MONTRÉAL - After sampling a saison flavoured beer with the most unlikely of ingredients – mustard — we try a smoked rye porter paired with not just any poutine, but one with a rich sauce à la bière. And already, just 20 minutes into our Montréal brewpub walking tour, our taste buds are captivated.
Since the 1980s, Québec’s micro industry has taken off faster than a cork from a triple fermented Belgian ale — after starting out with just three, there are now 150 breweries in the province, which makes up a third of the micro beer industry across Canada.
“The quality of our beers is attracting visitors from all over … not just Canada and the U.S. but Europe, Asia and South America,” says Stephane Lussier, the man who conducts tours of Montréal’s microbreweries for tourists. As a result of this demand, Local Montréal Tours, which Stephane works for, runs as many as eight tours every Saturday through different neighbourhoods.
“You could say we’ve become the victim of our own success,” Stepahne observes.
Le Saint Bock artisanal brewery in downtown is the perfect place to start this tour, in part because of its central location immediately north of Old Montréal and south of the Plateau Montréal neighbourhood. But also because of its tremendous beer selection, with 44 beers on tap (21 brewed on site plus 23 guest taps), and over 850 bottled beers. They even have their own Beer Bible, a heavy book listing all of their beers, which really does look like one of those massive bibles you’d find in a medieval church.
Left: Raphael Richard of Soeurs Grise has helped revolutionize the micro brew industry in Québec and Canada. Right: Some of the best brew pubs are located in historic Montreal buildings.
As we move on to our next microbrewery, Stephane, himself an amateur brewer, tells us he’s made 40 different beer recipes of his own.
As if to underscore the diversity of beers and flavours that beckon residents and tourists alike, at L’amère à boire we sample a German Hefeweisen, or wheat beer, with hints of banana, paired with beer gravlax (a cured meat). A highlight of our third stop at the Bennelux brewery is an Imperial stout paired with a selection of Belgian chocolate.
All three microbreweries on this tour are in close walking distance of one another and each brews an impressive selection of beers only available on site. And they’re all close to Métro (subway) stations, as are the vast majority of the micros in this city. In fact, there are so many breweries at the doorstep of Métro stations, there’s even a beer/subway map on a website called Thrillist. And as I discover first hand during my stay in Montréal, it really is a thrill to discover the microbrewery scene here by subway (not to mention a safer, faster way to go).
From Bennelux, the Reservoir Pub is a short subway ride away; we get off at the Saint-Laurent station.
Reservoir is deservedly known as a nanobrewery, not only because they have eight beers on tap, but because they brew in small batches — as little as 250 litres at a time, with the mindset of constantly trying new recipes. They also do 100-bottle runs of limited edition beers which are cellared and continue to mature on site.
“We make a broad selection of beers, from our IPA Citra to our Black Currant Saison. We’re also big on cherry beers,” observes Corin Dejonge, the pub’s assistant brewer. “So we’re giving people more reasons to visit more often.”
On my second day discovering Montréal’s micros, I come to the realization that my favourite ale trail is the Orange Line on the city’s Métro — the breweries here are all top quality. There’s no better proof of that than the Dieu du Ciel on Rue Laurier — loosely translated its means “God of the Sky.” The God reference is arguably appropriate, as Dieu du Ciel’s bottled beer is so good that it has made its way onto the shelves of stores across Canada, the U.S. and a growing number of European countries. Although they’ve since added a larger facility in Saint-Jérôme, north of Montréal, Rue Laurier is where it all began.
The first beer we sample at Dieu du Ciel doesn’t disappoint: a tart framboise (raspberry beer) that explodes in the mouth with flavour and freshness. It’s probably the best framboise I’ve ever tried and as I glance across the bar, I realize all three of the servers are drinking the framboise as well.
Left: Nothing goes better with Montreal beer than poutine. Right: There is plenty to cheer about in Montreal thanks to beer.
Assistant manager Kevan says a big reason for the beer’s appeal is “they put a crazy amount of raspberries into this recipe. Unfortunately, we only make it in the spring, and while it’s available in bottle, it’s really hard to find.”
As much as I desperately want to have another, I’m scheduled to visit a relatively new micro, Bistro-Brasserie Les Soeurs Grises in Old Montréal near Square Victoria Station. You have to pace yourself on these tours.
While Dieu du Ciel is a place you’ll be comfortable in shorts and sandals, Les Soeurs Grise is a trendy, relatively new restaurant and bistro, which offers an upscale dining experience that draws people not just for the beer, but for its sophisticated ambiance and a food menu that includes tapas and several smoked dishes.
Partner Raphaël Richard has clearly helped up the game of this gastro brewery, drawing on years spent working in the L.A. restaurant business. “We’re one of the first brewpubs with a full kitchen and almost every dish we serve features one of our beers,” Raphaël proudly says.
One of the beers served here is the 7.8 per cent Ninja IPA, with notes of honey and blueberry. Thank goodness I’m taking the subway.
Raphaël sums up his passion for beer, which is clearly shared by the other microbreweries of this city, by saying: “We want people to come here and say ‘my God, this beer is so good and I can’t find it anywhere else, so I need to come back.’ ”
I’m already planning my next visit.
When you go, a good place to base yourself is the Hôtel de L’Institut next door to the Sherbrooke Metro station, a short walk to Le Saint Bock. The hotel is also just across the road from the elegant Saint-Louis Square, distinguished by its Victorian cast-iron fountain and the perfect evening retreat to savour not only Montreal’s ambiance, but some of the microbrews readily available for purchase nearby. For informaiton, go to www.ithq.qc.ca/en/hotel/
Tip: it’s legal to consume alcohol in Montreal’s parks providing you take food with you). / Montreal’s Metro offers visitors a Weeken