Monday, May 4, 2009

Beer Drinker Update for Montreal

We just got back from 3 days in Montreal and part of plan was to sample the local and big brand Canadian brews. We sampled a decent selection of styles and from one perspective they can be categorized into two classes, local microbrews and microbrew styles distributed by the big brand companies we all know.

On the local microbrew front we found two locations that craft the beer on site and serve it from the bar and in the restaurant in the same location. Both are on Crescent Street which is where the food and drink action is based on our experience. We have eaten on St. Denis as well, but the scene on Crescent was more lively.

Brutopia has been around since the mid-90's and has a straightforward location from which to serve their excellent brews. We tried the Raspberry Blond, Belgian 9% and the Java Stout. Margot clearly preferred the Raspberry Blond, but could appreciate the Belgian as well. The Belgian was the best beer I had all weekend and I had several to confirm this finding. A full bodied beer with a good head and strong aromas, it would be tough competition for many carefully crafted beers. The Java Stout was very good, with strong aromas of chocolate and coffee, but I felt it would be better served with a second fermentation and paired with a rich chocolate cake. The complement there is subtle, but I stand by it. The Raspberry Blond was a typical blond ale with a strong assertive berry aroma and hint of fruit acids in the finish. There were a whole bunch more we could have tried, but we need to check in elsewhere so time was short. We will be back and I would recommend this as a must go for anyone wanting to check out the Montreal microbrew scene.

Les 3 Brasseurs on Crescent is one of the Canadian locations of a French chain which is well known for good handcrafted beers and tasty pub food to go with. We tried the sample which includes their white, blond, red and brown ales in cute little snifters that amplify the aromas. All of the beers were tasty, with the white and red being the consistent favorites. Belgian white style beers seem to be of new popularity in Montreal (I might have missed this on past visits, please don't take offense) and the lot of them are pretty similar, unfiltered, with strong spice and citrus aromas and served with a slice of orange. The red tasted a bit of honey and had medium body and a clean finish. The blond and brown weren't uniquely notable, but worth the sampler size. The food in this joint was very good as well and the service was fast, although they weren't busy. We would recommend a stop here as well.

Another local item was the Du Minot sweet cider. I ordered this after dinner at Hurley's (see my next blog post for more info on where we ate) and very much enjoyed it. Du Minot is produced in Quebec about an hour south of Montreal. If you are a cider drinker and can find it on the menu or in store it is worth the time.

Now on to the beers from Molson, Unibroue and Anheuser-Busch. Molson, as you may well be experienced, makes a whole bunch of beers with wide distribution and great quantities. I didn't have any of those this time around. I do like the Molson XXX mostly because it is 7.3% alcohol and has some character for a big production item. Rickards is a microbrew styled line produced by Molson and is worth a look. We tried drafts of the White and the Honey Brown and found both quite pleasing. Neither was as good as the local items above, but that is to be expected. If you are in town and want something more than Molson Export or Molson Ice, Rickards might be the choice. They make a Red and Brown as well. Molson also has an interesting offering called Molson Dry which appears to be 10.1% alcohol, but it appears to be a kicked up version of their standard beer and I couldn't bring myself to try it.

Unibroue is well known for their strong beers, with several at or above 8-10% alcohol. These were the first of the strong Canadian beers I ever had and in some ways is what keeps me coming back. We can get these in the states, but it wasn't until recently I started seeing them show up in the places I normally bought beer. I only tried one selection of theirs this time, the Blance de Chambly, another white ale. Once again this was unfiltered, with good aromas and flavors making a nice paring for a bacon cheese burger. If you are looking for something to give you a good kick try Fin du Mond or Maudite, both of which are 9% and remind you they are in the room.

Anheuser-Busch is the importer of a Belgian brown ale named Leffe which I found in the grocery store and thought I would give it a try. If you like Belgian brown ales or want to appreciate strong aromas and flavors in something new try and find Leffe. I haven't seen it in NH so far, but it may be out there.

All in all we achieved what we set out to do, but we are very sure we only scratched the surface based on the recommendations we got as to where else we should go and what else we should try. Montreal, we will be back, be ready...



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