I was lucky enough recently to visit Montreal, home to a growing number of wonderful brewpubs. On my first evening I was able to walk from my hotel to Benelux on Sherbrooke, a brewpub that has become a local hotspot. The place was packed when I got there, with one seat left at the end of the bar. I ended sitting next to local patron Donald, who tuned me into the 10 different beers available. Ben the head brewer was around, we chatted briefly about the upcoming Mondial du Biere festival and his new location opening shortly in Verdun. Business is booming.
It just happened to be Thursday, which is cask night at Benelux. On the hand pump was Catapulte, a very British ale, amber in colour, nice head, good lacing, citric aromatics, long palate of hop pulling on malt, dry finish. I started with a pint of this, quite delicious. In between sips and snippets of conversation with Donald in my best high school French, Chris and Lilly, super knowledgeable and friendly staff, kept dropping tasters of the next beer for me to taste. Wow, what a treat! Merci beaucoup!
Dub (6.7%) dark brown Belgian dubbel, malt accented, fruity nose, smooth and balanced, undertones of dark fruit and toffee.
Eponyme Saison (6.7%) great yeasty nose, Saison funkiness stands out front, nice drying hops, cloudy, pale yellow, long on the palate, seductive.
Sennta (6.5%) a Saison ambree, more malt up front, milder character, still yeasty and enough funky Brettanomyces, playful.
Strato (6%) Their black IPA, big malt, but the hops shine through the darkness, well balanced, tan head, dark nose, dry finish.
Sabotage IPA (7%) huge hop nose, citric hints, big balance, hops dancing over a solid malt base, smooth and long.
Motek (7%) this is an imperial pilsner with a strong Czech styling, effervescent and fresh, tropical fruit, good malt bottom, strong but dry.
Zeeland (7%) yet another Saison, a strong one, gold/yellow in colour, nice head and lacing, big Saison nose, herbal, hoppy, funky.
Cimonak (5%) This was my favourite, their Spring seasonal porter made with fresh maple syrup and a certain about of smoked malt. At play is a wonderful dance of smoky maltiness, subtle maple, wood, fruity tones and a subdued sweetness that floats away in the long finish.
Great pub, friendly people, wonderful beer!
The next night I am steered towards La Saint Bock on St. Denis, another very busy and happening Montreal brewpub. Once again I snag the last seat at the bar and marvel over the 20 brews listed on the chalkboard.
Their cask is T’Amere ‘Sorachi Ace’ (6.9%), a wonderfully hopped British ale, big herbal hop nose, bitter palate, smooth and quenching, thick mousse laces well sip after sip. So smooth and more-ish!!
I connect with my neighbours at the bar, Julie & Graham from Ottawa, also exploring the Montreal beer scene this evening. We swap notes on a number of topics: travel, film, books, music and of course, beer.
Monastique (7.5%) A blond Belgian served in a tulip glass, golden hued, light tasting, but underpinned by a wonderful balance of malt and hops, so easy to drink!
Expiee IPA Belge Randal (8%) This beer is pulled through a ‘hopback’, essentially a tube packed full of hops, adding aroma and flavour. Amber in colour, subtle hop nose, fresh florals, a light bitterness on the palate, malt underpinning a wealth of hops floating on top, so well balanced.
Croisade (9.9%) Another robust porter made with maple syrup and deeply smoked malt emitting a bacon nose, deep black, thick, tan head, malt and smoke on the palate immediately, the maple is nicely buried, sweetness creeping through to enhance the complexity.
In between these beers were tasters offered up by the friendly and knowledgeable bartender, samples of there current list, all excellent, of high quality and truly flavourful. www.saintbock.com
Of the 10 taps and 2 casks available, Julie went for a taste of the Montreal Hell, (5%) a nice crisp and light German style lager, bright yellow, fresh nose, clean and dry. Graham went for the Drak (5.8%) a red Czech lager, strong & crisp, hints of honey aromatics and a toasty dry finish.
I opted for the L’Amere a Boire pale ale cask (5%) Beautiful gold amber colour, an ale offering in this predominately lager brewhouse, low carbonation a la English ale, full flavoured, with hops hovering over the malt in a very pleasant and more-ish way. It was a lovely evening and the conversation always seemed to drift back to the wonderful beers we were enjoying and the great variety this city has to offer! Salut!
On my last day, I went to meet friends at Dieu du Ciel on Laurier, a small but famous little brewpub. I thought it prudent to go for an early lunch, as locals have told me of lines up at night. This is the original brewpub, plus they have a larger production brewery in St. Jerome where they bottle their eclectic line of beers. Here one can find unique beers only made and served at this location.
Carol liked the Paienne (5%) a pale gold ale, clean, crisp and refreshing. Manny seemed to go for the hoppier brews like Mea Culpa (6%), an India Cream Ale, smooth and luscious, amber with a huge mousee head, incredible lacing sip after sip, light hop components. I too started with some hops: Voyageur des Brumes (5.3%) their Extra Special Bitter, a generously hopped amber brew of character.
Morality IPA Americaine (6.9%) an distinctive nose of apricot and mild cat spray (really!) greet you, introducing your palate to a full hoppy bitterness, steady malt base, long dry finish, pale gold.
Cousteau (5.5%) made with the single hop ‘Calypso’, this pale yellow ale has a mildly skunky nose, good bitterness, balanced, dry finish.
Nativitor (7%) a Weizenbock of distinction, dark amber, spicy, notes of clove, light lacing, lingering finish.
Neuvaine (8%) this is a strange beer, it is made with absinthe. Anise greets the nose strongly right off the bat, cloudy, pale gold, heavy liquorice palate, strong alcohol, viscous, somehow medicinal. I can’t say I enjoyed this beer that much, as interesting as it was.
Deesse Nocturne (5%) a lovely black stout, thick tan head, good heft in the malt department, smooth, the finish dries out nicely.
Penombre (6.5%) is an IPA Noire, so deep, dark and delicious, full malt body with hops bubbling up throughout the palate, beautiful long finish.
Solstice d’Hiver (10.2%) a thick and heavy winter warmer, sweetish aromatics, white head, light lacing, deep amber/copper, viscous, full body, slightly sweet finish, big beer.
Alas, the quick weekend is over, and I have barely scratched the surface. There are many more brewpubs and beer bars around Montreal and environs. The beer scene in general in Quebec is fabulous, there being quite a number of craft brewers throughout the province. A visit to a decent depanneur will open your eyes as to how much craft beer is made in this province.
Viva les bieres du Quebec!