There are a lot of examples in sport and in Hollywood of complete mastery of a skill. In just about every version of Robin Hood there’s a moment in the archery contest where Robin manages to not only hit the bullseye, but also split the arrow of whichever poor hapless Sherwoodian jabronie he happens to be up against. You’ve seen the trope before. Whether it’s the Waco Kid squeezing off a shot and blowing up the fake version of Rock Ridge from miles away or making the Kessel run in under twelve parsecs, it’s clear that the regular rules don’t apply in some cases. My favourite version is a possibly apocryphal story about Gretzky; When asked about an impossible slapshot he had scored on he claimed with his typical modesty that he had just had to turn the puck sideways in midair.
This kind of legendary status doesn’t get started without reason. At Bar Volo in Toronto, people talk in hushed tones about Dieu Du Ciel. You hear things:
-Peche Mortel is made with so much coffee that people have been known not to be able to fall asleep after consuming a whole bottle.
-If you’re going to visit the brew pub you should probably get there when it opens because the tables are jammed from three in the afternoon until three in the morning.
-Jean-Francois and Stefan beat the devil in a brewing contest and were awarded a solid gold mash tun.
I don’t know for certain how these rumours get started. I myself have been accused of having an illicit affair with the girl on the label of the Aphrodisiaque bottle. Well, sure there have been longing looks and the occasional crying jag, but this is Montreal, not a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel packed densely with magical realism. Which is, in many ways, a shame.
Aside from a brief jaunt to the brew pub during Mondial last year, I had never been. At the time I visited they were getting ready for an evening of Japanese beers and the rumour about the place being packed wall to wall with people was borne out. Today I bought into the lore and decided to show up when they opened. I’m not sure that I can claim that it was an average day for them. After all, they’re putting on their best products in order to impress the beer nerds who will descend upon them like a swarm of ravenous red nosed locusts tomorrow. I had six ounce samples of the following things and I jotted down some thoughts:
Deesse Nocturne – I’m pretty sure that this is the Aphrodisiaque Stout, but without the cocoa and vanilla. I had this first and I have to say that it’s probably the best stout at this percentage of alcohol that I’ve ever tried. It’s thick and creamy and there would probably be a prolonged Quiet Man style fistfight over it if you dropped a keg off in a pub in Barrytown. I earnestly worried that this first beer might be the best of the week.
Bohemian Lager – This was offered on cask and tap, so I opted to taste them side by side. I would wax rhapsodic about it, but that’s the kind of cheap joke I’m trying to avoid. The tap version is bright and flavorful and a good deal hoppier than I had expected from the style. The cask version was less filtered resulting in some protein haze and the yeast character was a lot more pronounced. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen cask lager before, since Volo mostly has ales on cask. I do know that ale drinkers tend to decry things that are pale and fizzy. This was neither.
Barbarossa Roggenbier – My only experience with rye beers on tap have been versions from Ontario. One was a Mill Street product and the other was brewed at TAPS in Niagara Falls. I remember Kevin from TAPS telling me at the time that it’s a hard style to brew because of the beta-glucan content of rye as a fermentable grain. If beer is liquid bread, this beer is a loaf of Bavarian farmer’s rye but without the rusk flavour you sometimes get. I don’t know enough about the style that I can claim it’s a perfect example, but it’s probably closer to the platonic ideal of a Rye Beer than anything I’ve tried before.
Caserne 30 - I had just tried four beers that were pretty exceptional and then I discovered that they were brewing styles I had never even heard of. This is a Bavarian style smoked wheat beer. I had tried Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier, but this is an entirely different beast. It’s definitely an attention grabber. Up until this point I had been taking a sip of whatever I was sampling and then reading the newspaper or talking in crippled albeit cheery French with the bartender. This beer caused cognition of anything else to cease. I would take a sip and then attempt to read a paragraph and then throw down the paper and stare at the glass in disbelief. I’m not sure if there’s a term for irrational anger caused by extraordinary quality, but it’s about time we had one.
I paid up and tried to leave, but then two things happened. First, the bartender decided that I must be a bona fide beer nerd after I asked about hop varieties and started giving me things to try. Second, the Mothers of Invention album Overnite Sensation came over the stereo system. There was a Japanese tea flavoured beer which paired with Camarillo Brillo; By the time I finished the sample of Peche Mortel we were just about done with Dinah Moe Humm (a song which can be accurately if dishonestly described as being a study in gender relations and interpersonal gamesmanship).
I have come to the conclusion that the reputation is completely deserved. They seem to be able to do exactly what they want in terms of brewing completely to style. They’re not only splitting arrows, they’re banking them off the castle wall from several hundred yards out. For me, it was the Caserne 30 that proved it. I have never had a smoked weizen before. I may never see another one elsewhere. It doesn’t matter though because I can’t imagine how the Dieu Du Ciel version could be improved upon. Game over, man.
I returned to my hotel room and managed to prove at least one of the legends about Dieu du Ciel incorrect. There is not nearly enough coffee in the Peche Mortel to prevent me taking a prolonged snooze. It’s important to rest up. After all, tomorrow is Saison day.