Last Friday I returned from my nearly two week trip to Montréal, Quebec. This was my first time in Montréal and first time in Canada. Following the trip to Mexico in January, all of a sudden I feel like a world traveler.
Of course, the reason I was there was to attend the Siebel Institute’s Brewing Microbiology short course. The course was held at the Lallemand Yeast labs at the National Research Council of Canada’s Montreal Facility. The course consisted of a 3 hour lecture in the morning and then after lunch a 4 hour (sometimes longer) practical lab session. We covered nearly everything from how to make media and pour plates, to streaking and inoculating all different kinds of media with known organisms and then finally, classifying and identifying unknown organisms. All useful skills if you have an infection problem in your brewery. We also spent a good amount of time talking about yeast physiology and yeast handling techniques. No yeast means no beer. Unhealthy yeast means bad beer. The course was really intense. They covered a lot of material in a very short time period. The first day I felt like I knew what we were talking about, reviewing stuff I already knew. The second day they shoved the funnels down our throats and started pouring it in and I was quickly overwhelmed. I managed to keep pace and stay above water but it felt like treading water at times. I made a 89 on my final exam, so some of it stuck!
Surely a place that has a yeast research lab has to have a thriving beer scene yeah? Montréal does in fact have a bustling beer scene. I managed to make it to seven breweries while I was in town. 5 on my own, 2 were with the group on the last day of the class.
First was Brasserie Harricana, a pretty hip spot with a decent crowd for a Monday night. Something I noticed with them, and several other places in town, they served different style beers at different temperatures. Light beers and lagers colder, dark beers and Belgians warmer. I think this is common in Europe, but extremely rare in the US. American beer drinkers are conditioned to “the colder the better”. Craft places may serve a little warmer than “ice cold Miller Lite”, but still all the same no matter the style. The next night I made my way out to Le Saint Bock, in the trendy University of Quebec-Montreal neighborhood. I only got one beer here, but it was a Black IPA (aka Cascadian Dark Ale) which is my wife’s favorite style. I ran across several in Montréal, actually. Saint Bock also had several varieties of poutine. The one I got had pulled pork and a BBQ sauce made with Orval beer. All the poutines had a beer sauce.
I took a couple days off from exploring at this point, both to rest and the weather had turned a little sour. On Friday night I made it out to Dieu du Ciel, a brewery whose beer I’ve actually had here in the States. It was mobbed and I had to wait a while for a table, but that was OK. Two beers here, a double IPA that was quite nice and another Black IPA, this one more chocolaty than Saint Bock’s but it was still very tasty.
After Dieu du Ciel, I headed over to the Montréal taproom of Quebec City brewery Pit Caribou. This doesn’t count in my “breweries visited” list, but one of my classmates was from this brewery and so I wanted to try it out. It was very good. He also brought some bottled beers for us to taste on the last day of class (his was the closest brewery to Montréal) that were outstanding. I hightly recommend looking up Pit Caribou if you’re in Quebec. On Saturday, I went to a couple museums and wandered around the old Historical part of Montréal. There I ran across the Rue St. Paul outpost of Les 3 Brasseurs. Originally from France, 3 Brasseurs is a chain of brewpubs with several locations in both Quebec and Ontario. Similar to a Rock Bottom, Gordon Biersch or RAM Brewery chain here in the states, each place brews three or four company standards and then rotating local beers for each unique location. The beer was serviceable and the food was good.
Tuesday of the second week I made the last two stops of the breweries I wanted to see on my own. First was EtOH Brasserie which had good beer and good food. The third Black IPA I found was here. It was chocolate-heavy like the one from Deiu du Ciel, but it was quite nice. After that I made my way to Le Cheval Blanc, which was the first microbrewery in Montréal. Good beer here as well, but almost got myself in trouble. Went to pay and the barkeep told me they only took cash or debit drawn on a Canadian bank, no credit cards. I had enough cash to cover it, but only just barely.
The last two places I visited were part of the group tour at the end of the class. After we had taken and graded our exams, they took us across the river to Chambly. A bit of a cherry on top to round out the course. The first place we stopped was a tiny brewpub Bedondaine & Bedon Ronds.
Working on nearly a homebrew scale with an 18 gallon capacity and using 5 gallon Corny kegs, everything they brewed was consumed on site. No bottling, no outside draft sales, not even growler fills. The owner was a funny and humble man who made good beer and had a ridiculous breweriana collection. The walls and ceilings were covered in bottles, cans, posters, coasters, serving trays, tin signs, anything you can imagine, dating back to the 1920’s or earlier. Final stop was at Unibroue.
Unibroue makes some of my favorite Belgian style beers so I am very familiar with them and their products. I have to say, they rolled out the red carpet for us. Our tour was led by none other than Brewmaster Jerry Vietz himself. After the tour he led us through a beer and cheese pairing that finished with chocolate truffles made by him and his wife. We tasted through 9 beers at Unibroue, including both the Canadian release and US release of the 25th Anniversary series, which were different. He also sent us home with a cookbook and a bottle of the lastest in the Éphémère series, Strawberry Rhubarb. I’m normally not a rhubarb fan, but this beer was great, and has a strong strawberry flavor which is hard to keep in a beer. It’s so light and subtle it tends to fade quickly.
I also bought some bottled and canned beer from stores while I was in town but sadly, most of the packaged beer was in rough shape compared to fresh draft. Several old cans (as old as November of last year) and oxidized bottles. Check for dates, or stick with draft.
I started the trip 2418 unique check-ins on Untappd. I finished the trip with 2461. A total of 43 beers. I had one in the Washington DC airport on the way and one in the San Francisco airport on the way home. The other 41 were all Canadian beers. Most from Quebec, but in some of the bottled beers from other provinces.
The class was an all day thing, and since I was travelling for work with obligations to meet it was difficult to fully “relax” but I managed to get out and about. The brewery trips listed above were mostly weekday evenings trips out for dinner. I had a free weekend in the middle and made the most of it on Saturday. My first stop was Parc Jean-Drapeau which consists of two islands in the middle of the river, accessible by the Metro. The main reason I wanted to head out there was a feature called the Biosphere. It’s a geodesic sphere, designed and built by Buckminster Fuller. Home of the US Pavilion of Expo67 in Montréal, it now houses a nature and environmental museum. Also on the island was Musée Stewart. An old British stronghold turned history museum, focusing on history of the fort itself, and the island it’s on. Brief history of the founding of Montréal as well. After this, I headed back across the river to the old historic part of downtown. I had been forewarned that it’s mostly full of cheesy tourist shops, and it is, but it also has some interesting buildings and amazing architecture. Walking through this part of town made me feel like I was in Paris, despite the fact I’ve never been to Paris, it just had that old school European vibe to it.
The second museum I visited was the Musée d’Archéologie et d’Histoire. I didn’t know what to expect when I went in, but quickly discovered this museum is quite literally built on top of an archaeological dig site, the former location of the first building in Montréal, and later a bank building that was a city landmark. The tour takes you downstairs into the foundation of the old building. You traverse through an old granite brick sewer tunnel (now clean and dry of course) to get from one building to the other, they are connected underground. One part of the building had a thick glass floor where you could see the dig as it had been left and a note that one day a fresh batch of archaeologists with newer tools and techniques would resume the dig and likely discover even more. It was hands down one of the coolest museums I’ve ever been in.
French is an official language in all of Canada, but the majority of French speaking Canadians are in Quebec. I took French in high school and I’ve been working on learning more, but it’s slow going. Reading written words (like the signs on the museums) I can do pretty good with, but hearing someone speak I can’t comprehend much at all. It ended up being pretty frustrating as I tried to use what little French I knew (Hello, goodbye, thank you, please etc) to be polite and then having people assume I spoke French. Nearly everyone there is bilingual French/English but even sometimes the English was hard to understand. One funny account though from the archaeology museum, the man at the ticket counter said “Hello” as I walked up, and I replied “Hello” and he began describing the layout of the museum in English, but I didn’t quite understand what he was saying, so with my brain in French mode I said “Pardon ?” and he started speaking French, perhaps assuming then that I didn’t understand his English. I apologized and said “No no, sorry, en Anglais?” He effortlessly switched back to English and then we had no more trouble. Montréal is a pretty easy city to get around in, but when you get lost and your phone doesn’t work (mine didn’t) and you can’t easily ask someone for help, it tends to get a little panic inducing.
All in all, it was a rewarding trip, if not always smooth running. Parts of it were extremely stressful, but the experience will come in handy, both in future work and future travel.