We’ve waited nearly 8 months for this day to arrive. Back in late November / Early December 2014, when we were gearing up to feature Unibroue as BREWERY OF THE MONTH for January 2015, we originally made the request to BrewView La Résolution, Noire de Chambly, Blonde de Chambly, and Raftman. In our video, “A Conversation with Unibroue’s Master Brewer“, the video that posted at our You Tube page on December 22nd shows a picture of the 4 beers we WERE going to BrewView at the 21:22 minute mark:
However, at the last minute Master Brewer Jerry Vietz (in his wisdom) decided to switch out the Raftman for the 17 GRANDE RÉSERVE – MILLÉSIME 2014. We both agreed that Belgian Beer Journal would offer a BrewView on Raftman at a later date. Our patience pays off…
From the very beginning, Unibroue has carved out a special niche in the beer world with top quality products and a brand rooted deep in Quebec culture. It made history by becoming the first North American beer maker to use a brewing method inspired by the two-centuries-old tradition developed by Trappist monks in Europe—particularly in Belgium. Over the years, Unibroue has remained faithful to its origins even as it has grown to become an icon of the brewing world. Unibroue products take you on a journey filled with legends and fabulous tales. (Source: Unibroue)
Unibroue was founded by business partners André Dion and Serge Racine who had acquired 75% of La Brasserie Massawippi Inc. of Lennoxville in 1990. The two purchased the remainder of the shares at the end of 1991 when they transferred their interest in La Brasserie Massawippi Inc. to Unibroue.
By 1992, La Brasserie Massawippi Inc. became a wholly owned subsidiary of Unibroue. Afterward, it changed its corporate name to Brasserie Broubec Inc. and in July 1993 merged with Unibroue. It was bought by Canadian brewer, Sleeman Breweries Ltd., in 2004. Sleeman, in turn, was purchased in 2006 by Sapporo. Unibroue’s beers are distributed globally. (Source: Wikipedia)
In 2007, Unibroue promoted Jerry Vietz as its brewmaster. Jerry brings a wealth of technical and practical knowledge to the company. He joined the brewery in 2003, and began to work on such projects as R&D and automation. He also holds a certificate in Brewing and Malting from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a Diploma in Brewing (Institute of Brewing & Distilling U.K.).
As Director of the Brewing Department and Brew Master, he has been responsible for all aspects of Unibroue’s brewing department, including among others, process optimization, staff management, planning, maintenance, maintaining and improving quality standards, and ensuring the consistency of the liquid. He has also been in charge of new liquid development since 2007.
Jerry states, “I’m very passionate about fermentation in general. I’m not afraid to mix all kinds of stuff, to try new things. I’ve had the chance to experiment with a wide range of raw materials. I really believe that anything that contains carbohydrates can turn into something very interesting when it goes through the fermentation process, depending on the way you manage it. Each cereal, fruit, or sugar has a different profile and they need to be processed and managed differently in order to get a liquid with the desired characteristics.
I tell people I make “flavorful beers”—that’s the category I brew. For me, the important thing is to express myself through the beer. I brew with passion and I hope that people take as much pleasure to taste my beer as I have to create them!” (Source: Unibroue)
BEER STYLE AND COMMERICAL DESCRIPTION FROM UNIBROUE
Style category: Peat smoked whisky malt ale
Unibroue introduced Raftman to the Québec market in March 1995. This coral-hued beer has a unique taste that combines the smooth character of smoked malt whisky with the flavors of fine yeast. With this product, Unibroue commemorates the legendary courage of the lumberjacks and log drivers of yesteryear. During their long months away from home, these hardworking men would get together and settle their differences over beer and whisky, which are both made with malted barley. Unibroue had a great idea when it decided to bring the two together…
OUR BREWVIEW OF UNIBROUE’S RAFTMAN
APPEARANCE / THE POUR:
5.5 % ABV. Poured into the signature Unibroue tulip-shaped tasting glass, and served at 50°F. Pours a light to medium amber, orangish color, with a SRM value of 10. The white colored head pours an easy 3-finger height, and has a rocky, almost cotton ball like density with small and large bubbles. (We seem to keep writing the same descriptive about the head for the Unibroue beers, and that’s a good thing!) As the head collapses, the Brussels lacing it leaves behind is thick and even sheeted. (We ensured this was a “Beer Clean” glass). We purposely allowed some time for the head to collapse to witness this, before even taking the first sip. If you put your ear to the beer, it has that signature, gentle sparkle.
The meniscus is medium rising. There is a very gentle champagne-like bubbling throughout the beer. There was a yeast haze to the beer, due to the bottle conditioning. Unibroue beers are known for their great head retention, and nearly 7 minutes later, it still held a 1/2 inch head. The rim color variation is a lighter, pale gold in color. In our second glass refill, the beer was around 57° – 59° F, and still managed to recreate a dense 3-finger height head as with the original first pour as seen in the picture.
Unibroue is very big on making sure that the yeast in the bottle is distributed throughout the pouring of the beer into the glass. For an illustration of their “pouring ritual”, visit this link.
AROMA / BOUQUET:
Smokiness / slight woodiness meets red delicious apple skin. Fresh yeast, gentle caramel. There are some light pepper notes in the background. The smokiness from the peat smoked malt reminded us a smelling a distant campfire- now that brings back good memories!
As with our BrewViews on all the Unibroue beers, we performed the Unibroue pouring ritual (rousing up the yeast from the bottom of the bottle before even opening it), and still were not able to extract all the yeast, until more of the beer was out of the bottle- the yeast is very resilient! When we finally were able to “shake” the yeast out from the bottom of the bottle and pour it into the glass, the beer (of course) became super cloudy, and the smoke and apple aromas intensified- around the same temperatures listed above- 57° – 59° F.
The initial taste is a light toastiness / slight woodiness from the whisky malts, then followed by burnt caramel and apples. There is faint pepperiness in the background from the yeast phenols. There is a very mild hop bitterness in the overall flavor profile. This is a very complex, and not an easy beer to describe taste wise. As mentioned above with the aroma / bouquet component, as we poured the yeast into the beer from the bottom of the bottle, (and as the beer warmed up) the flavors intensified. This is again, another one of the Unibroue beers whose flavors evolve and improve during consumption time.
MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
Medium bodied, the effervescence upon first sip hits the very tip of the tongue. It then hits the sides and the back of the mouth. The drinkability factor is very high, which makes this an extremely sessionable beer. The finish has a peat smoked malt, apple skin fruit, with a gentle hop dryness, and slightly sharp. The balance between the smokiness, maltiness, and the carbonic bite is excellent.
FOOD PAIRING SUGGESTIONS:
Here are links to food recipes from Unibroue’s website using RAFTMAN:
BEER COCKTAIL USING RAFTMAN
We are glad that we actually waited to try this beer for the first time- it certainly did not disappoint!
At this point, RAFTMAN is only available in the Canadian market. Although Unibroue’s website mentions that the beer is available as a seasonal release in the US market, it is not released here annually. The last time Raftman was available in the US market was a little over a year ago. It is not certain when it will be available here again.
So, if you want to try this excellent beer, you’ll have to travel to Canada to do so. A great nearby restaurant (from the Unibroue brewery) to try Raftman would be at the LE FOURQUET FORCHETTE. Perhaps this BrewView will prompt fans of Unibroue beers outside of Canada to write to the brewery and request that Raftman be made more readily available to them! The smokiness makes it a good pairing for slightly heavier dishes, and the fruitiness makes it a good paring for lighter dishes to add complexity to the meal.
Although it is excellent to enjoy now, we feel you could cellar Raftman for at least 2 years, and watch the complexity develop in the bottle.
Huge thanks go out to the following individuals for making this BrewView possible: Andrew Murphy of Unibroue in Portland, Oregon (for sending us the beer samples), Jean-Yves Lacombe for providing images from Unibroue’s archives, and of course, Unibroue’s Master Brewer Jerry Vietz, for brewing another awesome beer… it was well worth the wait!