Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Brewery Roundup: Brasseurs de Nord (a.k.a., Boréale)

Brasseurs du Nord is a small brewery from the town of Blainville, Quebec, which sits northwest of Montreal near the Laurentian mountains.  Most Quebeckers would probably recognize the brewery more by its alternate name, Boréale.  Founded by the Morin brothers, along with Laura Urtnowski, Brasseurs has been a presence in the Quebec microbrewing scene since the very beginning, with their first brews rolling off the shelves in 1988.   Like other breweries in the province, Brasseurs du Nord offered beers with pure barley malts and hops, eschewing the use of adjuncts.  Despite being among the initiators of the Quebec craft brewing industry, their portfolio is decidedly more conservative, and less innovative than their Montreal counterparts.   Still, the brews are pretty tasty, and offer a good introduction to the varieties of beer to the inquisitive consumer.  Their main brews - Blonde, Rousse, Blanche and Doree - are often available in a Selections mixed pack; however their distribution is generally restricted to Quebec proper, so getting your hands on some would involve a trip or trade of some kind. 

Here are my favorites from the mixed pack:

Beer: Boréale Blanche
Type: Wit
ABV: 4.2%

Nicholas Paschley, in Cheers! An Intemperate History of Beer in Canada, observes that Quebec beer labels can sometimes be a remarkably deceptive lot.  While many of them feature some of the most brilliant artwork in the craft beer world, their names are maddeningly non-specific.  For example, a beer named "rousse" can mean pretty much any kind of red beer, be it scotch ale, English Pale, American Red Lager - you name it.  "Blonde" is even worse, as it covers nearly every beer style in the 'golden-colour' spectrum.  Fortunately, "Blanche" almost always refers to wheat beers of some kind - by 'white' they mean light-coloured and unfiltered - so chances are, the brew will be a hefeweizen or Belgian witbier, this brew being an example of the latter. 

Poured into a Hoegaarden tumbler.  A straw-golden coloured brew, murky, with the pour leaving about an inch of head that seems to retain pretty well. Good lacing patches.

Nose is mild spices, coriander, citrus, and strangely, some lemon-and-herb poultry seasoning.  It's a bit off, but it's not altogether unpleasant.

As far as witbiers go, Boréale is a bit thin.  There isn't not much to this, save for an intriguing little ginger kick that's quite potent.  Not nearly as strong as in Brasseurs de Montreal's Chi Orientale, but certainly more noticeable than I have seen in other witbiers of the kind.  Since it's a witbier, the addition of extra spices, ginger included, is quite acceptable.  I also get some coriander, citrus, and some other spices as well.  Finishes dry.  The beer has a creamy, thicker-mouthfeel, with soft carbonation. Easy to quaff.

While this is certainly not a bad wheat beer, it's not altogether very good either. A cut above the usual mass-market "white" beers, and the additional ginger component is quite nice, but the rest of the flavors don't quite pop.  Still, a few of these in the summer would be welcome.  (Grade: B-)

Beer: Boréale Dorée ("golden" is the approximate translation, although I'm not sure!)
Type: Pale Ale
ABV: 4.8%
This beer is advertised as being brewed with honey, possibly during secondary fermentation or it could be much later.   I imagine this will be very sweet-tasting brew - how well the honey will be integrated into the product remains to be seen.

Poured into a nonic pint glass.  Appropriate to the name, Dorée is bright golden in colour.  The pour left a nice fluffy head that receded into a fine ring.  Some lacing, but not much.

Nose is honey, and malt.  Very one dimensional, but certainly pleasant.

Dorée does precisely what it sets out to do - its a beer that tastes like a standard pale lager brewed with honey - no more, no less.  In this regard, it has done very well for itself, and I can certainly see folks enjoying this in the summertime, especially those who enjoy 'honey brown' ales. Still, there isn't much else to this.  Honey beer, plain and simple.
Thin bodied, mild carbonation. Sweetness sticks on the tongue.

Not something I'd seek out, but certainly not something I'd turn down either. A decent-tasting beer brewed with honey. I really can't say much more about it.  Again, a few of these would be quite nice on the patio in the summer.  (Grade: C+)

Beer: Boréale Rousse
Type: Red Ale
ABV: 5%

The Rousse was Boréale's first successful brew, effectively launching the company's efforts in 1988. 

Poured into a conical Mill Street glass. Nice amber-red colour, very clear.  The pour leaves an inch of head that survives as a thin, but sturdy ring.  Some nice lacing.

Nose is caramel, malt, bread, tart hops.

A decent-tasting red ale. Certainly nothing innovative or exciting here, but what's there is tasty and easy to drink. Caramel malt, bready, nice and sweet.  Cream and caramel flavors are quite nice.   Finishes with a mild hop tang.

Moderate carbonation, slightly creamy, good mouthfeel. 

Not a bad red ale, certainly very drinkable, and a cut above some of their other stuff.  My favorite of the bunch (Grade: B-)

Decent beers all around.  Nothing scarily innovative or otherworldly, but a good variety from which to choose.  A mixed pack of Boréale would certainly be a good sampler to bring to the cottage or summer barbecue, as it gives your guests (or just yourself) some options.    Still, it would be nice for Brasseurs du Nord to expand their lineup a little bit, and to branch out into some different styles, something to differentiate their brewery somewhat. 

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