i am not typically a fan of “strong beers”¹, which is unfortunate both because Québec is a real shangri-la of such things², and because once you start really getting into beer, you inevitably run up against the reality that a lot of -good- beers are also -strong- beers, and that people who make beer or care about beer are going to want to share their good strong beers with you; and matters of personal taste aside, one does not want to come across as a fool, ingrate, or philistine.
that said, i like dark, terrifying beers. cryptic and opaque and impenetrable beers, even. and sometimes these are also strong beers. so when i came across ISSEKI NICHÓ, Dieu du Ciel’s “Imperial Dark Saison”, despite its 9.5% abv and my first reaction being WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?, i decided to pick it up. apparently isseki nichó is a japanese expression meaning something equivalent to “two birds with one stone,” and the beer is made roughly stout fashion, but using saison yeasts and hops grown in Shiga Kougen, Japan. it is the product of a collaboration between DDC and Shiga Kougen brewery, and is pretty much as international as fuck as you can get (Japanese + QC brewers making a British/Belgian hybrid). luckily is is also pretty good, and does not taste like an ill-advised and incoherent mish-mash of styles, which is often what i find with some of the wilder experiments of the brewing world (let’s not even talk about Dogfish Head’s Ta Henket za’atar beer).
while it’s certainly a rich, dark, malt-driven beer, with a burnt caramel thing going on, it’s surprisingly dry at the same time, and there’s a good bitterness (which is absolutely essential to my enjoying a beer like this) that cuts through, and even a bit of funky saison rankness in there somewhere. like sour fruit lurking underneath it all. it reminds me in a way of that incomparable (apparently quite comparable, as i am comparing it right now) bitter-sweetness of a short, thick espresso corretto with some kind of booze that is not in itself sweet, but which appears all the more so for those notes being thrown into sharper relief by the blackness of the coffee.
in the interest of comparison (yes, comparison; it is purely professionalism that is compelling me to drink alone at home on a sunday evening), i opened a bottle of DDC’s Pénombre Black IPA, which i have thoroughly enjoyed on tap, but is as i understand it is new to the bottled line. in a way, although far less sweet and substantially hoppier than the Isseki Nichó, the Pénombre tastes a little less balanced – and perhaps suffers a little from the perils (quite considerable in my opinion) of being a 6.5% IPA, the malt and bitterness not quite finding the best way to play off or with one another, resulting in a beer that is just a little too aggressive, but an aggression born of uncertainty, even anxiety. i don’t know whether this is due to the immediate contrast with the Isseki Nichó, or has to do with the exigencies of bottling, but i definitely prefer the Pénombre on tap.
in any case, it is winter, and these are some winter beers, which reminds me that i am long overdue for a good solid drink & hang at Dieu du Ciel, particularly given my dissatisfaction with the direction Cheval Blanc‘s brewing appears to have taken since the summer. and looking at DDC’s current tap menu, there is much to explore, and what better way to take advantage of the upcoming sheer-visceral-panic inducing frigidity that Montréal winters are so adept at providing?
file these under Beers That Taste Like 2:26min On Of Immortal’s “Rise of Darkness”.
¹in fact, the discovery of tart, weird, low-alcohol beers, such as Bellwoods‘ muggleweisse sour brown, and various farmhouse saisons, was unquestionably the high point of my (beer) drinking life in 2012. (Bellwoods brewery in Toronto is, in my opinion, one of the most exciting microbreweries in Canada right now. more on them in the future, i hope.)
² i mean, it’s also a real stinking tire-fire of such things. i remain staunch in my opinion that 80% of the beer Unibroue makes just tastes like barley malt, molasses and old bomber jackets.