Rather than just (re-)introducing this beer I’m going to offer a relevant and quick lesson on reading the LCBO website. The product page for the Nostradamus Belgian strong says that it’s discontinued, but the inventory page shows 1,800 bottles (a very rough estimate) spread across 65 stores. That’s a hell of a lot of beer for a special season release. For regular listings the discontinued notice means that the LCBO no longer adds to their inventory of that product, in that packaging format. For the seasonal release beers or brewery feature beers it seems to just mean that a product is from the previous cycle. In this case, Nostradamus was part of the winter release and the spring release has started to roll out.
Beer is a fragile product, so the discontinued notice might often be a good indicator to steer clear. With its higher alcohol and low hop bitterness I’m less concerned about the Nostradamus and may pick up a few bottles myself for some cellar aging.
Last week’s First Draught focused on a Belgian-style saison from an Ontario brewery. This week, for contrast, and to demonstrate the diversity of Belgian brewing traditions, we have a beer from Brasserie Caracole in Belgium, one that’s made in the quite different Belgian strong ale style.
Nostradamus pours auburn brown with an impressive off-white and rocky head. The cap slowly fades and leaves behind those fine strands of bubbles on the sides of the glass, which official-sounding tasting notes refer to as “lacing.” The resilient head limits the aroma, but faint notes of dark fruit (raisins and dates) and a touch of bubblegum manage to sneak through. The taste continues the fruit theme with an additional hint of ripe banana. From the middle to finish I tasted a bit of alcoholic heat that should fade with a bit of aging.
For a country with a population less than Ontario’s, Belgium has an impressive list of “national dishes.” Chocolate, waffles, moules frites and carbonnades flamandes all have iconic status. That last one, a beef and beer stew that should really be known by its Flemish name, stoofvlees, could do a lot worse if you poured a bottle of Nostradamus into the pot. Other braised or roasted meat dishes — lamb tagine with dates, for instance — will go very well with this ale.
Nostradamus is one of the last members of the LCBO’s class of winter releases still on shelves in strong numbers. At over 9 per cent alcohol, and with a limited dependence on hops for its flavour, this beer won’t be hurt by its time spent in stores.
In predicting this beer’s future, I think it’s safe to say that it should find more complexity and a calm confidence after a year in your cellar.