I’ve had some amazing beers from Microbrasserie Charlevoix including their Milk Stout (reviewed here) which was one of the highlights of 2013.
So when I saw their double IPA (aka “imperial” IPA), I was sold without a whisper. After all, I love my DIPAs (double IPAs) also known as imperial IPAs: they’re big and they’re bold. You read more on them in my of Garrison’s interpretation of the style. But what about Charlevoix? Would they produce a solid entry as well?
Before I tell you the answer, there is one important element to note as you will read on the back label of the beer: “Our Vache Folle Palisade Double India Pale Ale is one more step in our research on mono-varietal hopped beer.” In other words, it’s their quest to do for hops what whisky makers have done for the single-malt. Intriguing, to say the least. What I really liked about the proposition is their guts to experiment, share, and in turn educate. After all, if you’re a beer drinker trying to figure out the different flavour profiles of hop varietals, it’s tough to do when they so consistently appear as a ‘blend’ in the different beers. Hard to nail down, then, the difference between a cascade vs. a palisade hop taste outside of paying a visit to a brewer’s cellar.
How does this single-hop product do? Well, the unfiltered brew pours perfectly, a perfect apricot-jam amber with that gorgeous thick shaving-foam head. Off the nose there is a lot going on, a lot of earthiness overall with the roasted malts prevailing over the grassiness of the hops. Definitely some sour dough in there as well and maybe even a bit of raisin bread (odd, perhaps, but it makes sense if you think about it) … and definitely some alcohol which at 9% is hardly a surprise. Remember that because there is no hiding it.
So there in lies one of the defining characteristics of this palisade-based DIPA – even with a west-coast hop, this doesn’t remotely smell west-coast. Those tropical, citrusy aromas that are so tell-tale in most American pale ales … isn’t part of the structure of this beer. Indeed, for a DIPA, this doesn’t smell like a DIPA.
In the mouth, well, that’s where the magic happens. The first “first taste” was “bam” and I mean “bam” like someone hiding in the closet and jumping out as you come in the front door: it was not what I was expecting. The alcohol was like a two-by-four piece of lumber across the tongue and the malts, slightly sweet, just reinforced this. However, put a few more tastes in and two-by-four was replaced by an amazing buttery texture (read: excellent diacetyls). On the tongue, well, it’s not very hoppy or IPA-like … but that’s not necessarily bad. What it most certainly is is surprising. I’m ok with surprise, especially when it helps me to grow. But what it requires is a suspension of beliefs, an openness to ‘new’ and a willingness to learn.
I will say, this is a more challenging beer to distill flavours, but there is certainly citrus and lemon rind in the mouth, an almost ‘fragrant’ taste, like you’d associate with a Meyer lemon. Part of the challenge in distilling the elements of the taste is that seemless rush from alcohol to start to butter in the middle … both of which make it hard to pull off flavours. As such, this beer is oddly easy drinking … oddly balanced … oddly hard to remark that it tastes like X. Intriguing stuff, to say the least.
And the best part is the best part of any DIPA … that is the bitters that start like the labour of a duck stuck in the water as it tries to take flight: your tongue will be frantically trying to free itself of the the mid-waters of taste before it takes flight into a fully satisfying cleanse of bitters at the end. Some astringency to close, but not enough to detract.
Overall, this is a beer for serious beer drinkers, for people who like beer, who like the elements, and who want to learn and explore. It’s not an everyday beer and, as a limited edition, it’s not going to become one anyway. I strongly recommend to all of you hop heads and aficionados, get a bottle or two and have some fun. I did … like a laughing cow.
Stats: Double IPA. 9% ABV, Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec.
Colour: Apricot-jam (light copper) amber (unfiltered)
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation, incredibly creamy middle with a strong bitter finish.
Purchased: Bières du Monde
Pairing Notes: n/a