6:00 Sorority Blonde
6:20 Scottish Coke
6:25 Indian Breath
6:40 Stout Headache
7:45 Lifeless Pagan
7:57 Smoked Fish
8:10 Oral Irish
8:15 Blessed Communion
8:25 Imperial Smell
8:33 Grapefruit Traveller
9:01 Night Jasmine
9:10 Storied Teller
9:15 Fear with Fruit
9:20 Small-time Hoodlums
9:30 Karaté Kilt
9:45 Bunny! Bunny! Bunny!
9:53 Grilled Cheese
10:08 Clove Banana Coriander
10:15 Bitter Soap
10:20 Turgid Amber
10:32 Easy Honey
10:35 Fractured Blond
10:42 Poetic Bock
10:46 Bloated Bavarian
10:55 Crying Cream Ale
11:01 Somewhat Bitter
The concept of small-scale, artisanal microbrewing really caught on with arriviste tastes in the 1980s: suddenly, drinking special beer was not only a pastime and a solace, but a political statement. Say no more. The brew pub concept started as a commercial trend in the loosey-goosey Northwest, but quickly moved northeastward. By the mid-1990s, Quebec’s gourmandise had established the province as a chilly Shangri-La for brewers and drinkers alike.
Beer has always belonged to the common man. It is meant to be drunk, not sniffed and swished around like a fine wine. But nowadays any brew pub conjures up an array of homemade concoctions that challenge accepted taxonomies of ales and lagers. Beer isn’t what it used to be: it’s more.
But can ordinary drinkers learn to discern these subtleties of flavour? Some of the Maisonneuve staffers bravely set out, away from the fuss and muss of resto-bars and nightclubs, to sample the local brewskis in their natural environments. Five women. Five brew pubs. Thirty-plus beers. The mission: Taste them all.
The tasters: Poppy Wilkinson (managing editor), Stina Gill (graphic designer), Audrey Davis (visual editor), Elisa Alby (freelance photographer) and Melora Koepke (freelance writer).
Brutopia is a well-named bar at the epicentre of downtown Montreal’s Crescent Street—a neighbourhood once frequented by newspapermen, jazz artists and the Irish mob, and since debased by a Hard Rock Cafe, video gambling and roofie-cheap Ladies’ Nights. “We’re media,” we say, and a long-suffering waitress brings our first taster assortment of house beers. Arrayed on the table like a strand of many-shaded gemstones, the gamut of small tumblers is arranged from lightest to very dark, the standard MO for dégustation. Full of critical aplomb, we gamely set to the task.
“It’s the sorority-girl beer of microbrews.
Chuggable and Corona-ish.”
“It tastes like Coke, or Guinness light.”
“No such thing as Guinness light.”
India Pale Ale
“It’s bad-breath beer.”
“It would be good with a baked potato
or British cheese.”
“Winnie-the-Pooh might like this.”
“It tastes like a headache. It’s delicious.”
Debauchery runs on a tight schedule: it’s time to move on. Like a herd of stampeding Holly Golightlys, we dash through torrential rains to a taxi.
DIEU DU CIEL!
Founded in 1998, Dieu du Ciel! (God in Heaven!) is a crowded, tightly run brew pub on Laurier Street which christens its beverages—tongue-in-cheek—in the spirit of the province’s Catholic heritage. Located in Montreal’s Mile End quartier, once dominated by large Hasidic, Greek and Portuguese families, the area has become a choice spot for young property-buying urban renovators, and bars are scrambling to service this new population of potential boozers.
“Nice but lifeless—just like a blond should be.”
Revenante/spirit (smoked porter)
“Hello, SMOKED FISH!”
Gaëlique/gaelic (Irish cream ale)
“Coats your mouth a little bit. Sweet and soft.”
“Like oral sex, kind of.”
“I don’t like this.”
Première Communion/First Communion (Scotch ale)
“Do you feel like you’re being blessed?”
“What is that supposed to feel like?”
Péché Mortel/Mortal Sin (imperial stout with coffee)
“I can smell it from here.”
Voyageur des Brumes/Traveller of the Fogs (extra-special bitter)
“It’s like grapefruit juice . . . oh, wait, it’s not really.”
LA TAVERNE DU SERGENT RECRUTEUR
It is still pouring outside when we leave, lurching slightly under two umbrellas. We find shelter close at hand: the Sergeant Recruiter Tavern, a hot, homey, two-storey brew pub on the Main. The pub takes its name from old-time army recruiters who, in need of front-line cannon fodder, would buy rounds in labourers’ pubs at night, only to round up their still-drunk beneficiaries and send them to war in the morning light. Our quintet is starting to look drowsy, but then in walks David Macanulty, a professional brewer with an encyclopedic passion for the art. Dave agrees to join us in our brew pub odyssey. Who, after all, could refuse a night’s worth of free beer in the company of five woozy but comely dilettantes?
Nuit Blanche/White Night
“Jasmine, like a hot night.”
“A wedding beer—to drink all night and then canoodle with the best man. Or make toasts with it and then sit on the beach in your fancy dress.”
La Raconteuse/The Storyteller
“Storyteller? It’s like this beer is making stuff up.”
“But it’s too drunk to tell the story right.”
“I like this one, it’s fruity.”
Criminelle/Criminal (cream ale)
“More like a small-time hoodlum.”
Karaté Kilt (Scottish)
“Mmm, a real man’s beer.”
“I feel like it’s taking advantage of me.”
“Is an aftertaste the same thing as a finish?”
“Then it has a big long finish.”
Dave: “Beer is hard to swallow because it gets to the back of your tongue, where you can taste bitterness. You need to take a big mouthful in order to get anything out of it.”
Outside: wind and horizontal rain.
Instead of aspiring to coziness, Reservoir, the city’s newest brew pub, is designed with design in mind, photogenic and groomed as a Manhattan lounge. The music is loud, the clientele deadpan. We settle in the corner under the biggest speaker in the house.
“Beer with a lemon on the rim is called a bunny!
At least, where I come from.”
Dave: “You should remove the lemon if you really want to taste this. It has lemon in it already.”
“Bunny, bunny, bunny!”
Dave: “A session beer—something you’d drink a lot of in one sitting.”
“There’s a name for that? Besides ‘drinking’?”
“I taste serious maple. Or caramel.”
“This goes well with grilled cheese.”
Dave: “Very good. It would go well with a whisky.”
A single Laphroaig is ordered and adored.
“Do you taste clove? Banana? Coriander?”
“I taste holidays.”
Dave: “A typical Belgian.”
“It should have a little umbrella in it.”
Dave: “Maybe the glass wasn’t rinsed properly.”
“I drink this one when I come here.
I come here a lot.”
“Fancy . . . in a molecular way.”
LE CHEVAL BLANC
Le Cheval Blanc is the textbook definition of chill. Down by the bus station, far afield from the usual hustle of tony nightlife, it is diner-like and unassuming. The Eagles play on the stereo, and it isn’t even annoying. Le Cheval Blanc’s concoctions are so well-loved that bottled versions are available in finer depanneurs across the province.
(singing) “I have a peaceful, easy feeling . . . and I know you won’t let me down.”
“I think we’re beer tired.”
Dave: “You can only count on your palette for about twenty minutes.”
“We’re falling apart here.”
“A lot of character, but not overly strange. Like a neighbour.”
Dunkel-Weizen (Bavarian wheat beer)
Dave: “The yeast in the Bavarian wheat beer gives it the flavour you’re tasting.”
“It adds the bloatedness of sugar to the bloatedness of beer.”
“Innocuous. I welcome it.”
“It kind of makes my eyes water. A good-cry beer.”
“I need to brush my tongue.”
“Ohhhhh . . . this is good bitter.”
Dave: “Very authentic. Very fruity.
Hops, and a long finish.”
“It reminds me of fishing boats.”
Dave: “Do you mean salty?”
“I don’t know what I mean.”
The clock chimed a respectable 11:20 pm, and we were done. The brave crew of beer assayers headed out, tired but sated, into the wet lustre of the night.
The next morning, we all felt fine.