Quebec beers shine at Montreal festival

Originally posted in the Brandon Sun, June 17, 2016

Last week was Festival Mondial de la bière in Montreal and being the beer geek I am, I went! Some of you are going “but Cody, you’ve written about your trips to Montreal several times already!” Yeah, I have but this time it’s all about the festival! My original intent was to showcase the top beers at Mondial that you can find in Manitoba, but honestly.. Central City’s Red Racer IPA doesn’t need any more publicity at this point, it’s almost always sold out at local LCs and vendors, and not only that - the Red Racer we get in Manitoba is several months fresher than the stuff they get in Quebec.

Mondial de la bière is one of the largest beer festivals in the world with an attendance of over 100,000 each year. This year the festival happened to be going on during Montreal Formula Grand Prix, so I really wouldn’t be surprised if it was over 150,000 seeing how jam packed the entire city was for the Grand Prix. Mondial had special imported beers from as far away as Brazil and local beers from local brewpubs as close by as a few blocks down the street. Some of the non-Quebec breweries that made an appearance at the festival include Beau’s Brewing out of Ottawa, Bomber Brewing out of Vancouver, Rogue Ales out of Oregon and a good amount of Labatt/Molson subsidiaries such as Labatt’s Goose Island and Mill Street as well as Molson’s Mad Jack, Creemore Springs, Granville Island and Rickards. To me, it was the Quebec variety of beers that lured me in - while Unibroue no longer makes an appearance, Quebec’s super-popular breweries Trou du Diable, Dieu du Ciel, Brasserie Dunham and Les Trois Mousquetaires all had hopping beer stations with very long lines, but once you paid four dollars in tickets to get a 4 oz sample of a Belgian style saison, India Pale Ale or cask barley wine, it’s just all worth it.

What made it even better for me is that two great friends of mine actually had their own beers being sampled at the event. My buddy Alex, who took me on a craft beer trip all over southern Quebec on Saturday, he collaborated with the new brewpub Brasserie Harricana to create a rich, hop forward Double IPA simply called “42”. This was easily one of the top beers of the festival for me, it was floral, lots of fresh pine and citrus notes, very reminiscent of a West Coast style IPA, if it was available in cans or bottles, I would have purchased a few to take home! One of my other friends, David, a popular beer podcaster/blogger in Montreal has his beer “La King Cogne” Rye IPA on tap at a Quebec Oktoberfest booth but unfortunately I didn’t try any of his beer while there. David recently wrote an article in Quebec’s go-to beer magazine “Bières et Plaisirs” discussing the top beers he’s had in his life - he stated that Half Pints’ Le Temps Noir was the best “outside of Quebec” beer he ever had in his life, and it’s all thanks to me that he got to try it, 3 years ago! 

Frankly, I tried a lot of beers while at Mondial because I have no idea when I’ll be back in Quebec next, but likely not for at least a year. My absolutely favourite beers and treats I had at Mondial has to be the Barleywine Germanique Cask by Les Trois Mousquetaires, a delicious, creamy, raisin/dark fruit sweetness of a barley wine that just loves to tingle your palate and belly at the exact same time. Saint-Maurice by Trou du Diable was an amazing saison that ended up being a great refresher between beers, a bit carbonated, fairly light yet citrusy and tasty, but Saint-Maurice may have been influenced on me as my old beer buddy Mathieu from Quebec City was the bartender for Trou du Diable for the weekend, I hadn’t seen him in over two years, so I know I drank more Trou du Diable last Friday than any other time in my life. There’s far too many beers from Brasserie Dunham to list that I fell in love with, but their L’assemblage #1 and No Tahoma Farmhouse Saison were frequently sampled by me, but thankfully Alex took me to Dunham on Saturday to try their beers in a a more intimate pub setting at the brewery’s own pub in Dunham, Quebec.. I wanted a Dunham t-shirt but they didn’t have anything larger than a large! Darn..

Aside from food, Mondial de la bière also had a great selection of food carts and stands ranging from gourmet pretzels, bison sausage, fresh cheese, barbecue, fresh baguettes and of course.. poutine! You would think I’d be eating ALL the poutine at Mondial, but I only ended up picking up a cone of fries with a side of homemade mayo over at the Frite Alors tent, something about their fries scream summer to me, maybe it’s the fresh cut, chip truck vibe?

On the weekend Mondial also hosted “Master Class” seminars featuring people in the brewing industry discussing their craft, how craft beer has changed and even how wild and experimental strains of yeast are becoming more popular in the industry. The main seminar I went to was about finding the right hops in times of hop shortages by Brett Porter, the brewmaster of Goose Island Brewing. He discussed the difficulty Goose Island and various Labatt’s “crafty” products have experienced in sourcing the right type of hops over the years and how he was able to use different strains of hops to replicate the flavour he wanted. Also, that if you are home brewer or have a brewery/brewpub, become friends with the local hop farmers because they’re always wanting to produce hops that the brewers absolutely want, even the experimental varieties.

To me, Montreal has a true beer culture but Winnipeg is quickly developing a craft beer scene which will influence a smaller craft beer scene here in Brandon eventually. Next weekend, June 24 and 25, Flatlanders Beer Festival is taking place in Winnipeg at the MTS Centre, the most exciting thing about Flatlanders this year is that all the new breweries that are opening up this summer are going to be using the beer festival to showcase the beers that they will be brewing once Winnipeg City Hall gives them the approval. At the festival, thew new breweries include Barn Hammer, Nonsuch, One Great City and Torque. Barn Hammer is the only brewery of the four that is now brewing beer at their brewery site, while the others are still doing test batches for now. I’m excited to see how the Manitoba beer scene will be. I’ve had the pleasure of sampling early batches of Barn Hammer and Torque beers in the past and we are in for a real treat!  Tickets range from $39.95 and $49.95 and can be purchased at Winnipeg Liquor Marts or through Ticketmaster. 

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