Last time, Quebec wine showed its terroir cards. Canada’s cold, continental climate stretched even the hardiness of hybrid grapes. Wines were thin, acidic, funky but real. Only a sparkling, hard apple cider shone.
We’re halfway through our stay in Montreal. Soon a train takes us to Prince Edward Island, then Halifax, then Europe. Desperate, my wife and I give quebecois beer a try.
We wander Plateau de Mont Royal: our home these six days.
It is Montreal’s true heart. Such quaint shops and cafes. No museums. Just sidewalks cluttered with every ethnicity and language and class. Strangers talk to strangers’ dogs. Even pigeons and sparrows cavort amicably.
So many single shops. A tin cutter. Countless chocolatiers. An herb shop flanked by cheese and olive oil shops. A bread shop that avoids bleached flower, gluten, processed anything, inorganic everything, et cetera. I wonder if they make bread at all. Hole in the wall restaurants that seemed hell bent on preserving the cuisine of small countries: Greek, Polish, Portugese, Jamaican, Tibetan, Syrian, Afgani. Every corner bar hiding Towers of Babble beneath its red patches of umbrellas.
Overwhelmed, we pause in a park. On our way back we find another organic market and buy their three cheaper beers: $3.50 a 12 ounce bottle each. Each from Quebec, if not Montreal.
Beer 1: Les Brasseurs RJ, Cheval Blanc.
Before Cheval Blanc merged with Les Brasseurs in 1998, it had begun Quebec’s craft brew revolution in 1986. Their brewpub still provides a cozy, dark, well tuned bar on rue Ontario. It is half strip club velvets, half sleek diner chrome and formica: comfortably armed against the legions of French wine and cheap beer.
Their namesake beer, Le Cheval Blanc, is a classic Belgian white. Defiantly hazy, with yellow beige color and thin white mousse. The nose is fresh and casual orange and chamomile. The palate is light, creamy and low on the bitter bits, acidity, and body. Fresh orange flavors dominate, laced with chamomile, sunflower seed oil. The length is shortish, but this is a Belgian white. It’s goal in life is to refresh, be briefly fruity but complex, then race off.
Les Brasseurs RJ Cheval Blanc does it wonderfully, especially when sitting next to a plate of fresh local goat Brie on baguette drizzled with golden cerise de terre jam, a
This is very good beer. It broke tradition by introducing Belgian styles. It is not wholly native Québécois. But it works.
Next: Claire Fontaine from Nouvelle France.
Bright clear gold with paper thin sheet of white fizz. The aromas were a bit odd. Think soy sauce on tempura fry and vanilla cream. Maybe rice and malted barley are the culprits.
The palate straightens out. Fine flavors of toasted buttered bread, hazelnut, salt and vanilla. There was enough bitterness but this is a light no-brainer beer. More length, a good, lighter amber.
Lastly, another Les Brasseurs RJ takeover: Tremblay’s Bierre Blonde Lager.
Pale gold in color with lightly latticed fizz. The aroma is equally quiet with flowery hops, bread and citrus somewhere in there. The palate is equally forgettable, with lightness and simple flavors of bread, golden apple that last for a moderate bit of time. Good but fairly straightforward.
Beer confuses me. The only native bit in even most local microbrew is water. While barley, wheat, and hops are imported from all over the world.
The blending of those elements may vary. But still most beers squeeze into international types: lager, blond ale, IPA, red ale, stout, et cetera. Clever producers may turn to exotic types, such as Cheval Blanc’s hazy Belgian white. But can a beer be local? Can it pull the trick wine does and taste of the soil it comes from?
Not until brewers only source local ingredients. Not until they involve local methods.
And probably not until I learn to pay a bit more.
Quebec (and Ontario) used to have a significant production of hops (there is still barley and wheat being produced). In a way, you are right in that it would be better if regions concentrated on what they can do best. There are some beers in Quebec sweetened with maple syrup and then, there is the (infamous) spruce beer (which is also on the decline, with only one small scale brewery in Montreal that I know of).