Last week I went on my first vacation in a year — a bièrcation to la belle ville de Montréal. What is that you ask? A beer-based vacation to Montreal.
Every year I try to take a vacation to unwind and try new beers and visit nice little cafés. Last year was Quebec City; this year Montreal.
For several years, my friends have expressed surprise that I’ve never visited Montreal, and I wasn’t sure why. Turns out, they were right to be surprised — Montreal was one of the best places I’ve ever visited.
My main objectives of the bièrcation 2014 was to try new beers, visit breweries and brewpubs I’ve always wanted to visit, see old and new friends, improve my French, maybe see a Habs game and just, unwind and not stress about the little things. That’s exactly what I did.
After I settled in Montreal, I met with my Twitter friend Stéfan at a poutinerie near my hotel called PoutineVille. I’m probably the biggest poutine freak in all of Manitoba, so I was excited to check it out and PoutineVille ended up being the best poutine I had in all of Montreal.
You are given the option to customize the poutine in every aspect, fries, cheese, sauce and toppings. I went for a poutine with regular sauce, cheese curds, Montreal smoked meat and bacon — it was delightful. The staff at PoutineVille told me that La Belle Gueule Originale was a great beer — in fact, one of their house beers. For a lager, it was a decent lager, a bit hoppy but not extraordinary or anything.
Over the course of a week, I managed to visit a number of pubs that I can’t even remember. I was surrounded by pubs and brewpubs within a 15-minute walk radius.
One of the very first I visited was Benelux on rue Sherbrooke ouest. Benelux had a style of beer for everybody’s tastebuds ranging from a blonde lager to a smoked maple porter and a strong sweet barley wine. Who wouldn’t love a place like Benelux? You absolutely knew where your beer was being made as they had a nano-brewery display next to the bar where you could see the brewing equipment.
The brewpub highlight of my entire trip was the Dieu du Ciel brewpub on Laurier Ouest. It was packed to the brim when I went — if you were able to find a table without anyone at it, you were lucky. It was a dark yet somewhat intimate atmosphere, even though it was loud with anglos and francophones talking and a DJ playing music in the background.
I love Dieu du Ciel’s beer as they are consistently rated as one of Canada’s best breweries. So I stuck with a few of the beers I was familiar with at first and then moved along to the nightly casks that the server was recommending.
He was surprised Manitoba didn’t have any Dieu du Ciel beers. I’m surprised too, but I’ve heard rumblings that some may finally be making their very first appearance at the MLCC as early as May. Dieu du Ciel has some of the best Belgian-style ales, after Unibroue, in North America.
After Dieu du Ciel, we just had to walk around the area and see the nightlife. We stumbled upon the famous Schwartz’s Deli, where my friend and I were welcomed with wide open arms by the cook behind the counter who was playing the Guess Who’s "No Time" on a small bluetooth speaker in the background.
I was hungry, but I’m a picky eater. The server with a Spanish accent suggested I go for the famous Montreal smoked meat sandwich with fries and a Cott black cherry soda. I obliged.
Now, I’ve had Montreal smoked-style meat before, but not the real "Montreal Smoked Meat." It was pure post-bar bliss.
This wasn’t your bland and boring roast beef, but a bit fatty meat on Montreal rye bread with mustard and what we know as Montreal steak seasoning. The meat would fall off the sandwich and I would just eat it all up. I was glad I checked it out.
I was able to watch the provincial election results roll in at La Succursale pub on Rue Masson, which was a bit harder to find than most places I visited in Montreal. I had to take a few different metros in the city to get to the place.
I enjoyed a decent barley wine as the crowd cheered as Pauline Marois was briefly losing her seat, jeered as she regained her seat, and then lost her seat officially. It was an anybody-but-PQ sort of night at the pub. I like political events at bars, especially in Quebec as the political system there is much more involved than here.
On one of the last days in the area, my friend Ryan and I went for a nice little road trip to the city of Chambly. Chambly is about half the size of Brandon and is known best for one thing — Unibroue.
Unibroue is one of the most well known Belgian-style brewers on the planet. Now owned by Sapporo out of Japan, they distribute all over the world and even make beers exclusively for the American grocery chain Trader Joe’s.
I wasn’t able to visit their brewery but I went for a walk to Fort de Chambly, which is shown on the bottles of Blanche de Chambly ($5.70 per 750mL bottle at our Liquor Marts), one of the first Belgian-style wheat ales to hit the market back in the mid ’90s, even before Rickard’s White.
One thing I absolutely loved about Montreal was the ability to buy beer just about anywhere. You can buy it at the local depanneurs (convenience stores) or even at the large supermarkets such as IGA.
My favourite beer store was Depanneur Peluso on Rue Rachel, which is commonly known to Montreal beer geeks as the best beer store in the city. The staff there are very knowledgeable about their products. I wanted some barley wines and India pale ales and they immediately knew what ones I’d love so that I wasn’t wasting my cash buying beer I wouldn’t like — now that’s service!
If you are ever in Montreal, visit the local brewpubs — you’ll be overwhelmed by the options. I’m glad I went as I was able to see old friends, try new beers and eat a substantial amount of poutine — mon dieu!
Unibroue Éphémère Canneberge (Cranberry)
This beer was just launched in Quebec the other day but it’s already available at the 10th Street and Victoria Avenue Liquor Mart in Brandon. The Canneberge is a wheat ale brewed with cranberries. I was expecting a tart cranberry flavour but was a bit underwhelmed as it was more of a sweet cranberry syrup flavour. $5.70 per 750mL bottle.