Montreal Beer Festival: 28 May – 1 June 2008
No this isn’t part two of a two-part report for which I have forgotten to submit the first installment. I headlined last year’s report “Sacre Bleu!” and just couldn’t resist employing the Hot Shots reference. Far from being Part Deux, this is in fact my third trip to the Montreal Mondial de la Biere, now in its 15th year. Arriving about 8pm on a Thursday night wasn’t exactly the best strategic move my friends and I have ever made. There was a fairly long queue to get in, but it moved quite rapidly and the anticipation no doubt improved our experience.
The Gare Windsor was, to use an East Midlandsism, rammed.
Moving through the inebriated post-work throng with beers in both hands proved difficult and I can only conclude that its far better to go early on a Saturday, as we did last year. A lunchtime tipple in less-packed surrounds is far easier on the trousers.
First up was a Gingembre beer from Le Bilboquet, a brewery I hadn’t heard of. I dunno about you but I prefer my ginger beers to taste of ginger, which this one did, but only just barely. Disappointed, I barged on through the crowds.
I made a bee-line for the stall of Montreal Brew pub Dieu du ciel, who rarely let me down. Upon glancing at the blackboard, I noticed a beer called Penombre (“Penumbra/Shadow”, 6%), which was described as a Black IPA. A black IPA? C’est ridicule, non? Handing over my hard-paid-for coupons, I was rewarded with a glass of something that looked very much like a stout. Thinking these daft Quebecois had mixed up their beer categories, I gave it a shot and found the visual and taste centres of my brain suddenly quarrelling. All was in uproar. Penombre has a very traditional IPA flavour to it, not what you expect from something that looks like flat Guinness. The extra hops barrel through and lend it a very pleasant bitterness. Quite the revelation and one I’ll be looking for in the supermarché locale. Dieu du ciel also do an interesting burnt-coffee-tinged Imperial Stout called Peché Mortel. However, don’t (as my unfortunate friend did) buy this if you are expecting a peach-flavoured beer. Peché Mortel means “Mortal Sin” and you will be punished for your mistake! It is not for the faint of heart.
One of my favourite Quebec breweries is L’Achimiste, in Joliette, QC. They produce the yummy Ecossaise, whose praises I sing at every turn. Bock de Joliette (6.1%) is their take on a German Bock.
Nobody is quite sure of the origins of Bock beer. Some writers believe the name Bock came from the shortening of Einbeck thus “beck” became “bock.” Quite how or why this transliteration should occur is anyone’s guess. Others believe it is more of a pagan or old world reference coming from the fact that the beer was only to be brewed during the sign of the Capricorn goat. What is known is that in Ye Olde Medieval Times German monasteries brewed and drank a strong beer primarily for its nutritional content during their Lenten fasts (perhaps marketed under the slogan “Bock is Good for You”). Bock thus became a symbol of better times to come and the impending end of winter.
The modern version of Bock is bottom-fermenting lager that generally takes extra months of lagering (cold storage) to smooth out. Bock beer in general is stronger than a typical lager, more malty and dark amber to brown in colour. The bitterness produced by the hops can be strong, but should not get in the way of the malt flavor. Most are, therefore, only lightly hopped.
I found L’Alchimiste’s Bock very drinkable. It is richly amber in colour, with a very pleasing caramel and butterscotch flavour and a long aftertaste. I am now in possession of a crate of the stuff! Hurrah!
This year’s beer festival included a stand of French brewers, no doubt reflecting a desire to forge links between French Canada and French er… France. I only had time (and coupons) to sample one beer from the Old Country. Fourche du diable (“The devil’s fork”, 5.4%) from brewery Le Rouget de l’isle, turned out to be a refreshing, spicy lager. Whether I will ever have the opportunity to try it again remains to be seen.
Pub Broadway, in Shawinigan, QC is a brewpub that produces its own interesting line of beers. Mary Poppins (7%) is described as an English Brown Ale and since I’m English, I thought it only right that I should verify its Englishness with an English set of taste-buds. Tasting very much like a Newcastle Brown, it is definitely the closest thing I’ve had to a proper English pint in all my time in Montreal. I can only hope that somewhere in Montreal stocks it, or it’s a long trip out on Interstate 40 for me.
La Sein d’esprit (“The centre of spirit”? Please correct my franglais) is a 5% German white beer. Wiess beers are brewed with a significant proportion of wheat and it is common for them to also contain malted barley. The addition of wheat lends these beers a light flavour and pale colour. Wheat beers are usually top-fermented (in Germany, home of stringent noisy-neighbour regulations, they have to be by law!). Pub Broadway’s version was not bad at all and had a pleasant fruitiness, but it wasn’t nearly as good as their Triple Belgian La Tchucké (7%). Worth every bit of the 4 coupons charged for it (okay… I admit my friend used his Powers Of Marketing to argue them down to 2 coupons since that was all we had left. Cheers Aaron!), La Tchuké is a rich flavoursome Belgian triple ale that had us oooing and aaahing with all our might. The term ‘triple’ comes from a naming convention used by Belgian Trappist breweries to describe the strongest beers in their range, however, the name is now used by a number of brewers around the world to describe a strong ale. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what the name is a reference to, but I’m sure it’s something hilarious in French. Answers on a postcard, please.
Finally, Broadway’s Black Mama raised several eyebrows when we saw both the retro 70’s blaxploitation poster and the description “Black Lager.” Schwartzbiers are dark lager beers with an opaque, black color. They are bottom-fermented and should have and a full, chocolatey or coffee flavor. If you can get past the borderline-rascist name for this one (the reasonably-accommodating les Quebecois strike again), it really is rather good.
And that was the 15th Montreal Beer Festival for me. At that point I was dragged off to see the excreble Sex in the City movie before I lost my sense of sight entirely. It was only fair, really. I forced the missus to see Indiana Jones…
A la prochaine mes amis!