From the 14th through the 23rd of June the Jacques-Cartier Pier in Montreal's Old Port was the scene of a multisensory tasting experience. From the Place D'Armes metro stop, the pier, as well as the nearby shops, restaurants, and museums, is an easy stroll. The 2001 Mondial de la Bière featured nearly non-stop beers, food, and entertainment at the heart of this island city's summer tourist destination. The $10 ($6.60 US) daily admission yielded a logo'd mug and 10 taste tickets, with the legal drinking age of 18 strictly enforced. 68 breweries filled 69 separate exhibit areas organized in pavilions, medium-sized peaked white tents scattered across the long sand covered pier. The layout allowed all but the densest late-night weekend crowds to easily stroll between tasting booths, with lines rarely slowing things down. No police presence was observed and clearly none was required. The tents, and their limited seating, offered much needed protection from the elements, which alternated from searing 90-degree (33°C) heat to torrential downpours. The excellent bilingual printed guide eased the chore of locating the 182 beers from the 19 countries represented, but couldn't help with the difficult choice of which flavorful beer to try next.
The Pavillion Québécois housed the Quebec brewers of McAuslan, Les Brasseurs du Nord, Les Brasseurs RJ, and Unibroue, keeping customers returning to try the 38, mostly draught, featured beers. Other provinces were represented at Pavillion Canadien with 14 beers from Big Rock, Brick Brewery, Lakes of Muskoka, Maritime, and Western. Other small-scale brewers who were able to afford the time and expense to have their own booths were L'Amère à Boire (Montreal), Dieu du Ciel (Montreal), Microbrasserie du Lièvre (Mt. Laurier), Ferme Brasserie Schoune (St. Polycarpe), and Les Bières de la Nouvelle-France (St. Paulin). The later, New-France, even offers a retreat, where visitors can stay in a restored country inn complete with farm, brewery, horseback riding and live theater performances.
Based on the comments heard both in French and English, the American Pavillion succeeded in demonstrating the great flavors possible in widely varied beer styles. Responsible for generating this international good will were the beers from Harpoon, Dogfish Head, Alaskan, Sierra Nevada, Allagash, Climax, Kalamzoo, Flying Fish, Otter Creek, Vermont Pub & Brewery, Victory, and Castle Springs. Our neighbors to the north now know what we do with all those American hops.
This festival is about expanding flavor horizons as much as showcasing local beers, so the presence of imported beers and whiskeys is no surprise. Canada's "big two", Molson and Labatt each shared their booths with their "sister" beers such as Corona, Heineken, Foster, Budweiser, and Elephant. Due to the "NAFTA-effect" it's no longer easy to tell who's an import and who's a domestic. Along with the popular and well-known beers from Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, and Japan, it was the presence of the Belgians that drew the attention of the curious and the knowledgeable alike. D'Achouffe, Huyghe, and Moortgal pleased the crowd with 10 beers that are often difficult to find outside of major North American cities. Commercial beers making a rare appearance included Buccaneer (Bahamas), Hue (Vietnam), and Gekkeikan Sake (Japan).
Light food was available to subdue any hint of hunger but it was the cheese samplers that served to create taste sensations. With over 450 cheeses native to Quebec, it's only natural to feature some at this event. The Chef's Centre hosted continuous tasting workshops on beer, pairing with cheese or sweets, Scotch and Whisky, and judging. Other diversions included live performances on stage by musical groups, folk dancers, bagpipers, and Hackey Sac competitors. History buffs and the just inquisitive gathered to watch open-air brewing demonstrations led by brewing "pioneer" Bill Owens, in period costume, who conducted 18th-century brews through the mash, boil, and fermentation using only brewing implements of historic design. After only a two-day fermentation it was surprisingly easy to distinguish between the heather brew and the juniper version.
Montreal is truly a model international city that has proudly retained its multi-cultural past. What better place to host such an international beer festival. As financial issues pressure beer festival organizers everywhere, the tasting public should appreciate just how hard it is to continue to execute successful events that bring us such a variety of beer in a comfortable setting. More than 110 volunteers provided behind-the-scenes support for Mondial President Jeannine Marois who reported "visitors loved the American Pavilion and kept the cooking workshop packed, while brewers enjoyed Industry Day and the Waiter Race." The Mondial de la Bière deserves our support and encouragement to return next year with the same great organization and even more local brewers. We may even get to taste all the winners from the World Beer Cup competition! As for dealing with the weather, I recommend an open mind and a full glass.
Tasting Notes: The Raison d'ètre from Dogfish Head is a clear ruby color with a tan head. The big malty flavor features a molasses-like sweetness and a warming finish from its 8% alcohol. The Alaskan ESB is a clear amber with a hoppy aroma that combines well with an equally hoppy flavor with a nice supporting maltiness. The Wolaver's Brown Ale, brewed at Otter Creek, is a clear dark amber with a clean, dry malty flavor and short finish. The Otter Creek Summer Wheat Ale is a dark straw color with a light body, effervescent mouthfeel, smooth wheat flavor, and dry finish. The Great Western Lager is a clear straw color, well carbonated, offering a dry, crisp flavor with light hops and even lighter malts. The Bowes Double Dry pours from a twist-off bottle to yield a very light pale malt flavor along with very light hops and 5.6% alcohol. At 5%, the India Pale Ale from Alexander Keith's in Nova Scotia pours a clear straw and presents such a light body and very dry flavor, with adjuncts are the likely cause. The John Labatt Classique (5%) is a clear gold with a medium body, actually reasonable hops, and a full mouthfeel from the carbonation. The Floris Chocolat (4.2%) from Huyghe in Belgium appears a dense amber and boasts an intense milk chocolate aroma that portends the chocolate dominated malty flavor, with a balance toward the slightly sweet side. The Floris Fraises features orange and amber hues with an intense strawberry aroma, bold strawberry flavor balanced toward sweet, smooth mouthfeel, and a nice big body that goes down easily. The bottled Delirium Tremens comes in at 9% and this gold elixir makes a lasting impression with its deep estery aromas and flavors, where the smooth maltiness leads to a rewarding warming finish. From Brasserie Duwac in Belgium comes the Mere Noël, at 8.5%, this hazy gold brew teases the tastebuds with a smooth mouthfeel, delicate malt flavor, mellow esters, very light hops, and an incredible smoothness. The Czech Pardubice (Pardubiky) Porter appears a dark mahogany with a sweet malty aroma, medium body, and extremely sweet overall flavor. This contrasts well with the local 7.2% unfiltered Cosaque (Kozak) strong porter from L'Amère à Boire. Aged three weeks, this interpretation comes in at 7.5% and offers a great creamy mouthfeel, nice malty richness, and even flavor balance. They even post the recipe on their Website! Their Lager rousse maibock (6.7%) jumps out with a big body and pronounced malty, alcoholic character. The Buccaneer Lager (5%) from Buccaneer in the Bahamas makes a respectable showing with its gold color, medium body, clean pale malt flavor, even balance, and dry, slightly hoppy finish. The blonde lager Claire Fontain (4.9%) from Quebec's Nouvelle-France appears a well carbonated clear straw with a very light pale malt character and subtle, crisp hops bitterness. Their Blonde d'épeautre (5%) is a clear gold with a nice crisp hoppiness and slightly sweet underlying malt. The buckwheat Ambrée de Sarrasin (5%) is a clear amber with a rich, light malty flavor, dry balance, and clean finish. Well water and a special "cooker" give the buckwheat a unique twist. A visit to their "farm brewery" would show three different lager yeasts in use, coarse filtering employed, bilingual labels showing the brewed-on date, a restaurant for 250, 100 guest rooms, a maple sugar house, and massage therapy available. In the works are certified self-grown organic grains and in-house malting. The one brewer puts in 12-hour brew days in the 10 barrel brewhouse to yield six beers a month and 1,500 hl a year.
More Notes: From Massachusetts, Harpoon Brewery lands it UFO (UnFiltered Offering) as a hazy gold brew with a clean wheat flavor. Their IPA pulls down 70% of total sales with its clear amber color, intense hoppy aroma, great hops-over-malt flavor balance, and effervescent mouthfeel. The Unibroue U and U2 offer flavors too subtle for craft beer drinkers, and seem wisely left north of the border to compete for Labatts and Molson light lager drinkers. From Nova Scotia's Maritime Beer Company, the Halifax 1749 Stone Fired Ale (5.1%) is a well carbonated gold, light in body, with an interesting sweet orange zest character. Using a special plastic-liner design, the Microbrasserie du Lièvre in Quebec plans to can their offerings such as the Montoise (5.4%), a medium-bodied brew with a light pale malt flavor and crisp hoppiness from start to finish. Their Brune au Miel (6.8%) is a clear dark amber, and provides a nicely balanced light caramel sweetness and smooth mouthfeel. The Frousse (5.3%) features a very clean dry maltiness. Currently the brewhouse from Stainless Steel Specialists P.Q. produces 1000 hl batches that see unpasteurized draught and canned distribution throughout the Laurentian district of Quebec. Now in its 12th year, Brasserie MacAuslan is sending its brews south of the border into Massachusetts and Vermont. Their nitrogen Cream Ale features a solid hop presence along with a smooth malty character in this nice, medium-bodied summer beer. The Extra Pale Ale is a clear gold with a light body and nice hoppy flavor balance. From the same brewery, the St-Ambroise Apricot Wheat appears a reddish gold with an intense apricot aroma and flavor - enough said. The flagship St-Ambroise is amber, with a very dry malty flavor that is crisp and clean. The Ale Noire l'avoine (5%) is an opaque oatmeal stout with a deep roasted character mellowed by oats and a nitrogen smoothness in the mouthfeel. Beers from Les Brasseurs du Nord carry the Boréal brand name. They include the Cuivée, a deep amber in color, it offers a full mouthfeel along with solid malty sweetness. The Ale Noire (5%) is a dry stout with a smooth mouthfeel and lots of dark malts at work. The Dorée Ale du miel (4.8%) is gold, with a sweet flavor balance and smooth mouthfeel. Brewed by Molson for that color desiring consumer, their Rickard's Red (5.2%) matches a light body with a dry, slightly malty flavor. Meanwhile, the Blanche de Quebec from Schoune (4.1%) appears a hazy gold but abounds unexpectedly with rich malty flavors. Their Blanche au Miel comes with a very light body, light wheat flavor, and a slightly mellowing sweetness from honey. In the lineup from Les Brassuers RJ the Belle Guele Pilsner (5.2%) is a clear gold, with a pale malt sweetness, subtle hop bitterness, and clean finish. The Coup de Grisou, meaning "strike of the grisly", is a hazy amber with nice crisp hops matched with a mellow, wheat-like palate softness that is perfect for summer thirst quenching. The medium-bodied Ambrée d'Orge (5%) is a clear amber color but offers a dry, slightly sour maltiness. The Lochness (6%) is a clear dark amber with a caramel malt sweetness and dry finish. The golden Rousse de Blé is medium-bodied, with a more mellow (wheat), pale malt flavor. Another Quebec brewery with an attention-getting bottle label that would never pass the U.S. censors at the ATF is Brasserie Le Chaudron with their Chanvre Rouge (5%) hemp beer. A clear amber, this light-bodied brew offers an even flavor balance with early malt followed by late hop bitterness. The Chaudron Ale Québecoise (5%) is a clear straw color with a very light pale malt flavor with pronounced hop bitterness. Beers from the small Montreal brewpub Brasserie Dieu de Ciel show an unrestrained range of tasty flavors. The Porter shows a smooth, dry, malty character with a very clean, even balance. Local craft porters must now overcome that bad impression left by megas' marketing campaigns that have besmirched the style's good reputation. The 5% Fumisterie Rousse de chanvre (red hemp ale) comes across with a dry maltiness, accented by a slight oil character from the hemp seeds. The Scotch (8.5%) boasts a very malty sweetness along with a big and heavy mouthfeel. The Charbonnière ale fumée (smoked ale) starts with a smoky aroma and leads into a nice malty character with a very light smoke quality and subtle hops. This medium-bodied brew is unique to Quebec and does the Bamberg rauch malts proud.
The American contingent offers tasty brews that drew the interest and praise of locals. From Vermont Pub & Brewery, the Bombay Grab IPA (5.7%) is a deceiving amber color with a powerful hops aroma and flavor, lasting head, and persistent attention getting bitterness. Their bold Smoked Porter (5.9%) sports a tan head over a medium body with pronounced smoky aroma and flavor. Competing for raves from the crowd is the Bell's Porter (5.3%) from Kalamazoo Brewing in Michigan. A tan head tops the dark brown body where chocolate complements the other dark malt flavors, all supported by a nice hop bitterness. The Copper Ale (5.4%) from Otter Creek is medium-bodied with a smooth, slightly sweet malty flavor that offers a slight hop bitterness before its dry finish. Another bold brew showed up from Alegash Brewing of Maine with their Tripel Reserve, lots of esters and complex flavors to stimulate the tastebuds. Attracting less attention, the latest alco-pops on hand sport names like Labatt Lager & Lime, Boomerang Exotic Orange, and Tropical Typhoon.
A European-style beer festival next door to the U.S. is an event not to be missed. Their holistic approach involving beer, food, music and culture can be a learning experience. Expand your horizons at the next Mondial de la Bière and see what Montreal has to offer.L'amère à boire
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri -