Beer: Péché Mortel Brewery: Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! Style: Imperial Stout ABV: 9.5 percent
While much ado is made about brews from 'Merica, it should be noted that the craft beer revolution is underway abroad as well. Canada, notably, has moved past its macro exports like Labatt and Molson's to deliver renowned breweries like Unibroue, Les Trois Mousqetaires and Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! to American shelves. It's the latter beer-maker from America's northern neighbor that we focus on today.
Dieu du Ciel! is a tiny brewpub located just at the edge of Montrèal. It's helmed by Jean-François Gravel, a brewer who, though relatively young and lacking in any formal training, has nonetheless wowed all of North America with his flavorful creations. "Dieu du Ciel!" is apparently a common exclamation in the French-Canadian city, where locals have a penchant for the profane. It translates to "God in Heaven!", as in, "Dieu du Ciel, this beer is making sex to my face with flavor!"
The sinners spouting the phrase above are probably drinking Péché Mortel, Dieu du Ciel!'s "imperial stout au cafe." Brewed with vast amounts of fair trade coffee, this black, bitter beast was born in the Montreal brewpub in October 2001. Péché Mortel is French for "Mortal Sin," one of the more grievous acts recognized in the Catholic faith. As opposed to venial sins -- which can be absolved with a couple dozen "Hail Mary's" and a few extra dollars in the offering plate -- mortal sins sever the link between a person and God For. Ev. Ver. Eternal damnation for drinking this beer, though? Worth it.
As you pour Péché Mortel into a snifter, notice first the menacing appearance -- an unbelievably dark brown, topped with a tight khaki head that deposits sticky, lattice-like lacing. Notice second the aroma, which is actually more barbecue than coffee shop. I know this was brewed with coffee, but if I didn't, I'd be inclined to call it a rauchbier. Aromas of charcoal, dark chocolate, burnt wood, bacon, sweet cotton candy and bitter espresso are all there, and in that order of descending prominence.
(Quick side note: coffee beers like Péché Mortel do contain caffeine, though not as much as you'd think. Michigan's Founders Brewing Co. has done research on its delightful Breakfast Stout and found that each bottle has 5-10 percent the caffeine content of a cup of coffee. Péché Mortel probably doesn't contain much more, so unless you're fairly sensitive to caffeine, it's a safe nightcap.)
Caffeine content has nothing to do with coffee flavor, however -- this brew drinks like a chocolate-covered coffee bean. As the nearly creamy liquid moves about the mouth, smoky bacon, sweet cotton candy, earthy hops and dark chocolate all reveal themselves. Waves of espresso eventually hit at the back of the mouth, way after the swallow, but once the beans are there, they don't leave for quite a while. A nice, enduring aftertaste that's enhanced by the muted, light and lovely carbonation. Give the beer a chance to warm (if you can) and the espresso-like flavors emerge even more.
Péché Mortel is bottle-conditioned (meaning live yeast continue to develop flavor in each and every bottle) and made in small batches -- no more than 50 cases at a time, only three or four times a year. It was the first beer Dieu du Ciel! put in bottles, the first to arrive in the U.S., and is still the best they make.
Canada: not just America's hat.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.