Beer Review 0576: Dieu du Ciel! Solstice d’hiver Barleywine

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Dieu du Ciel! is a Canadian brewery, based in Saint-Jérôme, Quebec. They have a production facility there, and also run a brewpub in downtown Montreal. Open since 1998, the calling card of the brewery seems to be exploration in many different styles with a nod toward innovation and character.

Dieu du Ciel! have an impressive catalog of beers, and you should check out their website for a complete list. Normally, my town doesn’t see distribution of Dieu du Ciel!, but today’s beer, Solstice d’hiver, recently appeared on shelves in a few bottle shops.

Solstice d’hiver (Winter Solstice) is a Barleywine brewed near the end of summer. The brewery lets the beer age for a few months to balance out before shipping in late December, making it a winter seasonal. Based on the description Dieu du Ciel! give, this seems to be an American-style Barleywine, as they note significant hops — but, then they dose in English ale yeast. The beer comes in at 10.2% ABV (alcohol by volume) and was first produced at the Montreal brewpub in December of 1998.

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The pour looked fairly typical as Barleywines go — this one produced a small, soapy, fast diminishing eggshell white head. The beer was a rusty amber color, but when held to light turned a nice ruby red; you’ll also notice a light amount of particles and sediment floating about in the bright light. The body is cloudy, with the bottle saying the brew is unfiltered. Lacing was good, leaving behind thin patches of suds.

On the nose, there’s very sweet caramel malt mixed with faded grapefruit and pine. The malt bill is complex and fairly subtle, issuing up some sweet breads, toffee, burnt sugar, and molasses. As it warms, dark/dried fruit notes begin to emerge, especially cherry and prune.

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The taste starts good things cracking immediately, with a blanket layer of burnt sugary caramel, and a dash of pine and grapefruit for a little balance. This continues to the middle, which brings about some soft bready notes coupled with cherries; the finish kicks you with a full hit of the 10.2% ABV, but there are flavors of grape, dried fruit, and pine underneath all that bitterness. Coupled with the alcohol, the heavy bitterness makes this one a touch medicinal and hard to finish. Solstice d’hiver is full-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

Remember how I said this beer was aged a few months before release? Well, you can tell — and in my opinion, it’s kind of for the worse. I love hoppy Barleywines, but they are at peak performance when fresh. I also like malty Barleywines, but they are at peak when the hops are at a minimum, or at least in a very minor, supporting role. This beer is right in the middle, and it just doesn’t seem like everything has melded together as it should. Yet. I’d be interested to revisit in a few months, but in this current state, I’m done after just a few ounces.

Dieu du Ciel! Solstice d’hiver Barleywine, 84 points. Price: $2.99 US for one 11.5 oz. bottle.

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