” is a bourbon barrel aged barleywine. The nose is fruity up front, carrying lots of plum and ripe fig. This is followed by layers of caramel and sugar pie, complimented further by apple cider aromas. Vanilla bourbon inspired notes emerge as well, with some oak spiciness peeking through.
The palate is rich and layered as expected. Big caramel notes meet maple taffy and vanilla cake batter. The oak shines but isn’t the star, providing nice bourbon notes and a perfect drying, tannic finish. It’s sweet but balanced, and doesn’t remotely come off viscous or even thin – great balance. It goes down easy and hits all the notes you’re looking for in a solid barleywine. The finish carries just the right amount of bitterness to cut through it. Killer stuff here!
Silo – Desitka – Czech Lager
Silo – Brasserie Montréal opened their doors at the start of the pandemic, which is no easy situation to work through. They concentrate on lagers in general, and absolutely nail it every time. I was able to hit the beautiful brasserie and try so many of their killer lagers on tap. I can’t wait to see what 2022 is like for them.
Desitka is a blond Czech inspired lager with a low abv – 3.7%. The nose is soft and herbal up front, carrying spicy components alongside layers of doughy honey forwards malts. It’s a touch grassy and just extremely inviting overall. Up front on the palate the body is surprisingly round and soft, delivering a near perfect mouthfeel that’s creamy and easy to drink. Crisp layers of subtle bitterness cuts through any maltiness while not being aggressive in the least while light honey sweetness meets a dry finish that echoes spicy Saaz deliciousness. Wow, just wow. This might be the best under 4% beer I’ve had in a very long time. Incredible.
Mellön – Post ta Pilz – French Inspired Pilsner
Mellön opened their doors this year! And although I haven’t had a ton of their cans I did have a chance to sit on their terrasse and try several of their offerings, which were all solid. Their specialty seems to be easy drinking styles, with an emphasis lagers, some IPA’s and Saisons.
This here is “Post ta Pilz”, a French inspired Pilsner brewed in collaboration with Isle de Garde, a brewery known from their exceptional lagers. The nose is citrus-forward, with an herbal and spicy backdrop. Earthy elements come through as well with some serious orange zest. The palate matches carrying lots of citrus brightness alongside fresh grains, lot of bready layers, and a sharp finish that further dries out this already dry beer. Nice stuff.
5e Baron: Brewery of the Year!
For the first time we decided as a group that we were going to perform the difficult task of choosing a single brewery to be our “Brewery of the year in 2021”. To be perfectly honest though, it wasn’t difficult at all, we all immediately chose 5 Baron.
5e Baron – Stoutism – Coffee Imperial Stout (Collaboration with Beerism)
I’ve done two collaborations with 5e Baron now which certainly makes me biased here. That said, it also means I have some firsthand experience working with Jacob and his team, who impress me to no end. Whether it’s classic beer styles that are executed perfectly or contemporary and more trendy styles, the folks at 5e nail it every single time. There hasn’t been a brewery in a very long time that excites me each and every time they release something, regardless if it’s something big and intense or sublte and nuanced. It’s ALWAYS great!
Instead of writing a review about my own collab, I thought I’d steal words from BAOS’s own, Craig Thorn.
“Two of my fave organisms in beer came together for the second time for a goddamned impeccable beer. Coming in at a lofty 11%, this bad boy is an imperial stout with Rwandan coffee that was aged in bourbon barrels – what a concept. It pours jet black with a cappuccino head and a big roasty nose, the body is viscous and velvety, there’s just so much chocolate up front and then the bitter, fruity coffee hits with a touch more than a hint of bourbon (more than I expected based on what Noah told me), it’s dry and super smooth, it drinks much less than the double figure ABV it boasts, and it all wraps up in a ton of dark chocolate bitterness in the finish. Gorgeous, get this in ya.”
So in conclusion 2021 still sucked but Quebec beer is better than ever. The End.