This is one of the new Autre Chose series of Quebec brewery Unibroue, owned for some years by Sapporo of Japan, before that Ontario-based independent (it was) Sleeman, before that local interests in Quebec. The brewery has been operating for some 30 years now.
Its calling card has been strong Belgian-style ales and the wit style, the basic unflavoured Blanche de Chambly and many fruited iterations, from apple to elderberry.
Unibroue has navigated successfully the trying routes of the beer trek. Despite moving to international ownership it retains its cred and buzz, not an easy feat in the craft echo chamber. This makes sense of course as beer quality has nothing to do with scale of production or the type of ownership.
It has to do with commitment to quality, which Unibroue continues to feature. Unibroue’s Québecois character too has surely helped over the years, the Europe-in-America vibe.
I left Montreal for Toronto a few years before Unibroue was founded but have followed it closely from the beginning. Unlike much of the beer community, despite the evident quality as mentioned, my interest has been limited.
The reason is the brewery has stressed Belgian yeast character from the beginning, which lends a certain sameness to the beers.* Indeed I feel that way about Belgian ales as such: saison, Trappist, golden, dubbel, tripel, IPA and stout made there, etc.
Most to my mind have a similar taste even where spices or fruits are used. I’ve never quite understood why the buzzy fashion factor endures.**
However, Unibroue has two exceptions to its longstanding “Belgian” orientation: a mass-market-styled “U” line, with a red ale (Rousse) and Blonde as the main beers, and the more recent and characterful Autre Chose series (“Something Else”).
The beer shown is one of the new line, which also features a couple of IPAs, hazy and clear. I suspect the series will grow in years to come. It’s a good move, as using a different yeast alone puts the beers on a different vector and will attract new (and old) fans.
Rousse de Pointe-à-Corbeau is more heavily hopped than the earlier U Rousse, with a delicious natural beer taste, There is malt sweetness but not too much, a zest from the yeast type chosen, and no gritty-earthy taste from the colouring malt used, which many craft Viennas feature.
I look forward to trying the IPLs mentioned when I can find them.
*In my opinion, that is. The clovey, raisin/figgy note.
**There are always exceptions and the St-Feuillien line, some of it, is a stylish take on Belgian brewing. I’ve been impressed as well recently by some Chimay Trappist, which seems more nuanced and interesting than in the past. To be sure Flanders red, the lambic family, and some wit also stand apart, by their nature.