Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Speed Dating the Craft Brews of Quebec (CA)

So, on the first night of Taste Camp 2013 in Quebec, we went to a beer tasting in Montreal. 30-40 spirits writers and bloggers were brought to a restaurant to taste the multiple offerings of 8 breweries. I was reminded very much so of a speed dating scenario. The event was only 2 1/2 hours. That's a lot of beer to taste in a short period. But I wanted to say I was up to the challenge.

I want to say that I am not a beer expert, and that my observations are not worth as much as a professional beer writer or amateur enthusiast. But I thought it was only right to add my notes for those looking for guidance and want to take my experiences for face value. I am not a novice to beer, and I actually know more than the average man. On the otherhand, I am not anywhere close to such experts as Stephen Beaumont or Joshua M. Bernstein, two of the best beer writers reporting today. 

That said, many of these beers are not available in the US...some are. If I can shed a little light on the Quebec beer scene for the uninitiated, I am happy to do so.

I did not know a lot about the Quebec beer scene going in, so I found some quick information from Wikipedia.

From Wikipedia: Quebec beer is the beer brewed in Quebec, Canada, often with ingredients from Quebec itself and generally following the recipes of the French, Belgian and British brewing traditions. Generally, the beers brewed in Quebec differ from those in the rest of North America because of the relative importance of the French and Belgian traditions alongside that of Great Britain. German-type beers are also brewed, but the production is not very important compared to the others.

The history of beer in Quebec goes all the way back to the early days of French colonization. Industrial production truly begins in the 19th century under British rule. A microbrewery industry appeared in the 1980s, with small productions to be found all over the province today.
New France: In the 17th and 18th century, the colonists of Quebec made an alcoholic beverage which was characteristic of the region for a long period of time: spruce beer. Although spruce beer today generally refers to a soft drink of the same name, it was in fact an actual beer in which spruce replaced hops. Sometimes roots or other "spices" were used. This gave root beer.
According to historian Benjamin Sulte, the first colonists of Quebec were from the regions of France where beer and cider are more important produces than wine is. They would have brought the bouillon, an alcoholic beverage from Picardie and Haute-Normandie. Pierre Boucher, Governor of Trois-Rivières, was questioned regarding the colony during a trip to France. He reported: "Wine is served to rich families, beer is left to those who are less wealthy while others are contented by a beverage called the bouillon. The poorer ones drink only water which is of excellent quality."[1]
The Relations des Jésuites for 1646 mention that brother Ambroise prepared beer for the inhabitants. A marriage contract dated October 22, 1650 mentions the existence of a brewery in Montréal. It is written that the Governor of Montreal Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve offered "a land adjacent to the property of the brewery" to the newly wed.
In 1690, the Sieur de Longueuil built a brewery on his lands. It was in ruin by 1735. From 1704 to 1744, the Charron brothers, founders of the Hôpital général de Montréal, added a brewery to their building. In all cases, the distribution remained localized.
The first recorded commercial brewery was that founded by Intendant Jean Talon in 1671. Located in Québec City, it produced up to 4,000 barrels of beer a year. The beer was entirely made with Quebec products and half the volume was exported to the Caribbean and Europe. It was however short-lived.
Industrialization: The first large industrial-scale breweries were founded by Englishmen like John Molson in 1786. O'Keefe, from Toronto, Ontario, established itself in Montreal by the purchase of some 20 breweries including Molson's main competitors in Quebec, Dawes and Dow. Labatt, founded in London, Ontario in 1847, established itself in LaSalle, Quebec in 1952. However, its main beers had been available in Montreal since 1878 through a distribution agency. Molson and O'Keefe merged in 1989. In 1995, Labatt was purchased by Belgian Interbrew (today InBev). Molson merged with Coors in 2005.
Renaissance: During the 1960s all the way to the early 1980s, there were but three breweries, Molson, Labatt and Carling-O'Keefe, together monopolizing the market. In 1982, Brasserie Massawippi located in North Hatley produced the first craft beer meant for commercial distribution. La Massawippi, a 5% ale, brewed according to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 is no longer bottled, but can still be tried in a bar in North Hatley. In the mid 1980s, the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux started issuing new permits authorizing commercial establishments to brew their own beer and sell it on site. This started the phenomenon of brewpubs in Quebec, shortly after British Columbia.

On July 1, 1986, the Golden Lion Brewing Company served its first pint of beer at the Golden Lion Pub in Lennoxville. One of the first pubs to serve its own beer was Le Cheval Blanc on Ontario Street in Montreal, founded in 1986. Microbreweries started appearing all over Quebec in the late 1980s: McAuslan, Les Brasseurs du Nord, Brasseurs de l'Anse, Schoune and Seigneuriale. One of the most successful microbreweries, Unibroue, was founded in 1990. It has since been acquired by Ontarian Sleeman, which itself was merged with Sapporo in 2006.
Other breweries and microbreweries have also arisen since then, such as Les Brasseurs RJ, La Barberie, Le Maître Brasseur (Laval), Hopfenstark (L'Assomption), La Gueule de bois (Saguenay), Brasseur et Frères, Brasserie du Ham, À la fût (Brewpub in St-Tite), Le trou du Diable (Brewpub in Shawinigan), and Belgh'Brasse. In March 2008, Quebec had some 59 active breweries producing some 402 different beers.
Brasseurs De Montreal was one of the brewers there. Brasseur de Montréal (BdM) opened its doors on March 7, 2008, in the historic Montréal neighbourhood of Griffintown, located at 1483, Ottawa Street, just east of Guy. BdM is the brainchild of Marc-André Gauvreau and Denise Mérineau, who pooled their expertise to found one of the most prominent industrial microbreweries in the Greater Montréal Area. Only steps from the downtown area, the Bell Centre and the Champlain and Victoria bridges, BdM is able to serve clients throughout Quebec thanks to its various distribution networks. BdM makes 7 beers that are offered year-round as well as a number of specialty seasonal beers. All are served in BdM’s excellent resto-bar adjacent to the brewing facilities, where clients can watch the beer-making process while enjoying a delicious home-style meal.
A bright yellow beer featuring chi and ginger. Also interesting.
I liked the Ghost Town Stout. A big chocolately stout that's very dry. Interesting.

Brasserie Dunham born March 7, 2010, when the brewery Brewers & Brothers , located in Dunham in the Eastern Townships, was bought by three actors in the scene Quebec beer or Sébastien Gagnon, Hugues Dumontier and Jocelyn Bérubé. Recently, Hughes and Jocelyn decided to leave the team to go to other challenges. Since Dumontier and Bérubé have left the company. It is July 2012 that Mr. Eloi Deit joined Brasserie Dunham as Master brewer. He now holds the position of production manager. Their portfolio reflects their undisputed Houlon love, love that they believe is shared by many fans in Quebec and around the world. Thus, the beers offered by their range of products are all more or less focused on the exploration of this versatile plant.

Leo's Early Breakfast by Brasseries Dunham is an IPA made with Earl Grey Tea. Great big hoppy nose, with lots of floral characteristics. Great fruit comes through too! I was suspicious of this beer, but it was one of my favorites of the night.

This is the Pale Ale American. This is a classic yellow-golden Pale Ale with some grapefruitiness. Some orange also comes through. A very good drinking beer. Lovely!

A l'abri de la Tempete Microbrasserie translates to 'shelter from the storm.' Located on the Magdalen Islands , in L'Etang-du-Nord in a former fish processing plant, the microbrewery Shelter from the Storm enjoys a prime location on the seafront, with breathtaking views on the dune in the West. Before going to relax on the beach or after a busy sand and saltwater day, take a refreshing break in our tasting room.

Shelter from the Storm promotes the use of local raw materials in the design of its beers. Having started with the transformation of barley malt, it continues its momentum with the harvest of flowers, seaweed and fresh herbs. The use of local resources is a guarantee of authenticity and freshness that contributes to the sleek design and unique beers.

Belle Saison Biere Des Iles is a lager with rich floral accents. Its steeped with wild herbs gathered on the archipelago. Big citrus flavors. Nice amount of bitterness. I liked this alot.

I have to say, among many of the writers, Glutenberg was one of the most popular and successful discoveries of the night. A huge surprise. Many of us have had some bad gluten-free brewing attempts. But Glutenberg had brought the whole enterprise to a creative new level. BSG was founded on the collaboration between long-time friends, Julien Niquet and David Cayer. Julien, a born entrepreneur, always wanted to have his own company. Were it not for his gluten intolerance, it is unlikely BSG would have ever been launched. David, on the other hand, never really dreamt of being an entrepreneur, until he stepped in!

The idea of brewing gluten-free beer was first discussed at the beginning of winter 2011. Thanks to the support of friends and relatives, they were able to raise the funds required to buy the equipment and recruited the right brewer, Gabriel Charbonneau, who saw their ad on Facebook!

More than a year and a half later, after dozens of tests, they finally produced a perfect gluten-free beer. A golden blonde, dry, perfectly hoppy, with notes of lemon peel, but most important of all, a gluten-free beer that tasted like real beer! This was unheard of, in a market that had existed for ten years. The Glutenberg Blonde was thus born.

Glutenberg's popularity was instantaneous in Quebec, right from the beginning of the brewery's operations in July of 2011. The launch of the Glutenberg Red and the Glutenberg American Pale Ale in December of 2011 largely contributed to its fast-growing success. May 2012 marked a major milestone in the history of the young company, when BSG made it big at an event held in San Diego, United States. The brewery won the gold, silver and bronze awards in the “Gluten-free beer category” at the World Beer Cup. A first in the history of the brewing industry’s most important competition in the world.

The Blonde, the American Pale, and the Red beers were all very drinkable and quaffable. They tasted like honest to goodness version of their original styles. These were beers you would be happy to serve or be served. Truly admirable. These are now available in cans in the US! You should chase these down. But don;t trust my word for it, Stephen Beaumont thinks these guys are doing it right. His opinion is much more important than mine.

Glutenberg, Imperial Sotolon

Beer blogger Cassandra C. wrote, "I do not know if you've heard of sotolon or research François Chartier published in the book Taste Buds and Molecules ? In summary, the sotolon is aromatic molecule that is found in many ingredients like curry, maple, nuts, coffee, celery salt, etc.. This is reflected in this beer. This beer is produced in association with water Aubier (a sap water produced in Quebec). In addition to water, other unusual ingredients such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat and brown rum. This is surely all these differences make such a unique beer."

Hugely aromatic beer. It's a yellow-golden blonde color. But it has huge aromas of coffee, caramel, and maple syrup. With its 8.5%! This is a huge, huge beer! It's a blonde Imperial Stout! Amazing. One of the best beers of the night!!!

Glutenberg Belge de Sasion 2013 was another fantastic find! This was a slightly hazy, light yellow ale with a nice head and good lace. An incredibly spicy nose with lots of orange and grapefruit. A hint of pepper too. Lemon difintely comes through on finish. A very nice session beer. I liked this alot too! Another one of my favorites!

Isaac (pictured here) and Andrew have always wanted to build a unique craft brewery worthy of the major European institutions such Chimay, Bass, Pilsner Urquell, and Fisher. This place is called Le Trou du Diable, making reference to a geographical formation called "pot" located in Shawinigan Falls. This name comes from the folk belief that bottomless hole leads straight to hell. A meeting brought Franck Chaumanet on board to complement the project. Unfortunately, these three stooges took too long to secure funding, lost the building which they chose. The project was put on hold for a year ...

In fall 2003, the arrival of two other promoters, Luc Bellerive and Dany Payette, each with knowledge of the environment and the latest trends, instilled all the necessary power and total confidence in the project. It was then decided to install a more elaborate brewpub kitchen. After many, many delays, by June 2005, the funding was secured and the building found and construction begun.

There is no question this was one of the favorite brewers of the night.

From the brewer: Six months of aging in oak barrels botrytis Californian white wine gives the beer a complex nose that looks like a flower honey, vanilla, apricot and leather with the addition of wild yeasts. Mouth wide and generous, humming tunes bittersweet background fishing and American hops. This was a fantastic sweet and tart wild yeast session beer. Loved it!
From the Brewer: This exceptional beer, fermented with three different yeasts, aged four months in American oak having hosted the apple brandy of cider Michel Jodoin. It has a vanilla side, spicy, roasted and animal. There is mixed with hot alcohol smell burnt caramel, peach, apricot and fresh tobacco. I loved this Blonde Triple Abbey!
From the brewer: The IPA is a bretteuse aged 18 months in barrels of Syrah California flooded with Brettanomyces. The result is a beer with orange accents disorder whose nose evokes rose water, grapefruit, vanilla and leather. On the palate, acidity and bitterness engage in long bridal waltz, true marriage of flavors just waiting to be consumed. Not usually being a fan of Brett, I have to admitt this was good.

From the time it opened its brewpub on Laurier avenue in Montreal, Dieu du Ciel has been aiming to brew the best beers possible, without compromise. Their aim is to brew unique, intense beers. They want to be  original and satisfying, yet always remaining creative by constantly experimenting with new recipes. Two of their beers were very cool!

From the brewer: Hibiscus flower Wit "Bottle conditioned" Rosée d’Hibiscus is a soft spoken wheat beer. The rose colour comes from the hibiscus flowers added during the brewing process. The aromas and flavour of this tropical flower are very prominent in the beer, giving it a slight acidity and a very agreeable fragrance. This was a huge hit, especially with many of the lady bloggers...but it won high mark from everyone! The Rosée d'hibiscus was born in their Montreal brewpub in May 2006.

From the brewer: The Peppercorn rye beer Routes des épices (French for "Spice Route") is a rye beer brewed with both black and green peppercorns. Initially, the beer reveals flavours of fresh grain and malt, which give it notes of chocolate, caramel, and fruit. The pepper flavour and aroma is fully revealed in the finish, which leaves a pleasant, spicy, tingling sensation on the tongue. Absolutely fantastic! So unique! Loved it! The Route des épices was born in their Montreal brewpub in May 2002.

Microbrasserie 'Le Castor' Brewing Company is an organic brewery in Riguad, Quebec. After years of home-brewing, the partners launched an organic microbrewery, in Rigaud, Quebec. They wanted to share their passion for locally made, high quality beer with their community! Their products have been available since June 2012. 

A very solid Blonde Pale Ale. A light yellow ale with nice Pilsner like quality when drinking. A good, quaffable beer. Nice hoppiness. Good cereal notes.

A traditional IPA hopped with Yakima hops, with a very, very nice big floral nose. This is one of their most popular beers and you can easilly see and taste why. A very nice drinking beer!

This was a huge bomb of a beer, and was easilly one of my favorites of the night! A Scotch Ale aged in Bourbon barrels. It was a dream come tru for those who like the whole barrel aging thing with beer. A big, translucent light brown/coppery brew with a creamy, taupe head. Butterscotch, toffee, maple syrup, some sweet fruitiness, and a big dollop of bourbon. I loved this beer! Did I say that? Fantastic!
It was an incredibly eye opening night!!! Fantastic! I had no idea what to expect going in. Fantastic stuff! Of course, both Josh and Stephen have mentioned manyn of these beers in their current books and their upcoming books, but for the moderately aware, this was an eye-opening expereince. Wonderful time! I want to go back to Monteal and drink again!