On Monday, and on what turned out to be a rather despicable day in terms of weather, it was appropriate that I decided to turn to the last winter beer I planned to review before next winter. It may not be entirely appropriate that I also decided to do a slow barbeque full for baby back ribs as well, but that’s how things turn out sometimes.
The last beer is a beer that I’ve been waiting to review for awhile now: since back in early February when we were truly in the thick of winter and I experienced this beer at the Winter Beer Festival. For those that read that recounting of events, you may recall the beer that won me and friend over that evening: a frighteningly good imperial milk stout from the Charlevoix region of Quebec. Brewed in Baie-Saint Paul, this comes from one of the best kept secrets in Canada. It profoundly perplexes me that Canadians will spend many thousands of dollars to travel to Norway to see the fjords and valleys of that country … when Canada boasts one of the most beautiful fjords in the world right here, right there in Quebec. (And I mean nothing against Norway — it’s just sad that most Canadians don’t know we have fjords in our own country.) And if the natural beauty of the Saguenay is not enough to entice you to Baie-Saint Paul, and if the whales are not enough to pull you there, and the splendid restaurants serving food pulled from the region’s very terroir and prepared with masterful skill and imagination is not enough to take you there … then the Charlevoix MicroBrasserie surely must be the final allure.
Like you, I asked myself what is a milk stout the first time I drank one. As you can see from the picture of the beer poured, there is nothing about it to suggest milkiness. Indeed, if the impenetrable dark brown of its waters are any indication, this should have nothing in common with milk in the least; and surely at 9%, this isn’t something you’d put on your cereal or give a child for dinner. The fact is that milk stout is actually made with milk where the lactose of the milk enriches the beer and offers up a supremely creamy and buttery beverage. This is because that though the lactose in the milk does offer up sugar to the beer during fermentation, the lactose — presumably caught up in other molecules like proteins that make it hard to break down — isn’t actually consumed by the yeast like other sugars and the result is a creamy and much sweeter beer of which La Vache Folle is a splendid example.
A pour of the beer, with it’s near perfect froth that lasts to the very end, sends aromas of rustic chocolate into the air along with some winter spices like anise and clove which are subtle but definitely present as they have been in most imperial stouts I’ve sampled. The aroma, however, is no mirage – the flavours are true as well with a deep, dark chocolate first on the tongue following quickly by the almost chocolate malt flavours that make this beer stupidly delicious. It is so clearly ‘right’ that I’m seriously thinking of making an ice cream with the stuff this summer — yes, I’m serious, so stay tuned if it works.
The most curious part of this beer is the bitter finish. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a wonderful finish, but since the label lists the beer at only 10 IBUs, you wouldn’t expect there to be any bitterness to this beer, let along an essence of bitterness that was pronounced at any point. However, the almost bitter-coffee aftertaste is telling. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that if it isn’t the hops making this bitter then there is something else that is … and given that it’s a stout, I’m going to guess oatmeal which is renowned for bringing an earthy bitterness to the stouts that are made with it. It may also be the specific char they got on the malts as they roasted them super dark. What it is, without this perfect ending, I’d wager this beer might start to get a bit cloying after a half-bottle … but instead, it enthrals and at risk of taking the obvious bait, if you drink this delicious beer too quickly, you may well end up the “laughing cow” drunken and tipsy on the label. There is no way you’ll detect the ridiculous alcohol levels in this beer … so be very careful and take it slow.
Stats: Imperial Milk Stout. 9% ABV, 10 IBUs. Baie-Saint Paul, Quebec.
Colour: Deep, dark brown.
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation and the creamiest of beers I’ve tasted – with huge diacetyls and an amazing malted-chocolate finish.
Purchased: Quebec (e.g. BroueHaHa)
Pairing Notes: Hard, fully ripe cheeses; chocolate ‘lava’ cake; barbequed ribs.