Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Quaff Review #8: Route des épices

I know it's been a long time since I've done one of these; almost a year, in fact. I've not forgotten these drink reviews, and I've not become some kind of teetotaler - the simple fact is that I thought that there was a possibility that some people might find it objectionable for a candidate for Mayor of Toronto to be reviewing alcoholic beverages on his weblog. Not that it's much when put against, say, an arrest for drunk driving and marijuana possession in Florida, but I never saw a reason to stick my neck out when there wasn't any need for it.

As I'm no longer a candidate for that office, I see no reason to hold back on any further investigation of the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. On with a review of a brew I've never encountered before, Route des épices ("Spice Route") from Brasserie Dieu du Ciel ("God of Heaven Brewery") in Montréal (Montreal). This is a fairly recent arrival, it seems, at the LCBO, but welcome. I've realized that while LCBO stores tend to have a good selection of obscure foreign brews as well as Ontario microbrews, there is not that much in terms of beer from the rest of Canada. A trip to a BC Liquor outlet in Vancouver a few months ago brought it home; there were plenty of varieties there I'd never seen.

My last encounter with Québecois beer was, aside from the political kitsch value, pretty pedestrian - but who am I to turn away from a new and intriguing microbrew? There were several different brews from Dieu du Ciel on offer in the LCBO at Scrivener Square, but Route des épices - $2.95 CDN plus applicable taxes - was the one I chose first, simply because it promised the freshest experience. Why? Very simple.

It is rye beer, brewed with peppercorn. My personal experience with peppercorns goes no farther than gravy, and frequently I would pick them out of it one-by-one. Not the sort of thing you'd expect to find in a beer - but then, French culture is responsible for many such culinary breakthroughs. Frog's legs, for instance, or escargot.

As I poured it, there was nothing unusual about the smell of it, but its body was dark and seemed just a bit viscous as it flowed out the bottle. It was properly chilled, and when I took my first sip, I was stunned for a moment - it took me a few seconds to think of a way to describe it. Route des épices is is spicy, sure, but it's a cold spice with a bit of a bite, as if someone dumped the contents of a pepper shaker in with the barley and hops. There was no real aftertaste but an aftersensation, a very slight burning at the back of my throat from the peppercorns. The sensation encouraged me to sip even more than I usually do.

It didn't lessen with time, either. On the contrary - as the beer warmed the spice stayed as potent as it always was, but without the chill to balance it out it didn't take long for me to lose my taste for it. Sad to say that I ultimately dumped the last finger or two of it down the drain, but for me, cold beer is something that can't be nursed. Aside from Guinness, I can't really think of a beer that would be better warm than cold.

Route des épices didn't strike me as a "relaxation" beer, the sort you crack open at the end of a long day at work to try and let some of your stress evaporate before you sleep - I buy sixes of Lucky Lager for that, because it is some of the cheapest beer I can find. Instead, I'd say it's meant to be enjoyed where it was created - a brewpub, with company to drink it with and food to keep the sensation of spice from lingering past its welcome. I wouldn't necessarily buy it for home-drinking again - at least, not outside of a special occasion. Don't get me wrong; it's a good beer, and beyond that, an innovative beer. This gave me something I've never encountered before, and for that I look kindly on it.


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