Hopfenstark is a brewery 30 miles outside of Montreal in Quebec, Canada, which has built up a nice reputation amongst beer nerds for offering a wide selection of distinctive beers and sticking to their guns when it comes to style and flavor — basically, the brewer Fred does what he wants, and that’s just the kind of brewery that Brew Dog Blog loves. There were a few NYC events with these guys last week, so luxuriating in the ability to choose which I attended, I opted to go down to Beer Table because I hadn’t been there in a while, and its the closest to my rather far flung homestead.
When I showed up I was pleasantly surprised to learn that minds behind 12 Percent Imports ( who I raved about here ) were behind bringing Hopfenstark into the city, and more than just a “tasting,” this was the celebration of the beer being available in NYC now — very cool. We don’t get much great Canadian beer down here, and as I made my way through the list, I was pleasantly surprised by everything I tried. Hopfenstark has a real knack with differentiating his beers from each other, and for not going too deeply into one “category” of beers to the point where other categories suffer. Each beer had distinctions that led themselves to their styles — varying carbonation levels, varying means of fermentation and yeasts, lots of varying flavors. I’ll give a brief rundown here of some of those selections, and will add, as usual — DRINK THIS BEER! It’s fantastic.
Blanche De L’Ermitage ( 5.0% ABV Witbier ) – After completely overdoing the Witbier thing last year, and drinking an insane amount of Schneider-Weisse, it’s been kinda hard for me to drink Wheat Beers lately. Hopfenstark’s Blanche De L’Ermitage, however, defied all of my expectations by providing a very unique and interesting drinking experience. This is the beer that really had me praising the brewer’s tenacity and talent — this is a very rustic, not very integrated beer, but that doesn’t bother me at all. It had all of the right peppery, spicey notes without overwhelming the banana (in fact it was barely present) and the spiciness and fullness of flavor kept it very drinkable, while finishing very dry and keeping you coming back for more. Maybe the most “Saisonish” Witbier I’ve tried, with nice brisk carbonation, a tendency toward the browner side of the spectrum, and overwhelmingly exploding with flavor and aroma from spices. Awesome.
Post Coloniale ( 6.0% ABV American IPA ) – After seeing a big list of Saisons, I was excited to see styles like Porter and IPA represented as well. The Post Coloniale is one of the “roughest,” most rustic IPAs I’ve ever had, and while I hate to keep harping on that term, there is a certain aggressive quality with these beers which tend toward representing all of the ideas the beer has to offer without much concern for balance or other typical designations of “quality” which I never really care about anyway. An American IPA with a French Canadian via Belgium twist, the Post Coloniale is a cloudy, intensely flavored beer with a very nice melange of hop aromas. There’s not an overwhelming amount of bitterness present, whcih supports a nice malt backbone and is dried out by a low finishing gravity and a very nice piney, citrusy note at the end of the sip. A little bit difficult to explain, but a very interesting brew, Post Coloniale is a glimpse into what other Saison Producing breweries might do if faced with the task of making an IPA, where the hops become as much of a spice as anything else. Very nice.
Loulou Porter ( 5.0% ABV Porter)- A very delicious selection on cask, the Loulou had the perfect amount of carbonation, roastiness, and sweetness to make it one of the best new porters I’ve sampled in a very long time. A nice Mapley nose is complemented with a similar initial flavor on the tongue, which dries out and makes this a very drinkable beer. Not an overwhelming amount of chocolatey or bitter notes keeps the affair very smooth, and this dark, almost still beer could be a huge winner to replace any number of flavorless, bubbless beers anywhere in the United Kingdom, but I’d be happy to keep it all for my own. By this point in the night, I’m very “warm.” Let’s keep going.
Brewer Fred brought in a small quantity of a few bottles which he brought down for the events, and this included 3 Saisons, named with different numbers, for different reasons. I’ll break down the two I tried:
Saison Station 7 ( 5.0% ABV Saison ) – Thusly named because it is “made with 7 spices,” Saison Station 7 actually kind of refutes the points I made above about rustic, unbalanced beers and produces a mixture of spices, wild yeast, and malt that is one of the most complex and interesting Saisons I’ve had from outside of Belgium, or anywhere. After pouring a ruddy orange color with a lot of bubbles, the nose has a good amount of spice and interesting yeast notes, and as you sip the beer, more spices poke out at you — is there Ginger? Coriander? Peppercorns? Some other traditional Witbier spicing? Or none of these? I’m not sure what the 7 spices are, but the soup is improved, as opposed to being too muddied up with all of that flavor. A true Saison that is produced seasonally and just with whatever the brewer has around, Station 7 is an awesome selection.
Saison Station 55 ( 6.5% ABV Saison ) – Station 55 gets its appelation from containing 55 IBUs, and this awesome, bitter Saison is one of my favorite selections of the whole night. Similar in color and carbonation level to the 7. Station 55 marries the spicy yeast notes from the Saison yeast with the herbal, spicy, and citrusy flavors from the hops, creating an awesome marraige of classic Belgian and West Coast USA flavors, in a package with a hint of wild yeast, a hint of spice, and a hell of a lot of complex drinkability. Another score.
I’m interested to see when this beer will be around NYC more regularly, and whether we’ll get bottles, kegs, or both. I’m going to make it a point to try all of them — and I recommend you do the same.