Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Montreal Beer Scene Welcomes the World: Malty Tasker's Unofficial Guide to Mondial de la Bière


Late Spring in Montreal means terrace season: summer clothes, shades on patios, and cold brews.  I, personally, think of it as the kick-off of beer festival season (not that there aren't some all year!)  Coming just a little later than usual this year, spanning the 11-15 of June, is this year's 21st Annual Mondial de la Bière.  What a way to kick into summer, with a selection of 514 beers (and 56 other products like mead and cider), this festival is truly global in scope and daunting for the under-prepared.  This event, while free to enter, can get costly at $2 to $6 per 4-ounce sample, but it is a unique experience with a palate-educating capacity and the chance to nurture your knowledge (and love) of beer.

One of the many exciting things about Mondial is that very global scope with beers from 107 breweries from such far-flung places as Brazil, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Norway, New Zealand, Thailand, the United States, and the rest of Canada, as well as representation by 40 Quebec craft breweries.  Many of these imported beers aren't usually available here, so the American's, Brazilians, Norwegians, Danish, and Italians (in particular) offer us some rare delights (though Quebecers may also appreciate some Canadian 'imports' not often found here.

This year, the second at Palais des Congrès, the Brazilian and Italian brewers will be on hand with their own reps serving their beer which allows the chance to speak with them directly about their product (and hopefully to get them all at an ideal temperature, rather than the standard 'ice-cold' that most festivals default to without reason).

Moreover, live music events are scheduled, as are increased cooking-with-beer workshops beyond what we have seen before.  I am sure these are great, but they aren't my specialty... nor is this what you come here to read.  I'd love to offer jazz reviews too, but alas that'd be like me commenting on Scotch, which I know equally little about.  I could fling shit with the best of them, but it wouldn't stick for lack of substance.

Thus, I offer my unofficial guide to Mondial - with a (not unexpected) focus on the beer!


  1. Go with a plan: 570 alcoholic drinks, food options, off-site events, and more is daunting.  If you go prepared, you will maximize your chances of finding and trying things you like rather than tossing the dice with the chance of finding yourself flustered and in line for something you have had before (or worse, something terrible).  The Mondial web site offers information on available beers (and locations) and a schedule of events.  For tips on what to seek out, check beer lists in comparison to ratebeer or beeradvocate alongside similar styles that you enjoy, or see my suggestions below.
  2. Go early: Not only do some of the best, rarest, and most in-demand beers disappear within the first few days (or certainly before Saturday evening), but the atmopshere changes from one of excited beer geeks thrilled at tastings to one of a party free-for-all, where lines form to drink Alexander Keith's, for example, at inflated prices.  Though I am not sure why anyone wants to brave excess lines packed with the inebriated to drink things they can stock more cheaply at home or find at the local pub, the atmosphere does change between Wednesday/Thursday and Friday night through Sunday when it becomes less about the flavour and more about the alcohol percentage.  Don't get me wrong, people get drunk the other days, but often as side-effect not intended purpose.  If that's your thing, by all means, join the weekend crowd, but realize that there are nearly two festivals: the early and the late with different crowds and (often) different (remaining) beers.
  3. Bring a glass, or buy one: They sell tasting glasses on site, but those from the last two years weren't the most ideal for most styles (as tulips or snifters are).  You could opt to use the free disposable plastic cup option, however, beer best expresses its aromas and, thus, entices its tastes with glassware, and specific glassware to best effect (nevermind the environmental impact).  NOTE: they will NOT allow you to bring in any glass that holds more than 12 ounces, though, so plan ahead if bringing one, though their purchase option certainly beats the limitations of disposable plastic.
  4. Check out some off-site events: Numerous loosely-connected off-site events abound as well.  The list on the Mondial site advertises several, but I will note the following as of particular intrigue to me personally: Vices et Versa's Wednesday tap-takeover promises unique offerings from 5 of Quebec (indeed, Canada's) best breweries; Dieu du Ciel's overlapping Wednesday IPA event offers not only hops abundance for the hop-heads, but also a chance to taste the famous and rare Heady Topper (currently ranked as the top beer in the world on beeradvocate); Le Saint Bock offers a lengthy Randall (hops infuser) lineup for Thursday while Brouhaha hosts their Sixth Anniversary; Friday sees a sour beer focus at sour-masters Hopfenstark's pub Station Ho.St; and the week following Mondial Le Saint Bock promises numerous taps devoted to obscure and highly acclaimed Swiss brewery Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes.  Benelux (Sherbrooke) is also hosting a cask event on the Saturday night that isn't listed herein.
  5. Take notes: Whether on untappd, on ratebeer, on beeradvocate, on brewgene, in the booklet to be provided at Mondial, or just in your own phone or notepad, taking notes on beers enhances enjoyment and learning - and reminds you of what you've had, what you thought, and of your taste evolution over time.  If you already do this, I am sure you will, and if you don't, there is no better time to start than during Mondial!
  6. Drink water, and Rinse: Don't forget to be responsible.  Drinking is tough on the body, though drinking water helps not only to diminish its effect on the liver (and your possible hangover), but also to cleanse your palate between samples.  Water can rinse your glass too - and rinsing stations are common at Mondial - as it does your palate and organs!  And, on the topic of responsibility, remember to take transit or a cab and to drink responsibly!
Now, strategy in mind, on to the beers:

Breweries of Note:

There are a few "can't miss" breweries on hand: New Zealand's 8Wired Brewing and Norway's Nogne Ø really have no bad beers on offer, nor does Montreal's Dieu du Ciel, Shawinigan's Le Trou du Diable, nor Germany's Schneider Weisse (though their individual styles aren't my personal choice, they are excellent wheat brewers) or America's Stone, Allagash, or New Holland.  New Zealand's Renaissance Brewing is also quite solid (if offering nothing I, personally, haven't had before - but I can therefore attest that all are good examples of their respective styles!).

Others with mostly strong lists include Canada's Central City and Flying Monkeys, the American beasts Dogfish Head and Ommegang, Italians Birra del Borgo, Birrificio Baladin, Brazilians Bodebrown and Colorado, the Danish Hornbeer and English Thornbridge.  Unfortunately, with Cervejaria Wäls' absence, the Brazilian offerings are hindered a touch this year.

By Style:

Lagers:

At Le Petit Pub du Palais, with the European and New Zealand offerings, look for Thornbridge's Kill Your Darlings Vienna lager which tops my list here, as I enjoy the style, while Hornbeer's Dryhop looks inviting as well, though I have had neither before.  Nogne Ø's Peated (a smoked lager) seems unique too, if divisive: watch for notes of campfire which may (or may not) be your thing!  At Le Petit Pub Esplanade, outside, Muskoka's Craft Lager is also a decent standard, as are many that are more locally available regularly in Quebec - but aren't you here to expand your palate?

Birra del Borgo, from Italy, brings their Dogfish Head collaboration imperial pilsner My Antonia, which stands up remarkably as well.

Also, note that while technically not a lager at all, Renaissance's Paradox (a blonde ale) is a milder form of ale enjoyed by many lager drinkers and is a great example of the style.

Wheat Beers: 

This isn't my top style unless soured, so I will refrain from saying too much except that Bruton's Bianca (if available at the SAQ year-round) is solid in the Pavillon Italie, while German Wheat masters Schneider Weisse bring countless strong offerings (that I even enjoy) to Le Petit Pub du Palais.  Finally, if you aren't a Quebecer, and can't usually procure Dieu du Ciel's delightful Rosée d'hibiscus, you must drop by booth #616-#618 to try it (and buy some before you head home!)

IPAs:

So many to pick from here, so I am going to stick to those I can attest to, though I seek some others to try myself for something new (based on common high ratings or breweries of note as mentioned above).

At Le Petit Pub du Palais, check out Nogne Ø's #100 or #500 (both excellent Double IPAs), or their Mandarina IPA (brewed with a German non-commercial hops rarity bred to resemble American hops), and another delightful imperial variant is Renaissance's MPA.

At Le Petit Pub Esplanade (outside) there are several standouts: Central City's Red Racer IPA is one of Canada's best in the West Coast style, as is their Imperial IPA, while Muskoka's Mad Tom from Ontario's cottage country and Flying Monkey's Smashbomb loom large in the Central part of the country.  From our American neighbours, Dogfish Heads 90 Minute IPA rates well (if I find it a touch too malty) while their Burton Baton (a barrel aged blend of a double IPA and a barleywine that is not to be missed if at a potent 10% ABV) is a gem.  Finally, watch for Stone's Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, a black IPA of standout quality.

From Brazil, be sure to try Colorado's Vixnu, which I enjoyed last year despite mediocre ratings - so tell me if I was wrong!

From brewery booths be sure to try Dieu du Ciel's Moralité and Le Trou du Diable's Apocalypso, if you aren't able to get them regularly.

Sours:

I can't stress enough that if you love sour beer you should get to Station Ho.St on Friday June 13th, but at the festival itself there are some great sours, if an underrepresentation.

Last year, I truly enjoyed Italian Brewer Birra del Borgo's l'Equilibrista (called both a brut and a wild) and look forward to it again, while also looking to try Croce di Malto's Vecchia Ramlin (a sour brown) for the first time.

Belgian lambic brewers Oud Beersel offer their Bzart Lambic at le Petit Pub du Palais, while Nogne Ø brings their Tindved (Wild Ale).

As for individual breweries, definitely try Le Trou du Diable's Dulcis Succubus and Le Coq if you haven't before as they can be hard to come by, even if relatively 'local'.

Stouts/Porters:

Many solid examples abound at Le Petit Pub du Palais, such as Hornbeer's Black Magic Woman, Viking Chili Stout, and the Fundamental Blackhorn, while Nogne Ø, Thornbridge, and 8Wired all bring strong examples as well.

Out of doors, I look forward to trying Central City's Red Racer Imperial Porter, but I can attest to the facts that New Holland's Dragon's Milk and Stone's Imperial Russian Stout are excellent indeed!  That smoked porter from Stone looks intriguing as well.

Finally, again, if not in Quebec, don't forget Dieu du Ciel's remarkable coffee imperial stout, Peché Mortel.

Barleywines and Strong Ales:

Though Nogne Ø and 8Wired again bring examples I look forward to trying, I know you will succeed (if this is your style) in enjoying Dogfish Head's unique Palo Santo Marron, Stone's Arrogant Bastard and Oaked Arrogant Bastard, let alone their Old Guardian Barleywine.

Italy's Baladin has a highly acclaimed 13.5% barrel aged barleywine (one variant of many), that I have never tried, but look into Xyauya Oro at Pavillon Italie.

In Conclusion:

By way of wrapping up, I'll say that I didn't even scratch the surface of solid offerings as so many abound, and I didn't find myself in pursuit of too many saisons here despite my affection for the nuanced style.  You can't go wrong with the options above - unless you have differing tastes as I am sure we all do.  Thus, what I hope I have made clear more than anything else is that this event has so much - beer, food, pairings, beer, workshops, lessons, beer, cider, mead, music, beer - that you can't go wrong as there is something for everyone, yet because there is so much you should spend a few minutes (at least) plotting your own interests lest you get bogged down as I may have here.

'Til we drink again - perhaps at Mondial - Santé!

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