Vive La Révolution Québécois

Destinations by | May 2011 | Issue #52

Illustration by Sam Brewster

It’s a dynamic time for Québec’s artisan beer scene. A fraternity of forward-looking brewers are synthesizing traditional European and American craft styles with their own Québécois twist. Québec’s artisan beer revolution traces back to the Belgian-inflected brewing of Unibroue, which opened in 1992; 20 years later, the movement is entering its adolescence with confidence.

Mondial is the big show. Montréal’s annual international beer festival, held in June, is a huge draw for Québec brewers, who bring their best work to vie for the coveted medals. For a complete immersion in the Québécois culture, plan a visit to the more intimate La Fête Bières & Saveurs, which takes place in historic Chambly just outside of Montréal in late summer. It’s a multi-day celebration of Québec foodways with over 50 breweries, cheese makers, ice wine and cider producers, maple products, smoked and cured meats, and more.

Importation of Québec’s artisan beer is split between the venerable Shelton Brothers of Massachusetts—who import Dieu Du Ciel, Les Trois Mousquetaires and Charlevoix—and J. Cambier Imports of Virginia, who specialize in smaller producers, like Le Trou Du Diable and À l’abri de la Tempête, among others. Brian Ewing’s Brooklyn-based upstart 12% Imports entered the fray last year by enticing Hopfenstark away from the Sheltons. On the subject of the artisan scene, Matt Dinges, sales manager at Shelton Brothers, offers: “It does seem like the past 18 months have seen a bit of an explosion.” Jocelyn Cambier, owner of J. Cambier Imports, says that Québec’s artisan beers “also tell, in some cases, stories about Québec’s birth, struggle, culture and history.” Here’s where to find them in their native province.

Dépanneur Peluso
The informed and passionate staff, trained by renowned former beer manager Alain Thibault, is always eager to offer a whirlwind tour of this well-curated shop that stocks all the best Québécois bottles.

Dieu Du Ciel!
This famed brewpub is a totem of the artisan scene. With 16-17 small-batch beers on tap every day, Dieu du Ciel covers a huge swath of traditions, from Rauch to Saison. Just last year, lead brewer Luc “Bim” Lafontaine brewed 144 batches and more than 50 different recipes on the tiny 5-hectoliter (4-barrel) system. “I have to be creative to stay healthy, period,” he tells BA. Their infamous Imperial Coffee Stout, Péché Mortel, birthed the coffee beer craze and was the first Québec cult bottle that got US geeks clamoring. Its success encouraged them to expand production and open a brewery in Saint-Jerome, where autodidact head brewer and co-founder Jean-François Gravel holds court.

Le Saint-Bock
Brewmaster Dominic Charbonneau has staked his reputation on high-octane beers like Enigma, an intense 13-percent Barleywine aged in a port barrel with pure maple syrup added directly to the barrel—Québec style.

Vices & Versa
A top-notch beer bar that proudly maintains 30-plus lines dedicated to Québec’s finest small-production beer, in the midst of a great laid-back atmosphere.

Au Pied De Cochon
536 Avenue Duluth Est, Montréal
Dinner reservations are always smart if you’re planning on a visit to Food Network Canada star Martin Picard’s palace of Québécois gluttony and nose-to-tail gustation.

About a half-hour north of Montréal, you’ll find brewer Frédéric Cormier, probably dressed in black and bristling with prickly intensity. His Station series is a line of Saisons—a Sour, a Rye and a Bitter, to name a few.

Les Trois Mousquetaires
Just southeast of Montréal, Jonathan Lafortune brews world-class interpretations of classic German styles with his Rauchbier and Kellerbier, as well as cellar-worthy corked and caged bottles of Porter Baltique, Doppelbock and Weizenbock.

Brasseurs Illimités
To the west, in Saint-Eustache, René Huard’s small brewery produces under the Simple Malt label. Among other worthy beers, be sure to sample the smoky and sustaining Double Porter, brewed with a special rauch malt that is smoked first over peat and then ash wood.

Loup Rouge
On the far side of the mighty St. Lawrence River, Jan-Philippe Barbeau’s co-op brewery, Loup Rouge, focuses on full-flavored session beer, though he is best known for MacKroken Flower, his hulking Wee Heavy brewed with local honey.

Microbrasserie Charlevoix
Continuing north of Québec City, stop off at Microbrasserie Charlevoix, where Frédérick Tremblay and his team are producing sophisticated, Belgian-influenced beers. Their Sainte-Reserve series includes the dry and hoppy Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus (a Belgian-style IPA), and the mèthode champenoise Dominus Vobiscum Brut. Find the nearby brewpub at 2 Rue Racine.

À l’abri de la Tempête
Brewer Jean-Sébastien Bernier of À l’abri de la Tempête has set himself up as a kind of new-age eco-brewmonk on the remote island chain a five-hour ferry ride from Prince Edward Island. Bernier fashioned the brewery out of an old fish processing house and uses local ingredients, foraging the island for native botanicals, seaweeds “and other secret spices that only druids could know how to use” to conjure his unique “island beers.” The beers are extremely rare, as they sell 80 percent of their stock on the Magdalen Islands, though they can be found in Montréal. Only one pallet makes it to the US each year.

The Tripels of Shawinigan
The barrel-aged funky Tripel may be the great emergent style from this corner of Quebec. Take the co-op brewpub Le Trou du Diable—head brewer André Trudel, one of the pioneers of Shawinigan’s beer revolution, serves up La Buteuse Brassin Spécial. The strong Tripel aged in local apple brandy barrels with Brett won a Mondial gold medal in 2009. The Broadway Pub, just a few blocks away, also brewed up a fine example with their Vent d’Anges, aged in red wine barrels. And in the neighboring city of Saint-Tite, brewpub À La Fût took the platinum medal at the 2010 Mondial for their interpretation, Trippe à Trois, also aged in red wine barrels and with Brett.

Le Trou Du Diable, 412 Rue Willow, Shawinigan.
Broadway Pub, 530 Avenue Broadway, Shawinigan.
À La Fût, 670 Rue Notre-Dame, Saint-Tite.