Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Goose Island Migration Week 2016

There is some debate about whether or not craft breweries purchased by larger conglomerates can maintain their 'craft' capacity and quality.

I, for one, though preferring to support smaller breweries more often, am firmly in the camp of: it remains craft if it is otherwise craft.  To me, the craft label comes from the lack of additions of adjuncts and non-fermentables unless used to enhance the beer and not detract from its body or flavours, or to hide or mute its sharper (or off-flavour) notes.

Thus, Goose Island remains a craft brewery and, moreover, the continued quality of Bourbon County Brand Stout (BCBS), amongst others, demonstrates that things have remained largely the same even within the AB-InBev camp.

Yes, our access to Goose Island beers is accordingly increasing in Quebec.  This is a blessing to have regular access to great brews like Sofie, yet regular access also makes us take things for granted.  Yet some of their rarer treats typically still remain beyond our reach in most of Canada.  That's why GI's Migration Week events inspire our palates and prompt our quest for their harder to procure products.

Though the Montreal Migration Week website still lacks details, I have your early scoop!  This visit will be in Montreal from July 4 to 9 - that's right, next week (and in Toronto from August 8-12)!  And the key event will be a tap takeover at Huis Clos (7659 Saint-Denis) Wednesday, July 6 beginning at 7pm.

The event promises confirmed draughts of Illinois Imperial IPA, Madame Rose (a Flanders Oud Bruin aged in French oak Cabernet Sauvignon barrels with Michigan cherries and Brettanomyces), and Four Star Pils. I'd suspect there will also be the usual fares as well (Honker's, IPA, Sofie, Matilda, etc) and probably some surprises as well, and I have received strong hints of some BCBS being on hand also (at least at some events next week).  In fact, I'd be greatly surprised if there was no BCBS, though I won't go on record as the source of any assurance here.  Even if that doesn't pan out, great beer will be available!

Regardless, this event promises to have an excellent draught lineup and to demonstrate that corporate takeovers need not degrade craft quality!


Friday, 17 June 2016

Quebec and/at the World: Mondial Let's the Locals Shine

Mondial de la Bière, which wrapped up this past weekend, offered countless beers of worldwide origins alongside the best of the local scene.  The differences have slimmed and, overall, the local has blossomed to become my go-to at this world festival.

This was my fifth Mondial, and each time the increasing strengths of the local scene seem to shine brighter.  In ways, this too is a testament to Mondial and more, as this festival's contribution to our broadened local exposure to global trends and historical styles has pushed the brewing envelope of the province as the number of breweries, quality of product, and level of innovation continue to soar.  This isn't to say that all local beers were great or that all imports were bad - in fact they broadly evened out - but rather is stated to claim that the local has improved regularly over the years I have lived here, and here's to that!  I mean, the tops, DDC/TDD/etc were always great, but many of the rest have made huge strides, and that is a great thing for Quebec beer lovers.

However, in that First World Problem sort of way, aside from the cask event, many local brewers brought less in the way of previously unavailable offerings.  For instance, Dunham's spread was truly excellent, but made up almost entirely of great offerings available at the last bottle release.  Dieu du Ciel! brought AMAZING treats such as Péché Mortel Bourbon and Isseki Nicho Pinot Noir, and I imbibed even if several bottles of each rest in my cellar.  Le Trou du Diable poured the always amazing Dulcis Succubus (and many more), and yet this also abounds in my home, while Les Trois Mousquetaires offered their excellent Tenth Anniversary Imperial Dark Kriek Dixieme (and others).  But, such are the woes of committed beer geekery: I had tried most of these delightful treats beforehand!  I know... it's a tough life when great beer is widely available!  And, to that, this post sends its praise despite this tempered lamentation!  In fact, broadening exposure to such time-tested products is the very purpose of this event for many breweries and, geek-problems aside, this also serves only to enhance the local palate and scene, which can only result in a stronger local industry.  Thus, despite wanting to try more new things, the superb quality of barrel-aged and uniquely strong offerings is actually a bigger blessing than a curse.

Yet, in the way of the new delights I seek out, Les Trois Mousquetaires' new IPA came with a sneak preview and dominated.  Let me reiterate: it DOMINATED.  Every year there seems to be one beer I have a few times - this was that beer.  In fact, I had two samples of draught and one from the cask at the Thursday Benelux on-site cask event.  It was quite floral and citrusy in bold aromatics, while flavourful if not aggressively bitter according to the newer (North-East USA) trend of late addition hopping, and it captures the essence of this sub-style.  I am glad this has started to hit shelves and that a few bottles line my fridge.  If you see some, buy some... or at least let me know where it remains.

L'Espace Public and Vox Populi brought their first releases to some anticipation.

Vox's Double Fruit Punch IPA was tasty, but paled in both nose and flavour to the LTM I had just tasted.  It holds promise though and I maintain the faith that this will improve as VP smooths out the kinks, as these local "gypsy" brewers have substance behind their popular acclaim.

L'Espace brought three sours: Bière de Coin d'Rue (Sour Blond), Bière de Balcon (Raspberry sour), and Bière de Ruelle (Dry-hopped Sour).  While all were nice, and all canned and sessionable (at 4.5, 3, and 6.5% ABVs respectively), they seemed a bit restrained.  That is, I felt like all could use a bit more: fruit and sour in the Balcon (to compete with the delightful Solstice d'été), tartness for the Coin d'Rue, and hops for the Ruelle.  In a way though, their delight was their moderate subtlety.  They were all on point, all refreshing and crushable, but somewhat targeting the beginning sour drinker, while offering styles that often attract the more committed beer geek.  This is probably a good strategy, to offer such crushable versions, but I hope this portends the pursuit of bolder offerings in the future.  Nonetheless, canned and solid sessionable sours are a very welcome addition to the Quebec beer scene.

Rounding out the local, with some interesting options, were Kruhnen's (collab with the Atman Brothers) New-World Hops variant on their popular King Cogne, and Brasserie Harricana's 77 (barrel-aged sour porter).  I may personally enjoy the original King Cogne more, and slightly found an odd clash between the sour and the roast as sometimes occurs in beers of the sour porter style, but both were still quite enjoyable and pushed the envelope in ways that inspire a growing scene.

Once 'leaving the province,' Nøgne Ø was the shining light in a sea awash with a variety of global options, ranging in quality with a few hidden gems scattered therein.

The Norwegian's of Nøgne brought a marvellous spread including Kriek of Telemark, Imperial Rye Porter (collab with Terrapin), Imperial Stout, Porter, God Paske, Sunturnbrew, Horizon Tokyo Black, Aurora Australis II (collab with Bridge Road), Imperial Aquavit Rye Porter, Dragonwort Stout, Saison Reserve, and more!

Of these, I offer a special nod to the Bretted Saison Reserve which offered decent funk in both bouquet and flavour, the Imperial Aquavit Porter (despite never having tasted Aquavit for reference) which offered fruity, woody, and chocolatey notes, Kriek of Telemark (showing a solid example of a fruited sour all around), and the Horizon Black Tokyo which proves a 16% beer need not be a boozy mess!

New Italian AB-InBev acquisition, Birra del Borgo, has always had strong products and, macro-owned or not, this acquisition hasn't changed that.  Duchessic (their saison blended with Cantillon Gueuze) offers a marvellous mix of funk and tartness, alongside a brilliantly dry finish.  Likewise, in their sour area of strength, their Prunus likewise holds its own, though the fruit is very tempered (compared to Nøgne's) but the tartness and drinkability were bang on.

New York State brewery, Captain Lawrence regularly impresses, and their strong sour red/brown Rosso e Marrone probably stole the show for me (aside from LTM's excellent new IPA).  This 10% twist on Flanders style beers smelled maltier than it tasted, with decent oak and fruit aspects, while the taste finished with a remarkable dryness beyond what you get in the classic Belgian examples, proving the perks of a unique American take on the style.

Once again, some of the stronger Brazilian breweries also brought tasty offerings, with Bodebrown offering the same Imperial Stout in different barrels (Cacau Wood Aged and Cherry Wood Aged Atomga), while 3Cariocas' Saison de Leblon (with mango, vanilla, and pepper) offered easy drinking  with a nice blend of adjuncts, despite a fairly sweet finish for what should be a fairly dry style.

Beyond the beer, it seems to me that local food vendors had improved as well, as food diversity had increased, and there were far more makers of great local sausage who were more than willing to hand out a sample to entice purchase.

My biggest gripe was really only with the weather.  This was easily the coldest and wettest Mondial of the five I have attended.  Obviously, this cannot be controlled, but that warm patio drinking will have to wait for another year (at least at the fest!)

Overall, Mondial was once again a resounding success and a great time!  I cannot wait for 2017!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Making for a Marvelous Mondial: Tips and Tricks to Tasters' Delights

This year's 23rd Annual Mondial de la Bière, beginning this Wednesday (June 8) coincides with both Grand Prix weekend and other smaller events, like the Fringe Festival, which together guarantees that absolute insanity and chaos will reign supreme in Montreal this weekend. Yet, the party vibe threatens to be immense!

Thus, my first tip is to arrive early, to plan ahead, to avoid (likely price-jacked) Uber fares, and to ensure that you accept slower ways home that DO NOT involve drinking and driving! I always enjoy a delightful, early Summer sobering walk home from Mondial, and I hope you also travel responsibly to and from the event.

The event itself (hosted at Palais des Congrès) is free, though you must buy tasting tickets at $1 each with samples costing between 2 and 8 tickets per. Remember to either bring a tasting glass, or be prepared to buy one, and rinse it often!

As always, though, while there, the question of what to do and drink become paramount. Here are some highlights and suggestions beginning, of course, with the beers!

Beers to Wrap Your Lips Around:

On the Overseas front, there are many returning delights, but also first-appearance treats that should not be missed. For 2016, Spain joins Brazil and Italy in the realm of countries with broad representation at this festival. It strikes me as odd that Germany and Belgium are less present than these smaller craft-beer countries, but some strong offerings from these countries share stylistic traits with many of the popular beers originating in these locations.

Amongst the Spanish contingent, Dougall's and La Quince probably rate the highest, though several of the best beers on offer (from them and from other Spanish craft breweries) are of the well-hopped APA/IPA/DIPA varieties. Though more the fault of the import system and both Canadian and Quebec laws, and the SAQ, than Mondial, these beers are unlikely to be optimally fresh. When trying such styles at Mondial, I'd ask to see the bottle or can for dates, and if some later brews have slipped through, these could impress.

Amongst those Spanish beers that may hold up better are Laugar's Aupa Tovarisch imperial stout and La Quince's American Barlywine, Sweet Dreams.

Italy's Birra del Borgo may have been purchased by AB-InBev, but they still bring a strong spread. However, I am most excited for the massive 14 beer lineup from Norway's highly praised Nøgne-Ø.  There are many styles from which to choose and I can personally attest that half of the beers being presented by them are great indeed, while attesting that the other half all rate strongly and you really can't err in buying a treat from these folks.

The Americas List reserves its best for Captain Lawrence, Weyerbacher, and Two Roads  for American options, while Brazilian breweries Bodebrown and 3Cariocas also bring their A-game, though age warnings for hop-forward products remain in effect!

Famed Beer Hunter, Michael Jackson, used to say that the best beer is always the freshest one, however, and I am accordingly most excited for the local Quebec offerings.  Not only is Dieu du Ciel! hauling delights such as Isseki Nicho Pinot Noir BA, but Les Trois Mousquetaires bring their IPA and DIPA (and BA Baltic Porter, and regular Gose and Berliner Weisse) to fulfill hophead needs for fresher IPAs amidst imported heavies.

Likewise, Brasserie Dunham's selection runs the gamut of styles, barrel-aged, well-hopped, and bretted marvels, and Brasserie Benelux represents themselves with a likewise impressive array of many of their staples and special releases.

Finally, like many others in the Quebec beer scene, I am looking forward to Vox Populi's exciting new Double Fruit Punch IPA.

On Thursday, Benelux once again hosts a cask event, for which one must register in advance on the Mondial page. As always, these are guaranteed to be the freshest beers on hand.

As you can see, there is really only one thing to fret in all of this: the hangover.

Special On-Site Events:


For the first time, Mondial will host a gastronomy area where invited chefs will assemble food and beer pairings to tantalize the palate. This event runs for the first two days (Wednesday, June 8 and Thursday, June 9 only) from 16:00-21:00.

Moreover, guided beer tours and beer/cheese pairing events about. Both sound great and offer vast learning opportuinities, and are free to join while samples must be purchased in tickets.

Meet the Brewers:

Brewers and owners will partake in meet-and-greets on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday. This is a great opportunity to pick their brains about their beers, processes, and get brewing tips for those homebrewers out there!


Every year, I promise to get to more of the wonderful off-site events, but never seem to make it, what with the commitment that is this festival! Not only are there countless restaurants participating in offering pairings and beer-cooked meals, but several notable events occur throughout the city this week.  Highlights amongst these, for me, are:

On Wednesday, June 8, Dieu du Ciel! hosts A "Funky Off-Mondial Evening" that promises not only DDC's best sours, but Cantillon bottles as well!

Thursday, June 9 sees both a Le Trou du Diable tap takeover at Vices et Versa and the VIII Anniversary party at Broue Pub Brouhaha.

Friday brings the Third Annual Sour Beer Evening at Station Ho.St, and the launch of Le Saint Bock's Mikkeller vs. Evil Twin week-long event.

Something, probably involving casks will also likely happen at Benelux rue Sherbrooke, as they have a TBA event.

For more information on these events, click the "Special Events" link on the Mondial web page.

As always folks, recognize that there will be some rowdy revellers, but remember to drink responsibly, travel safely, and (as the folks at The Alchemist always like to remind us) don't be a douchebag!

Have fun!