Monday, June 16, 2014

A Swift One goes international

A beer festival at the Palais des Congrès in Montréal.
About a year ago aswiftone.com decided to expand its borders. We pushed the boundaries of beer to bring you reports from places as far north as Newcastle and from the deep south of Dronfield.
But now we've really broadened our horizons with this contribution from Canada.
It is written by a friend of mine and a former Star Inn festival regular, Christopher Columbeer, who emigrated from Blighty in the Spring. 
So without further ado, I'll hand it over to our brand new and intrepid international correspondent:

By Christopher Columbeer
Beer might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Montréal.
But since arriving here in March, I’ve realised that there are three things of the utmost importance in this remarkably bilingual stronghold: food and drink culture, innovation, and the assurance that everyone is having a good time. Put those elements together, and beer is inevitably at the next corner.
It’s clear that Montréalers spend their long, fierce winters just waiting for summer to come around again - and when it does, the annual Mondial de la Bière is one of the first events in everyone’s calendar. 

I headed down to the Palais des Congrès, a convention centre in the city’s old town, to check out the array of beers before going to watch England get their World Cup campaign underway against Italy.
On this warm and sunny afternoon, the first thing I noticed was the wide variety of visitors. It was generally a younger crowd than I am used to at British beer festivals, but there was every type of person you could imagine and a very international vibe about the place.
But this was no small event - in fact, it’s the largest annual beer festival in North America. With more than 500 beers to choose from, my drinking partner and I didn’t really know where to begin and spent the first 15 minutes familiarising ourselves with the venue - a large outdoor terrace with a delightful little park in the centre. 
I’ve always been a bit sceptical of beer on this side of the pond, and my first impression here was that people like it strong. There were few on the menu at less than 5% ABV, and as such there was hardly a pint glass to be seen - punters were opting for 20 or 40oz taster glasses so that they could get through as many beers as possible.
What also surprised me at first was that many of the beers seemed to be exhibited by what I recognised to be pubs and bars, not breweries. But Montréal is known for having microbrewery pubs (known as ‘brewpubs’ or ‘brasseries artisanales’) right across the city, including Dieux du Ciel, in the Plateau-Mont-Royal area, which serves a fantastic variety of its own beers ranging from cream ales, to IPAs, to fruit beers.

We kept it local with our first beer, a Double Blanche (6.2% ABV) from Montreal’s very own Le Cheval Blanc. It didn’t taste as strong as it was, and had a nice citrusy aroma and hints of tropical fruit. This was distinctively hoppy, and perhaps the one most reminiscent of my homeland that we tried at the festival.
Our next stop was at American brewery Ommegang’s pumps, where we ordered a Gnomegang Blonde Ale (9.5% ABV) and an Abbey Ale (8.2% ABV). The first was a dry, yeasty and unquestionably strong beer which neither of us particularly enjoyed - but the Abbey Ale was my favourite of the festival. It had a deep brown, murky colour but a smooth, sweet taste and a slight lingering spiciness.
I was pleased to see Québec brewers Brasseurs Du Nord exhibiting a few special versions of Boréale at the festival. This brand has been one of my best finds here, because it tastes good while being relatively cheap and very common in supermarkets. The Rousse is my favourite, but I got the chance to try the stronger Cuivrée (6.9% ABV), which had dry hops and a tea-like bitterness.
The last beers we tried were variations of Boris Slam, a pale lager from French brewer Karlsbrau, which came in three strengths: 5.5%, 8.6% and 10.5%. It was really nothing special - the weakest version was completely unremarkable in taste, and the strongest one was a bit too sweet for my liking. 
As with most things I have experienced in Montréal so far this summer, this event was carefully designed and had a great atmosphere. There were ‘cooking with beer’ demonstrations, nice smoked-meat snacks, and groups of youngsters battling it out on the terrace in traditionally French games of Passe Trappe.
Pub sport in Montréal
 I’d never seen this before, but you basically compete to sling wooden pucks through a gap in the table until you have no more pucks on your side. It looked great fun, and meant the endearing sounds of laughter and wood knocking against wood could be heard all afternoon.
Beer is definitely done differently here, and it was a shame not being able to take your time over a nicely-crafted but less strong pale ale - but it has inspired me to delve deeper into the brewpub scene and try out as much as Québec has to offer.


Post Script:
Thank you, Mr Columbeer for the Trans-Atlantic beer tour. Our guide also tells me there was no shortage of British beer on at the event. To be precise, five UK breweries exhibited beers at the festival: Hardknott (Cumbria), Purity Brewing Co. (Warwickshire), St Austell (Cornwall), Thornbridge (Derbyshire) and West Brewing Co. (Glasgow).

No comments: