One of the enduring perceptions of North America is that it is a Budweiser-soaked desert when it comes to good beer. This is a tad unfair on our Colonial brethren and certainly not the case in Francophone Canada. Every June, the Mondial de la Biere rolls into Montreal’s Gare Windsor like a hops-laden locomotive, the inebriated engineer slumped over the controls…
If you like beer, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. If you don’t… then it’s only a couple of weeks until the Comedy Festival… or the Grand Prix… or the Jazz Festival…
The first thing you notice about beer in Canada is that they sell it according to its colour. No confusion here over labels like “ale” or “bitter.” The first time I asked for a beer in Montreal, the guy behind the bar simply said “brown?” Sure, I replied, wondering what colour beer usually was in the New World… The rainbow of beers available include: Noire (stouts), Brune and Rousse (bitters), Dorée and Ambrée (ales), and Blanche (wheat beers). No system is perfect, but this one certainly helps the consumer to know what they’re getting.
Last year, I was a newbie to North American beer and spent an enjoyable, if painful, weekend running around trying all the beers I could (even the sh*t ones). This year, I could be a bit more selective with my coupons, so skirting neatly around the Coors and Molson stalls, with their plethora of local tarts (I believe the North American term is “skanks”), I made a beeline to the stall of a Québec brewery that I hadn’t heard of: L’Alchemiste. At the forefront of my mind was the fact that I had to write a column for my chums in Scotland, so I tried the Scotch Ale, Ecossaise, which turned out to be a most pleasant experience indeed. This dark ale has a caramel flavour to it, a hint of something burnt, and a liquorice aftertaste.
By far my favourite Canadian brewer, Unibroue (now owned by Japan’s Sapporo), produce a range of interesting, original beers for the connoisseur. I’ve tried most of them before, my favourites being Cap d’Espoir and Fin du Monde (although I think they took a misstep on the treacley, dandelion-and-burdock-tinged Raftman). I took the opportunity to try Ephémére. This fruit beer comes in two varieties, raspberry and apple. I tried the apple, prejudiced by the fact that every berry-flavoured beer I have tried has tasted of beer that has been adulterated with Ribena. Ephémére proved… appley. Not too surprising, but far too easy to get pissed on, I suspect.
A haven for truth-in-advertising, when you ask for a ginger beer in Québec, you don’t get a soft drink, you get a beer that tastes of ginger, which is the way life should be. Many microbreweries produce their own Gingembre beer and the majority of them are to be recommended, especially Microbrasserie du Lièvre’s franglais-named La Ginger Beer Epice.
Dieu du ciel brew pub on west Laurier ave, Montreal, produces a range of beers that can only fairly be described as ‘interesting.’ Their Rosée d’Hibiscus as you can probably guess, is flavoured with hibiscus and Le trou du diable (the Devil’s hole) tastes so sulphurous and farty I’m not sure I want to guess which hole the Devil got it from.
In addition to being fairly sunburnt and dehydrated, by this point I was obviously too pissed, because I spent 4 coupons (a princely sum) on a beer cocktail called a Broujito. This mixture of a Mojito – rum, soda, mint, lime – and Dorée beer worked surprisingly well and perfectly fitted both my mood and the bright sunshine bathing the Gare Windsor.
My good lady wife helped me home where I slept like only a mildly drunk and partially suburnt Brit can.
A bientot mes amis!