Montreal is a magical city, as most people know. There are more restaurants per capita in Montreal than New York City. Montrealers are known for their fashion, passion and creativity, and joie de vivre. (They have BYOB picnics at city parks!)
Lesser-known to me was the massive craft brewing movement happening in the 375-year old port city – I had no idea it’s home 33 to craft and microbreweries. And, for a city that can sometimes seem a little snobbish, that label does not extend to their breweries. In fact, it seems Montreal’s friendly brew pubs rather embrace collaboration and the co-operative spirit.
The sample platter at La Brasserie Harricana is akin to what you’d find at a typical Quebec Christmas party. Delish!
Not only can you find hundreds of unique, locally-brewed beers in Montreal, but you have your choice of drinking destinations, from more authentic pubs to high-end dining establishments. My favourite spot has to be La Brasserie Harricana on Mile-Ex, with its marble countertops, pink leather club chairs, and gold light fixtures, not to mention incredible local food and 22 beer on tap, all their own or collaborations with other breweries. This place has a special woman-vibe too, likely due to owner and CEO Marie-Pier Veilleux, and all-female staff (at least during our visit).
La Brasserie Harricana looked, smelled and tasted amazing.
The abundance of choice at these brew pubs is awesome, but it’s these small batches that limit the breweries to only sell beer to be consumed on-site. Which means out-of-towners like us can’t take some of the local flavours home. But, when in Rome, do as the Romans. So, we sampled to our heart’s content.
We tried over 30 beer (mostly shared between Greg and I in galopin/sample-sized glasses) during a 28-hour stretch, covering styles such as Imperial stout, rose hibiscus wheat beer, American IPA, plum-infused Belgian sour, smoked light Gratzer, Hefeweizen, local honey-infused blonde ale, ordinary bitter, lactic saison with honey, saison with Madagascan pepper, dubbel, white beer with cranberries and raspberries, New England IPA, best bitter, Belgian amber (that was fermented with fresh plums and aged in red wine barrels), Cognac sour and dry stout to name a few.
We joined a beer tour which took us around the up-and-coming Rosemont area, giving us a glimpse in to the amazing beer destinations the locals (and tourists) can enjoy. It was a cool area, but I recommend spending two or more hours at one place, sampling their range of standard and seasonal brews, and talking to the staff. They are proudly educated on the beer and brewery they work at, and love answering questions, all without a hint of haughtiness.
I get why Montreal is becoming a popular beer destination, and I see no sign of it slowing down. These are good people, who love what they do, and create diverse, high-quality products. I’m giving this whirlwind weekend two thumbs up, and I hope it’s created some wanderlust for you.
Here are some of the other spots we visited:
Suzanne is a-brewing at Dieu du ciel.
Dieu de Ceil
Dieu de Ciel is one of the oldest brew pubs in Montreal, with an impressive range of styles, including their famous Imperial stout, Peche Mortel.
L’Isle de Garde
Broue Pub Brouhaha
WILD NORTH GOLDEN CHAI ALE – LAKE OF BAYS BREWING COMPANY
I’m declaring it: winter cold season is over. Can I get a hell ya?
I wish I knew a statistic that showed how Canada’s productivity takes a nose dive every winter from the time we spend holed up on our couches beside boxes of Kleenex instead of at work. Add to that the toll colds and flu take on your important senses, like smell and taste, and it will make anyone dream of a Snowbird retirement.
Fortunately, I only battled two major colds this winter, but the most recent one had my taste buds on the disabled list. When Greg brought home a tall-boy can of Lake of Bays’ Golden Chai Ale, I was stubbornly defiant that I could power through and enjoy this beer. After all, it was so unique! I never heard of a brewery using chai flavouring and I was incredibly anxious to try it.
I was wrong. I couldn’t taste a thing. It looked beautiful in its dark, golden loveliness. But I couldn’t smell it, and only felt the carbonated bubbles on my tongue.
Luckily, Lake of Bays made more than one can, so I was able to try again, with a healthy immune system this time. Now, I could really savour all that this ale offers. It smelled like a sweet chai latte, but on first sip, was more dry than I was expecting. The spicy aftertaste of cinnamon, cardamom and clove are so delicious and different than any other beers we’ve tasted. If you’re a fan of chai tea and beer, you are going to love this. And at 5.2% alc./vol., it’s very drinkable, so I’d suggest buying a few cans.
As the can says, “Spring is finally here,” and I’ll cheers to that.
What the brewery says:
“Fresh, spicy aromatics introduce this effervescent brew. Real Chai tea offers a hint of cardamom, cinnamon and clove. Ontario hops and a splash of pure orange zest round out the finish.”
THE STARTER SESSION IPA, FOUR FATHERS BREWING
The folks behind Four Fathers are proof some of the best craft beers in the province are coming out of small places.
Rockwood, Ontario isn’t known for a whole lot other than its annual Farmer’s Parade of Lights, when neighbours deck out their combines and harvesters in a pile of Christmas lights and rumble down the village’s main street.
Four Fathers, which began commercial production in late 2015, have given tiny Rockwood another claim to fame: good craft beer. But that’s about to change.
Brewery co-founder and general manager Mike Hruden says Four Fathers is moving to Hespeler, where they’ll soon be opening a new production facility and long-awaited retail storefront.
If you want to get to know Four Fathers, one of my favourites is their flagship beer, The Starter Session IPA. This brew, which started appearing on LCBO shelves last fall ($3.10 for a 473ml can), is a strong entry into the session IPA category. It’s got everything you’d expect from the style – citrus fruit aromas, solid bitterness and a dry finish despite a subtle malt backbone that’s not always present in IPAs.
Ontario’s craft beer fans have been flooded lately with so-called session IPAs. But this one holds its own against some of the best in that style.
Another favourite from the Four Fathers stable is their nutty, malty and complex Shevchenko 9, a fine Ukrainian-style dunkel. If you’re a fan of dark, European beers, this is a can’t-miss.
What the brewery says (About The Starter):
“With a crisp and citrusy profile, our Galaxy hop driven IPA screams high draft pick beer stud, while its low 4.8 % ABV gives it the stamina to go the whole session, no matter how formidable the competition.”
BAMBERG SMOKED LAGER – ROYAL CITY BREWING
This week, we found a new beer that really blew our lids. We haven’t stopped talking about it since our first taste earlier this week, so we went back today to get more.
Royal City’s Bamberg Smoked Lager (a smoked German amber lager) is really something. It’s so different than other Old World lagers we’ve had, but that’s what makes it great. As Scotch fans, we loved the dry, smokey flavour that only gets better with each sip. At 5.75 ABV it’s so smooth, so drinkable, you will ask for a refill, and then likely another.
The name comes from the Bamberg region of Germany that’s known for their smoked beers (called Rauchbier), where green malt is dried over beechwood that gives the beer a natural smokiness without being overpowering. Royal City imports the smoked malt used in this beer straight from Germany to stay as authentic to the style as possible.
We bought a one-litre sampler of it direct from the brewery, but came back a few days later because we wanted to try it again. Luckily, Royal City had bottled it in 500mls by then ($4.50 each) , so we could take more home with us.
This St. Patrick’s Day, you can skip all that green beer and Guinness and celebrate your pretend-Irish heritage by hoisting these made-in Ontario stouts that give a nod to the Emerald Isle, without leaving the province.
100 STEPS STOUT, ROYAL CITY BREWING
If you want a stout less travelled, we’d suggest heading to the Victoria Road brewery and picking up a growler of this local stout. A dry, traditional stout modelled after Guinness’s iconic Irish brew, this is a subtle, easy to drink stout that’s one of our favourites from the Royal City stable. It has a mild hint of espresso, but without overtaking the brew. Weighs in at 5.2 ABV.
BLACK COAL STOUT, RAILWAY CITY
Like the name suggests, this is a deep, dark, smoky stout that tastes like it was brewed in a mine shaft far underground. But this 6 ABV beer from St. Thomas is no lump of coal. With heavy notes of roasted, black coffee and dark chocolate, it’s a more full-flavoured take on the stout style, with a slight liquorice finish. No wonder it was a gold medal winner at the 2016 Canadian Brewing Awards.
LUCK & CHARM OATMEAL STOUT, MACLEANS
With a funky label that was obviously marketed toward me (hello cool charm bracelet!), this oatmeal stout did not disappoint. A thick, creamy head leads the way to bitter, roasted, dark chocolate notes and a slightly sweet finish. The strong 5.6 ABV stands out with this stout, but it’s nicely balanced with the dry, big hops. It’s become one of our favourite made-in Ontario stouts.
COBBLESTONE STOUT, MILLSTREET
Mill Street Cobblestone Stout has wandered into our fridge many times, but we’ve never reviewed it before. It has a super smooth mouth-feel, with a dry, lightly roasted flavour, making this a fantastic beer you’ll drink on repeat – especially with a relatively low alcohol percentage (compared to other stouts) of 4.2 ABV. Mill Street uses nitrogen charging to carbonate this stout, just like Guinness, which gives it that classic stout creaminess, without having to travel to Ireland.
SKINNY DIPPIN’ STOUT, SAWDUST CITY
The Gravenhurst brewery makes a fine oatmeal stout, with all the chocolate and roasted malt flavours you’d expect from the style. Because of the addition of oatmeal to the malt, it’s sweeter variety of stout than a dry Irish-style stout, and pours with a light brown foamy head that disappears quickly. At 5.5 ABV, it also packs more punch than Cobblestone’s stout, but without sacrificing any smoothness.
Compiled by Greg and Kate Mercer
Twenty women walk into a bar to drink craft beer. It’s no joke. It’s the Fem Ales revolution.
This past Sunday I had the pleasure of joining several other beer-loving ladies at The Grand Trunk Saloon in Kitchener, where we raised a glass to womanhood and well-crafted brews.
The event is the fourth one hosted by the group since its inception last fall. Thanks to an invite from my friend Claire, it was my first time attending, and won’t be my last.
Two of the organizers, Lisa Kargis and Charlotte MacKenzie, explained how the group began as a few acquaintances from several backgrounds (service industry, tech), with a similar passion for Canadian-made craft beer. A Facebook group acts as home base to share news and event info with their followers, and has already amassed 275 members, including brewery folk (like Patience Hartford from Descendants Beer and Beverage Co.), bartenders and drinkers like me.
Although the industry is still slow to market to women drinkers, there has been a good local response to this interest group. And as Lisa describes, the energy is different when it’s solely women drinking beer together. You get a new sense of confidence in your drink order, and there’s no pressure to feel like you need to know everything about craft beer. It’s OK in this group to ask questions and learn. Drinking and learning are some of my favourite things.
However, this group of strong women isn’t just focused on drinking beer. They’re donating a percentage of their event ticket sales to the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region. Very cool.
HEY! Porter and arancini ball heaven.
At this event, we got to snack on the Grand Trunk Saloon’s tasty appetizer menu (hello arancini balls!), and enjoy three pints of the local suds on tap. They were featuring Together We’re Bitter’s Maggie’s Farm House APA, Descendants’ Dry Hopped Lager, Black Swan Brewing Co.’s IPA and Junction Craft Brewing’s HEY! Porter. Since Descendants is a regular in our household, I opted for the other three and was very pleased.
The Farm House APA is hoppy, sweet and fresh, but not as sweet as the IPA, which had awesome pineapple notes. Saving what I thought would be my favourite for last, the Porter was out of this world. Strong roasted flavours of coffee and chocolate made it the perfect dessert to an incredible afternoon.
I will be back, Fem Ales, and I will bring a larger posse!
For some interesting stats on women’s craft beer habits and beer can designs, check out this (very lengthy) blog post: https://bensbeerblog.com/2017/02/02/lets-talk-about-sexist-beer-marketing/