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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

French Canada - Part I: Oui oui, eh?

Thanksgiving 2011 marks the fourth anniversary of our annual beer excursion with our good friends Deuane and Carolyn.  Each year, we select a mutually agreeable beer destination and pack our bags for a few days of libations in a foreign place.  For our first trip, we chose the great state of Michigan, a first for Brewslut and myself, with its bevy of amazing brewpubs such as Founders, Bell's, Dark Horse, Short's, Right Brain, etc.  The following year saw us heading south to Asheville, NC, a small town steeped in arts and music with a kind of neo-hippie culture that appealed to me.  There is also no shortage of fantastic beer in Asheville.  Last year, we trekked to the college town of Athens, OH, that centered around drinking the amazing beers of Jackie O's, a relatively new brewpub on the U.S. beer map.  We got an amazing personal VIP treatment from Brad, head brewer at Jackie O's, including a tour of the cellar and a tasting of several sour beers that were still aging in barrels.  We also got to visit a brand new place in Zanesville, OH, called Weasel Boy Brewing Co. that I completely fell in love with for its quaint yet retro "Grandma's living room" atmosphere.  Their beer was pretty bangin' too!

Which brings us up to speed for our 2011 as we embark to Montreal, Quebec, our first trip outside the good ol' U.S. of A.  Day one (Thanksgiving Day) saw us venturing north toward Saratoga Springs, NY, where we crashed at a Best Western Plus.  After a relatively good night's sleep, we enjoyed a quick free continental breakfast of eggs, cereal, bagels, juice and coffee before we continued onward to our destination.

Our first stop in the city limits was Benelux, a small brewpub with a very urban atmosphere, where we met Tico, a homebrewer-turned-professional brewer who is also friends with Deuane and Carolyn.  The two beers I ordered were the Cactus IPA and a tasty Wheatwine, although we were able to sample pretty much everything from their tap list, because we all ordered different beers and tasted each others' selections.  Everything we had was solid to very good, and according to Deuane, Tico has stepped it up a bit compared to the old brewer and is brewing some interesting beers as of late.

Pleeps posing with my Wheatwine

Our next stop was L'Amere A Boire, a modern, multi-leveled brewpub that had a cafe-type atmosphere.  Deuane had informed me that their best beer was a Czech pilsner, and it was on tap, so I tried it.  It was quite good - crisp and hoppy, just as I like them! 

After a brief visit to L'Amere A Boire, we were ready to check into our townhouse.  Upon entering, I was extremely impressed with the upscale accommodations.  The three-level townhouse boasted 1 1/2 baths and two spacious bedrooms (Brewslut and I stayed in the upper loft area).  There was also a modern kitchen, fireplace, plenty of seating for guests, and a large dining room table.  Check out some pictures below!

For dinner, we decided to order some take-out across the street at a Vietnamese restaurant.  Brewslut and I each ordered chicken curry and shared an extra-large Pho (noodle soup) as well as a pair of spring rolls.

Perhaps the impetus for the trip was Dieu du Ciel, arguably the premier craft brewery in Quebec.  We had originally planned to rent the flat upstairs, but decided to go the route of the spacious townhouse instead (good thinking, Deuane).  We met Tico and Deuane's other friend from Montreal, Troy, only to find the place packed to the gills.  While we waited standing near the bar elbow to asshole with the other patrons, I enjoyed a 10th anniversary Peche Mortel, an special anniversary version of perhaps the brewery's flagship beer.  It was quite delicious, I must say.  After a good thirty to forty minutes of standing, then procuring some bar stools in the corner, we finally secured a small round table near the entrance.  We all squeezed around the table and enjoyed some nice conversation despite the cacophonous flurry of voices and dreadful techno music surrounding us.  Unfortunately, the place was too dark and too busy to get any pictures.  However, I did get to try the standard Peche on nitro, which I think I enjoyed a bit more than its stronger anniversary counterpart.  We discussed returning again the next day when things calmed down a bit (similar to our Founders experience on our inaugural trip to Michigan), but it wasn't in the cards and we ended up not returning.  However, better things were on the horizon.

Our next destination was Wices Et Versa (aka Vice Versa), a fantastic beer bar, perhaps the finest within the city limits.  I found this place to be similar to The Old Fashioned, an awesome beer establishment in Madison, WI.  Wices Et Versa is to Montreal as what The Old Fashioned is to Madison in that they feature Montreal beers exclusively on their beer menu.  Boasting some thirty-odd taps, Deuane thought that something from every Montreal brewery was represented.  (Later, we found that Hopfenstark was not on the tap list, unfortunately).  I enjoyed a hoppy IPA that reminded me of Stone Ruination but not quite as prickly on the palate.  Since I am on hiatus from reviewing beer, I did not get the name of the beer or the brewery.  M'wah!

After a few beers at Wices Et Versa, we headed over to Chez Claudette for a late night snack, and our first venture into "poutine" - a junk food delicacy (is that an oxymoron?) consisting of fresh-cut fries, cheese curds and chicken gravy.  While this is considered the "classic" version of poutine, several other variations are available, such as vegetable, sausage and onion, etc.  While the fries were quite good and the cheese curds were fairly squeaky and tasty, Brewslut and I found the gravy to be too thin and salty for our tastebuds.  Still, it was nice to try some local junk food.

After a good night's sleep, we went downstairs to the new coffee shop below the townhouse to get some coffee.  Deuane had gotten up early to get some Canadian bagels, which aren't as doughy as traditional New York bagels, and also don't need to be toasted. 

We typically have a tradition of purchasing a "shitty" beer at a convenience store on the way to our destination and drink it as our inaugural beer of the trip in the hotel room.  This is a tradition that we started on our second trip (to Asheville, NC).  Bud Chelada was the first, followed by Tilt Red and Tilt Purple (enjoyed on our way to Athens, OH, complete with video footage of an angry black man venting about white people responsible for getting caffeinated malt liquor banned).  This year, it was a honkin' can of Steel Reserve, an 8.1% high gravity lager brewed by Miller.  With such catch phrases as "slow brewed," "select hops for extra gravity" and "extra malted barley," I knew this was going to be a winner.  First whiff reminded me of creamed corn, an aroma befitting of the Thanksgiving holiday.  With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I poured my share of the beer into a stemmed wine glass.  While I've definitely had worse, I don't think I'll be revisiting this one any time in the near future.  I also picked up a 24oz. can of a local Rochester, NY, beer called Dog Bite Lager, but that will be discussed later.

Mmmm... adjuncts!  And check out all that swill in the background!
 After forcing down a wine glass of Steel Reserve, we decided to take a walk around the neighborhood and ended up at Le Saint Bock earlier than we'd anticipated, because their web site indicated they opened at 1pm but in actuality, they opened at 11am.  So, we decided to stop in early for cheese and beer.  I enjoyed a Goldings Pale Ale and American IPA, while Brandi and Carolyn loved the sweet stout with marshmallow garnish.  However, my favorite was a fine cask conditioned ESB that was spot-on and damn tasty.  The hot French waitress was nice eye candy to boot! 

I'll have some marshmallow with my stout, please!

Up next was a trek outside center city to Hopfenstark, a small brewery that we later found actually sells more beer in the U.S. than it does in Canada!  We had an awesome time talking with owner and brewer Fred and his friend, Bridgette.  I bought a shirt here, not just because I wanted to support the brewery, but also because I was surprised that all of the breweries didn't have much in the form of merchandise.  Even Dieu du Ciel, with its vibrantly colored, unique and artsy labels, didn't really have merchandise.  Oh well.  The beers were all solid to exceptional, especially the fantastic bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout that Fred offered to us that wasn't on the menu anymore.  We also enjoyed Captain Swing, a 9% barleywine that was quite stealthy in its strength.  Additionally, we sampled a fresh-hopped version of Post Colonial IPA, one of Fred's flagship beers.  One of my favorites was a tasty hybrid beer that was a smoked wheat saison with excellent drinkability, tons of flavor and quite refreshing.  Fred told us that he used a wheat malt base for the beer, added smoked malt that he smoked himself and tossed in a Saison yeast.  What resulted was a delicious, refreshing beer with a moderate smokey character and "poundable" drinkability.  Needless to say, I could have stayed there all night.  It was amusing to watch the Clint Eastwood movie "A Few Dollars More," the sequel to "A Fistful of Dollars".  I'd describe the decor of this place as Grandma's basement, with an old antique-looking dining room table with large, plush upholstered chairs, quite ornate but weathered a bit.  The bar appeared to be a large wooden plank with sparse amount of stools.  I just felt so comfortable at this place, and the fact that we had a great conversation with Fred and Bridgette made the experience all the more enjoyable. 

Stay tuned... Part Deux is coming soon!


  1. The IPA you had at Vice et Versa was
    Ruine-Papilles by the brewery À La Fût.

    The words translate into ruined palate.

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