Work took me to La Belle Province this summer, and as luck would have it, I found some time to explore the Montreal beer scene a bit, and to taste some amazing beers from some of the small towns throughout the province. Quebec is second only to British Columbia in the number of breweries and amount of craft beer being made and sold in Canada.
Expecting big heat and humidity, I did some homework as to where to quench one’s thirst with tasty local brews. The heat turned out to not be an issue, in fact, most nights a sweater was needed to sit out on any terrace. High winds also played a part, not only in the World Cup Mountain Bike races I was covering at Mount St. Anne, not far outside of Quebec City, but in Montreal too, as there is so much construction going on downtown, swirls of dust carried on crosswinds had us squinting constantly. But I digress.
Our hotel at Mont. St. Anne was very nice, with a small convenience store just off the lobby, carrying a few major-micro bières du Québec (Boréale, St. Ambroise, etc), but no decent draft or bottles were available in the restaurant. Quebec brewer Belle Gueule was a sponsor of the event, so at least they had a hospitality tent. They make a very decent pale gold lager (their only beer on offer), crisp, clean and absolutely thirst quenching after a day on the mountain. But our real story starts one evening when I had time to go down the mountain and into the town of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré to visit Microbrasserie des Beaux Prés.
The terrace was full, but there was lots of room at the bar. Bartender Pierre and server Eve were very friendly and knowledgeable when it came to helping me navigate my way through the 12 beers on the menu. Flights of tasters were in order, that went something like this:
#10 Himalaya Blanche Belge (4.2%) good effervescence, light, bright, easy to drink, quenching, slightly cloudy Belgian style white beer.
#9 Route 138 double IPA (7.5%) pale, big malt base, hops swirling throughout, well balanced, delicious, aromatic, long dry finish. #1 Croix Noire Stout (5.3%) a deep malt nose, creamy tan head, nitro induced creaminess makes this a very smooth, black as night Irish stout, amazing lacing coats the glass all the way to the bottom. Yummy!
#4 Côte Fumée, a smoky lager (5%) deep amber, hints of campfire in the nose, big smoky malt hits the palate all at once, bold brew with a long lingering finish. Dark woods, hidden hops and a deep malty undertone makes this brew seductive. This was my favourite, ever so moreish, especially with the delicious Croustillants de Canard Confit & mescalin salad I ordered for dinner!
#8 Oie Blanche Hefeweizen (4.8%) actually a bit similar to the #10 in colour, but with less effervescence and hints of Germany, distant clove (some banana) but certainly quenching, cloudy, not so tart finish.
#11 Protestante Scotch Ale (7%) dark copper, malt accented, gently sweet, true to style, great lacing, long lingering finish, swirls of toffee, dried fruit.
#12 Culbute 2013 Triple Belge (9.2%) pale, slight haze, low carbonation, but big in the malt department, balanced against herbal hoppage, but a Trappist yeast shines through with hints of candi sugar & unidentified light spicing, very balanced, contemplative and seductive. I missed the house fave too (sold out) #6 Mestachibo, a 5% pale ale. Such a lovely selection of house beers, I wanted to take some with me.
Le Microbrasserie des Beaux Prés has been in business for a little just over a year. They do occasionally bottle and can their products, but are so popular with the locals, they can’t keep enough in stock for off-sales, and were all sold out the day of my visit. Microbrasserie des Beaux Prés
Let’s just say, I could have planned this trip better, but circumstance did not allow me any time to explore the many brewpubs and breweries in Quebec City and environs. I left Mount St. Anne and went right to the airport for the quick hop to Montreal, meeting up with Ms. Dupuis for a quick bus ride downtown to Rue St. Denis, center of operations for the next few days.
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves on the terrace of St. Bock, right on Rue. St. Denis, a great brewpub with 20 beers listed, including a few guest taps. Lunch was in order, a beer to start of course, but the choice was vast. We lingered over the chalkboard trying to take it all in, finally settling on #3 Exodus, (5.5%) the house saison and #17 Krombacher Dark (5.4%) from Germany. The saison was lovely and snappy, hazy straw, citric aromatics, tart intro and then some low funk and a drying hop swimming lazily to the finish. The Krombacher was deep ruby, crisp, clean and robust, malt shining through, but kept in check with subtle bitterness. They both went well with the Trappist ale infused carmelized onion cheese burger! The sun was shining, the terrace full of the lunch time crowd, it felt like we were on vacation at last. Our waiter recommended the next two beers, ideal for the sunny and warm afternoon we found ourselves enjoying.
# 13 Cherubin Witbier (4% ) St. Bock’s Belgian-style white ale, aromatically citric, cloudy straw colour, fruity, light and delicious, long and lingering.
# 6 McTavis (Trou du Diable) American Pale Ale (5%) This is a very good pale ale from Shawinagin, Quebec, with an herbal malt nose, dark gold colour, fresh hops singing through this beer, underpinned with good malt values, bitey but balanced, very moreish, with a nice, dry finish. By way of comparison, I tried the house pale ale next. #9 Tentation, (5.5%) was a little holier than thou, and by that I mean more of an IPA really, lots of juicy, grapefruit hops shining through malty undertones. Le Saint Bock
Of course, no visit to any city can truly be complete, unless you get off the tourist’s beaten path and visit a few places were the locals go. My friend Justin told us about the best poutine in the city at a favourite spot of his, Le Boucan Smokehouse, in Griffontown, a cool neighbourhood of mixed old and new architecture, reclaimed industrial buildings and brand new condos. We wasted no time diving into the menu, smoked meats of various kinds being their forte. Pulled Pork Poutine, the house specialty, was to die for and the smoked chicken wings seemed the appropriate accompaniment. Sadly, the tap selection left much to be desired, not a single local craft brew represented, but they did serve Bierbrier Premium Ale (5%) by the bottle, made at a local brewery not far away. A smooth and well balanced golden ale, it went perfectly with our meal, hops and malt singing from the same hymn book. Bierbrier Brewing
Back up the hill to downtown now, to find the little brewpub on Crescent Street that has been around for 16 years, Brutopia. This brewpub features 8 of their own beers on tap, made in a tiny 5 barrel kettle and mash tun that sits in one corner of this sprawling pub. The pub space covers two buildings, three stories, from a street side terrace, to a dark bar and stage for live music, to upstairs rooms as well.
The XB (Extra Blonde) is light gold in colour and pretty much a straight up session ale, well carbonated, good balance, floral nose, easy to drink, thirst quenching, no hops tying up the loose ends here, a malty brew with a malty finish.
Dreadnought (6.5-7%), however, is another matter. Deep gold in colour, it shows a nice white head, herbal aromatics, some fruit, a good bold hop flavored palate floating on a strong malt base, well balanced, light lacing, long dry finish. This seasonal of theirs could be an all-year-round fave for the hopheads in the crowd. It smooths out to a wonderfully dry finish.
The Nut Brown is dark brown, with a malt nose that leads to a somewhat roasty palate, dark malt accents, hints of molasses, hidden hops balancing this brew, low carbonation displaying its pedigree, very English.
Frosty Morning Cream comes with a great thick mousse head, bright white, displays a creamy body fueled by nitrogen, with a fresh nose, but a pretty neutral palate (served very cold) and has the look of those gadget injected British brews. It is pleasant enough to be sessionable, but with a tiny sour tinge in the finish.
Their IPA is more a pale ale really, certainly in comparison to the Dreadnought. It is bright amber, astringent but balanced, smooth with a dry finish, more British than North American when it comes to the hops. We were fortunate enough to have owner and head brewer Chris Downly join us for a chat. We talked about his beers, the Montreal brew scene, how it’s changed and grown over the years, and some of the local festivals worth checking out. In between these various topics he shared a wonderful taste of an upcoming cask ale, something he offers infrequently at Brutopia.
The next day finds us renting the public Bixi bikes to explore a little more uptown, but more for riding along the bike paths of the Lachine Canal later on in search of McAuslan Brewery Terrace. We venture uphill, a good morning work out I can tell you, in search of another Montreal staple, fresh made bagels. Up off of St. Urbain we find Fairmont Bagel, one of the classic establishments that has been around forever. We check out the crew rolling fresh dough, enjoy a lovely breakfast of bagels and home-made cream cheese on a street side bench, then decide to go with gravity. This time we ride downhill, past Mount Royal, through downtown, Chinatown and Old Montreal to the river, and the bike path heading west. It was easy at first (the downhill part), but once on the pathways leading to the Lachine Canal, the winds howled at us head on, making our journey a real exercise, physically and psychologically. My goodness, we’re on holidays, do we really have to work so hard? The other variable thrown at us was all of the new construction going. Long abandoned buildings being resurrected for modern use, new smart looking apartment blocks squeezed in between. A real renaissance along the water, that in a few year will totally rejuvenate this part of the old city. In the meantime, there are detours off the bike path, around huge construction sites, but serendipity once again leads somewhere we might not have found on our own – Brasseur de Montreal. We were certainly in need of refreshment as we stumbled upon their terrace at the bottom of Rue Guy.
A large modern restaurant inside and an extended industrial terrace outside, that was filling up quickly with the lunch crowd. We parked our bikes and found a warm, sunny table. With 10 beers on tap, a number of specialties in bottles, and a great food menu, there was lots to choose from. Even though it was a busy lunch crowd, our informative waitress was able to get me a taster tray.
La Griffintown Montrealaise (5%) a pale gold, balanced session ale, with a light and fruity palate
A London Ruby Anglaise (3.8%) a ruby coloured, malt accented brew, displaying a smooth palate, nice lacing and a slightly sweet malt finish, an English style ‘mild’, more red than brown, but thirst-quenching none-the-less.
La Van Derbull Belge (5%) this is a Belgian style wit, citric orange nose & palate, pale yellow, wheaty finish, light body, served with a slice of lemon.
Le Rebelle Québécois (6.5%) a beautiful clear amber colour, malt accented aromatics and palate, with a touch of spice, deep malt notes, a well balanced middle and a nuanced & dry finish.
La Roobios Africaine, gold coloured, spicy nose, unique tea infused wheat beer, smooth, spicy, medium body, balanced with complex flavours, works well to a long dry finish.
Their Jukebox (5.5%) is an American pale ale only available bottled. It is pale yellow, with herbal aroma, a pure white frothy head and decent lacing. A bitter hit on the tongue on first sip, but smooths out to a balanced hop accented palate, almost more an IPA with grapefruit notes & hints of pine and a lovely, long dry finish! Brasseur de Montréal
Refreshed and rejuvenated, we find the bike path again and make our way past some industrial waste land, just waiting for rehabilitation, to the McAuslan Brewery Terrace, located on the canal’s north side, right on the bike path! The large terrace was hosting quite a number of bicyclists on this beautifully sunny, but windy afternoon, it is obviously a destination. They offer all of the St. Ambroise and Griffon line of beers on tap, in various sizes, as well as snack food offerings from their tiny outdoor kitchen. One of Quebec’s foremost micro-breweries, McAuslan has been brewing the since 1989. A lovely relaxing location, it would be easy to while away the day, sipping their lovely brews, the sweet malt aroma of mashing grain quite prevalent even in the wind. We snacked on home made salsa & chips and grilled sausage from the BBQ hut. It went well with the whole range of beers we tasted.
St. Ambroise Pale Ale (5%) their flagship brew, golden, well balanced hop, good malt base, rich with nuances of malt and fruit.
St. Ambroise Double IPA This is a brand new release exclusively here on the terrace. A huge malt nose, deep gold colour, the hops bite at first sip, swirling with the bold malt base, taking this beer to another level. There has been such a great respnce that I’m told they will soon be brewing this beer full time and will hopefully be bottled for national distribution. At 8.5% (?) this is a wonderful, robust and full flavoured bear of a beer!
St. Ambroise Noire a l’Avione (5%) another international medal winning brew, this is a deep, dark oatmeal stout with a roasted and toasted quality, rich, creamy, moreish.
St. Ambroise Cream Ale (5%) a finely bubbled, nitrogen injected smooth pale brew, creamy and rich, a long and lacy head falls lovingly with each sip.
Griffon Rousse (4,5%) a mahogany toned brew, crisp and to the point, medium body, hints of crystal malt, subtle hop nuances, nutty and somewhat roasty.
Griffon Extra Pale Ale (5%) golden hued session ale, balanced, perky, refreshing, well carbonated, finishes smooth and knowing. McAuslan Brewery
It was a very pleasant return ride, the wind at our backs at last and in no time we were through Old Montreal and climbing the short hill past the University of Quebec in Montreal to Rue Ontario and another Montreal landmark.
Le Cheval Blanc opened its doors in 1940 as a family tavern, became the hang out of students in the early 1980s, and was granted the first brewpub license in Montreal in 1986. It hasn’t looked back since. Swallowing up its neighbour in 2005, this Montreal institution is now big and modern, offering a full range of its brews on tap, as well as an impressive and extensive selection of bottled Belgian varieties.
Blonde Ale (5%) gold coloured, floral nose, big head, some subtle hop stirs the palate, light carbonation, a good malt base, sessionable.
India D‘été (6%) generous use of Australian hops takes this IPA on a tropical journey, hazy straw-yellow, big dollops of grapefruit, hints of pine, strong malt spine, a bold brew served in a round tulip glass, aromatic and singularly sumptuous. Le Cheval Blanc
L’amére à boire (translation: ‘to drink the whole ocean’ or ‘an unquenchable thirst’) is a great little brewpub just a couple of blocks up from Saint Bock. Modern, bright and open, it operates on several levels, offering their brews on tap and the occasional hand pump. We met our friend Julie here, another beer lover, on her recommendation. L’amére à boire is unusual for making mostly lagers, from Czech pilsners to German Helles, but a few ales do sneak in once in a while. Julie’s fave is the Drak (6%), a deep ruby with a big malty nose, this beer delivers caramel sweetness and toasted notes, along side a soothing hop bitterness swimming beneath the surface. Long with honey tones and a dry finish.
Blonde (5%) a straight up pilsner style, offering some hop aromatics while introducing the palate to a smooth malt sided balance. L’amére à boire
Of course being so close, we slipped back down the street to Saint Bock for a night cap.
La Viennoise Dark Lager was long and smooth, offering glimpses of caramel malt hemmed in by crisp notes of noble hoppage. Their cask this night was the exact opposite, from Brasseur de Monde, L’interdite (the forbidden) black, still, no head, warm (cask served on the bar), but still mysteriously seductive, full and cunningly malt driven, espresso and dark chocolate notes, full bodied, long and lingering finish. Another of their (in)famous brews is L’assoiffee (the thirsty girl!).
Lunch the next day was at the ominously named Les Soeurs Grises Microbrasserie Artisanale, a business district lunchtime spot near the bottom of Rue McGill. Named after the famous order of Gray Nuns, this place seemed more about the food, in the day time at least. An $18 fix-price lunch includes a beer of your choice, a side and a choice of yummy entrés. This bistro-cafe’s house specialties are smoked meats and fish, served on fresh breads and salads. And very tasty too.
Pilsner de Dieu (5%) a yellow brew, tinge of sourness in the nose, but otherwise an unremarkable pilsner, decent carbonation, good balance of hops vs malt, leading to a crisp, dry finish.
La Fanfare ESB (4.2%) is amber toned, a malt accented brew with a nice layer of underlying hops that peaks out of the palate, drying out the malty sweetness by the finish
Excellent smoky gazpacho served with a lovely pulled pork sandwich on a baguette. The Croquet Monsieur was served open face with roasted asparagus, cheese grilled over fresh crusty bread. Les Soeurs Grises
Julie invited us to spend an evening in her neighbourhood, east of downtown Montreal. She wanted us to try the best smoked meat in the city, and she was right Gerry’s Restauarnt Deli has it! Lean or fat, complete with the coleslaw, pickle and crispy french fries. No craft beer selection unfortunately. But I digress, the other reasons were to shop at Le Biérologue and visit her local, L’espace Public.
Le Biérologue has an amazing selection of beers from right across Quebec and beyond and I’m like a kid in a candy store to find such a dedicated retail outlet that knows and promotes great beer. Certainly my focus was trained on a few I’d never heard of, but Julie recommended, and of course, the friendly and informative staff had a few things to show me too. Needless to say, the back pack was full when we finally trundled down the street for a beer.
Turns out Julie’s local is L’espace Public, Quebec’s newest and smallest brewpub, number 86 on the provincial list of craft breweries and brewpubs. They have 10 taps, 5 of their own and 5 guest taps, both rotating, and they hope to expand to 15 taps next year, says owner/brewer Frank Privé. I met Frank when I was poking my nose around looking at the 500 liter kettle and mash tun through a tiny window. He let me in and showed me around. They most recently concentrated on getting their terrace open for the summer weather, but this little brewery has only been since January and is packed most nights. Frank hopes that with the addition of new fermentation tanks, he could add 5 more taps next year. Julie recommends Le Coup de Corde à Linge (6%) a really great hoppy house IPA, deep gold colour, herbally aromatic, full bodied, good balance of bitterness floating over a bulky malt base, long and satisfying, crisp with a dry finish. Yummy!
Broken 7 Montreal Blonde Ale (5%) from Brasserie Brisset is crisp, clean, clear, a malt accented blonde, easy to drink, more-ish, the one product from this Griffintown Montreal brewery, who are partners with Bierbrier.
Courte Paille (ale au segle) this 6% rye beer is delicious, copper in colour, has a grainy nose, a dry palate, is well balanced and smoothes out into a good finisher.
Of all the places we visited, I’d have to say L’espace Public was my favourite. It’s far from the maddening crowds, has a great neighbourhood vibe and they make a very good variety of beers here. Great spot, merci Julie!
I must also thank Julie for the beer Palabre de la Rameuse (5%) an excellent darkish ale brewed by A l’abri de la Tempete Microbrasserie from Îles de la Madeleine. This brew is dedicated to Julie’s cousin, Mylène Paquette, who is crossing the Atlantic solo in a canoe this summer. You can follow her at http://www.mylenepaquette.com
Bon chance Mylène!
Where and when is the best festival for Quebec beers? Well, it’s coming up soon! Check out Bières et Saveurs Aug. 30 – Sept. 2, the largest brewer’s gathering in Quebec.