A Canadian spring is a fickle creature and just as changeable – so it makes sense to approach with caution. It’s nice to do a slow decompression from a longer than recently typical winter and instead of rushing into “summer” beers, an amber (or red) seemed an appropriate ‘next step.’
I have to say, one of the beers I most loved before discovering the American IPA was a good “bitter,” which is a type of English ale specifically noteworthy for it’s hoppiness. In that class, the “amber” or “red” beer is not uncommon and would reflect the specific qualities of the malts being used.
I’m by no means an expert in English ales or bitters but I’ve drank a good many of them, that is for sure. So if I was to generalize, I’d say that many of them have balanced flavour profiles which don’t exaggerate one particular quality; many are pretty easy drinking with wonderful subtleties; and I’d say that many of these English exports (of those I’ve tried) tend to have moderate alcohol contents which allow for their easy flow and allow communities to hang out in pubs and drink long enough to complete a full conversation.
I generalize, I know, but you get the point.
All this is relevant because La Barberie’s example of “red” bitter conforms well to the stereotype.
Open the bottle and the yeasts confirm at once the sur lies method; a pour, reveals a tight but full carbonation that produces a beautiful rich head (which for all it’s activity and volume, disappears rather quickly); and the colour is a beautiful dark, almost brown, amber. What surprised me is that for a beer that is sur lies, the beer is crystal clear and a gem in the light.
A small taste provides a good mouthful of umami, some definite caramel, a faint bit of berry (cassis? blueberry?) that is more a supporting cast than anything. All in all, I would say the front end is unpronounced and definitely not in your face and so nothing stops you from taking a larger quaff and feeling the ample carbonation that fills the mouth … a carbonation that almost hides the thinness of the mid-taste. I’m not necessarily diss’ing the beer here, but it is watery by American IPA standards (which it is not) but this not untypical for an English bitter and since it calls itself an English ale, you could say it hits the mark well. Where the beer really sells me, though, is when the rich creamy bitters launch out of this mid-taste and emerge strong and proud for the aftertaste which is dry and well-balanced. But for all the length of the bitters in the mouth, they are not overpowering. It’s a nice effect.
I don’t know that this is necessarily going to make converts out of those that don’t like bitters – as I say, it is still quite bitter and the malts aren’t overly sweet as say a Fuller’s ESB might taste, though Fullers is a good point of comparison. La Barberie’s example, however, has more spunk and personality to it which makes it a clearly interpreted N. American version of an English style.
Personally, I’d better appreciate this beer if it had another percent or so of alcohol to give it a bit more strength and depth. I don’t think the flavour structure is enough to hold off all the water; having said that, the hops are phenomenal and definitely make this a great beer for many a summer day and worth a taste.
Stats: Brown IPA. 4.5% ABV, Saint-Roch (Quebec City), Quebec.
Colour: Dark amber
Mouth Feel: Medium-high carbonation.
Pairing Notes: Roast chicken; poutine with chicken gravy