Saturday, May 15, 2010

Quebec Beer Haul!

I've gotta admit it: for someone who lived less than two hours from Quebec for most of his life, I know amazingly little about la belle province. (Google isn't much better; type 'Quebec' and for images, the first 15 are either a map of Quebec or a lovely vista with the Chateau Frontenac in the foreground, which is pretty much all I know about Quebec.) I guess it's the language thing; like the rest of Ontario, my public school did an incredibly piss-poor job of trying to teach us French, which probably explains my current disdain for our nation's laughable attempts to be bilingual. For a great example of how bad the French language is taught in English public schools: in the fifth grade, our French teacher had us do a month-long "unit" on Barbados, a country that a quick internet search will show DOESN'T FUCKING SPEAK FRENCH. It's one of the most Anglo countries in the entire Caribbean, and I spent a good three months studying its cultural heritage in a language it doesn't use. Why? Because our teacher went on vacation there and she liked it, that's why! Two years later, I had a unit on pizza. I shit you not. I didn't even know what 'conjugation' and 'tenses' were until Grade 9, long past the optimal age for picking up a language's syntax and rhythm. No wonder every Ontarian that didn't go to immersion ends up sounding like Preston Manning when they try to speak French.

Pictured: Typical Quebec citizen, as far as I know.

Therefore, in my entire education about the province of Quebec, I can recall maybe a half dozen facts of questionable veracity. I know that in New France, they liked their land strips to have access to the St. Lawrence, and thus every passing generation got a narrower and narrower land parcel, with sexy results. I know that Rene Levesque liked cigarettes and comb-overs. Quebec makes a boat-load of maple syrup and is a bit irked with Newfoundland. I know that Carnival is kind of a big deal, and that the Plains of Abraham is still a touchy subject nearly three-hundred years after the fact. (Fun fact: after the war, France was given the option to either keep Quebec or the tiny island of Guadaloupe. Guess which one they went for?) I know that the Quebec Nordiques had one of the greatest logos in professional sports (after Hartford). And I know that Quebeckers, despite having one of the highest standards of living in the world and received decades of accommodation from the Canadian government, still aren't fucking happy yet. That's about all I know.

But, despite my monumental ignorance about all things Quebecois, I can say this: they can brew some damned fine beer. As anyone who's ever had a bottle of Maudite or a snifter of Peche Mortel can attest, Quebeckers are among the finest brewers in the world. On beeradvocate's list of the 100 best beers in the world, only two are from Canada and both of them are from Quebec (#26 Dieu du Ciel's "Peche Mortel" and #90 Unibroue's "La Fin du Monde"). On its Canadian best-of list, nine of the top ten spots are Quebec brews. The combination of innovation, quality, and respect for the brewing traditions of Alcase and Belgium have paid remarkable dividends for the Quebec brewing industry, which is gaining respect among brewing circles around the world.

Thus, when I found out a friend of mine (Thanks, Lori!) was heading Montreal-way, I had my beer shopping list at the ready! Two sample 12 packs and a couple extras later, I have an even better grasp of the great stuff Quebec is producing, which encouraged me all the more to make the trip to check it out in person. That is, if I can figure out the language....

"Fuck - get the dictionary..."

First up is a twelve pack from Les Trois Mousquetaires, a microbrewery from Brossard, just outside of Montreal. LTM has a pretty diverse selection of brews available, including such esoteric offerings as a rauchbier, a maibock and an Oktoberfest Maerzen. Their baltic porter has received numerous accolades, and currently is sitting pretty at #12 on the Canada's best brews list. Though this particular pack lacked some of these unique brews, it was still chock-full of goodies, with three each of their blonde ale, hefeweizen, dunkel lager and amber lager. A good selection indeed. A cute little gimmick is their beer-rating system: on a scale of four swords (can't forget about D'Artagnan!), each brew is rated based on how complex it will be. While their blonde ale only registers one sword out of four, for example, their "noire" dunkel lager rates a three.

And that's where we'll start!
Beer: Noire
Type: Schwarzbier ("black beer")
ABV: 5%
Swords: 3/4

A splendid looking brew, one of the best dark lagers I've seen in ages. Inky black, with a slight brown hue to the light. Thick, pillowy head that will not surrender. Lots of patchy lacing. Great stuff.

Nose is roasted malt, a touch of chocolate, coffee and cream. A bit of smokiness as well. Displays remarkable depth.

Upon sippage, I get coffee up front, smoke and walnuts to the finish. It's somewhat sour and puckery, probably the hop content. This is pretty typical for a schwarzbier or dunkel lager - try Warsteiner Dunkel and you'll see what I mean. Thankfully, the sourness is nicely complimented with the coffee and nuts, making for a balanced little brew. Quite enjoyable. Lower carbonation, a bit watery, but otherwise fine.

Great brew, and a great introduction to the style. If you're up for a bit of sourness to your brews, give this one a go! (Grade: B+)

Beer: Blanche
Type: Hefeweizen
ABV: 5%
Swords: 2/4

As always, I poured this one into my lovely hefe glass. Why such a tall glass, you ask? Two reasons (not counting snootiness): 1) If you pour the beer correctly, which is somewhat more aggressively than you would other brews, you should get a pretty decent sized head thanks to the high-carbonation of the beer, hence the need for a tall glass, and 2) when you get a good sip, the greater surface area exposed to the air encourages the development of the nose. I'm not sure if I buy the last one, but I certainly agree that hefe's look best in these tall glasses.

As is typical for wheat beers, the beer is light golden and nearly opaque. This is because the beer is unfiltered, which allows the sediment (usually) to suspend throughout the beer. This one didn't produce too generous a head, but then again, it's a 341mL bottle. Can't expect too much.

The nose is a bit off-putting. Aside from the usual wheat beer suspects of coriander, citrus, and banana, I get a strong whiff of wheat, which I'm not liking. Wait, you say, isn't this a wheat beer? Shouldn't I detect wheat in a wheat beer? Well, yes and no. Normally, the wheat character is less-pronounced, and the delightful aromas of citrus (peach, orange, banana), coriander, cloves and lavender are allowed to lead the way. Other times, the wheat malt dominates the nose, which to me smells absolutely bad. Like a wet wheat field, really. If you've ever been in a brewery, you'll know this smell right away - it's the smell of fermenting malted grain. Strangely enough, I hate that particular smell, even though I know it leads to something truly wonderful. You might like the nose on this one, but I don't.

The taste is about the same. Starts off like a standard hefe - banana, cloves, bubblegum and spice - but finishes with a strong wheat malt kick that I'm struggling to get into. Tends to overpower the lot, and throws off the brew's balance. Fortunately, the body is really crisp and neat, with light, but thorough carbonation. (Grade: C+)

Guess I'm not digging this one, but that's okay; sometimes a brew just doesn't do it for you. I just find the wheat malt flavor almost vegetable-like, which is making getting through Blanche a struggle. I guess this one doesn't really support my 'Quebec beer is awesome' argument, but I wouldn't be 'fair and balanced' by providing only positive reviews. I didn't like this one, and I'm honest about it. Moreover, just because a country produces wicked brews, doesn't mean it can't produce the odd dud, like this disaster from Belgium:

Finish on a high note, already!

Beer: Rousse
Type: Amber Lager
ABV: 5%
Swords: 3/4

My favorite of the bunch!

A brilliant ruby-copper hue, about a 1/2 of head with great staying power. Lots of flecky lacing.

Nose is malty with notes of hops and caramel. A bit of bread in there as well. Surprisingly complex for a red lager.

I must admit, it took me a good five sips to understand this brew, but I must say we got acquainted quite nicely. Starts off with a malty, caramel flavour and finishes earthy and slightly bitter. Very subtle notes of cherry or peach, with a bit of biscuit as well. The bitterness lingers on the tongue for a satisfying finish.

Mouthfeel is slightly watery, with light carbonation.

A surprisingly robust red, chock full of flavor. Just about the right complexity to make for a decent session drinker. (Grade: B+)

- A great little sample pack, certainly enjoyable. I'm a big fan of the red and the black lagers, as you can see. The wheat beer was interesting, but just not something I'd pick up too often in the future. (As you can probably tell, I didn't review the blonde - I'm leaving that for another segment.) I would have loved to have sampled some of their award-winning brews, but considering the difficulty in finding a mixed pack of something other than Heineken and Rickards in Montreal, I'll happily take this - definitely will have to go to the brewery myself in the near future!

Next on my Quebec tour is the toast of Montreal, Dieu du Ciel!

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